Years after dropping out of high school, Chevon Janczuk, finds her place at Syracuse University with a 3.9 GPA and a commitment to social justice.

When 29-year-old Syracuse University student Chevon Janczuk does her homework, she frequently has a few helpers. Her daughter Faith, 9, showed so much interest in her mother’s statistics calculations that Janczuk started teaching her the formulas. “It motivated me to do it the right way because I wanted to be sure I was teaching it to her correctly,” Janczuk says. When she has to give a speech or presentation, she assembles an audience of her four children and practices her delivery in front of them. “My kids are my world,” she says, “and my hope is that one day all of them will go to college. I think I’m setting a good example for them.”

Janczuk is enrolled as a dual major—social work at Falk College and psychology through the College of Arts and Sciences.

Janczuk’s road to college has had a few detours. She dropped out of high school during her sophomore year and had her first child at 19. “I thought for sure I could make it on my own, but I had it all wrong,” she admits. “I got my GED but I didn’t have the education I needed to enter the careers I wanted. I woke up one day and said, ‘Something has to change,’ and started scrolling the internet for social work programs.” She noticed that Syracuse University came up again and again, so she called and explained her circumstances, thinking she’d probably have to take out loans to pay for her education. “I was directed to University College, the home of part-time studies at Syracuse University, and the HEOP program. I had no idea the HEOP program existed.”

She’s referring to the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, which provides economically and educationally disadvantaged New York state residents with a broad range of services and funding to help them obtain a college degree. University College has the only HEOP program for part-time students in New York state, so she was able to limit her classes to two or three each semester, minimizing the impact on her family’s schedule. “University College has the most supportive staff I have ever encountered,” she says. “The academic advisors, financial aid advisors, administrative assistants, directors—they walked me through the application process and have explained every step of the way ever since. I owe special thanks to my University College advisor, Jason Scharf, for believing in me even when I doubted myself.

Memorable Moments

In just over two years at Syracuse University, Janczuk has earned an impressive 3.9 GPA and been inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, an honor society for post-traditional students. This led to a memorable moment at the HEOP Awards Ceremony last spring, where she received an Academic Excellence Award. She was invited to give the student address, and before her speech, she was introduced to Michael Frasciello, the dean of University College. “Following my speech, Dean Frasciello came up to my family and said to my kids, ‘Your mom’s a rock star!’ That moment will forever be imprinted in my mind,” she says. “It’s amazing how one little comment can impact your life.”

“My dream job involves working within the prison system,” she says. “I want to work with people who have reached the lowest point in their lives and give them a helping hand. People often view those who have been incarcerated as ‘lost causes,’ and that’s what inspires me most. Social workers are taught to look for the strength in each individual and have empathy in even the worst scenarios. I hope to help them lead fulfilling lives as they make their way back into society.”

Karin Ruhlandt, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says, “Chevon exemplifies the best of the liberal arts, including her empathetic perspective and commitment to social justice. Her story illustrates how the passion and drive of one student—no matter their path here—can strengthen the entire College and the greater community.”

Mentors and Research Opportunities

Janczuk has found exceptional mentors among the Syracuse University faculty—Michele Vinciquerra, a part-time instructor in social work, in particular. “She is passionate about the material and makes sure her students have a deep understanding of what it means to be in the social work field,” Janczuk says. “I feel social work may have chosen me, but she’s made me love the idea of my future field even more.”

Psychology professor Shannon Sweeney has also been a positive influence. “I took a child psychology course with her and there was a lot of information to learn, but she seemed to make it easy,” Janczuk says. “She involved my children in her course, and my kids had a blast. The other students seemed to really like having them there, too.”

Doctoral student Abby Caselli was Janczuk’s instructor for an introductory course in psychology and later offered her a research assistant position in the social psychology research lab. “Abby has taught me more about psychology than I ever could have imagined, and being in the lab as her assistant has given me a deeper understanding of the inner workings of research,” Janczuk says. “Her guidance, support and the skills she’s taught me will be critical throughout graduate school and my career.”

Sharing Orange Pride

Juggling the needs and schedules of four young children, two stepchildren and a husband who works a demanding job as a correctional officer can be difficult, but the entire family is invested in her success. “Whenever they see the Syracuse ‘S’ they say, ‘That’s mommy’s school!’” she says. That pride goes both ways. “To me, being Orange means every slice of the orange is different, but somehow we are all able to come together and be part of something bigger. It means taking people from all walks of life, with diverse perspectives and goals, and squeezing them into one giant community where everyone is welcomed and accepted.”

Janczuk knows the road to a degree will take a while but insists it will be worth it. “If you want something enough, you find a way to make it work,” she says. “I realize it’s not possible for everyone, and I am grateful that my husband is so supportive of my education. Some days are exhausting and some days I overbook my schedule, but on those days I just try to recognize how far I’ve come and where I’m heading. Then I take a deep breath—and keep on going.”

– from an original story by Mary Beth Horsington

First published as a Syracuse University Story on February 19, 2020 and and updated again on March 11, 2020.