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IRSC Celebrates Student Success
with Profiles of Perseverance

on May 3 and 4, Indian River State College (IRSC) celebrated the largest graduating class in the College’s history—3,951 graduates. During the 2017-18 academic year, the College awarded 2,412 Associate in Arts degrees, 740 Associate in Science or Associate in Applied Science degrees, 799 Bachelor’s Degrees, and numerous certifications. This next generation of business professionals, educators, nurses, engineers and more have persevered through every one of life’s challenges.

“Each IRSC graduate has a unique story to tell about the journey that brought them to Commencement Day,” advises IRSC President Dr. Edwin Massey. “There are those who have overcome profound hardships, those who are first generation college graduates, and those who are balancing full-time jobs and families. These strong, determined people set their minds on higher learning and wouldn't let everyday challenges or doubts get in their way. We celebrate all of our graduates—each authors of their own unique student success story.”

Below are a sampling of inspiring stories from your Treasure Coast neighbors and new IRSC alumni.

“As an immigrant I came to the U.S. with my family with a dream and the clothing on our backs, “says Camila Guilen, 18, of Port St. Lucie. “At an early age I was instilled with the notion that a higher education led to a better future.”

Camila, originally from El Salvador, earned her United States citizenship while in high school at Clark Advanced Learning Center. Here she also began taking and excelling at college classes as a Dual-Enrollment student at the IRSC Chastain Campus. She will earn her Associate of Arts degree at the May 3 Commencement ceremony and will continue her education at Florida International University. Camila plans to become a doctor. 

“What is unique about myself and my story here at IRSC is that I am a full-time student with a full-time job,” shares Samantha Hernandez, 19, of Stuart. “I also had heart surgery toward the end my summer semester and still finished both of my classes with an ‘A.’”

Samantha’s journey at IRSC led her to an Associate of Arts degree with Highest Honors. Despite a serious medical condition, with perseverance and determination she maintained a 4.0 GPA and kept pushing forward. Samantha is an active volunteer, works full-time, participates in both the Honors and Emerging Leaders program, and was selected for the 2018 All-Florida Academic Team by the Florida College System. Post-commencement, she’s pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in public relations with the University of Florida.

“Everyone there genuinely cares about you and your success,” says Bachelor’s degree recipient Robert Catapano, 22, of Vero Beach. “You gain confidence and you grow exponentially as both a person and a professional.”

When Robert Catapano began his college career with IRSC, he didn’t expect to develop a passion for not-for-profits that would guide his involvement in extracurricular activities and eventually his career. Robert earned his Associates degree in Business Administration, with honors, in 2015; served as president of the Sigma Beta Delta Honor Society; and this week receives his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science in Organizational Management. While at IRSC, he founded two not-for-profit groups—one dedicated to educating the youth of Indian River County, and another that mobilizes IRSC alumni as volunteer consultants who help build capacity at small Indian River County not-for-profit organizations. He plans to pursue his Master of Business Administration with Florida International University. 

 “There were moments when I struggled, but every time I stepped into the hospital and was with my patients, I knew this is what I want to do, this is my dream,” shares Donte Francis, 24, of Fort Pierce. “The unique thing about my story with IRSC is that there’s nothing unique. I saw other classmates who had different life events occur during our program and they overcame it, which also inspired me.”

Nothing was going to stop Donte Francis from becoming a registered nurse, no matter what circumstance came his way. And when Donte walks in the May 4 Commencement ceremony to receive his Associate Degree in Nursing, he’ll not only take along a strong foundational knowledge of the health sciences and in-service clinical experiences, he’ll take personal lessons of perseverance and a new appreciation of empathy—for his patients and his fellow classmates who endured their own set of life circumstances.

“I came to Stuart, Florida after filing for divorce and losing my home in foreclosure, which left my three sons and myself homeless,” recalls Amy Bosma, 43, of Stuart. “One of the first places I visited with my sons, was Indian River State College.”

On May 4, Amy Bosma will be awarded an Associate degree in Human Services. Despite incredible personal challenges, her determination to rise above her circumstances—for herself and her sons—kept her on solid footing as she journeyed toward Commencement Day. Returning to college after 20 years, Amy knew the stakes were high. Once accepted to the College, she applied and was hired for a work-study position on campus. Regardless of persistent obstacles, she stayed focused and excelled academically, making the Dean’s List in consecutive semesters, earning Soroptimist Women (2017) and Indian River State College Essay Research Competition (2017) awards, and gaining entry into Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Amy’s journey continues at IRSC where she will pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. 

“Growing up in a small community did not easily allow me to see the diverse opportunities and academic paths that I could take part in, and that were available to me,” says Sindi Chavez, 20, of Indiantown. “The idea of attending a college institution, when I was a child, seemed something only resembling a dream.”

After Sindi Chavez accepts her A.A. diploma at the May 3 IRSC Commencement ceremony, this first-generation college student will attend Florida Atlantic University (FAU) to continue her studies in mechanical engineering. While attending FAU Sindi will continue working as a clerk at the Indiantown Education Center, a position that she began when she enrolled at IRSC. At the center, Sindi helps prospective IRSC students register and set college educational goals—work she finds highly gratifying. Growing up, Sindi pondered what her parents might have studied if they had a college education. Her graduation from IRSC is a milestone for the Chavez family and a tremendous source of pride.

“IRSC pushed me beyond my limits and has shown me what I can do as I prepare myself for rigorous academics that I will have at a college like MIT,” declared dual-enrollment student and Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship recipient, Cristian Rios, 17, of Okeechobee.

Cristian will be awarded an Associate of Arts degree with Highest Honors from IRSC on May 3, just weeks before graduating Summa Cum Laude from Okeechobee High School. He is one of only 106 students nationally who is recognized with the prestigious and highly competitive Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship, and will receive up to $40,000 annually to complete his bachelor’s degree. Cristian is a Take Stock in Children graduate; National Merit Scholar finalist; founder of the Okeechobee High School Academic Framework Forum, a peer-based study group; and is president of the National Honor Society where he champions several local outreach and fundraising programs designed to combat hunger. He plans to attend MIT in the fall. 

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