Fall 2021 Ball State graduate finds uncommon connection to grandmother

Nancy and Sierra Machinski pose for a photo at a family Christmas event one year. (Neither remember the exact year) Sierra said she and her grandmother have always been very close, which makes her time at Ball State even more special. Kimberly Machinksi, Photo Provided
Nancy and Sierra Machinski pose for a photo at a family Christmas event one year. (Neither remember the exact year) Sierra said she and her grandmother have always been very close, which makes her time at Ball State even more special. Kimberly Machinksi, Photo Provided

It’s 1957. Poodle skirts are “in,” Elvis Presley songs play all over the radio and drive-in movies are popular destinations for teenagers. Trending news topics include integrating schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

It’s 1957, and Nancy Mattice Machinski is preparing to graduate from Ball State — the same school her granddaughter, Sierra Machinski, would graduate from nearly 65 years later.

Nancy was born and raised in Chicago and spent two years attending a junior college on the south side of the city before a friend had convinced her to finish her last two years at Ball State, studying speech and hearing therapy.

“I was hesitant,” Nancy said. “It was a new experience. I had never been away and stayed away from my home before, so I was anxious and just trying to figure out what I was going to do.”

While at Ball State, Nancy was a member of Tri Sigma sorority, acted in campus theater and was a member of a girls’ marching group. There, she met her husband, Robert Machinski.

“We were at a dance that was to make new friends and meet people,” Nancy said. “We met … and he said he was just a freshman ... but, later, I found out he had been in the service and he came back to school. I thought I was older than him, but he was older than me. I was afraid to get stuck with some young punk.”

The two married in 1958, after Robert graduated. Until then, Nancy worked at the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis for a year or two. The Machinskis then made their way to Denver, where Robert went to school to receive his master’s degree, and Nancy taught a class of deaf children at a local school.

The Machinskis moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, after living in Denver for about seven to eight years. Nancy continued to work with deaf students for eight years at a high school in Muncy, Pennsylvania. In total, Nancy said she spent 28 years teaching.

“It’s so funny how you get out into the world and you do what you thought you were going to do, but when it leads to another thing, it’s just amazing,” Nancy said.

Nancy and Robert Machinksi on their wedding day in 1958. The two met at Ball State, and were married after Robert graduated. Kimberly Machinksi, Photo Provided

Since graduating from Ball State, Nancy has been back to campus for a reunion and said she was “in awe” of how it has changed since she was a student.

“When I went to school, it was Ball State Teachers College,” she said. “It’s tremendous. I can’t get over how they’ve expanded the buildings and everything. It’s more like a university than just a teacher’s college.”

This awe turned into excitement for Nancy, especially when she found out her granddaughter, Sierra Machinski, would be attending Ball State after she finished her undergraduate education at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, in 2018.

“I was just so excited —  I couldn’t believe it,” Nancy said. “My jaw dropped. I said, ‘You did what?’”

Nancy said Sierra was her only grandchild who looked into attending Ball State because the rest of her grandchildren attend schools on the east coast and are not from Indiana.

Sierra studied applied behavior analysis and works at Y.A.L.E (Young Adolescents Learning Experience), a private special education school, as a teaching assistant. Once she graduates this  fall, she plans on becoming a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). She completed her Ball State classes online because she works full-time in New Jersey.

“I actually have a close friend who also recently became a BCBA, and he was a couple semesters ahead of me in the program, and he highly recommended [Ball State],” Sierra said. “Then, I got the whole background about how my Mimi went there and that’s where she met my grandfather, so that pretty much sold me on it.”

Nancy and Sierra Machinksi pose for a photo after one of Sierra's softball games when she attended Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. Sierra graduated from Ramapo in 2018 and graduates from Ball State at the end of the fall 2021 semester. Kimberly Machinski, Photo Provided

Sierra said she and her grandmother have always been close, but they don’t see each other very often because they live about a three-and-a-half hour drive from each other. 

“It brought us closer,” Sierra said. “She went back [to Ball State] with one of her best friends from college, and she was so excited to tell me all about it, but just being able to share those memories that she had from college was the best part about it.”

Sierra and Nancy both said they will not be attending the fall 2021 commencement ceremony Dec. 18 due to COVID-19 concerns, but Sierra said she is thankful she was able to attend Ball State and share the experience with her grandmother.

“I’ve learned so much in the last two and a half years,” she said. “I feel very prepared and excited, and I’m beyond grateful I get to do these classes online and be able to learn all this stuff and have it readily available. As far as being able to [attend and graduate] from the school that my grandparents went to is just amazing.”

Contact Maya Wilkins with comments at mrwilkins@bsu.edu or on Twitter @mayawilkinss.

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