From Refugee Camp to Citizen Scholar: TRIO Star Adan Osman

Some students’ paths to college are a little rockier than others. Adan Osman’s journey to Castleton began in Kakuma, a town turned refugee camp in Northern Kenya. His parents had fled there to escape civil war in their native Somalia.

At four, Adan started his education. But his first day of school was also his last. Violence greeted him and the other students on their way to the camp’s school. “I didn’t want to go to school to get beaten,” he recalls. “Some kids would go to school and never come back. So I stayed home and helped my mother.”

When Adan was nine, his family immigrated to Utica, New York. But being in the United States didn’t mean his battles were over. At his new school, Adan’s teachers placed him in a TV room where he watched movies during the day. “I saw The Lion King,” he chuckles. “It was my first American movie. I loved it. But it didn’t help me learn English.”

Two years later, Adan’s family moved to Burlington, Vermont. There, Adan finally received the intensive English language instruction he craved. Adan worked hard, and after graduating from Burlington High School, he was accepted at Castleton.

Starting college meant confronting a new set of challenges. “It was a whole new world; there was nothing familiar,” says Adan. He worried his English wouldn’t be good enough. And small, rural Castleton seemed isolated after vibrant, diverse Burlington. And it was far from his family.

One of Adan’s high school teachers urged him to sign up for Castleton’s TRIO program, saying it would provide him with the support he needed to finish his degree. Adan was skeptical, but he enrolled anyway.

Today, Adan has nothing but praise for Castleton’s TRIO program and the Academic Support Center’s staff. “They understand people from different cultures, and that’s the most beautiful thing,” he says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here ready to graduate.” He is particularly grateful to Academic Counselor Becky Eno. “She has helped me a lot with my writing,” he says. “She sat down and showed me exactly what I needed to do. My papers have gone from C+ to A+.”

Adan’s writing skills have helped him succeed outside of the classroom. As a part-time employee at the Park Street Program, a residential treatment program for juvenile offenders, Adan must prepare reports about his work with clients. “I’m proud of my writing as a social worker,” he says.

Perhaps because of his bumpy beginning, Adan has a strong desire to help others thrive. In addition to his job at Park Street, he and some friends from Burlington are founding Building Blocks to Success, a multicultural mentoring program for young men. He is working with education professor Emily Gleason to plan a course for educators who will be working with Syrian refugees. And between classes and work, Adan spends lots of time at the gym, where he informally mentors those new to exercise. He thinks of starting a fitness bootcamp to help others get in shape. He sees clear parallels between himself and the young people he helps. “When you grow up on your own, not having someone there for you, you do things on your own,” he says quietly. “No one is there to build and help you up. I want to give back and help others who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had.”

In May, Adan will graduate with a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree. After graduation, he and a friend hope to open a Somali restaurant in downtown Burlington. He is excited about introducing Vermonters to Somali food, which fuses Middle Eastern, East African, West African, and Egyptian influences. “I’ll be using my degree in a different way to make a difference in my community,” he muses. “Food brings people together, and it’s an opportunity to teach people about the culture.”

Becky Eno has high praise for Adan. “He is a TRIO Star because he turns his adversity into strength,” she says. “He has transformed himself from a freshman (and sophomore) who doubted that he should even be in college into a successful senior. He encourages other students to realize their own best potential.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

           

   

A Way with Words: TRIO Star Jadie Dow

jadiedowAt first, the numbers didn’t add up. Jadie Dow was a good student, but she struggled with calculus. And sometimes, the first-generation college student wondered if she’d be able to pay for her education.

Fortunately, Jadie took advantage of the TRIO Student Support Services Program at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. She visited the Center’s Math Clinic. Thanks to the math tutors, she got through calculus. The TRIO Grants she received her freshman and sophomore years helped defray the cost of attending Castleton. Finally, she met with Academic Services Director Kelley Beckwith, who helped Jadie understand her bill and loan options. “With the grant and Kelley’s advice, I no longer had to worry about money,” says Jadie.

Today, the senior Journalism major with a minor in Business Administration is thriving at Castleton. A strong student with a GPA of 3.57, Jadie has been the editor of The Spartan, Castleton’s student newspaper, since Spring 2016 after writing for the paper since her freshman year. She also sings in Vocal Unrest, Castleton’s acapella group.

Jadie also has a gift for teaching. She is a Teaching Assistant for the Communications Department Feature Writing course. Since Spring 2015, she has been a Writing Tutor at the Academic Support Center. A gifted writer, Jadie finds teaching rewarding. “There’s that moment when you finally see it click in someone’s head – even when you think you’re not explaining it very well,” she says. Writing Specialist Bill Wiles praises her work with students. “Jadie is patient with struggling writers. She meets them where they are and brings them (sometimes kicking and screaming) to where they should be,” he quips.

Despite her current success, Jadie hasn’t forgotten what it felt like to be a new college student. For two years, she served as a Student Orientation Staff leader, helping freshman acclimate to college during orientation weekend and throughout their first semester in their First Year Seminar class. Dr. Andy Alexander, chair of the English department, felt grateful to have Jadie to support his class of TRIO students. “Like you hope all SOS will be, Jadie was an excellent role model for my first-year students, in just about every way,” he says. “She was funny, but she knew how switch gear when needed… it seemed to me that Jadie represented a quiet source of comfort to those students who needed it. One very important thing is that Jadie let the students know that she took her studies seriously AND that she had to actually work at things to do well.  She shared her study habits, and I think all these things combined served the students very well.”

Although Jadie is enjoying her final year at Castleton, she’s excited about what comes next. In the spring, she’ll begin an internship at the Rutland Herald’s newsroom. After graduation, she hopes to be a journalist and eventually edit her own newspaper. Someday, she plans to earn a graduate degree and teach journalism at the college level.

Jadie credits the Academic Support Center with her success and advises new TRIO students to visit the Center. “It’s all free and everyone is so helpful,” she says. “It won’t always be like that, so take advantage of that while you can.”

-Doe Dahm

 

From Reluctant Student to Public Health Advocate: TRIO Star Kyla Leary

kyla leary

Before Kyla Leary enrolled at Castleton, she wasn’t sure whether college was right for her. She’d struggled in high school, and her high school teachers had emphasized how challenging college classes would be. “I was afraid of the volume and level of work,” she says. And like many new students, she worried about meeting new people.

Once Kyla arrived in Castleton, she found a host of people waiting to welcome her. “I had an amazing suite my first year,” she says. She joined the cheerleading team and made more friends there. She took classes in Mandarin Chinese and studio art. And despite her initial anxieties about meeting new people, she discovered she had a gift for presentations when she earned an A+ in Effective Speaking. Her professors proved friendly and approachable, and though Kyla sometimes needed help, she found it – and lots of encouragement – at the Academic Support Center (ASC).

Today, Kyla is a senior Ecological Studies major and Global Studies minor with a 3.15 G.P.A. She balances her academic achievements with athletics: she is still a member of the cheerleading team, and she plans to join the varsity track and field team this spring. She attributes her success to the assistance she received through Castleton’s TRIO program. During her time at Castleton, she has taken advantage of the ASC’s tutoring services and met with many of its full-time staffers. “It’s so nice that we don’t have to pay for tutoring; it’s not that way at other colleges,” she says. “And each year, I’ve learned more about time management, improved my math and writing skills, grown socially, and become more independent. I can figure out when and how to ask for help.”  

After graduation, Kyla plans to work at Johnson Group Consulting, Inc., the national public health advocacy firm where she has interned for the last two summers. During her internship, Kyla discovered she had a knack for data when she caught a serious error in a report. Kyla’s attention to detail impressed the firm’s director, who offered her a full-time position after graduation. Kyla also plans to take classes in public health after she leaves Castleton. But her ambitions don’t end there: she hopes to work overseas for a bit and eventually build a career in maternal-child health. A lifelong animal lover, she also dreams of extending her advocacy to animals.

Although Kyla seems to have the world at her fingertips, she still remembers what it felt like to be a new student in an unfamiliar environment. She encourages other students to seek support at the ASC. “I always tell other kids to ask for help, especially if they had a 504 or IEP plan in high school,” she says. “I tell them not to worry about what others think and to not think of any support they receive as an advantage or disadvantage – it’s just a resource. And the ASC is just such a good, safe place to study. Everyone in the department is working for you.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Bumps in the Road: TRIO Star Rachel Brigham

rachelkittySome students start college, earn excellent grades, and graduate in four years. For others, the path is a little less direct. Sometimes, they even take a detour. That’s what makes their eventual success all the more remarkable.

In high school, Rachel Brigham was a good student. “I did all my homework at school,” she said. “My time was structured for me.” When she enrolled in Castleton in Fall 2006, she continued this pattern, earning a G.P.A. of 3.74. Both math and writing came easily to the health science major, so her future seemed bright.

Then, Rachel embarked on her first serious relationship. Her boyfriend frequently skipped class, and Rachel found herself playing hooky with him. “I thought, ‘Well, he’s not going to class, so I’m not going to class,’” admitted Rachel. “I let my relationship influence my schooling.”

The years rolled on – and Rachel’s grades plummeted. Twice, her semester GPA dipped below a 1.0. Finally, in Fall 2010, at the start of what would have been her fifth year, Rachel withdrew from Castleton.

In the real world, Rachel worked over sixty hours a week to support herself and repay her student loans. She knew that taking time off from her education was the right thing to do, but the fact that she hadn’t finished her degree nagged at her. The following autumn, she took two classes at Community College of Vermont (CCV). “I got a B in one and failed the other,” she said. “That showed me I wasn’t ready to put in the time and effort I needed to go back to school.”

Finally, in January 2014, Rachel reached a breaking point. “I couldn’t keep working just to pay back my student loans and not have a degree,” she said. Once again, she enrolled at CCV. This time, she earned an A+ in the class she took. Rachel was ready to return to college.

That fall, Rachel enrolled at Castleton again. Since then, she has earned mostly A’s in her classes despite the fact that she works 66 hours per week while taking courses part-time. Rachel, who once skipped classes to hang out with her boyfriend, has become a master of time management.

She’s also not afraid to get help when she needs it. After failing the first exam in her physics class last semester, she met with Deborah Jackson, Math and Science Specialist at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. Through regular meetings with Jackson and diligent studying, Rachel earned a B+ in the course.

Rachel’s efforts have paid off: her cumulative G.P.A. is now 3.0. But Rachel, who is scheduled to graduate in May, intends to keep studying. For the last few years, she has been a caregiver for older people, including those with dementia. The work, although challenging, has sparked her interest in elder issues and geriatric nursing. She now hopes to pursue a nursing degree at Castleton or the University of New Hampshire.

As a caregiver and future nurse, Rachel wants to make a difference in others’ lives. However, she also hopes her story will motivate others to pursue their dreams – even if they’ve had some bad semesters. She advises students not to put off assignments. “No one wants to sit down and write a ten-page paper,” she said. “It’s better if you start early and don’t procrastinate.”

She also emphasizes the role of healthy relationships in academic and professional success. “Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed,” she said. “My current boyfriend is supportive of the work I do; it’s important to him that I get through school.”

Rachel’s determination has also impressed faculty and staff. “Rachel has demonstrated grit and resilience,” said Deborah Jackson. “Despite hardships, she has refused to give up her goal of earning a degree. I believe she could inspire other students inclined to quit when facing a challenging semester.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Building an Academic Community: TRIO Star Matt Fortier

Matt Fortier1Matthieu Fortier
Expected Degree: BA in Psychology (Honors), May 2016

Matt Fortier admits it: he wasn’t the most engaged student at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont. He was more interested in fitting in and having fun with his friends. But he’d enjoyed his psychology class, his grades were good enough to get him into college, and the first-generation student arrived at Castleton hoping to major in psychology.

Matt may have been a lethargic student in high school, but Castleton’s faculty woke him up. One day, he asked his psychology professor a question. “I don’t know,” his instructor replied. “You figure it out. Then come back and tell me.” This was startling, but exciting. Matt liked taking responsibility for his own learning, and he appreciated being treated as a member of an intellectual community. He immersed himself in study and research, earning a cumulative GPA of 3.74 and serving as a Teaching Assistant in psychology and English classes. He is a member of the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society.

Now a senior, Matt is working on his honors thesis, which explores the relationship between wisdom and well-being. After graduation, Matt hopes to pursue a PhD in psychology at University of Vermont or Temple University. He is particularly interested in lucid dreaming and its implications for treating phobias and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

In addition to his professors, Matt credits Castleton’s Academic Support Center (ASC) and TRIO with his success. A Summer Transition participant, he has also taken advantage of the ASC’s Writing Clinic, graduate school counseling, and academic mentoring services. He has also been a Summer Transition Mentor and tutored other students in psychology.

“Matt provides a wonderful model of how to use college to change your life,” says Becky Eno, Castleton’s Academic Counselor, who has worked with Matt in Summer Transition. “He appreciates the way faculty and staff ushered him into the intellectual community as a valued, contributing member, and he enjoys welcoming other students in as they show interest. And he does it all with his inimitable, quirky sense of humor!”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Study Smarts and Money Smarts: TRIO Star Amanda Larabee

Amanda Larabee1Amanda Larabee
Expected Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies, May 2016

Growing up in Clarksburg, Massachusetts, Amanda Larabee knew she wanted to become a teacher. Amanda’s mother encouraged her daughter to pursue her goals. “It’s K-16, not K-12,” she always said. But the first-generation student knew paying for college would be a challenge.

When Amanda was accepted at Castleton, she threw herself into financing her education, applying for over 60 scholarships as a high school senior. Her hard work paid off: she received more than $16,000 her first year. At Castleton, she researched both personal finance and her financial aid. She always holds two to four part-time jobs to reduce her college debt.

But Amanda’s struggles haven’t kept her from excelling in and out of the classroom. Math has always been difficult for her, so she sought help at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. Again, her efforts paid off. With a cumulative GPA of 3.46, she recently received the Dr. Diane Wolk Scholarships for Promising Educators. She has also been active in the Student Government Association.

Amanda’s ultimate goal is to give back. She aspires to teach first grade in New York City public schools, where she hopes to make a difference in students’ lives beyond the classroom. Today, she serves other TRIO students as a Financial Literacy Peer Educator. She wants to help other students reduce their debt and manage their money.

“Amanda has laid the financial foundation for her future,” said Kelley Beckwith, Director of Academic Support at Castleton. “She’s gone out of her way to educate herself about managing her money. Students like Amanda are what TRIO is all about.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm