STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Class of 2023 Features Inspiring Success Stories


Lydia Agosto with Dean Palus and Father Peter

For any student that thinks they don’t have the time or energy to go back to school to earn a degree, Lydia Agosto can serve as proof to all that it's possible.

When Lydia started at Villanova’s College of Professional Studies (CPS), she was a single mother with three children and a full-time career working for Johnson & Johnson (J&J). When she graduated in May of 2023, her children (ages 20, 13, and 5), got to see their mother, clad in cap and gown, receive her hard-earned diploma.

It was the first time Lydia attended her own graduation ceremony, after life as a teenage mother caused her to drop-out of high school. Despite that, she built a career working as a compliance analyst at Johnson and Johnson, and was eager to find a way back to school.

“Who's gonna watch my kids? How long is it going to take?” she asked herself.

“I had the realization in 2018 that I was searching for this perfect moment, a perfect time to go back,” she explained.  “And I realized that there was never going to be that moment. There was never going be the right time to go back.”

So she did it. And after enrolling, she was determined to stick with her studies.

“One class at a time, semester by semester. And as I started to do that, you know, when I got more comfortable, then I started to pick up and ramp up to more classes.”

As she took more and more classes with CPS, Lydia began to look on the effect those courses could have on her career.

“I was kind of getting to the place in my career where I was asking, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?” she joked.

Her pathway to answering that question certainly would become easier with a degree in hand. As she gained experience at a corporation like J&J, she began to find her lack of degree more and more harmful to her career.

“I always had to work extra hard because I didn't have a degree and my position required a degree,” she told us. “So anytime I came up for promotion, it was really challenging and very delayed.”

That degree started as the key to unlock the next steps in her career, yet Lydia was quick to find that her education could be much more than that.

“I was just looking at it as a piece of paper that I needed so I won't have anything holding me back. But as I started going through the program, my mindset shifted and I said, ‘Wow, these are really good tools.’”

When her experience shifted her outlook, Lydia moved to a new role as a Senior Manager for Digital and Technology, working with learning design functions at J&J. Her education has inspired Lydia to keep learning and branch into teaching others, as she’s considered graduate-level studies as well as formally coaching or mentoring her colleagues.

Lydia’s graduation from CPS required determination far beyond just making time in her schedule. In the home stretch of her time at Villanova, Lydia faced adversity at home. She was going through issues that rightfully pulled her mind and focus far from her studies.

Lydia was able to continue her classes, earning high marks, despite it all.

“Going through hardship and knowing that Villanova is there to provide resources for you and having (my academic advisor) Kirstin constantly checking on me, touching base to make sure I was OK,” she said.

In the end, Lydia hopes her dedication to earning her degree and putting it to good use in her career acts as an inspiration to others – most importantly, her children.

“I wanted to show my kids that no matter what life throws at you, no matter how hard it can get and how much you want to give up, that you just keep pushing and you just put one foot in front of the other and you'll get there.”


Erin Smith at graduation with family

Erin Smith first came to Villanova in the fall of 1996, in the same way thousands do each year. She was a teenager just starting her freshman year, eager to start a new chapter in life.

Ultimately the path of a traditional college student didn’t work for her.

“I didn’t do so well,” she recalled. “I had a lot of personal issues going on. I left and it was always on my mind that I wanted to finish.”

She pursued a career in information technology (IT) and has now worked in that field for 18 years with Sanofi, a leader in global healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Even while forging a successful career, Erin’s desire for not just a degree, but a Villanova degree, remained.

In 2015, after a Villanova men’s basketball game had her feeling nostalgic for her time on campus, she did some research into the College of Professional studies.

“When I learned that there was an online option that could end with my Villanova degree, I enrolled right away,” she said. After completing many of the needed credits to graduate, Erin found a few of the classes she needed weren’t offered online. A few years passed before CPS contacted Erin to discuss the final ten credits she needed to graduate, with a completely online pathway available.

Her time with CPS will help Erin further her career, not just with a degree but with a new sense of dedication.

“Being back in class re-fueled my drive to learn. I’m already looking into continuing towards my Master’s,” she added.

Erin returned to Villanova’s campus in 2023 to celebrate commencement weekend, filled with pride and appreciation. “Even though many of us had never met in person, commencement felt like being with long lost friends,” she said of her fellow CPS grads.

The accomplishment of earning a long-awaited degree from the same school where Erin started her higher education journey was overwhelming. “I’m not a very emotional person, but opening the box and unrolling my diploma, I immediately got welled up,” she told us.

When she looks back on the path toward her degree, Erin remembers it fondly, knowing it was all worth it in the end. “The rewards and the feeling you get from finishing your degree are indescribable.”


danielle mccullough

For Danielle McCollough, the path to her bachelor’s degree has been long, but fulfilling. Throughout that journey, she’s had one constant voice of encouragement in her ear.

“If it wasn’t for my grandmother, I wouldn’t have made it through even my first year of college, but she has teased me about how long it has taken,” Danielle told us. Danielle got the last laugh, so to speak, with her grandmother’s teases motivating her all the way to her degree.

“She’s been a huge support in my life and I can’t wait for her to see me walk (at commencement)” she said prior to graduating.

Danielle’s foray into higher education started 20 years ago at Temple University. “As life happens, I wasn’t able to complete my studies there,” she said.

After taking on a job at Villanova and moving to Bryn Mawr, the timing was perfect for Danielle to re-start her efforts.

After working with technology more and more in her role at work, Danielle felt herself gaining more skills and interest in that line of work. “There was a little bit of a hole and I was trying to gain the knowledge to fill that hole.”

Quickly, she noticed how applicable the lessons from her professors were finding their way into her daily work, saying, “Quite often in class the thing we were learning in class turned out to be exactly what I needed on the job!”

When she started her college career back at Temple or even when she began her career in the years that followed, she hadn’t quite expected to follow the route towards tech or her eventual Information Systems degree, but slowly she found passion for that area of expertise.

“Going back to school for a business degree would have checked the box so I could say I had my bachelor’s, but it didn’t sound very exciting to me. Seeing how tech was becoming more and more important in my job and our lives, it drove me to that as my path,” she added.

“My degree is going to give me a lot more avenues to move forward in my career.”

Just as her grandmother supported her studies, Danielle hopes her time in college can inspire another generation of learners – her children. She completed her degree while parenting two children, now 11 and 7 years-old, both on hand to see their mother graduate in May.

“It’s important for my children to see me continuing to learn. We should all be life-long learners,” she said.