First-Generation Spotlight: Digna Arias
The Community College of Rhode Island is home to thousands of first-generation students aiming to become the first in their family to earn a college degree. With myriad student supports available – everything from academic coaching and career counseling to 24-hour tutoring and mental health advocacy programs – CCRI has become the logical choice for those looking to break the mold and start a new trend of academic success.
CCRI’s own Digna Arias, a One-Stop Student Services Office Manager who has worked 13 years at the college, is one of many first-generation students who took advantage of CCRI’s vast resources. A Providence, RI, native, Arias earned her associate degree in General Studies at CCRI in 2012 before ultimately continuing her education at Rhode Island College, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Sociology this past May while graduating Summa Cum Laude. Her parents only earned high-school diplomas, making her the first in her family to earn a college degree.
One of seven children in her family – she has three brothers and three sisters – Arias remains incredibly thankful for the life lessons learned while at CCRI, an experience that helped her immensely when she returned to the classroom almost a decade later to resume her studies at RIC. In her role as an Office Manager for CCRI’s One-Stop Student Services (formerly known as the Office of Enrollment Services), Arias still finds time to work directly with students and takes great pride in helping those like her who are on a path to becoming first-generation college graduates.
What was the experience like at CCRI as a first-generation student and how did the college help you ease that transition for you?
“It felt strange at first. I did not think college was for me. I had watched my mom work her way up without earning a degree and I looked up to her a lot because of that. I thought if she could do it, so could I, so I just wanted to work. She actually encouraged me to go to school and once I did it sparked something in me. When I came to CCRI, I felt encouraged. I felt like I had a clean slate to start fresh as a student, because I wasn’t the most motivated student in high school. I felt a lot less pressure than I thought I would. It made me feel like I had potential that I hadn’t realized I had before.”
What is your role at the college now?
“I am currently an Office Manager of One-Stop Student Services at the Providence Campus. I worked my way up in this department over the last 13 years. I started as a work study in 2010 during my first year at CCRI, this was my first job. I love working with students, especially ones from similar backgrounds who might be exploring new opportunities like I was when I arrived at CCRI. I manage the front-facing staff here in our office and I still find time to work with students when I can, because I believe connecting with them is the best part of the job.”
Did you feel prepared when you enrolled at RIC thanks to your experience at CCRI?
“Absolutely. It was definitely a different experience. I had more confidence in my potential as a student and to advocate for myself. At times, it was difficult to balance everything as an adult learner working full time, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was the right time to dive back in for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the self-confidence I gained from my time here as a student and an employee.”
Now that you have your sociology degree, what are you looking to do next professionally?
“I am always looking for growth opportunities, and I would love to continue to work with students. I think there are some exciting things to come here at CCRI, so I am looking forward to the potential of our continued growth as an institution, as well as my personal growth as a student. I love learning and I am always looking for more opportunities to learn as well, so if I find the right opportunity and the timing is right, I may continue my education and start a grad program.”