Serving Under-resourced Communities

Mary mccusker goodie

Former English major Mary McCusker Goodie ’92 followed her passion for working with nonprofits by founding and serving as co-executive director of the Early Math and Language Initiative. Serving culturally and linguistically diverse students from under-resourced communities, she focuses her flagship program on early math for preschoolers and creates opportunities for their family members to learn together. 

Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?  

Over the years, I’ve been incredibly thankful that my liberal-arts education at Dickinson required me to consider multiple perspectives and for the college’s emphasis on writing. Looking outside of our own paradigms can be difficult, but it's necessary to understand and learn from the past, and it’s paramount to engaging with others in meaningful ways in the present. Dickinson challenged me to support my own assessments and interpretations, consider counterarguments and to reflect upon the influence culture has across disciplines. Whether in an English class or a science course, Dickinson also stressed the significance of writing well. My career path has taken a lot of twists and turns, but these are skills that I have taken into every position I’ve had over the years, and they continue to help me connect with others.

What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?

Alpha Phi Omega! As a member of one of the earliest pledge classes at Dickinson, APO was still in its infancy when I joined. Completing service projects provided a great break from classwork and allowed me to contribute to the greater Carlisle community. I made many good friends through the organization. In fact, I met my husband, Jeff Goodie ’93, in APO. Watching APO grow during those first few years was exciting, and it was the first time I was exposed to coordinating community outreach efforts. Believe it or not, I still have the first and only APO sweatshirt I’ve ever owned! 

How has Dickinson’s focus on global education impacted your life or career since graduation? 

Between my freshman and sophomore years at Dickinson, I spent the summer abroad in Bremen, Germany. I’d always been interested in other cultures, but my family’s limited resources meant that I’d never even been on a plane before traveling that summer. Dickinson’s financial aid package made studying abroad possible, and I’ve been forever grateful.

To say my time in Germany changed my life would be an understatement. I found myself humbled by my inability to communicate before my guest family’s car ever left the airport parking lot. Although I’d studied German for five years prior to my study-abroad experience, I felt unprepared. I remember during that first week or so in Germany standing at a bus stop listening to a three-year-old boy talking to his mother. He knew so many more words in German than I did! Of course, by the time I left Germany, my German had improved tremendously, and I had an amazing time. I remember that initial feeling of inadequacy and frustration, however, and I often think of it when I work with newcomers who have limited English skills. Not being able to communicate in the way you’d like can have a profound impact on self-confidence, and the mastery of a language doesn’t equate with one’s intellect.

What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
I have so many great memories from Dickinson, but the one that stands out was crossing the border from West Berlin into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie during my summer abroad semester. At the time, going into the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for a day wasn’t exactly commonplace. A professor at Humboldt University agreed to guide our group around the city, and he introduced us to some of his students. That evening in a small pub, we talked, laughed and learned about each other’s lives. What stands out about this experience was that it completely demystified what as an American I considered “behind the wall.” Those of us from Dickinson had so much in common with the Humboldt University students, and this has stuck with me. Borders can separate people, but there are commonalities that transcend them. Our group went back through Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin late that night having had this incredible, surreal experience. A few short months later, the Berlin Wall fell, and I remember the excitement those of us in the German Club and from the Bremen summer group felt as we celebrated together.

How do you stay involved with Dickinson?

My husband, Jeff ’93, and I both continue to be in contact with fellow Dickinson graduates, and each year we also look forward to chatting a bit with the Dickinson student who calls for our donation to the college. This past fall, Georgia Dahm ’23, a senior majoring in Spanish, happened to call. During our conversation, she mentioned her major. At the time, the nonprofit I co-founded, the Early Math and Language Initiative (EMLI), needed Spanish translators. I asked Georgia if she’d be interested in helping EMLI, and she jumped at the chance to volunteer. She also connected me with Leo de Brito, an exchange student at Dickinson from Brazil who volunteered to do EMLI’s Portuguese translations. Georgia and Leo were personable, professional and dedicated to assisting EMLI. As a direct result of this positive experience, EMLI hopes to host two interns from Dickinson this fall. Working with the Career Center as an alumna has been such a pleasure, and I’m thrilled to be able to offer students the same chance to gain some professional experience that I once had when I attended Dickinson. 

How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?

The desire to be involved in education in some manner has always been there, but interest in my current work evolved over the years. My senior year at Dickinson, I completed an internship as an assistant in an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classroom at Carlisle High School. This experience was central to my decision to pursue a master’s in English education with the goal of teaching both traditional English classes and ESOL at the high school level. My passion, however, became volunteering and working with nonprofits that served culturally and linguistically diverse students from under-resourced communities. When the pandemic hit, I was an early literacy coordinator for a community-school nonprofit partnership based in Title-I schools. The children in our evening programs worked on their own emerging literacy skills while their adult family members attended English classes. One of my favorite parts of the job was creating opportunities for the children and their adult family members to learn together.

In the summer of 2020, I met Jayashree (Jay) Sonti while working on a post-baccalaureate certificate in family literacy. After nearly a year of discussions, Jay and I decided to create our own nonprofit to provide families with young children from under-resourced communities with support in early language and mathematics skills development. Our flagship program focuses on early math for preschoolers. An exciting element of our programming is that we offer opportunities for family members to learn together through family math classes.

What does your current work entail? 

As the co-founder and co-executive director of the Early Math and Language Initiative (EMLI), I’m involved in all facets of the organization. Jay and I established EMLI as a nonprofit in Maine in 2021, and we’ve since completed our first successful year of programming. EMLI’s mission is to support and create early math and language curriculums for children and families in under-resourced communities, and much of my work has centered on curriculum development. This involves research, working with the experts in early math, literacy and child development that sit on EMLI’s advisory committee and creating research-informed approaches to family learning that are practical in nature. Understanding research and its implications can be difficult, so a crucial part of the development process is sharing essential information with parents that isn’t overwhelming or intimidating. One of my personal goals has always been to create opportunities for all parents, regardless of their backgrounds, to gain confidence and recognize that they can have a profound, positive impact on their child’s learning.  

What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated? 

I married a fellow Dickinson graduate! Jeff Goodie and I married in 1994, and we have three grown sons. Our wedding reception was certainly unforgettable. There was a tremendous thunderstorm, and our reception hall lost power. Our DJ couldn’t play, and it was so hot the food melted without air conditioning. That didn’t stop us from celebrating! We moved some of the festivities out onto the wet grass of the hall’s front lawn, danced to mixed tapes guests got from their cars and played on a battery-powered boom box and enjoyed every moment of having our friends and family with us. It was such fun, and among the guests were many of our closest friends from Dickinson. It turned out to be an unforgettable day for more reasons than one!


Published July 20, 2023