Arnold Castillo simply wanted to blend with his fellow CCRI classmates, do his work and go home at the end of the day, until an impromptu visit to the Student Veterans Organization (SVO) brought the quiet, reserved Cranston native out of his shell.
After a nine-month tour in Kuwait as a U.S. Army sergeant, Castillo struggled to readjust to civilian life, but the SVO opened new doors and led him down an unexpected career path.
“I was going to be that person that wasn’t going to mingle with anybody,” he said.
From loner to leader, the laid-back Castillo eventually became president of SVO and a strong advocate for fellow student veterans, helping those with similar backgrounds ease the transition from the battlefield to the classroom.
A far cry from the overwhelmed student who barely made it through his first two years at CCRI prior to the military – “I did horrible. I had all D’s and F’s,” he recalled – Castillo graduates in December 2017 with his eye on transferring to a four-year university and continuing his education in business management.
This summer, he enrolled in the Warrior-Scholar Project, a two-week academic boot camp hosted at Cornell University aimed toward helping student veterans adapt to college life, which helped sharpen his focus during his final semester.
“It was very humbling,” Castillo said. “I would never think I’d end up near an Ivy League college sitting in a classroom listening to these professors talk.”
A self-described “team player” who discovered his calling at CCRI, Castillo departs the college ready to write the next chapter in his remarkable story.
“I’m ready to see where life takes me,” he said.
After completing her senior year of high school as part of CCRI’s Running Start Program, Warwick resident Courtney Sheridan ’17 couldn’t decide whether she wanted to return to the Knight Campus or immediately transfer to a four-year university.
With a little push from her parents, Sheridan decided to further embrace the CCRI experience, which – coupled with her remarkable work ethic both in and out of the classroom – ultimately paved her path to the University of Rhode Island.
“It’s the best decision I ever made in my life,” said Sheridan, now a marketing major at URI. “It was so beneficial for me. The people at CCRI are like family to me.”
A standout softball player at Warwick-based Toll Gate High, Sheridan quit the team as a sophomore because of increasing tensions between her and her coach, walking away from a sport she had played “since I could pick up a ball.”
At CCRI, then coach Liz Afonso persuaded her to give softball a second try, and Sheridan immediately rediscovered her love for the game, setting new records for strikeouts in a game, season and career as one of the most decorated pitchers in school history.
For two semesters, Sheridan also participated in the Joint Admissions Agreement and Inter-Institutional Student Exchange programs, which allowed her to take courses at URI during her time at CCRI, and worked as an intern for the Athletics Department, often arriving at campus at 9 a.m. and not leaving until 8 at night. Ever since she was 15, she’s worked at least two jobs to pay for her own tuition.
In addition to taking six classes in her first semester at URI, Sheridan is also a building supervisor at the Mackal Field House at the Kingston Campus, works 10 office hours per week as an athletics marketing intern and teaches pitching classes three days a week at the Extra Innings academy in Warwick.
Though she was recruited heavily by Division I schools during her prime in high school, Sheridan admits jumping from Toll Gate to URI – or any four-year university – would’ve been a mistake and credits her time at CCRI as the perfect “stepping stone” for her and any student willing to put the time and effort into a successful college career.
“CCRI makes you feel at home,” said Sheridan. “I loved coming in every day. I did a lot of time management here and I have to do 10 times more at URI. And when I graduate from URI I’m probably going to have to do 10 times more, so it definitely helps.”
Growing up with parents who sacrificed long hours in the workforce to provide for he and his younger siblings, Jesus Ocasio never once veered off course at CCRI or even considered giving up on his dream. All he needed was to find the right fit.
Inspired by his pediatrician, the Providence native is now pursuing a career in the respiratory care field in hope that his parents can soon watch him walk that stage on graduation day knowing the role they played in carving his path to success.
Raised in a working-class family – his father is an HVAC specialist and his mother worked as a nurse’s assistant before retiring – Ocasio spent six years taking courses at CCRI hoping to stumble into a career of some sorts, all while working more than 40 hours a week in a kitchen at a nursing facility in Smithfield.
“I was struggling trying to figure out what I was going to do,” he said.
Life at home only complicated matters. While Ocasio juggled his increasing workload to help provide for his family, his parents adopted three of his cousin’s young children, adding more mouths to feed in an already crowded household.
“It was very stressful,” he said. “I tried my best to always work around school and work to help my parents. Whatever you have, you have to work with it.”
Ocasio stayed the course and eventually followed through on a tip from his former pediatrician to check out the respiratory care field.
“I found it really interesting,” Ocasio said. “I thought to myself, ‘You know what? I really want to do this.’”
Aided by CCRI’s EasyPay payment plan – “That helped me out a ton,” he recalled – Ocasio enrolled in respiratory care and is now preparing for upcoming clinicals, which will allow him to apply everything he’s learned so far in a real-life setting. His work in security for Alexion Manufacturing in Smithfield, allows for more flexibility with his course load.
Ocasio maintains a hectic daily routine consisting of his morning workout, followed by classes three days a week and his job at night, while he lives at home helping his parents and cousins. His grandmother and aunt, their homes in Puerto Rico ravaged by Hurricane Maria, will eventually move in as well.
Life won’t get any easier for Ocasio, but the reward is worth the sacrifice. He’s come too far to give up now.
“It took me several years to realize what my drive was. My drive is everything my family has ever done for me,” he said. “I fall in love with it every day. To me, it’s the greatest thing on earth knowing I have a purpose as to why I’m pursuing and trying as hard as I am.”
The largest community college in the region, CCRI has more than 15,500 students enrolled across four campuses in Warwick, Lincoln, Providence and Newport, as well a satellite location at the Westerly Education Center. We offer the lowest tuition of any college in the state, and we’re dedicated to providing open access to Rhode Islanders who want the knowledge, skills, and training necessary to enter high-quality careers or transfer to four-year institutions.
CCRI students are from Rhode Island, are educated and trained here, and find careers here. According to a survey of 2015 graduates, 90 percent are either employed, continuing their education or a combination of both. Almost 84 percent of those graduates said they are working or studying in Rhode Island.
Simply put, CCRI has an immediate and positive impact on your life, your community and Rhode Island's economy.
As part of our mission to provide affordable open access to higher education, CCRI has the lowest college tuition in the Ocean State.* We have incredible programs like JAA, Reverse Transfer and numerous financial aid opportunities to help students who might not otherwise be able to attend college succeed while saving money.
CCRI sets high academic standards necessary for our students to graduate and either transfer to four-year colleges or begin successful careers in high-demand fields. For more information about where CCRI graduates go after they graduate, read our 2015 Career and Placement and Graduate Transfer Report.
Rhode Islanders are the pillar of CCRI’s diverse student body. Of the more than 15,500 students enrolled at CCRI in fall 2016, almost 96 percent were Rhode Island residents. Whether you live in Westerly or Woonsocket, you are only a short distance from one of CCRI's four main campuses or two satellite locations.
CCRI's high-quality education fits your busy schedule. Credit and noncredit courses are offered day or night, meaning students can find and schedule classes that work for them. We also offer a wide variety of academic support services to assist students.
*The Community College of Rhode Island is a state-supported public institution; therefore, tuition and fees are subject to increase.
CCRI prepares students for careers in high-wage, in-demand fields.
Take a look at how many CCRI graduates are working, continuing their education or a combination of both.*
Business Administration: 97%
Computer Studies: 78%