For Piera Accumanno ’92, life circumstances are what drove her to attend Montclair State University. In the late 1980s, she was going through some changes in her personal life, and decided to make a change.
Working as a legal assistant with only high school experience, Accumanno decided to get a paralegal certificate in order to get a better job in the field. She was hoping to take a 9 month course, but Montclair told her she needed a 4 year degree in order to qualify for the certificate.
While some would use that as an excuse or deterrent from pursuing their interests, Accumanno refused to give up. “Instead of moping around, I used it as a challenge, and did both at the same time,” says Accumanno.
Being a single parent, money for tuition was not easy to come by, but a meeting with the Financial Aid department changed everything. “I did a write up for a Pell Grant, explaining my situation, and I got it.”
Thinking she was going to become an attorney, Accumanno became an English major. “Firms select people who have English degrees,” she notes. This, paired with her paralegal certificate, gave her the advantage she was looking for.
Throughout her time at Montclair State, Accumanno also worked full-time. After two years of school paid for with Pell Grants, she decided to no longer accept the grants. “I had moved up financially, and I was able to pay for school on my own. I wanted to pay it forward because I was lucky enough to get the help, and I wanted someone else who really needed it to get the grant.”
Recalling one particular teacher, Professor Naomi Liebler, Accumanno tells a story that taught her a great lesson. “The professor gave me my first D-, which taught me that I had to work a lot harder to meet very high standards.”
Accumanno, already an adult while she was a student, says that the help she received from Financial Aid “turned a corner in my life,” and adds that the woman who helped her was “clearly a proponent of women getting an education”.
After graduation, Accumanno moved to a better law firm, then onto Prudential for 11 years. Currently, she is the Vice President of Political Activities at Deutsche Bank, where she has been for 10 years. “Had I never gotten the four year degree, I could never have worked at Prudential and gotten into my specialty here at Deutsche.” She adds that upon graduating, “I felt like the happiest person in the world. I felt like every door was open, and the only thing preventing me from succeeding was me.” With that attitude Accumanno went on to achieve a Master’s in Business Administration.
In looking back at the events that led her to her success and her time at Montclair State, she cannot help but feel grateful. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says, “one spark leads to a second and third spark.”