Helping Students Succeed: Our Proud Graduates
The Gateway Community College Foundation helps students succeed. The students bring the drive, determination, and diligence. The Foundation offers assistance where it's needed to help students keep pushing forward to achieve their academic goals.
Their stories are inspiring, encouraging, and quite often remarkable. We share a handful of them—knowing that there are thousands more proud alumni of Gateway making their mark in the world, and many more in Gateway's classrooms today, with eyes fixed on tomorrow.
‘What determines whether or not I’m prepared is
how much effort I put into succeeding.’
"Gateway and the help I received from the
GCC Foundation gave me a sense of perseverance to get to where I am today."
Kimberly Alvarez, 21, remembers a happy childhood in Ecuador before her father went to the United States to forge a better future for his family. While Kimberly’s high school friends embraced new life experiences, she stayed home nights to care for her 7-year-old brother while her mother worked. She still excelled in her studies and began learning English, anticipating joining her father in Stratford, Conn. During her junior year, the long-awaited call came: Their papers were ready, and the family was reunited. Leaving grandparents and friends behind was difficult, and Kimberly was concerned about her English fluency. “I realized that what determines whether or not I’m prepared is the effort I put into succeeding.” Online language lessons and practicing her English enabled her to enroll full-time at Gateway in 2017. She has already earned an associate degree in Computer Science and is now majoring in Business. She plans to transfer to Quinnipiac University, major in Computer Information Systems, and one day teach computer science.
“I set goals every day and push myself to academic success,” Kimberly says. She’s an officer of Gateway’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community colleges. In fact, she received a $1,000 Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship from the PTK Foundation, as well as KeyBank scholarships via the GCC Foundation for the past three years. CLICK HERE to watch Kimberly’s scholarship thank-you video. All was going well until June 2019, when she and her boyfriend suffered accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. “I was in a coma for five days,” Kimberly recalls. She awoke to discover her boyfriend had died. It’s been difficult dealing with her grief and the aftereffects of carbon monoxide, including confusion, headaches and dizziness. Kimberly, however, focuses on long-term goals. “My past experiences taught me I can achieve everything if I stay focused.”
Sadly, her father was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. “It’s hard, but my parents taught us ‘family is union.’ That’s how we’re facing this – together.”
In 2011, Anthony Barroso shouldered a responsibility most 18-year-olds would find impossible when he assumed custody of his newborn son – now 9 – born a month before Anthony’s high school graduation. “It was a lot of responsibility,” he recalls. “College wasn’t on my mind. I had to concentrate on supporting my son.” To do that, he worked a series of jobs in restaurants and fast-food establishments. Born in Ecuador, Anthony came to the United States as a 7-year-old with his parents,
whom he describes as a “working-class family.” While he was attending East Haven High School, his mother became a single parent to him and his younger brother and sister. When he finally entered Gateway in 2015 at age 22, family finances were challenging, since he was
ineligible for financial aid. At that point, Anthony felt “behind and unhappy” about where he was. Gateway helped turned Anthony’s life around, however. In 2018, he earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts. He now attends Gateway fulltime and is pursuing a second degree, in Radiation Therapy. The $1,500 NewAlliance Foundation scholarship he received will help him achieve his initial career goal of
becoming a radiation therapist. Longterm, he aspires to become a radiation oncologist.
CLICK HERE to watch Anthony’s scholarship thank-you video.
His scholarship definitely will make a difference in his ability to stay in school. “It’s one less thing to worry about,” he explains. “It shows me I’m not alone; it’s not hopeless. Gateway and the help I received from the
GCC Foundation gave me a sense of perseverance to get to where I am today.”
As a first-generation college graduate, Anthony wants to inspire young people facing barriers to higher education. He volunteers with Connecticut Students for a Dream, an advocacy group fighting to open doors for undocumented youth and their families. “Making a difference, helping people, being a good example to my son – that’s what’s important to me.”
‘Everyone’s ship comes in. You just have to be on the pier when it does.’
“I got a great education at GCC, and it contributed to my life experience.”
“Everyone’s ship comes in,” according to Anthony Shepard. “You just have to be on the pier when it does.” For Anthony, that day came while
he was collecting unemployment.
Anthony, 38, came to Connecticut from the Bronx in 2015. As a teenager, he was mechanically inclined and loved tinkering with machinery. He worked for commercial and industrial electrical contractors, doing installation and repairs at various companies. He occasionally collected unemployment between assignments, including earlier this year.
Eligibility for unemployment benefits requires actively seeking employment or job training. Anthony visited Workforce Alliance,
which focuses on building a highly skilled workforce. There, he learned about Skill Up for Manufacturing, a free program that prepares workers for manufacturing jobs. Gateway collaborates with Workforce Alliance on this five-week program, which already has certified 101 participants.
Anthony believed he could better maintain and repair the high-tech machinery he encountered on the factory floor if he knew how to operate those machines – and he was sure he’d make more money if he did! He passed the Skill Up inventory and started classes in late February, getting machinery training at Eli Whitney Technical School and taking academic classes at Gateway. Then came the pandemic and distance learning, impossible for Skill Up’s “hands-on” portion.
Anthony’s cohort lost some time, but when Connecticut’s Board of Regents identified Skill Up as an “essential function,” classes resumed. This required following strict Centers for Disease Control guidelines,
including social distancing, use of personal protective equipment, and daily deep cleaning. It took extra time to finish – but finish they did! Workforce Alliance provided stipends during the program and a new laptop and precision calipers upon completion.
Anthony quickly landed a position with one of the biggest maintenance engineering companies in the nation. “If it wasn’t for Skill Up, I probably wouldn’t have done as well as I did on the screening test for that job,” he says. “God always has a Plan B. That’s what Skill Up for Manufacturing was for me!”
Ashlie Grasa graduated Gateway in 2016 with associate degrees in Natural Science and Mathematics and Engineering, and a certificate in Computer-Assisted Design. Her past journey was challenging, but the road ahead had more obstacles.
When Ashlie was 4, a family tragedy sent her to live with a series of relatives in different states. She remained somewhat “nomadic”: living in Australia as an exchange student and in Hawaii with her fiancé. Researching stateside colleges, the couple chose Connecticut for its diversity and academic opportunities. Ashlie enrolled at Gateway because it was affordable, accessible by public transportation, and offered many degrees. She received Pell grants and GCC Foundation scholarships, including Curran and Laptop scholarships. She also worked in GCC’s Development and Community Partnerships Office and ended up paying nothing out-of-pocket for tuition. Ashlie transferred to the University of Massachusetts (Lowell), earning a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering in June. Hers isn’t a “Cinderella story,” however. While she got grants and scholarships at UMass, she couldn’t afford both out-of-state tuition and housing after her first year. She lived in her car for the next three years, showering and changing in the gymnasium. During cold weather, she often slept in the school’s Radiation Laboratory, where she worked full time.
In 2018, Ashlie was named among UMass Lowell’s first Oprah Winfrey Scholars, funded by a $1.5 million matching gift from the entertainment mogul and philanthropist. (See photo from award ceremony.) Although the $2,500 a semester helped financially, she still graduated with $48,000 in student loans. She’s moving to Cincinnati, where she’ll live with her grandfather and continue job hunting. While she received an offer from the University of Utah, she’s focusing on finding her “dream job” as a health physicist.
Looking back, Ashlie sees her time at Gateway as academically and personally fulfilling. “I got a great education at GCC, and it contributed to my life experience,” she explains. “I felt more comfortable with students like me, who had personal challenges.”
‘Everyone’s ship comes in. You just have to be on the pier when it does.’
“Gateway gave me a new direction in life and opened a whole new world.”
Ivanna Figol graduated from Gateway in May, having earned an associate degree in Business Administration (Accounting Option), two certificates (Management and Accounting), and a 4.0 GPA. Those accomplishments would be remarkable for anyone, but for a Ukrainian immigrant speaking no English when she arrived in this country in 2012, they are extraordinary.
Ivanna’s name was chosen in a lottery for U.S. Permanent Resident Cards (aka “green cards”). She was able to bring along her husband Volodymyr, a machine operator, and their 2-year-old daughter Andriana. She and Andriana later returned briefly to Ukraine so Ivanna could complete her bachelor’s degree in Economics.
When she came back to the United States, Ivanna attended ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at the East Haven Adult Education Center and worked nights as a healthcare aide. In 2015, she began taking courses through Gateway’s ESL program, before entering the college’s academic program part-time. “English was challenging,” she explains, “but I knew I had to speak it well to become an accountant.” She found camaraderie among her fellow students and remarkable support from the college’s ESL instructors. At Gateway, Ivanna became an officer of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community colleges. She also worked as a teller at a North Haven bank and a waitress at a Branford café. Those jobs, plus financial aid in the form of Pell Grants, was a huge help to the family, especially after her husband’s on-the-job hand injury led to surgeries and a partial disability.
Ivanna has been accepted into the Master of Science in Accounting program at Albertus Magnus College (AMC). She currently is taking two more preparatory courses at AMC, which the college will combine with her Gateway credits and Ukrainian university courses to complete her bachelor’s degree. The master’s program also will qualify her as a Certified Public Accountant, and her career goal is to become a Financial Specialist. “Gateway was my springboard to success,” she says. “It boosted my confidence and allowed me to go forward.”
As a teenager working in a local florist shop, Debbie Mele’s career seemed certain, but Gateway set her on a new path when she encountered a midlife “detour.” After high school, Debbie entered the Atlanta School of Floral Design. That led to a successful career, including 14 years at Myers Flower Shop and certification as an FTD Master Floral Designer. Unfortunately, her craft’s repetitive motion led to surgery and a career change at 39 – leaving her to wonder, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
Debbie enjoyed travel and decided on hospitality management. She asked the University of New Haven (UNH) which Gateway courses were transferable to its Hospitality and Tourism degree. She then enrolled at GCC, ultimately receiving associate degrees in Food and Beverage Management and Hotel and Motel Management. “Gateway gave me a new direction in life and opened a whole new world,” she recalls. Debbie describes Gateway as a “small community experience.” While there, she and fellow students started the Hospitality Club. “One year, we made edible ornaments for the White House Christmas tree. We were invited to Washington, toured the White House, and received presidential ornaments.”
Debbie later earned her bachelor’s degree at UNH. After working at several local hotels and inns, she joined the newly opened Omni New Haven Hotel, ultimately becoming Senior Sales Manager. In 2013, she was among three distinguished alumni inducted into the GCC Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
Debbie and husband Al always wanted to be “snowbirds,” so in 2015, Debbie, then 60, transferred to the Omni Resort, ChampionsGate, Fla., and the couple relocated there. She worked in sales – until COVID-19 decimated the hospitality industry. It’s uncertain when that sector will recover, so she and Al plan to return to Connecticut next spring, where they’ll live in their former East Haven home, currently a rental. She wants to continue working and is applying to area hotels. She might also explore teaching hospitality classes part time, as she once did at Gateway!
‘My mistakes aren’t
my tragedy… they’re
part of my armor.’
‘I’m gaining skills at
Gateway that translate
directly to the workforce.’
Tyrone Poole’s father wasn’t part of his life. Instead, he found acceptance running with a gang, a path that led him to prison. While incarcerated, Tyrone became a father himself. “My greatest fear was that my son would hate me,” he recalls. “He was my motivation to do better.” After his release, Tyrone started driving a taxi. He and his wife now have three children – two sons and a daughter – and he works full-time as a truck driver.
Tyrone wanted more for himself and his family, however. He started at Gateway in 1998, but found going to school, working, and raising a young family “overwhelming.” In 2018, Tyrone, then 46, gave college another go – and found success. A Human Services major, he plans to transfer to SCSU when he completes his associate degree, hopefully in 2022. His goal is to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and work with ex-offenders.
Tyrone takes nine credits a semester and works full time, but still makes time to volunteer in prisons, mentoring young offenders. “They can relate to me,” he explains. “I don’t use my mistakes as a tragedy. They’re part of my armor; they made me stronger.”
Tyrone believes he is helping to destroy the “generational curse” of being a young Black man growing up without a father.
He is proud of his children. His oldest, now 25, also drives trucks. His youngest, a 19-year-old daughter, is a student at Gateway. And his 20-year-old son attends Dean College. Tyrone is currently doing his homework on an iPad, which he shares with his younger son, also distance learning from the family’s New Haven home. Tyrone plans to use his $250 GCC Foundation scholarship to help buy a much-needed laptop.
CLICK HERE to watch Tyrone's scholarship thank you video!
‘Gateway opened a lot
of new opportunities
and relationships for me.’
Earning an associate degree in Restaurant Food Services Management was a huge accomplishment for Sheena Infante Davis. Sheena entered the foster care system as a 6-year-old, living in seven different homes before being adopted, at age 15, by a single foster mother with whom she had been living for a year. The adoption was welcome, but also posed challenges that first year, including a new home, a new school, and a new sibling when her Mom gave birth to a new brother!
Sheena entered Gateway after graduating high school. She did well at first, but personal struggles, including family health issues and financial challenges, caused her to leave school. She became a certified nursing assistant, working overnight to support herself, but never gave up her dream of returning to college. “I wanted to finish what I started,” she explains.
She did just that by returning to Gateway in 2018, deciding to make her love of cooking and baking, discovered in the kitchen of an earlier foster home, her career goal. “Coming back to Gateway was a fresh start,” Sheena says. “It opened a lot of new opportunities and relationships for me.” She found yet another new “home” at the college, crediting the support and encouragement she received from Gateway faculty and staff for her success. She also is grateful for scholarship support she received from the Gateway Community College Foundation, including the $2,000 Chaine des Rostisseurs CT Bailliage Scholarship, which she was awarded for two consecutive years. (CLICK HERE TO VIEW SHEENA’S THANK-YOU INTERVIEW.)
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheena, now 24, was able to complete her graduation requirements, including finishing her internship hours this past summer. She now works 30+ hours a week as a line cook at one former internship site – the Hook and Ladder, located in the Best Western Plus North Haven Hotel. She’s excited to be living on her own, in an apartment in New Haven’s Wooster Square neighborhood. She also continues to “bake her heart out” via her own business, Sweet Sprinkles of Love. She hopes one day to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of New Haven.
‘Gateway gave me
confidence ... I discovered
I could become somebody
Gateway alum Victoria Verlezza is an accomplished, respected educator, consultant, and expert in the fields of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). She earned a B.A. in Psychology (Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Genocide Studies) at Clark University, Worcester, Mass.; an M.Ed. (Higher Education Administration and Social Justice Education) at UMass (Amherst); and an M.A. and Ph.D. (Human Development) at Fielding Graduate University (Santa Barbara, Calif.).
She is now an independent diversity, equity and inclusion consultant as well as adjunct faculty at California State University, Monterey Bay. Victoria, now 35, began this remarkable journey as the daughter of working-class parents, neither of whom attended college. In school, she struggled with learning disabilities, including auditory processing and dyslexia. Some high school teachers told her she wouldn’t get into college, a pronouncement that proved true when she wasn’t admitted to her school of choice. Her parents decided it would be best for Victoria to attend Gateway, get an associate degree, and transfer a four-year degree program later.
Gateway turned out to be a good fit for Victoria. “I got involved,” she explains. “I made it what I wanted and needed it to be.” Through sheer determination, she excelled at her studies; becamea member of Gateway’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community colleges; was president of the Student Government Assocation; and served as student speaker at GCC’s 2006 commencement.
At Gateway, she found friends and mentors, as well as understanding and acceptance, especially after she had come out as a lesbian not long before, when she was 17. “I had no gay role models growing up,” she explains, “so I try to be transparent about where I come from and who I am.”
Victoria says community college helped her understand she could do anything. “Gateway gave me confidence to take charge of my education. I discovered I could become somebody entirely new. I want people to look up to me and say, ‘I’d like to do that.’”
Gateway’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment & Training Program (SNAP E&T) wasn’t the first rung on Frances Rivera-Biaggi’s corporate ladder, nor will it be the last!
SNAP helps low-income individuals and families buy healthy food. SNAP E&T is a tuition-free job-readiness program providing vocational training, career activities, and support services to SNAP beneficiaries. It offers education and/or certification in several occupations, including bookkeeper, business office professional, medical office assistant, community health worker, emergency medical responder, and pharmacy technician. Frances’ path to Gateway’s SNAP E&T Program this past August was a unique one. A goal-directed and determined young woman, she already had earned a bachelor’s degree in 2015 and was enrolled in an MBA program. She was attending classes and working as a bank teller, both part-time, when she became pregnant with her first son, who was born in March 2016. She transferred to an accelerated MBA program, and her second son was born in 2017. Being both a full-time student and stay-at-home Mom to two young children was challenging. Frances had to quit her job and apply for SNAP benefits. She persisted with her studies and describes getting her MBA in 2018 as a “huge accomplishment.”
With no recent work history, finding employment in her field was difficult, however, even with a four-year degree and an MBA, so Frances took a sales job at Best Buy. Her sons’ father suggested she apply for an operations manager position at Michael’s, the same chain he worked for. It was another rung up the ladder, but not her “dream job”: Senior Operations Manager at Amazon.
Frances applied, unsuccessfully, for several Amazon positions. One requirement was often Six Sigma Certification, a method to improve business processes. Frances remembered reading about GCC’s tuition-free SNAP E&T Program. One of the Business Professional and Office Assistant Training Certification courses was Six Sigma White Belt Certification. She started the program in August, taking the Six Sigma class first, and was hired as an Amazon Area Manager in North Haven just last month. She now works three 12-hour weekend overnight shifts and will finish the SNAP E&T Program in December.
“I’m gaining skills at Gateway that translate directly to the workforce,” she explains. “I’m learning what I need to get what I want.” She plans to continue climbing that corporate ladder at Amazon; next Operations Manager, then Senior Operations Manager – the dream job!
‘I was on the edge, but
I wouldn’t give up.’
For single mom Kelsey Snedeker, grit, determination, and Gateway’s Family Economic Security Program (FESP) are helping her navigate challenging times.
In 2018, Kelsey, pregnant with her now 2-year-old daughter Ariyah, graduated from Career High School along with her classmates. She gave birth one week later and enrolled at Gateway in August. She is now a full-time student majoring in Human Services.
Kelsey has been part of FESP for three semesters. FESP offers career, financial, personal, and academic support, as well as one-on-one coaching, workshops, scholarships, financial aid, and networking skills. Gateway and the GCC Foundation help underwrite FESP costs, including the financial assistance that helped Kelsey face challenges that threatened to derail her education.
The GCC Foundation awards $300 scholarships each semester to full-time FESP students and $150 scholarships each semester to part-time FESP students. Participants also can apply for the Foundation’s FESP “Helping Hands” grants, which provide emergency financial support directly to vendors for their critical needs like rent, utilities, car repairs, insurance, and childcare.
That help has been vitally important to Kelsey, who entered foster care at 18 months. At 10, she was adopted by her biological mother’s aunt and uncle. Kelsey’s adoptive mom, who handled the household expenses and helped with Ariyah’s childcare needs, passed away last October, and Kelsey was struggling, personally, academically, and financially. “I was on the edge,” she recalls, “but I couldn’t give up. I have to do this for my daughter. With the help of my FESP coach and the FESP team, I completed the semester.”
Kelsey is determined to succeed. While her restaurant job hours were cut during the pandemic, she continues to work as a home health aide. She enjoys helping older adults and wants to specialize in gerontology when she completes her Gateway education.
‘I want to be a good
example for my daughter.’
When Patricia “Trish” Feliciano, 51, graduated high school, she hoped to study architecture, but a car accident made it impossible to lean over a drafting table. Unsure about her future, she entered the workforce, first as a teller at People’s Bank and later at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, working as a Behavorial Health Specialist. While at Anthem, she decided to give college a try, enrolling part-time at Gateway’s Long Wharf campus. She graduated in 1999 with an associate degree in General Studies.
In 2010, she became a secretary in the University of New Haven’s Facilities Department and now serves as Facilities Coordinator. A member of the United Professional and Service Employees Union’s (UPSEU) Local #1222 Clerical Unit, she became active on the Unit’s Executive Board about six years ago and became its President in 2016. In that position, she represents the interests of about 50 UNH employees and has helped negotiate two contracts with the university. In January 2020, Trish enrolled at UNH to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, “for my own personal growth,” as she explains. “I always enjoyed learning, and I want to set a good example for my 13-year-old daughter Selena.” Her husband Enrique was supportive of her decision, and Trish was pleased to discover that UNH accepted all but six of her Gateway credits, meaning that she started as “almost a junior.”
Looking back at Gateway, where she majored in both General Studies and Gerontology and Therapeutic Recreation, Trish found attending school nights and intercessions while working full time at UNH convenient and affordable. “Honestly, community colleges are a great place to find yourself and earn credits you can transfer to a four-year program, like I did. I wish I hadn’t waited to go back to school!”
"Gateway gave me confidence in myself. I will always remember Gateway as giving me a new beginning.”
A New Beginning
Pauline Dorsi '14 graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 1989 with a BA in history. She worked at Health Net as a claims processor and became interested in procedure codes and diagnosis codes and how they work together to pay claims properly.
Although she loved her job, she unfortunately was laid off in 2011. She started at Gateway in 2012 through a program called TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance), a federal program that provides a path for employment growth and opportunity through aid to U.S. workers who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade.
"I had the opportunity to go to school," she said. "I was very fortunate the state paid for my education. I will always be grateful for that."
Because she was interested in codes, she majored in BOT: Medical Administrative Assistant. As part of her coursework she took Medical Coding I & II, which were instrumental in helping her to get her new job as a Medicare Biller/Analyst at Milford Hospital.
According to Dorsi, “Gateway gave me confidence in myself. After not being in school for 23 years, I was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa, Honor Society. I was honored to be a part of that—you need at least 3.5 to be invited to join. I will always remember Gateway as giving me a new beginning.”
Dorsi also credits her professors for her renewed success. “The BOT professors are fabulous!" she said. "They really care about you and take the time to make sure you are prepared for the working world. I was fortunate to have a student worker job. I was able to make some spending money while gaining some real world experience. Gateway is a great school and a good opportunity to make a new beginning. They offer many classes at various times. I am so glad I chose Gateway for my path into the future.”
“It was difficult working and going to school, especially with our three year old at home. But my wife and her family have been so incredibly supportive and all the professors and staff at Gateway are really wonderful."
The Power Of Perseverance
Looking back, even Cesar Rivaben '14 is a little astonished at how far he has come in such a short period of time.
Having grown up in Buenos Aires, Cesar immigrated to the United States in August of 2000. He arrived with $200 in his pocket and spoke no English. On May 22, Cesar walked across the stage at Woolsey Hall to receive his Associates degree in Business Administration from Gateway Community College. After first arriving in the U.S., he worked various odd jobs in California, from roofing to dishwashing, just to get by. “In 2002, I got married and finally found a job in sales working for Bob’s Discount Furniture,” says Rivaben. The position was contingent upon him learning English within 90 days. “It was my goal and I knew that being in this type of job environment would help me excel in English,” said Rivaben.
He worked for Bob’s for five years while also working at Raymour & Flanigan. He also began to run a successful cleaning business franchise. “Sometimes I was working nearly a hundred hours a week between being at Bob’s during the day and running the business in the evening. But I was doing well."
Then, according to Cesar, everything "went sideways" in 2008 and 2009 with the economy. “We had to move in with my in-laws and I returned to working in retail at Pilgrim Furniture,” he said. His mother-in-law encouraged him to go back to school. Rivaben had received his GED in 2012 since he only completed two years of high school in Argentina. He recalls, “I was so scared about going back to school because English was not my first language. But I knew I had to try."
Rivaben registered for two classes at Gateway in the Fall of 2012, and then took two more classes during the Winter session. For the last two years, he has been taking five classes during the Fall and Spring semesters and two classes each during the Winter and Summer sessions.
“It was difficult working and going to school, especially with our three-year-old at home. But my wife and her family have been so incredibly supportive and all the professors and staff at Gateway are really wonderful." Leaving Gateway with his Associate’s degree in hand and an exemplary GPA, Rivaben will begin classes in the Fall to complete his Bachelor’s degree at Quinnipiac University. He hopes to pursue a career in commercial banking.
“I’m very excited but also sad to leave because Gateway has been like another family for me. Of course it’s all part of the journey and I just hope it keeps going in the same upward direction." Rivaben eventually hopes that he can motivate young high school students to stay determined and persevere in school by sharing his story.
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"Like most 17-year-olds, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew is that it would require a college education."
Building a Better Future
Growing up in the Bronx, Edwin Martinez '01 loved nothing better than tagging along with his uncle, a superintendent, on repair jobs. “I thought that was the most awesome job,” he recalls, “but my uncle encouraged me to aspire to do, and be, more.”
That experience was the start of the journey that eventually led him to Gateway Community College and his current position as a manufacturing engineer at Space-Craft Manufacturing, a New-Haven based aerospace company.
When Edwin was 11 years old, his widowed mother moved him and his sister to New Haven. He graduated from Wilbur Cross High School in 1996. “Like most 17-year-olds, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Edwin said. “All I knew is that it would require a college education.”
“I read just about every Gateway pamphlet. When I came across the one about Manufacturing Engineering Technology, I knew right away—this is it!” Edwin credits the financial aid he received with enabling him to continue his college experience at Gateway, where became involved with several student groups, including the Black Student Union and the Organization of Latin American Students, and was elected president of the Student Government Association.
After earning an associate degree in 2001, he continued his education journey at Central Connecticut State University. He remains an active member of the New Haven community, serving on the New Haven Youth Commission Board and on the Executive Board of FLECHAS Inc., a cultural organization that promotes the African influence on Puerto Rican culture.
The first in his family to attend college, Edwin credits Gateway with helping him build the foundation for the success he’s achieved. “I’m grateful to the College for providing me with an outstanding education and a promising future.”
"I came to believe it was cool to be back in school. Everyone was down to earth, and I loved the person education was allowing me to become."
Paying It Forward
Bethany Watkins knows firsthand how getting a scholarship can help make someone’s educational dreams come true. That’s how it happened for her when she decided to pursue an associate’s degree after she completed high school, entered the workforce, and started her family. And that’s what attracted her to her first job after she graduated from Gateway Community College—program officer at the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven. She spent three years there aiding others to secure the financial assistance they needed to attend college by helping distribute over $500,000 in scholarships.
While she has since moved on, she remains connected to helping students secure financial aid by serving on Gateway Community College Foundation’s Scholarship Committee. She even went on to pursue a four-year degree. While her mother always encouraged her, she was particularly inspired by three Gateway professors—each in different subjects—who instilled in her the importance of learning and the beauty of having passion for both education and humanity. “I came to believe it was ‘cool’ to be back in school,” she explains. “Everyone was down to earth, and I loved the person education was allowing
me to become.”
Watkins truly embraces her work on the Foundation’s Scholarship Committee. “Because of my own experiences—both personal and professional—I’m able to provide insight into the challenges many people face in pursuing their educational dreams. In a way, I’m ‘paying it forward’ by helping students who deserve the education that Gateway can provide.”
"Gateway was great. They want to help you succeed They spent time with me, and they cared about what I really wanted to do."
Fulfilling A Dream, Helping Others
When Sam Osei '06 came to the United States from Ghana to visit his sister, little did he realize he was embarking on a journey to a career he never dreamt possible. He became interested in nursing, helping to care for his terminally ill father. The problem was that in his native land nursing wasn’t viewed as a “suitable” profession for men.
After earning his GED in the U.S., he started taking post-graduate business classes at Housatonic Community College. During that time, he worked at a skilled nursing facility, where he soon came to realize that nursing was his true passion. That ultimately led him to Gateway.
“Gateway was great,” Osei said. “They want to help you succeed. They spent time with me, and they cared about what I really wanted to do.” Sam graduated from Gateway’s nursing program in 2006 and became a registered nurse at Gaylord Hospital, where he now serves as the evening team leader on the spinal cord unit. Within two short years, his dedication and professionalism resulted in him receiving a Nightingale Award, the state’s highest nursing recognition. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Charter Oak State College.
Osei works as a part-time outreach coordinator for Gateway’s nursing program, helping strengthen nursing career pathways by reaching out to local high schools and recruiting prospective nursing students to Gateway. He initiated and led “Gateway’s Men Embrace Nursing” Initiative, and is a member of Gateway’s Nursing Mentoring Program, the goal of which is to match graduates with enrolled nursing students to help ensure their academic success. He also wrote the “Men in Nursing at GCC” section of the College’s website and has appeared on local TV shows, where he promotes nursing careers for males. Finally, he has returned to Ghana several times, donating textbooks to a nursing school there. His outreach efforts were recognized by the Gateway Community College Foundation, which named him a Distinguished Alumnus during its 2009 Annual Hall of Fame Induction and Reception.