Jessica Rothchild ’11, DPT ’14: For the Love of Scranton

A DPT alumna’s love for the Electric City steers her into a second career as an elected official.

Jessica Rothchild ’11, DPT ’14
Jessica Rothchild ’11, DPT ’14

When Jessica Rothchild ’11, DPT ’14 first set foot on the campus of The University of Scranton, she already knew she wanted to serve others by becoming a physical therapist; what the Hazlet, New Jersey native didn’t know was that she would go on to build her adult life in the Electric City and eventually serve others in an altogether different way as the first openly gay member of the Scranton City Council.

“I’m honored that I was able to be that person … and to hopefully open the doors for others,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to doubt their abilities because of who they are or who they love. I think everyone should have that opportunity if they want to do something good for the city, or their community.

“Their gender or sexual orientation (shouldn’t be) something that stops them from doing that.”

How did a girl from Monmouth County, New Jersey grow up to become a part of Scranton history? The answer, surprisingly, is “gymnastics.”

Frequent Flying

Rothchild traced her initial interest in physical therapy to the injuries she sustained training and competing as a gymnast during her childhood and adolescence; those experiences gave her a front-row seat to the positive impact a physical therapist can have on her patients.

“I was constantly injured and a ‘frequent flyer’ in physical therapy, as I often call some of my patients,” she joked. “I wanted to do something where I was helping people, and it felt like the medical field might be right for me.”

At the insistence of her mother, Rothchild spent more than 200 hours of her teen years volunteering at a hospital on Saturday mornings, which gave her an even greater appreciation for healthcare.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said, “so I felt like I wanted to be a part of that in some way.”

For the Love of Scranton

When the time came to begin researching colleges, Rothchild said she decided to visit Scranton to learn more about the University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. When she did, something seemed to click.

"I had a certain feeling when on campus, and I guess it was meant to be."

“At first, I thought maybe I’d want to go to Boston, but something kept drawing me back to Scranton,” she said. “I kept thinking about it. I think I had a certain feeling when on campus, and I guess it was meant to be.”

At first, she had a rocky start.

“I have to admit, my first year was difficult,” she said. “It was very heavy in the sciences that first year, and … I felt like I lived in the library.”

She also found some of the social aspects of campus life to be more challenging than expected.

“I didn’t know other LGBT students for at least the first semester, so I often felt tokenized by my friends and other people,” she said. “I was used to being around more diverse people rather than people from similar backgrounds.”

As a result, she dove headfirst into campus life to explore all that Scranton had to offer.

“I feel like there was a time where I was involved and had my hand in everything,” she said. “I was secretary of (the debate society) for a period of time. I was photo editor of The Aquinas, but I also contributed as a writer. I was a DJ for WUSR – I had a loud rock show with one of my friends - and I was also working three jobs.

“Once I had become more comfortable on campus and found other people in the LGBT community … I found myself feeling a lot more motivated and happy and fulfilled.”

During her sophomore year, she was asked to join a campus committee on LGBTQ issues composed of administrators, faculty, staff and students, and, at one of its meetings, she made a suggestion that eventually led to the founding of Scranton Inclusion, the University’s first gay-straight student alliance.

“I suggested that we get a meeting together for students because that was really what we felt like we needed, just a safe, comfortable space that we could go to talk,” she said. “Once the group had formed, I really got to know more about myself.”

“I found out I was pretty good at being in leadership roles, and that was another way that I could help people.”

As the president of Scranton Inclusion, Rothchild was honored with an Outstanding Student Leadership Award by the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, an experience that helped illuminate her potential for public service.

“I found out I was pretty good at being in leadership roles, and that was another way that I could help people,” she said.

Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s in biology in 2011, Rothchild began working on her DPT at the University. Around the same time, she was introduced to Bridget McIntyre, who would become the love of her life. After completing her doctorate, she made the somewhat rare decision to stay in Scranton after graduation and build a life in the surrounding area.

“I fell in love with Bridget and I fell in love with Scranton,” she said. “I enjoyed being a part of the community.”

She eventually began working at an outpatient clinic at Lehigh Valley Health Network-Pocono, where she primarily treats patients with orthopedic conditions. As a result, she often treats patients for several weeks at a time.

“It’s nice to be able to spend that amount of time with patients,” she said. “You really get to know (them) pretty well.”

All the while, Rothchild stayed politically active, serving several organizations and causes at both the local and state levels, including Governor Wolf’s PA Commission on Women and the PA Democratic State Committee, both of which she still serves today. In 2015, Rothchild and McIntyre married, and they purchased an old Victorian home in the Hill Section of Scranton in 2017.

A Positive Outlook

In 2019, after spending most of her adult life serving others in one way or another, Rothchild decided to run for a seat on Scranton’s City Council.

“I had a great appreciation and love for the area, and I wanted to see more people giving love to Scranton and staying here,” she said. “I knew when I completed my degrees at the University, barely anyone was sticking around.

“It was sad to see that people didn’t even try to find jobs in the area.”

Representation was also on her mind.

“It was hard for me to not see other LGBTQ people in office in Northeastern Pennsylvania, especially women,” she said. “I felt like that was a gap that needed to be filled.”

Also, as a homeowner, she found her neighbors could often provide more information on some of the issues she encountered than the city’s website, which she found frustrating.

“Why can’t I just find this information on my own? It shouldn’t be this difficult,” she said.

Ultimately, Rothchild said she felt the city’s government was badly in need of modernization.

“I didn’t feel like the city had this youthful perspective that was going to help to draw in young professionals or (persuade) college students to stick around,” she said. "So, for all those reasons, I wanted to run for city council, and I thought I could make the most change in that position.”

Although she acknowledged that the campaign was “a lot of work,” Rothchild said the public’s positive reaction to her efforts made it all worthwhile.

“Campaigning was a really great opportunity to … walk the streets and ask voters what they cared about and what changes they wanted to see in Scranton,” she said. “People were genuinely excited that I wasn’t from Scranton and that I went to the University and that I chose to stay here and make Scranton my home.”

And, on the night of Nov. 5, 2019, the people of Scranton elected Rothchild to serve as the first openly gay councilmember in the history of the city.

“People also kept saying they wanted to see a young person, they wanted to see fresh faces, they were tired of ‘the machine’ putting people into office,” she said. “I always had a very positive outlook and a really hopeful campaign, and I think, for the most part, people felt that way, too, like maybe this is the change that we need.”

"I’m just happy that I came to Scranton, that I stayed in Scranton."

While Rothchild did her best to prepare for the problems she thought she would face as a councilmember, the primary concern of her term of office thus far came from a wholly unexpected source: Covid-19.

“It’s unexpected, it’s unprecedented, it’s nothing we had experienced before,” she said of the pandemic. “It’s been really hard to see businesses struggle. I really love our local businesses, and there are some ways we’ve been able to help them, with grants and loans, but I often wish there was more that we could do.”

Still, she and her fellow councilmembers have managed to rack up a few victories during the time of Covid-19, including passing their first budget. Rothchild also recently introduced a unanimously-approved ordinance banning conversion therapy, or the effort to change one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, on LGBTQ youths under the age of 18.

“I was happy I was able to bring that to council and to get their support,” she said. “It’s going to help the LGBTQ community.”

Rothchild was also happy to see the University recently launch Rainbow Royals, its LGBTQIA+ and ally alumni network.

“It’s really nice to have a group where we can connect and talk to other alumni and students,” she said.

And, Rothchild and McIntyre were even happier to recently welcome their daughter, Dylan Rose, to the world.

“She’s wonderful, and we’re so in love,” she said. “(I’m) just really happy in life right now. This is everything and more than what I could have hoped for.”

As a physical therapist, Rothchild plans to continue to help her patients rehabilitate their injuries; as a woman for and with others, she plans to continue to serve the people of her community; and, as a new mother, she plans to make the most of each joyful day with Dylan.

“I credit The University of Scranton with giving me a lot of that,” she said. “Who knows what other paths I would have taken, how things would have been? I’m just happy that I came to Scranton, that I stayed in Scranton. I met my wife here, and now we have this beautiful baby girl.”

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