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Students reflect on first week of classes
Sept. 10, 2012
A smart economic choice, a fresh start or a second chance. The Community College of Rhode Island represents different things to its approximately 17,000 students, who returned to school on Sept. 4.
Some students are here because it is the only way they could afford to go to college; others lacked the academic skills to go to their dream school right away; many more recognize CCRI as a stepping stone, a place that offers a good education at a bargain price to get a higher education or a career started.
For Alejandro Puente, Mike SanSouci and Jennifer Ramirez, three friends from Cumberland, CCRI is “a cheap way to get a couple of classes out of the way” as Ramirez said. All three are attending the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln.
SanSouci wants to transfer to Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island and Puente hopes to go into law enforcement in an investigative capacity. Ramirez, just starting her first CCRI semester, wants to attend law school someday.
CCRI has the highest percentage of military veterans in Rhode Island higher education. Israel Hector is one of them, returning to school after serving in the U.S. Air Force. She is attending classes at the Flanagan Campus, which is also the site of the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy, and hopes to become a police officer.
“It actually feels good to be back,” she said. “I feel like I’m going to accomplish something.”
Adult students – less common at other schools – are another big part of CCRI’s diverse population. Stephen Cavallini, 58, just started taking classes toward a business degree at the Liston Campus in Providence. He wants to change careers after owning his own painting and contracting business for 30 years.
“I’m excited to go to college. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a teenager but because of life and all the responsibilities I couldn’t go,” he said. “This is the first time that I’ve been at a college that I didn’t have to paint.”
Some of CCRI’s students are making the most of an opportunity they otherwise would not have had.
Ethan Zink said he was not a serious student in high school and did not get into the colleges he applied to. “I had some older siblings who were very successful and I looked at them and thought, ‘I’d better kick myself into gear,’” he said.
Zink is attending CCRI in an attempt to turn his academic career around. By 10 a.m. on the first day of classes, he had already attended his first courses in financial accounting and biology and was on the top floor of the Knight Campus waiting for a third to start, conspicuous in a well-pressed dress shirt and slacks because he had to go to work right after his classes finished.
Zink works at Toray Plastics and hopes to be promoted to full-time work soon, at which point he will start taking classes at night. His ultimate goal is to work hard, prove to other colleges that he has what it takes to succeed and earn a master’s degree in business administration.
Though some CCRI students regret missing the first year or two of traditional college dorm life, friendship and familiarity are a big part of the CCRI experience. Just ask students Alyssa Petrarca and Vanessa Lutrario, who met several years ago at Cranston West High School, and their friend Steph Felix of Coventry.
This trio takes as many classes together as possible. “I’ve got a lot of friends here and we all like to study together,” Felix said.
Student Marcus Pena said that, although CCRI is close to home, there are many important ways that it differs from high school: the ability to pick your own classes, for example, and the hands-off disciplinary attitude of the professors.
“When I first came here [last year] I thought it was going to be like high school,” Pena said, “ I thought I was going to get in trouble for being late, but it’s not like that.”
“The students have lives,” said John Donato, beginning his fourth year as an adjunct. “A lot of them have families.”
Donato teaches Math for Business, a career-oriented course for students with business ambitions, and Fundamentals of Math, a course for those who need to get their skills up to par. This combination allows him to see a broad range of CCRI students.
“With Fundamentals it’s mostly a freshman class and you get a few military people coming back from their time overseas – a good variety, generally,” Donato said. “I’ve found that the students here have great attitudes. They’re great to work with … they’re using this as an opportunity and they see it as an opportunity.”