Mother and daughter graduates say Mason education is a family affair

three women outside
Mason clinical nursing instructor Kathleen Chang (center) is sharing her graduation day with daughter Jinlee (right). Daughter Katrina (left) graduated from Mason in 2017 and is graduating from Virginia Tech this month with a doctoral degree. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Kathleen Chang and her daughter Jinlee Colucci-Chang say that graduating from George Mason University at the same time is exciting and a little overwhelming. Jinlee’s sister, Katrina Colucci-Chang, is also finishing up her doctorate in biomedical engineering from Virginia Tech this spring.

Interviewed with her daughters by her side and her husband listening from the next room, Chang said they are a self-described “Mason family.”

Katrina graduated Mason in 2017 with a degree in bioengineering before pursuing her doctorate.

Chang, a clinical nursing instructor in the College of Health and Human Services, is graduating with a doctor of nursing practice.

Jinlee graduates with a degree in art and visual technology with a concentration in drawing and a minor in psychology. She’s headed in the fall to George Washington University for a master’s degree in art therapy.

“It’s a lot happening at once,” said Chang, 66. “I’m so proud of my girls. They are my biggest accomplishment, and what does every parent want but for their children to get their educations? Now the world is open to them.”

mother and daughter by the pond
Kathleen Chang and her daughter Jinlee are both earning degrees at Mason's Spring Commencement. Photo by Evan Cantwell / Creative Services

But Chang’s daughters say they are equally proud of their mother for pursuing her doctorate after raising them and teaching, first part-time and then full time.

“I think what we’ve learned from her is that you can do anything if you set your mind that you want to do it,” said Jinlee, 23. “It’s the hardest right before the finish line, especially at her age, no offense, but she did it. We were telling her that she could do it, encouraging her. It’s been amazing to see her pursue and then accomplish her dream.”

Decades ago, Chang graduated with a degree in nursing from Long Island University and a master’s degree from Columbia University Teacher’s College. She worked a variety of jobs both in New York and then in Puerto Rico, where she moved with husband, Jose Colucci-Rios. They raised their daughters. They didn’t think of moving back to the mainland until Katrina started looking at colleges.

“Katrina was the catalyst,” Chang said. “You know how a mother is. I wasn’t going to have her across an ocean.”

While the rest of the family moved to Fairfax, Katrina went to college in North Carolina, then transferred to Mason to be closer to family and because she thought it would be a better fit for her. All three women talked about their love for Mason.

“For me, it’s the diversity that makes it special,” Jinlee said. “I learn the stories of so many different people with so many different perspectives.”

Chang said the support Mason offers is unique, while Katrina said the location, near Washington, D.C., and culture is what makes it special.

At first, they hadn’t expected all their graduations to be at once, but now they’re trying to enjoy the chaotic drama and joy.

“It’s surreal having all of us graduating at the same time,” said Katrina, 27. “I am still trying to grasp it.”