This Lehigh Valley college graduate completes her thesis in a hotel after a house fire – The Morning Call

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Bria Stapleton finished her 45-page senior thesis at a Saucon Valley hotel, often working nights in an empty lobby.

A fire in February had scorched Stapleton, 22, his parents and two younger sisters from their home in Bethlehem, forcing Albright College seniors to complete semesters between campus and hotel.

“No one really realizes the harm it causes when you try to sort it out in a hotel room,” he said. “And as much as I love my family, I need my own space at the same time. I really maneuvered and I learned what worked for me. ”

Tough and determined, whatever the odds, Stapleton will be one of the Albright graduates walking across the stage during the school’s opening ceremony Saturday morning at Reading’s Santander Arena.

As she looks back on her time as an undergraduate, Stapleton talks about her studies, her work on campus as an accounting tutor, the internships she completed, being a member of the cheerleading team, and how, in September, she was crowned homecoming queen. — all the good experiences he chooses to focus on, not on fire.

“I’ve been trying to stay positive about it and not let myself down because there are so many good things going on,” she said.

Stapleton graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and merchandising. He has been accepted into graduate school at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where in September he will begin work on his master’s degree in retail merchandising.

“We all graduated, and everyone has to go home, and I’m going back to the hotel,” Stapleton said. “So it’s a bit difficult to stay positive, but you have to do it.”

Hours after he returned to campus after a February 27 visit with his family, Stapleton’s sister called him, telling him there was a fire and they were being forced to stay at a hotel.

“My first thought was I panicked because I was like, ‘Well, is everyone okay?’ Thankfully, my family is doing well,” he said. “They delayed telling me because I was driving back to school, and they didn’t want me to panic and have an accident or turn around and come back.”

Although the house near Liberty High School was not completely lost, there was extensive damage, he said. The dryer in the laundry room caught fire, spreading through the room and into the kitchen. Several windows were shattered as firefighters worked to control the blaze, and black smoke billowed from the house, even Stapleton’s attic room.

“It’s just a very long process of working with insurance and back and forth,” he explained, adding house demolition work began Monday.

And, because of the fire, the family had known there had been a gas leak for months, Stapleton said.

“Basically it makes me more grateful, because if the fire reached the basement my whole house would explode and I probably wouldn’t take my family with me anymore,” he said. “It’s been a lot, trying to go back and forth to deal with that and then finish school, but I’m just grateful.”

Faculty members who have worked with Stapleton for the past four years say he is passionate, intelligent, and professional, and has no doubt that he will succeed wherever he is.

MeeAe Oh-Ranck, a fashion instructor at Albright and Stapleton’s senior thesis adviser, described her as “a really fun person.”

“He understands. When I teach one thing, he infers what will happen next and he has great academic talent,” he said. “Besides, he works very hard. He doesn’t hesitate to communicate with a professor. Sometimes, students hesitate to do so, but he always keeps that channel of communication open with a professor, to share his thoughts and struggles.”

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Oh-Ranck said faculty are thrilled to have her in the school’s fashion department, adding “I think she’s going to be successful wherever she goes.”

Accounting professor Andy Junikiewicz teaches Stapleton his freshman year.

“She did really well in it, even though she majored in fashion design, so I tried to get her to switch to accounting,” she said, adding that she was very good at working with other students. “I hope he stays here for a few more years.”

Starting his career, Stapleton knew he didn’t “want to do just one thing,” he said. She hopes to someday work as a creative director for a fashion or retail company, but also enjoys style and is interested in buying clothes for the company.

She has been passionate about fashion since she was a child, she said.

“My parents will tell you, my mother used to buy me bundles of cloth and I used to make clothes for my dolls, and then I had a bunch of sketchbooks — I always sketched and I still sketch clothes now,” says Stapleton. “So to be able to reflect back and see where I was, and see now that I’m actually doing it – I’m chasing the dream I’ve always wanted.”

Morning Call reporter Molly Bilinski can be reached at

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