Patreese Charles arrived for his first day of classes at Gateway Community College (GCC) in 2008. In his eyes, he was an average student who didn’t know what the rest of his life might look like. He laughs now recalling that although he had notebook in hand, he hadn’t actually registered for his classes and had to take whatever courses were left.
“I didn’t know how to go about college,” he said. At that moment, though, something clicked. “From the first day at Gateway, I started talking to every counselor and to my professors and they all wanted to help,” he said. Today, Charles is a GCC alumni and a student at the University of Connecticut, thriving there as part of the UConn Guaranteed Admission Program (GAP).
Shortly after arriving at GCC, Charles found his way to Professor Lauren Doninger, Ed.D., LPC, LADC, GCC professor of Psychology and program coordinator Liberal Arts & Sciences. She encouraged him to consider an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts and to aim for the UConn GAP. Together they designed an academic plan that mirrored the first two years in his intended major at UConn, dietetics. He chose the field because many in his family have diabetes and he wanted to help people make healthy eating and exercise part of their daily lives. Still, he faced more challenges on the way to his GCC degree.
“My parents were not going to be able to help me financially and I didn’t want to be a burden so I knew I had to find a way to fund my education myself,” he said. Charles took a year off from Gateway and enrolled in the Army’s National Guard to train as a medic and is now a nationally-certified army medic/EMT.
Once back at GCC he said, “I took advantage of everything Gateway had to offer.” He graduated in 2010 and won the Best All-Around Student Award at commencement.
Charles went to UConn that fall, taking five classes and enrolling in ROTC. “I love the big college atmosphere. I like living on campus, away, but not too far away from home,” he said. He met two GCC grads at UConn and they started a new fitness/nutrition club there.
Doninger said many Gateway alumni like Charles have found success at UConn and they are the GAP program’s best ambassadors. “Patreese is an excellent student and an engaged citizen. He is a bright, hardworking, and dedicated to achieving his educational goals, serving his country and community,” Doninger said. “It was a privilege to work with him during his course of study at Gateway and it has been a joy, though not a surprise, to witness his continued success."
Charles will finish his studies next year after a year-long internship in nutrition and dietetics. After graduation from UConn, he plans to serve in the Army, hoping to be deployed with a medical unit on a peacekeeping mission in Africa. Later, he plans to work as a dietician, perhaps opening up his own health-related company one day. As he looks forward to all that is ahead, he says the foundation began taking shape at GCC on that first day.
“I got to UConn as a junior well prepared, thanks to my professors at Gateway. I lot of what I learned there I still use every day,” he said. “It’s been the best of both worlds.”