Every summer when she was a child, Sophia Romalino ‘23OT
would go over to her grandparents’ house to make homemade ice cream with her grandfather, John, who had one of those old-fashioned ice cream-making machines.
One year when Sophia was about eight years old, her grandfather put too much salt in the mixture and it unfortunately froze the machine. Her grandmother, Anna, became a little perturbed at her husband and started tossing strawberries at him, which led to a family strawberry food fight. It’s a memory Sophia recalls fondly because her grandmother would go on to play a critical role in encouraging her to pursue a career as an occupational therapist (OT).
This week, Sophia will join her classmates in graduating at Salus University’s 126th commencement ceremony. Sadly though, Anna won’t get to see her granddaughter walk at commencement as she passed away in the fall of 2022 during Sophia’s first semester.
“It wasn’t easy. I did go home every weekend to be with my family, so that definitely helped. I made that routine to spend time with my parents and my granddad,” said Romalino.
As a youngster, school was a challenge for Romalino. She had a condition called esotropia — an eye misalignment in which one eye is deviated inward toward the nose. But Grandma Romalino was there, always whispering words of encouragement to Sophia.
“My mom was a teacher and she did the best she could to support me, but my grandmom really was the one who pushed me,” she said. “When I got to high school, things got really hard and I was getting close to being done with school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. She encouraged me to continue on with my education.”
Originally from Glassboro, New Jersey, Romalino became interested in OT while in high school. He grandfather had suffered a stroke and required both physical therapy (PT) and OT.
"I thought OT was more interesting than PT because it was more personalized. It was really cool to see them getting him back to doing the things he used to do. That’s what led me into OT,” said Romalino, who graduated from Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey in 2021 with a degree in Health Science. “At the time, my grandma actually said, ‘I could definitely see Sophia doing this.’ And, sure enough here I am.”
She initially chose Salus because she thought it was better for her to get the one-on-one attention from faculty that sometimes students don’t get at larger institutions.
“I could not believe how much I’ve learned in grad school,” said Romalino, who added she started the OT program with the anticipation of working with adults but discovered she likes working more with pediatric clients. “I definitely learned something about myself. Salus has been quite a stepping stone for me. It has helped me grow and become the person I am today.”
After graduation, Romalino plans to take a little break and celebrate her achievement with a trip to Hawaii, courtesy of her parents as a graduation gift. Then she plans to take her board certification exams and apply for jobs. But Romalino credits her grandmother with keeping her on the path to becoming an OT.
“She was a huge part of my family’s life,” she said. “She was always there for everyone when we needed her.”