On a whim, Marissa Mangione gave West Virginia University a chance. She got a flyer in the mail at her home Richboro, Pa., (just outside of Philadelphia), and wanted to visit campus. Despite roots in Pennsylvania and ties to Penn State, she came to Morgantown and realized almost immediately that she wanted to be a Mountaineer.
"I was either going to go to West Virginia or Penn State,” she admits. “WVU checked all the boxes for me: I wanted a big school, a big community, and a lot of opportunities. And I also loved the spirit for the football team."
She knew that she wanted to help people, but with an aversion to blood, she knew that nursing or medicine wouldn’t be for her and that she’d likely be working on the mental side of things. She opted to major in psychology, but it was during a visit to Collegiate Recovery as part of her introduction to addiction studies class that she found clarity for her academic and career pursuits.
“I was struggling with my major a little at the time – it wasn’t clicking like I had hoped it would,” she admits. “During that class, I learned about Collegiate Recovery and the new mental health and addiction studies major. Coming from a suburb of Philadelphia, I knew that I could get a job as a drug and alcohol counselor in the major (mental health and addiction studies), and I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Mangione officially switched majors which opened the door to more involvement on campus. Already an active member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, one activity quickly snowballed into more.
“Once I switched majors, I started to get more involved in things on campus,” she says. “I learned through class that Collegiate Recovering was hiring student workers, so I applied for that. And after working there for a while I met one of the directors, Andrew Caryl, who is also an advisor for Mountaineers for Recovery, and he asked me if I wanted to be involved in that. Soon I became the social media and outreach coordinator for that. At some point, too, I realized that there was no club for the major, so I started one.
From being a student worker at Collegiate Recovery to taking on leadership roles in Mountaineers for Recovery, Marissa's journey is marked by purposeful steps toward her chosen field.
"Having a lot to do keeps me in check. Being able to balance school, extracurriculars, and a social life comes kind of naturally to me. I like to keep a calendar," she explains. “I like working in the field that I’m studying. I don’t find myself getting overwhelmed because what I learn in class, I then put into practice in my day-to-day life. That helps a lot, and I don’t feel too stressed.”
Perhaps the best example of life imitating class is revealed in her nightly routine, one she adopted shortly after beginning work at Collegiate Recovery.
“Every night before I go to sleep, I like to think about the day and what I’ve accomplished,” she says. “Sometimes it’s small victories like getting out of bed or brushing your teeth. I like to think about the wins and then think about what I want to accomplish the next day and set some goals. I like to incorporate this daily reflection and set intentions for the next day.”
It’s clear that experiential learning has been a key part of balancing her life and succeeding in the classroom.
"The work is so applicable to my classes,” she says. “I had my first in-person exam in two years about a month ago. I studied hard for it, and it was really pretty easy because I thought to myself, 'Oh, I know this already – I do this every day.'”
Mangione also feels as if the connection with the faculty in the mental health and addiction studies major has been another factor in her success.
"My instructors know me by my first name, they know my last name,” she says. “I don’t feel like a number – I feel like a student who is receiving the education they should be receiving."
As a senior now with a clear trajectory and a robust resumé, others could now look at Mangione and marvel at how things fell into place. However, she does not concede that things happened for her by accident.
“It’s ok to not know exactly what you want to do when you get to WVU,” she says. “And it’s ok to mess up a lot. People will see the clubs and organizations I’m in and think that I have always had everything figured out or laid out for me. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, but I’ve also worked really hard to get here. My sophomore year wasn’t the strongest, but I’ve worked my way to earn these opportunities now.”
Looking ahead, Mangione plans to graduate in May and is applying to graduate schools near her hometown. "I want to pursue drug and alcohol counseling for adults," she confidently.
Marissa Mangione didn’t always have WVU on her radar. She also didn’t always have mental health and addiction studies on her radar, either. But at WVU she found her career passion and took every opportunity open to her.