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From Friends to Sisters: Grads Pull Together

Date: June 9, 2000
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photo by: Lisa Ventre Archive: Campus News

Graduation often is portrayed as the start of a new life. Few students anywhere will have more reason to feel that way than Alana Mattingly and Denise Simpson, outstanding students who will receive their bachelor's degrees from UC's Criminal Justice program on June 9.

image of grads

Mattingly and Simpson, close confidants who helped each other through their challenges as non-traditional students, will cap off Commencement by both getting married this summer -- to brothers Rio and Redd Turner, making Mattingly and Simpson sisters-in-law. Simpson, who has had a long-term relationship with Redd, will get married later in June. Mattingly, who was introduced to her husband-to-be by Simpson, will marry Rio in August. Parallels abound throughout their careers.

Mattingly and Simpson met after entering UC's two-year University College through the College Assistance Program (CAP), which is designed to open avenues for low-income Cincinnati residents to obtain a college education.

Neither woman's life was easy when they came to college. Mattingly was a mother with a two-year-old son whose husband had suddenly abandoned them for another woman. "I lacked the confidence to do anything. I was really depressed at the time. It was just a very rough time," Mattingly recalls.

Simpson had been working at the Federal Reserve Bank until a day came when she asked her boss for help with customers and he replied, "I get paid for what I know, not for what I can do." Simpson walked out, never returned and realized she had to find a new direction for her life. For both women, the answer was pursuit of a criminal justice education, first in U-College and, for the last two years, in the College of Education's criminal justice baccalaureate program.

They started in U-College's criminal justice technologies program. After becoming acquainted early in their UC experiences, they worked to help each other and challenge each other to succeed.

"The hardest times for me were dealing with things that happened with my family," Simpson says. Not only was she going to school full-time and working more than 20 hours a week in the humanities and social sciences departmental office in U-College, but she was raising two young children of her own plus her fiance's troubled teenage nephew. On top of all that, she was stung by the surprising death of her mother in 1997, resulting in her father moving into live with her family. Then, one year to the day of the passing of her mother, her father succombed to a massive heart attack. While they worked to try and save her father at the hospital, Simpson dealt with her grief by focusing on education. She was scheduled to have a major test in a criminology course the following morning.

"She called me from the hospital and said she really couldn't concentrate with what was going on with her father," Mattingly remembers. "She said, 'I need to finish this class, finish this final. I've prayed about this and I need to concentrate on something.' "

The two women studied all night over the phone, with Simpson taking frequent breaks for crying spells. The next morning, Simpson was late getting to the final, so Mattingly deliberately delayed handing in her test to keep the professor from ending the test prematurely. Both women earned 'A' grades on the exam.

As they excelled in the classroom -- Mattingly carries a 3.95 grade point average, Simpson a 3.5 -- they shared their success with others. Both have been active in college and university advising programs.

Mattingly founded a program for U-College's first-year criminal justice technology students called "Partners in Justice," where Simpson has also been a mentor and tutor.

"It has been a great thing," Simpson says. "I worked with one young guy, a U-College student who went from academic probation to making A's and B's. It was a dramatic change. He just needed a push."

Mattingly is this year's undergraduate winner of the criminal justice department's Student of the Year award, while Simpson has been a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honorary society all four years she has been in school.

Both intend to go on and earn their master's degrees -- Simpson in criminal justice in preparation for a possible career with the federal government, Mattingly in social work as she strives to join with her sister in establishing a substance abuse treatment facility for women who are re-entering society from prison. Mattingly works currently counseling for the Talbert House's "Passages" program for chemically dependent adolescent girls.

Both women wish to thank their fiances for their support. "They've been so supportive of us," Mattingly says. "They've done the things like babysitting and been emotionally supportive and encouraging us to continue on in our education."

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