21st Commencement: Milestones and Second Chances Point to Brighter Futures

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
 

Grandmother and Grandson Graduate Together

If you were looking for Lee Barden and her grandson Richard Allspaugh on a Friday night this past semester, you could find them in American Government class at Gateway. The grandmother and grandson took the course together and were often “pushing each other on to get the grade” she said. Both received an A in the course and each will receive an associate degree in General Studies Thursday. They will march in together and share a monumental family moment:  Barden will be the first person in her family to receive a college degree. “And Richard will be the second,” she said.

Barden, who is a processing technician in GCC’s Registrar’s office, has been working toward her degree for five years. She made it her mission to be in the first class to graduate from the new Gateway. Her focus of study was environmental science, a field that has interested her for years. Her grandson will return to GCC in the fall to pursue a second degree in electrical engineering degree.  Barden said that while it was challenging balancing full-time work and school, she enjoyed learning for the sake of learning and particularly enjoyed having class with her grandson. She discovered even more about him through the class. “He knows a lot about a lot of things,” she said.

Allspaugh said having his grandmother in his class “was really cool.” He said the two often studied together at night and her work ethic motivated him. “If she got an A- on a paper, she was not a happy camper,” he said. “That pushed me. We encouraged each other. We were not going to give up.”

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New Start / Fresh Start Leads to New Beginning for This GCC Grad

Dina O’Neil had always been the type of student to get good grades. After graduating from high school in 1997, she hoped to join the Navy and fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. She watched those dreams slip away after she let the influence of what she calls “the wrong people” lead her down a path riddled with poor choices—choices that eventually landed her in jail.

O’Neil served three years, which she describes as incredibly difficult. As much as she needed the support of those she is closest to—her mother, daughter and fiancĂ©e—she acknowledged that their visits were painful.

“My daughter was a teenager,” O’Neill said. “It wasn’t like she was a child. She knew what was going on.”

And yet without that continued support, O’Neil said she wouldn’t be where she is today, which is a place of new beginnings.

Equally important in helping her transition from incarceration was Gateway Community College’s New Start/Fresh Start program, headed by Dr. Kerin Lee. The program, initiated at Gateway in 2010, assists women on parole with job placement, childcare, housing and transportation, and academic counseling.

At the time, O’Neil said she didn’t realize how important the New Start/Fresh Start program would become to her. “The Fresh Start opportunity came before I had even gone home, and I took it. I wasn’t thinking how hard it would be to have a felony record. I didn’t even know.”

Starting over at Gateway proved to be challenging too, though her strong academic background helped, as did the support of Dr. Lee. This May, O’Neill will graduate from Gateway with an Associate Degree in Human Services. She admits that she isn’t exactly where she’d envisioned herself but that she’s content. She’s thinking of continuing her education in radiation therapy, so she can finally realize her dream of becoming a nurse.

“I didn’t expect to be incarcerated but I can’t go back,” she said. “I wouldn’t change my mistakes. I’ve completed rehab. My daughter has learned from me. I tell her what I learned: Do what you’re supposed to be doing. Make the right choices.” [Read the full story]

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Graduation is Dream Come True for Cancer Survivor

Lucinda DuBois had two children by the time she was 23 and one of her sons passed away when she was just 24. After that, she said, she felt she was drifting. A cancer diagnosis 10 years ago made her rethink her life and she decided to go back to school. While working toward her associate degree in the Drug, Alcohol and Recovery Counselor Program at Gateway, she had to undergo many surgeries related to her cancer. But she pushed on. “My greatest joy started with my first class, English 101, when a story I wrote about my son's death won second place in a writing contest and it continued throughout my college experience,” she said.

A pivotal moment came in Assistant Professor Eileen Russo’s class. DuBois was engaged in an exercise where she played the role of a client and her partner, a counselor. What they were discussing struck a chord and DuBois began to cry. Her classmates tried to comfort her, telling her she was a survivor.  Russo stopped the class for a moment and said that what DuBois wanted wasn’t simply to survive but to thrive. “I've tried to do just that ever since,” DuBois said. “I've been working as an addiction counselor in a clinic since 2008 and I love that Gateway has led me here.”

“Cindi is working in her chosen field and she exemplifies what community colleges are all about- to help students meet real life challenges and provide the skills and knowledge needed for a career,” Russo said.

DuBois plans to go on to Springfield College for a human services degree. She encouraged her son Leigh to attend Gateway; he received a certificate in computer repair and has gone on to another college to study graphic and web design.  “Cancer may have started out trying to take my life but the exact opposite happened; it gave me a life worth living,” she said. “Graduation is huge. I never thought I would graduate from high school, never mind college!” [Read the full story]

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Struggling Mother of Four Came for Retraining, Leaves as Honor Student

Aquila Hatcher-Taylor worked for seven years as an account services coordinator for a health care company when her job was outsourced to India. She decided to take advantage of Gateway’s retraining program, pursuing a certificate in management and another in business office technologies. She’d received her B.S. years earlier and hadn’t been back in a classroom for a long time and worried about how she would do.  She had four children, two of them just four and five years old, and the two older sons and a nephew who lived with her, all totally involved in basketball. She wasn’t about to miss a game. Somehow, she says, she did it, juggling classes, working in student activities, getting the kids to practice and dinner on the table. Her husband would take over with the kids after work and she’d race back to campus, often closing the computer lab at night. Some nights she found herself at the kitchen table studying and writing papers until the sun started to come up.

“I set the bar very high for myself,” she said. Each semester she’d get a 3.9 or a 3.97, just a whisper under 4.0. She was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. This semester, she attained that 4.0. “It was really hard, all of it,” she said. “But every single one of my professors at Gateway supported me and cared about my success.” The best part? She’s already got a job. In fact, she started part-time in January. One of her professors promised to keep an eye out for jobs and when she heard about an opening in the VA Connecticut Research and Education Foundation Inc., a research division of the Veterans Administration, she let Hatcher know. Her part-time job becomes a full-time position in June and she couldn’t be happier. “I love it there,” she said. [Read the full story]

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GM Automotive Grads Hired on the Spot

One morning James B. Aiken got a phone call from Rosemary Zarrelli, a counselor at Bullard Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport. Two automotive students, Jesus Farias and Reymelix Perez, had a half day off and they were interested in Gateway’s General Motors ASEP program.  She wondered if they could stop in for a tour. Aiken, GCC’s GM Corporate Sponsored Program Specialist, told them to come right up. They did and a year later they were GCC students, arriving from the College Career Pathway Program with many college credits. Aiken said they immediately set out to learn all they could about automotive repair. Each landed an internship at a GM dealership in Fairfield County. “They were chosen on the spot,” he said.

Often, the two would stop by to visit Aiken and they’d talk cars and sometimes they’d talk about the future. Aiken continually heard great reports about their work in the classroom and at their internships. He told them they should think about getting a bachelor’s degree next. On Thursday Aiken and Zarrelli will both be in the audience when Farias and Perez receive their degrees. This fall the two good friends will begin work toward a bachelor’s at Central Connecticut State University; both were also hired by the dealerships where they interned. “They are such strong students and they deserve all the credit and praise that is due them,” he said.