From Harvard to QVCC to UConn – Jace Paul’s Story

Jace Paul Blog

Throughout my time as a college student, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people that have changed the way I think and shaped my worldview today, but perhaps none more so than Jace. I met Jace when we both took A&P II and Chem II at QVCC in the fall semester in 2015. We frequently joked about our age difference, since I was the youngest student in the class at 18, and he was one of the older – in his early 40s. However, my friendship with Jace, while we only took two classes together, was one that I am forever grateful that QVCC gave me. It’s not often that I find students who are older than their 20s in my classes at UConn, but in classes that are prerequisites for nursing school, finding students in the second season of their college education is very common at QVCC, and Jace was no exception.

When I sat down to talk to Jace this summer, he was halfway through the accelerated nursing program at UConn, and he just graduated this past week (which is why I felt that this blog post was the best to write today). When you meet Jace, you can clearly see a person who is made to be a nurse. He is kind and compassionate, with a fire inside of him for patient care. He is intelligent and knowledge driven, and this is only more evident when you learn about his previous education path. Jace did the traditional public school track from preschool to 12th grade, and graduated high school in 1994. He immediately came to UConn and studied psychology for 4 years, before going into research with the UConn psychology department. He reached a crossroads in his career when he realized he wasn’t comfortable using animals for research. Instead of continuing into a PhD program in psychology, Jace decided to go to Andover Newton, a theological school, and then continued to Harvard. Jace has clearly had a very diverse educational past, from UConn, to Harvard, to QVCC, and then back to UConn again, so I asked him what happened to go from studying theology to nursing. After he finished at Harvard in 2010, Jace decided that he didn’t want to be professionally involved with a church and had a crisis of faith. “Seminary makes more atheists than it does religious folks. Maybe not more, but it certainly makes a lot of atheists, especially if you do it at Harvard, where the idea is on critically looking at religion rather than just accepting dogma. So I found myself less interested in the practice of religion and more interested in it as a phenomenon.” Since he decided not to make working with the church his profession, he then had to make a decision – to continue working in religion as an academic subject, or continue in another direction. While Jace would have been okay being a “poor academic” or “starving artist” at other points in his life, he was about to be a father, so now he had to think about his long term financial stability. One of his friends came to visit him for a weekend, and while visiting, she asked if he had ever thought about nursing. She told him that “you have a science background, you clearly love science, and your history with religion and the church seems to indicate that you really like helping people.” It seemed like the perfect marriage of two things that were really important to Jace, and while he wasn’t up to spending another 4 years in college at that point in his life, he found the 1 year accelerated nursing program at UConn and thought it would be perfect. However, he had to finish up a few prerequisites first, and this is how he ended up at QVCC.

QVCC was the perfect place for Jace to take the rest of the classes he needed for the nursing program – anatomy and chemistry, genetics and microbiology. He chose QVCC for several reasons, but one of the largest driving forces was affordability. He looked at taking the same classes at UConn but the price was almost double. The schedule was also perfect for him as a father – he was able to take classes that ran from 6:30-9:30 pm and was able to keep his job. Jace also knew that taking classes at QV meant smaller class sizes, so he would be able to interact with the teachers and other students in a much more intimate setting.

After we talked about his educational history, I had to ask Jace if he found the classes at QVCC any easier than the classes he had taken at other schools, since he had such a broad base of comparison. Jace told me that QV prepared him incredibly well for the nursing program. “I draw on my chemistry, my anatomy, my genetics, my micro all the time in my nursing classes and I think they’ve served me very well. I think it’s a gross oversimplification to say that community college is simple and Ivy league or state college classes are comparatively more difficult. So much depends on the individual professors, the courses, and the students. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that community colleges are easier. I think it’s also really important to remember that there’s a lot more involved with who goes to an Ivy league versus who goes to a community college. I have seen people in Ivy league class that I’ve thought – how do I put this delicately…. I’ve seen all ranges of capability at both Ivy leagues and in community college. I think that a lot of it comes down to just what sort of advantages you were born with. Someone who is not very intellectually capable but comes from a higher economic class and with the right connection can go right into Harvard. On the other hand, someone who is brilliant, and I’ve seen people like this in a community college setting – brilliant, absolutely limitless aptitude, but didn’t have the money at the time.. They had to go to work at 12 years old because their family was in a difficult situation… Again I think it’s an oversimplification to say that one type of school is easier or brings people of a lesser aptitude and that another one brings in only the best.”

Jace is one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met. He is the kind of person who will instantly become your friend in a class setting, helping study and answer questions. On many occasions, he helped me with my personal life, and in retrospect, I really should have taken his wonderful life advice much sooner than I did. If I were in a situation where I was having a routine blood draw, getting checked in for surgery or was in a terrifying trauma situation, there is no one I would rather have at my side than Jace. I cannot imagine someone who could be a better nurse, because he is already one of the most compassionate, thoughtful, and intelligent people I have ever met, and I am honored to have been able to talk to him about his past.

8-10 Pages Per Week – Beth Alves’s Story

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Beth Alves – first on right 

Welcome back to the Flipside! So far I’ve highlighted many students from different backgrounds – homeschooled, public school, community college, co-op, private school. You name it, I’ve interviewed a student who has experienced it. But now I think it’s time to take a quick hiatus from the students, and dive into something a little different – professors. You see, at QVCC, I think there is one thing that really makes or breaks the school. It’s not the square footage, or how new the computer labs are. It’s not their kickass mascot (their mascot is a frog. A frog), or even their students. Sure, their student population does matter, but I don’t think it matters as much as the professors. In my experience, teachers can literally make or break a classroom experience. Their attitudes – the way they interact with their students and fellow professors – set the tone for the whole school. So that’s why I’ve interviewed several QVCC professors for this blog project. First, I’m going to start by telling Beth Alves’s story.


Beth Alves is the professor from whom I’ve taken the most classes at QVCC. Between the movies class, English 102, Humanities, and Women in Literature, her teaching style fit with my learning style so well that I kept coming back for more. All but one of the classes I took with Beth were online, and I’ve never had such a positive online class experience. Beth knew how important it was to make an online class still feel like a learning experience, and while her assignments were challenging and her expectations for us were high, she held herself to the same standards. Every week, she sent an individual email to each student, talking about what they did well and what they could improve on. Beth’s classes also increased my critical thinking skills.  She never wanted the simple explanation when I was analyzing an Edgar Allen Poe poem, but always asked deeper questions. These questions made us think critically about the literature we were reading, and often, about yourself. So how did Beth become a professor at QVCC? To answer that question, let’s start at the beginning.


Beth attended a public school for K-12, and had a great experience. She had dedicated teachers, great classes, and a variety of electives she could take in high school. She found herself gravitating towards English and history, and when she began college at Seton Hall University, she thought she wanted to be a high school teacher. As her college career continued, she found that the education classes bored her to tears, but the English classes were stimulating and engaging. She took many communications classes as electives, and soon dropped the education part of her major. “I really had absolutely no idea what I was gonna do,” but she decided she would start with an English degree. She ended up as a senior, double majoring in English and communications, and like most college students, was struggling to get by. She thought about grad school, but since she could barely pay for her undergraduate degree, she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford it. That’s when one of her friends told her about becoming a TA – the school would pay her a salary as a TA, while also paying for her college tuition. Now Beth had a Master’s degree in English but still didn’t know what she wanted to do.


When she finally emerged from being a college student herself, Beth became a substitute teacher at an elementary/junior high school for a semester before she landed a job as a local news reporter. “This was back in the time when you really needed to like, have a degree to be a reporter. Now a days, it’s a little bit different.” She started with obituaries and police log information, and soon she was a journalist. The drawback to this job, though, was that they didn’t pay much money, so a week before the semester started in August, Beth found an ad for a Manchester Community College adjunct professor. She became a part time professor at MCC for 12 years before she applied to three community colleges for a full time position. That’s when Beth started working at QVCC, and now she’s been there for 13 years. At QVCC Beth teaches English classes – developmental English, English 101, Literature, Women in Literature, Children’s Literature, and Contemporary American Literature, but that didn’t stop her from branching out. She was on the debate team in college and had a bachelor’s degree in Communications, so even though she didn’t have a Master’s in communications, she was able to start teaching speech classes, public speaking, communication, and business writing. From there, she took advantage of the small school setting and asked for more classes to teach, including the online Humanities class I took with her, as well as the movies class.


To Beth, there are many perks to teaching at a community college as opposed to a 4 year university. The class sizes are small, and “I’m able to really interact with students – I get to know them. From a professional standpoint, I like that they’re [administration] encouraging creativity on my end. If I want to create an online class – absolutely. I can’t do anything that I want, there has to be justification behind it… I like the fact that I’m pushed to be a better teacher and I like the fact that I can interact one-on-one with students.” Beth is glad that she decided to work at a community college, and doesn’t have any regrets that she chose not to get her PhD to continue on to teaching at a university. Additionally, Beth doesn’t feel pressure to publish at QVCC. “One thing that they [universities] encourage is publishing – doing a book, doing a paper.. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on that side of the academic house. If you are here [QVCC], we are not required to publish. We can if we want to, but it’s not a requirement. We have to teach 4 courses and have additional responsibilities like advising or tutoring, but I would not be happy, personally, just spending a lot of my free time writing a book. I’ much happier spending my free time trying to figure out how to make my classes better.”
One of my favorite things about Beth is that she is always honest. That’s one of the reasons why I chose Beth to be my mentor for the graduation speech process. I can always count on her to tell me what she thinks about the work that I’ve done. She is this straight forward about her life as well. “There are many things that I do not do well in my life. I really am not a good cleaner, I hate to clean. I’m mediocre at cooking and baking, but I think I do a good job teaching and I work really hard. And I’m not saying that from a boasting standpoint, because I work at it. I ask for feedback – what works well and what doesn’t work well, so they let me do the humanities class because again, I was a good worker and I got good evaluations.” While Beth might not think that being a good teacher comes naturally to her, I have to say that I’ve never had a teacher who has been more dedicated to putting in the time to make herself and her classes better for her students. The classes that I took with Beth have honestly shaped who  I am as a student more than almost any set of experiences in my college career. After writing 8-10 pages for each of her online classes per week (and one semester I took two online classes with Beth at once!) most papers pale in comparison. I can throw quotes into any piece of writing, and my citation skills are second nature. I can’t thank Beth enough for helping me grow into the student that I am today, and for helping me grow as a person by leading me through the graduation speaker audition process. The act of speaking in front of hundreds of people at my first graduation was humbling and helped me grow into a person who still gets nervous about public speaking, but who now has a perfect example of reasons why she should not be nervous. So thank you Beth.

Time for Reflection – A Break From Stories


Throughout this project, I’ve been slowly gaining a better understanding of the general consensus of feelings towards both community colleges and 4 year universities. With every new story that I write, I internalize a new piece of someone’s experience – a positive interaction with a teacher here, a frustrating experience there. With Thanksgiving just recently come and gone, I thought that today might be a good day for some reflections. So for this blog post, there will be no new story, just some musing from my own grey matter.


I want to make it immediately clear that this blog post is not slandering or slamming or dissing any type of schooling. I am not picking sides, but simply sharing what I have observed as an interviewer, as a student, and as an employee. As you probably know by now, I have been a homeschooled student, as well as being a student at both QVCC and UConn, and I have interviewed students who followed the same path I did, as well as students who took a different route.  I have also tutored at QVCC as an employee, and at UConn as a private tutor. While I wish that every homeschooled student could have had the positive, rich, inspiring experience that I had, every parent and child is different, so I can’t make many conclusions about that experience. However, I have dabbled in the community college and 4 year university scene long enough that I think I have a fair amount of experience, so I’m going to take some time today to talk about what I’ve noticed.


Kudzai Zvoma – if you are a QVCC student, this name does one of three things to you.

1) It inspires a warm fuzzy feeling at the thought of a beloved, brilliant teacher, 2) your soul goes cold and your heart ceases beating as you remember the most terrifyingly intelligent, intimidating teacher you’ve ever had, or 3) you think of the math teacher that you’re either disappointed you never had, or intensely glad that you never had, depending on who your friends were. For me, I am the third person – someone who never had Kudzai as a professor, and didn’t know much about him other than hearing of his brilliance. I always wished I had him as a professor, but never got to know him until I started working in the Learning Center at QV. No matter what your stance on Kudzai’s math classes are, there is no denying that he is an intensely dedicated, hard working college professor, and I think he’s a great example of the general attitude found in community colleges. I work at the Learning Center twice a week, and every time I’m tutoring, Kudzai always walks through. This semester I’ve noticed Kudzai spending a lot of time with students, often sitting down and reviewing questions that they have before they take a makeup test. Sometimes this turns into a therapy session, as Kudzai helps calm their nerves before one of his infamously challenging tests. While not a scene you would often find at UConn, this is not uncommon at QVCC, but it’s the other students that Kudzai helps that make him stand out. Kudzai helps students from other math classes, and has even helped me, a QVCC alumni that he never had in class. Kudzai often asks for “UConn horror stories” from me, as he suffered through the hiking, parking, and weather horrors often found at the 4 year school. He often recounts his story from this summer of following trying to follow a map while on the UConn campus and being horribly lost because every street, building, and walkway known to mankind was under construction, while I tell him about the mile and a half I walk on a daily basis to get back to my car. However, one day recently we had a different exchange. I was frustrated with one of my teachers for not teaching me a concept that I was being graded on, and Kudzai was horrified. He asked if I had questioned the teacher via email or in person, and when I told him that I had attempted to do so but that it got me no farther, he was shocked. The next time I showed up to the Learning Center, Kudzai had found the nutrition teacher at QVCC, sat me down behind the desk, called her up, and put me on the phone with her. She answered my question without a second thought – not caring that I wasn’t her student, or even a student at QVCC anymore, only seeing a young adult who was frustrated and in danger of getting a bad grade for a concept she wasn’t taught. These types of community relationships aren’t uncommon at QVCC, which I suppose is appropriate, as it is a community college. The students befriend the teachers, and I often look at the computers in the Learning Center to see a gaggle of Engineering students helping each other with a challenging homework assignment. Sometimes, their teacher is with them, pointing them in the right direction and answering their questions, even though it’s not class time and his office hours are long over. Last semester, I got to work and had a test waiting for me – a Marvel trivia test assigned to all of the Learning Center tutors, written by none other than Kudzai, who promptly graded our tests. The Spanish teacher, Elkin Espitia-Loaiza, is another QV professor who regularly walks through just to chat with my boss, while talking to all of his students in Spanish. We have free snacks for students, a pirate frog as our mascot, and plastic aliens scattered throughout this room that has become the center of what I think QVCC stands for. It’s fun, and enriching, and inclusive. If a student is lonely, they just need to hangout in the Learning Center for a few days and they are soon befriended by the “regulars” and the tutors alike. In short, writing this is making me extremely sad that QVCC isn’t a school that I could spend my whole college career at. I miss the atmosphere, the teachers, and the students. I miss the class sizes, and the individual attention, and the dedication of almost every employee you meet. That’s not what I’ve experienced at UConn.


Obviously directly comparing UConn and QVCC would be unfair. It’s like comparing an apple to an actual ton of oranges – their size and shape and flavor are so different it’s not fair. But at the core of each school, I think it should be remembered that they’re both that – schools. And often I feel like people at UConn forget that if it weren’t for the students, there would be no school. UConn is known as a research school, and I’m proud to be a student at such a well known university doing such good, productive research. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss knowing my teachers, or having my teachers know me. My pants would catch on fire if I said I didn’t care that it’s been two semesters (and 8 classes) since one of my professors has picked up a white board marker and done anything but lecture off of powerpoint slides. My nose would be a mile long if I told you that I didn’t think the students who only show up for exams and skip every class (and read off of those Powerpoints in the comfort of their own beds) were way smarter than me – the sucker that still hikes through wind and rain and snow to get to every class, even though their grades rival mine. However, I know I am receiving a quality education in the intricacies of being a dietitian. I just can’t forget how my expertly crafted email asking questions about a study guide this semester was responded to with a quick, one line dismissal, even though it was sent a week before the exam, and even though I had attended every class. There are teachers at UConn who will go above and beyond for their students, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule. At UConn, I have often felt isolated and ignored, like a number being fed through a conveyer belt. They take my tuition and silence my voice in one fell swoop – especially since I’m a commuting student. As a commuter, my class schedule is inconveniently spread out throughout the week, ensuring that almost every minute of my day is spend sitting in class, walking to class, or driving to school, taking away time to work, work out, or even spend time with my family. At QV, the teachers understand that school is not our whole lives. The classes are bunched together, and at QV I’ve never seen a student who has to be on campus 5 days a week. This leaves time for jobs to support the cars needed to get to school, since everyone is a commuting student.


I suppose this sounds like I have picked sides, huh? I guess I am a little biased towards community colleges, because I like feeling like a person and not a number. I like being a voice that can be heard, who can petition to get a chemistry class put onto the schedule, instead of being just another body to help fund research. It isn’t a secret that 4 year universities are normal and accepted in society, and if a student wants a Bachelor’s degree (or more) they have to attend one sooner or later. And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good decision. I think a Bachelor’s, or Master’s, or Doctorate degree helps make people more productive, thoughtful, insightful members of society and higher education should be encouraged. I just don’t think that community colleges should be shunned and put down, like I have seen often – especially from students and professors at UConn.  I think the value of community colleges should be highlighted, their teachers praised, and their students rewarded for making a smart educational decision, as well as a fiscally responsible one. If you, my reader, only take away one thing from this whole blog project, I hope it’s this – don’t judge, belittle, or underestimate those who have chosen a different path. In my experience, being “normal” is highly overrated, and often the road less traveled has a way cooler view.



Overcoming the Odds – Stephanie Medine’s Story

Stephanie Medine Right

I don’t know Stephanie very well. We both took statistics together at QVCC, and have crossed paths in some interesting ways. My past is slightly entangled with her present, but I like that we are both mature enough to sit down and talk about some common themes that our lives have. Just like me, Stephanie was homeschooled through high school. However, her experience wasn’t as positive as mine, because she didn’t always want to be homeschooled. Her older siblings went to public school, and she was jealous of them at times. Her mom wasn’t very persistent with her keeping up on school work, so there were many days where her homeschooling was “go outside and play.” Stephanie has very low self esteem in regards to her education, because she didn’t feel as though she was smart or could understand “anything about anything – academically I thought I was really stupid.” When I asked Stephanie why she was homeschooled, she told me that “I think it’s because of my mom.. She started out homeschooling my brother, and then he was allowed to go to high school because he showed interest. I showed interest as well, but my parents – I think it was more my mom clinging to me because I’m the youngest.” There were also religious reasons, but Stephanie knows that some of the reason she wasn’t allowed to attend a school was because of her family dynamics. When she was homeschooled, Stephanie told me that her curriculum was very disjointed and unorganized. “I think the biggest problem with homeschooling me was that my parents didn’t try hard enough. They expected the curriculum to do everything, and that didn’t work.” She says that personally, she doesn’t feel as though she gained anything from having been homeschooled. She didn’t get much socialization when she was homeschooled, apart from going to church and being involved in youth groups and studies. This type of socialization was challenging the older she got, because these days, she doesn’t interact with people in the same situations as she is now out in the world. “I think I got a lot of my social skills from churches. Which, honestly, has taken a huge toll on my personal life as well, just because I grew up and then I realized ‘oh, not everything is my little Christian bubble that I was brought up to believe.’” She still keeps many of these church friends, but she realized how much she really missed out on the older she got. Stephanie wasn’t allowed to date until she was 18, so she felt like she was really kept out of the typical teenage social scene until that age.

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When she was about 16, these feelings really culminated as she started looking at different schools to attend. However, by then it was too late to start and finish high school, since she wouldn’t have enough credits, so one of her friend’s mom’s suggested that she attend QVCC instead. Stephanie went to QV the day before classes were supposed to start, took a tour, and her BSA. She quickly realized that her worries about keeping up academically were unfounded as she tested into college math and English at only 16. Once she got to QV, Stephanie’s relationship with education completely changed. SHe loved everything about QV. “Honestly I got such an experience there, I can’t even explain how amazing it was. The teachers want to know you, the staff actually wants to help you, and there’s so much more one on one and actual interaction. Smaller classes – that’s awesome – because you’re not a number, you’re a face and a name.” Stephanie told me an amazing example of the dedication of the teachers at QVCC when she explained a challenging time she had during her last semester at QVCC. “[My last semester] was really tough for me, because I knew I took on too much. Seventeen credits, I have a horse and she costs so much, and I’m working, I’m living on my own.. It’s just.. It’s hard.” She was able to talk to Professor Lynch, with whom she took an online class, and he allowed her to finish some of the classwork over the summer so she was able to graduate on time, with the rest of the students that helped make her time at QVCC so amazing and remarkable.


When I asked Stephanie to compare what she got out of homeschooling versus QVCC, she was overwhelmingly in favor of the community college experience. “Honestly I don’t think I got social experience, I don’t think I got academic experience [out of homeschooling]…” The only positive she could find about homeschooling was that “because I got to start QVCC earlier … I got to get a head start on college and actually understand how a classroom works.”


While Stephanie was very doubtful of her academic skills when she was homeschooled, I find that she is another perfect example of how resilient young adults can be. Even without having a stellar educational foundation, Stephanie was able to overcome this challenge and succeed in a community college setting. This May, she graduated from QVCC with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences, and she plans on continuing her education at some point to become a vet. She would like to get into UConn’s pre-vet program, and in the meantime, she wants to continue working at a local animal hospital. She loves her job as a receptionist, because she is able to work in her future field, and is also surrounded by animals on a daily basis.


I found it very interesting to talk to Stephanie, because prior to our interview, I only knew her as a community college student. Until I started this project, I was unaware that she had been homeschooled, and I think the fact that I wasn’t able to pick this out due to her academic performance is a nod towards how hard she worked once she got to QV. Not only is she a dedicated student, but she is also a kind, compassionate human being, who will do almost anything to stop and make sure a stray dog gets back to it’s home.

Fourteen – Elijah Dufour’s Story

20205599_1964783873805583_297945225_oCommunity colleges are an amazing resource for students of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you’re straight out of high school and looking to save money, a single parent returning school to continue education for a new career, or just someone who isn’t quite sure what they want to do, the value of these schools can’t be understated. While the types of students named above are some typical examples of community college students, there is one group of students that I’ve been talking a lot about lately – homeschoolers. Elijah Dufour is no exception, however he is also not a rule. Elijah is a homeschooler who attended QVCC, but he has been standing out since he first began taking classes at the age of 14. That’s right – fourteen.

Elijah is the second youngest of four children, and says that it was his dad who really pushed for them to be homeschooled. They’ve been going to church for Elijah’s whole life, and “obviously, even at a Christian school, no matter where you go there are influences that probably aren’t the best on a kid growing up.” Elijah and his sisters were homeschooled to avoid some of the unnecessary social pressures found in school systems, but he wasn’t ever deprived. He and his sisters were involved in co-ops, which helped hone their math, history, and English skills. Elijah was often thrown into the fire with his older sisters, and was always working ahead of where he would have been in a public school setting. His oldest sister is 5 years older than he is, and yet he was often placed in the same group.

When I asked Elijah about how he made friends when he was homeschooled, he told me that he was never lacking for socialization. “Yes we were sheltered from a great deal of stuff, which is important, but we also.. We weren’t like antisocial homeschoolers as the stigma might go.” Elijah found the majority of his socialization through sports and church. He was involved with music and youth groups through his church, and was played soccer for many years. “Every single night, even though it might have seemed like I was sitting at home, doing school all day, not seeing anybody.. Every single night I either had youth group or music practice or sports practice, so I wasn’t exactly deprived.”

Elijah really enjoyed having been homeschooled. He told me that “if I said I didn’t feel like I missed anything I would be a liar,” but he felt like he gained a lot from having been a homeschooler. He found that the benefits of homeschooling extended beyond just his studies. He was able to spend time at home and foster a better relationship with his siblings and parents. “With homeschooling you can work at your own pace, and it was more one on one – it was just my mom and me.” He was able to do school from 8:00-12:00 and get just as much done as other people would in a whole school day.


By the time Elijah was 14, he was already working at the college level in math and English, so he felt as though he was already ahead at home. He wanted to start earning college credits at an early age, so he started with math 137 at the Willimantic branch of QVCC. This class was challenging for him, and he only began with one class. This helped him ease into the college scene, and after he got an A, he realized that he could do whatever he set his mind to. Originally, he enjoyed the small size of the Willimantic campus, but after switching to the Danielson campus (which offers many more courses), he has grown to love the facility and resources that it has. Elijah is very involved with campus life – as he is involved with the pool and basketball clubs, the Student Governing Association, and PTK (an honors society). Elijah found the classes at QVCC to be enjoyable, and said that all of his math classes after Calculus II were very challenging.

These days Elijah has graduated with one associates from QVCC and is finishing a second. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his future career, but he knows that he doesn’t want to get stuck behind a desk. He wants to be involved, going out into the community and perhaps owning his own company one day. Right now he’s looking into Mechanical or Acoustical engineering. He might go to UConn and commute, because he will help save more money. No matter what Elijah does from here, it’s obvious that he’s had a remarkable educational history so far. He ended up being 4 grade levels beyond his peers, and “by the time my friends were graduating high school, I’ve had an associates degree for almost a year.” While this path might not work for everyone, Elijah clearly thrived in the challenging educational environment and will do amazing things wherever he goes.

Both Sides of the Narrative – Olivia Hussey’s Story

Olivia Hussey

Welcome back to the flipside, dedicated readers (you know, probably just my mom. Hi mom!). After a quick hiatus for midterms, we’re back with another story, but this one is different than stories I’ve told so far. Until now, most of the educational stories I’ve shared have been quite positive, but now it’s time for some contrast. This week’s blog post is about Olivia Hussey, someone whom I have known for many years. We met through a homeschooling teen group, but we could have just as easily met on walks around the neighborhood as we live about 1 mile apart. She and her family were staples in the homeschool group I was lightly involved with throughout my teens, and I was able to see Olivia grow into a remarkable young woman as we attended QVCC together. I was very glad when Olivia agreed to do an interview with me, because I knew that she had a unique story to tell, but I had no idea just how unique until I actually sat down to talk with her.


Olivia was homeschooled from the start of her education, and she and her older brother began schooling with a fairly structured routine. However, as more time went on, she gained 4 more siblings and her curriculum became more relaxed, as she and her siblings followed an approach that was more unschooled. They still covered a lot of basics, such as reading, math, history, and science, but “you get to the point when you’re like 11, 12, 13, and you’re like ‘okay, I realize that I’m supposed to be putting effort into this, but I don’t know how.’ People are driven to start to feel like ‘what am I doing?’ when they’re still a little too young to be able to accomplish it,” and this was the catalyst that pushed Olivia to start looking into more traditional schools.


After exploring some of her options, Olivia decided to go to New Hope Academy, a small Baptist school in Northeast Connecticut. It was very small, having only about 6 kids in the entire high school educated by one teacher (who was also the principal), and 20 children in the elementary and middle schools taught by 3 teachers. When I asked Olivia how she felt about her first year at New Hope she told me that she thought it was a normal schooling experience initially, but she had nothing to gauge it against because she had never been enrolled in school before. In retrospect, she could say – “one teacher, one room, six high schoolers… It was phenomenally awful,” but at the time, she just thought it was a generic schooling experience. She learned a lot, and was able to discover that she thrived in a more traditional academic situation.

Following her first year at New Hope, Olivia took a year off. She really didn’t know what to think of her experience. Her siblings were all leaving, so she decided to join them back at home, but as she didn’t do much schooling during that year, she began to feel anxiety about her education again. This is when she decided to enroll in her second year at New Hope – when things really took a turn for the worst. “I’ve honestly repressed a lot of this, I’ve spent a lot of effort trying to forget it just because it’s not enjoyable to remember.” While there are many specifics that made Olivia’s time at New Hope traumatic, there is a broad theme of manipulation and verbal abuse that would scar even the toughest child. Olivia didn’t realize that in high school it wasn’t normal to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with one teacher  – especially when that teacher was mean and emotionally manipulative. Olivia was often called “snarky” and was constantly told that she could “do better.” In addition, keep in mind that this school was Baptist, so the principal also abused Olivia’s relationship with her faith. “She [the principal] would conflate school with religion, which I guess is what you’d expect out of a religious school, but there was the ‘you can always do better’ and she conflated it with ‘if you don’t try hard enough, you’re not doing our best for God.’ For a 15 year old kid, it was [really harsh].. I’ve had to spend a lot of time putting that aside.” Aside from horrible interpersonal relationships at New Hope, Olivia’s education was also severely neglected in several areas, especially when it came to Spanish and math. She told me that her Spanish teacher was the principal’s husband, who didn’t even speak the language. He couldn’t help Olivia beyond the scope of what was in the book and couldn’t answer her questions, so it was very frustrating for a student who just wanted to learn. She also didn’t have access to a math teacher. She was expected to teach herself algebra, and at 15, had a very hard time understanding the subject matter. If she had questions, she would have to go downstairs to the elementary school and wait behind several elementary school students to ask the elementary school teacher her questions.

After learning this, I just had to ask Olivia what happened between then and now. If you met Olivia now, the first thing you would notice is her intelligence. She exudes it out of her pores and the second she opens her mouth it’s clear that she is special. I’ve always been impressed by her skills in math (as I watched her go through differential equations at QVCC), but I was honestly blown away with the fact that she was able to excel so much in a subject that she had so little background in prior to college. I asked her how she went from no math background to getting into Wentworth for mechanical engineering and she told me that the key was Denise Walsh. Denise is a math teacher at QVCC and helped Olivia catch up to her peers. As a person, Olivia knew that she wanted to go into something based in math because “I just saw the person I was and decided I just couldn’t be that anymore, it’s just too associated with really unpleasant things. I changed in a lot of ways that I’m still understanding, like what caused what, and I don’t know if that would have happened in a public school scenario. Which leads me to the really awful question of ‘is it better that I went there [New Hope] and turned out the way I am?’ And that’s just a disgusting question to ask myself. I was very artistic, artsy, ‘loved talking about grey moral areas’ type of person. I just looked at that person and was like ‘I don’t want to be this [anymore],’ and I think math was the [opposite] of that person.”
These days, you can find Olivia in Boston studying mechanical engineering at Wentworth; the next stepping stone for her after graduating Magna Cum Laude with her Associate’s Degree in Engineering from QVCC. While I don’t know what the future has in store for her, I know that if anyone will set goals and actually achieve them, it will be Olivia. I have always been slightly intimidated by her outspoken intelligence, and find her presence in a room empowering. For as long as I’ve known her, Olivia has been completely unafraid to say whatever is on her mind. She is transparent, and really, unironically smart. But not only that, she is kind, and helpful, and incredibly resilient. I don’t know of anybody who could overcome an extremely limited math background to the extent where she is now majoring in engineering, but then there’s Olivia, doing what Olivia does, and impressing all of us in the process.

From Unschooled to UConn – Sydne Andersen’s Story


Sydne Andersen was one of my closest friends when I was dancing. We had a duo together, spent almost an entire summer together as we switched back and forth between our houses for sleepovers, and regularly enjoyed the deliciousness of her mom’s incredible chocolate chip spread for pancakes (chocolate chip, peanut butter, butterscotch, white chocolate – you name it, Mrs. Andersen had it). We were inseparable – playing manhunt with her brothers in the summer, swimming in the lake where my grandparents live, and bouncing around the beginnings of adolescence together. Being 12 and 13 is a challenging time for any child, and as Mrs. Andersen used to always say – “It’s not always peaches and cream around the Andersen household” – the same is true for growing up. It isn’t easy, learning how to think for yourself, discovering your likes and dislikes… but Sydne was the kind of friend that made growing up easier.

Sydne 3

Sydne and I actually attended UConn together for a year, she was a senior majoring in finance as I was a transfer junior. She told me that the work ethic her parents instilled in her as a child really helped her to be prepared for college, although she doesn’t think that university is something that you can really prepare for until you’re in the thick of it. “Do you know how to read and write and do you know how to study? I didn’t feel unprepared, but I don’t know if you can really prepare for college.” Sydne feels as though she owes some of her college success to the fact that when she was in high school, the material didn’t come easily to her. “So many of my friends didn’t do well in their first semester of college because high school came easy to them. High school didn’t come easy to me because I always felt like I was playing a little bit of catch-up. I guess I was able to succeed because of everything that built up to college.”


Now, you might ask me why Sydne said that she felt like she was playing a bit of “catch-up” throughout high school. Well, as you might have suspected (I don’t know if you can see a theme here or not), but Sydne also happened to be homeschooled. From grades 2-8, she was schooled by her mom. Sydne decided to go to public school for high school because she didn’t remember what 1st grade was like and wanted to become more involved in school. She hoped that going to public school would help her be more prepared for college. When she entered the public school setting, Sydne said that she didn’t feel out of place academically, but was taken aback by the atmosphere and culture of the students. She hated how disrespectful her fellow students were in classes, and this took some adjusting to get used to. However, other than some struggles with math, Sydne did incredibly well in high school and graduated as salutatorian in her class (just as her older and younger brothers did).


While it might not be surprising that a former homeschooler was able to do so well in the public school and collegiate settings, what might surprise you is the fact that Sydne was not only homeschooled, but unschooled.  She told me that “my mom always tells us that she taught us how to learn and not what to learn.” Her mom still focused on some history, math, and science, but overall they didn’t follow any structured curriculum. As far as socialization is concerned, it should already be clear that Sydne didn’t have trouble making friends. She was able to dance because of how flexible her schedule was, and when I asked her the hypothetical “socialization” question, her answer was very fitting. “That’s such a stupid question. I think, maybe if you were in a very religious home those [children] maybe tend to be more sheltered, but I did go to Hebrew school on the weekends. I did theatre and dance, so I think while you could be socially awkward at first, it’s really not hard to break out of that after a while.” More than anything, homeschooling helped Sydne gain some of the skills that have lasted her for years. Her parents were able to instill a strong work ethic in her and her siblings, and Sydne was able to gain “a better relationship with my family, overall. I think homeschoolers tend to be a lot closer to their loved ones, so that was a big gain.”

Sydne 5

As we got older, I remained homeschooled; Sydne went to public school and stopped dancing, and slowly we grew apart simply because of geography.  As the years passed, we fell out of touch, but as I had hoped, when I got together with Sydne for this interview, it felt like we picked up right where we left off. Sydne will always remind me of adolescence and how it felt to start to discover who I really was as a person. Our friendship ran deep and was one based on a love of dancing, enjoying life, and a mutual distaste for Saxon math. Sydne is very much an overachiever (very similar to myself), and I know that she is the kind of person who will soar as high as she wants if she just puts her mind to it.

It’s A Small World – Seth Beecher’s Story

Seth Beecher

I met Seth Beecher during my first math class at QVCC. He was in pre-calculus with me, and I remember being slightly intimidated by his math skills. I knew he was an engineering major, but not much more until we ended up walking out of class together on a cold fall night. Somehow it came up that I was homeschooled, and that’s when he shared that he, too, had been homeschooled for 12 years.


Seth was homeschooled because his parents didn’t like the public school system or the influence it was having on his older sister. He loved having been homeschooled, because he had so much freedom with the curriculum. Seth told me that they didn’t stick with a specific time line – if something took him longer to understand they could take their time, and if he got something really fast they could move on. He had the ability to get up early and get all of his school work done, so he could have freedom to have his afternoons to himself. While he was homeschooled, Seth was also able to forge long lasting family ties that he is very thankful for. He has a good family relationship, and feels as though he can thank homeschooling for a lot of that. When I asked him if there was anything he disliked about having been homeschooled, he told me that he really liked it. He didn’t feel as though he missed out on anything other than school drama, but he’s glad that he managed to miss that part.


When Seth was homeschooled, he was active in a homeschool group that got together a lot, doing things like gym class, sailing, and even archery class. He also attended church every week, and got together with family members often. He had a group of friends that he played airsoft with every week, and even went to 4H camp several years in a row. He told me that he never had trouble findings friends – “I mean, I live out in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t live under a rock.


After high school, Seth started attending QVCC and felt very prepared entering the collegiate scene. He made a lot of friends and enjoyed learning from different professors. He likes to think that he was very knowledgeable prior to entering QVCC, but he knows that the school really did help him grow as a person. “As much as I’ll deny it, my mom says I actually have learned quite a bit. It changes the way you think, not so much how much you actually know, but the way you think.” Throughout the classes he took, Seth found the liberal arts classes easy, but that was simply because he was well prepared for the curriculum. These were classes that his peers would spend time complaining about writing papers for, but Seth didn’t mind. He did find the math and engineering classes very challenging, but succeeded in graduating QVCC within 3 years. He made the decision to take three years to get his Associate’s Degree because he wanted to have a life outside of school. While he was attending community college, Seth had an active life outside of school, doing anything from sailing to square dancing, engine work and hanging out with friends, as well as keeping a job.


These days you can find Seth on the UConn campus studying mechanical engineering. For a quick round of “It’s A Small World,” I actually ran into Seth on campus recently, as he was getting out of a class in the same classroom that I had a class in. Out of all the buildings, and classrooms, and seats (he was the only student I could see through the door) he could have been in – what are the odds?  Apparently QVCC alumni attract!

Good Friends Are Like Stars – Adam Greczkowski’s Story


There are few people in this world that I consider real, true friends. People with whom you can have 1:00 a.m. car talks, and who will then go hiking with you the next day or go searching through racks of ridiculous 90’s cloths at a thrift shop with. Unadulterated, pure friendship is rare, but I have that with Adam. I’ve known Adam for at least 10 years, and in the past 4 years he has grown to be one of my very best friends. He is the kind of friend who will support me at my highest moments, (like at my graduation from QVCC), and who will be there to help me pick up the pieces when I need it most (like the emergency 7:00 am chocolate chip pancakes he made for me on one of my worst days). No matter what, I can count on Adam to lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a few words of advice if that’s what I need the most.


Adam began his schooling in a semi-traditional setting, having attended St. Mary’s school from kindergarten to 8th grade. He attended Putnam High School for one semester before deciding that it wasn’t for him. He was having health issues involving undiagnosed food allergies, and felt as though he was taking a step backwards because he had already completed much of the curriculum they were using. His mom decided to try homeschooling him after he complained about school every day during his first semester.


When I asked Adam what he enjoyed about being home schooled, he told me that he could “build my life around my education, and my education around my life. I could study things that were relevant and important to me, as well as expanding my own world view. Whereas in public school, generally you’re given your information on a platter, and it’s not quite as free.” Adam’s homeschooling routine was different than mine, because he attended a co-op and spent at least one day a week at one of his homeschool friend’s houses doing work. It was interesting to me to talk to him about these variances from what I did when I was homeschooled. He really enjoyed the days he could go to co-op and his friend’s house, because they always had a structured day and he knew what he was going to study. The co-op he attended was in Massachusetts and his “grade” (sophomore in high school) consisted of 10-12 students. There, he got to take a class in Latin roots for English words, as well as English, poetry, creative writing, and art expression.  He even got to be a member of their yearbook committee.


As I have been doing with all of the homeschooled students I interviewed, I asked Adam how he was socialized when he was homeschooled – because it is still one of the most common questions I get asked to this day. His response to this hypothetical person legitimately wondering how he was socialized was “how were you socialized? Just because I was homeschooled doesn’t mean I was locked in a cellar, given a book, a scrap of food and a towel for a blanket.” Adam was very involved in community theatre, as well as a youth community service group, and even tried karate at one point.  He always had friends pulling him into different activities. Socialization was never an issue for him, if anything, “I might have prioritized socialization sometimes over my actual education.”


When Adam was 17, he received his GED and then continued his education at QVCC. He was originally a little nervous going into a collegiate setting, but said that his English class at the co-op prepared him quite well for his first college English class, boosting his confidence. As he gained experience at QV, he felt prepared and began to feel more comfortable in college. Adam majored in General Studies, and graduated from QVCC in 2014. When I asked him whether or not he found QVCC classes to be inherently easy, he said that “anyone who calls these classes inherently easy can take my managerial accounting class.” Adam echoed the opinion of several other students I interviewed, as he felt that the reason why a lot of people find it easier to succeed at a community college is because you’re spending more one-on-one time with your professor, which isn’t a luxury that is an option at a 4 year school. “Your teacher gets invested in you and wants you to learn, and you get to know them and you don’t want to disappoint them, so you work a little harder. If you’re in a 200 person lecture hall, it’s easy to just feel like a face in the crowd and your actions are inconsequential.”

After graduating in 2014, Adam took a little time off from college but eventually decided that he wanted to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at Eastern. He knew that he needed a few more prerequisites before he enrolled in Eastern, so he returned to QVCC to take a lab science, a higher level math, and a year of language. Much to his surprise, this year of language introduced him to a new love of Spanish, and he is now at Eastern – double majoring in marketing and Spanish. When he graduates from Eastern, Adam is thinking of working in the PR field for international charities. He is hoping that his background in Spanish will help him land a job in this field, because he’s always loved working with people and is very creative when it comes to solving problems.


When Adam and I were both attending QVCC, we got to spend an abundance of time together, and while we’re currently at different schools and are astonishingly busy throughout the semester, we are still able to maintain a beautiful friendship. We both tutor at the QVCC Learning Center, so without fail we get to check in with one another every week and see how things are going. Sometimes that’s all we get, but no matter how busy we become, I know we’ll always make time to grab lunch at Heirloom or have a gluten-free baking night. Adam is one of the rare people I have found who is as mature and wise as I can be, and it is so enjoyable to see how our friendship grows the older we get. It’s wonderful to have a friend who has known you for so long and has seen all of the failures behind your successes, and yet is still your steadfast supporter.

Algebra Is Like A Bad Breakup – Sean Gilmartin’s Story

Sean – second from left 

“Algebra is like a bad breakup – you want your X to be by itself.”

This was my first impression of Sean. We both tutor at Quinebaug Valley Community College. He tutors math while I tutor science, and after only a few hours of working with him I knew I would enjoy his company as a co-worker. He’s witty, smart, and quietly sarcastic. He brightens the mood of my workplace incredibly effectively, so when I started this project I knew that I wanted to talk to him. With the notable (for this blog) exception of homeschooling, Sean has experienced almost every form of education available. From attending a tiny public school to teaching in a private school, learning in a community college, a 4 year university, and even a religious college – you name it, he’s done it.

After talking to me about his K-12 experience in a public middle and high school, Sean summarized his ideology as a student during that time of his life. “I just took the path of least resistance.” Ultimately, that led him to fulfill his parents’ wishes as he attended Word of Life Bible Institute for two years, but when he graduated, he still had no idea what he was going to do with his life.

I had no real relevant skills, I had coasted my way through high school, I had gone to a kind of pointless school afterwards, so I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” Again, he decided to take the path of least resistance, but this time, it lead him down a much more promising road – a road that led to QVCC. In retrospect, he says that “I feel very strongly about QV now. It would be nice to retcon my decision making and say ‘yeah it was because I knew it had such a great reputation, wonderful professors, and I wanted the tight knit class environment.’ But I knew none of that. I just knew it was close, and that if you didn’t have great grades in high school you would be reasonably sure you would be accepted, (and I didn’t have great grades in high school, so I was reasonably sure I would get accepted). I wish I had had higher hopes going in.” Sean’s first semester went by reasonably well, but for the first time, he looked at his performance and realized that he wanted to do better. He wasn’t happy with just doing okay. He decided to step up his work in his classes, and while it was a gradual process, he eventually got from wanting to do better to actually doing better.

As he started to excel at QV, he took a tutoring class. This set a myriad of life events into motion, as it was really the start to his teaching career. He started by substitute teaching Spanish at a private school, and eventually attending Eastern Connecticut State University for an education degree in English. However, Sean quickly realized that having a Bachelor’s in education and English wasn’t going to get him far. He dropped the education part of his major and decided to pick up a math minor just for fun. The whole time he was in school he was plugging through Calculus I, II, III, and so on, so he figured why not? “Then I was looking at what you can do with a math minor, and it’s pretty much you can put it on a wall. I didn’t really feel like going through all that effort for something that was like, fancy window dressing,” so Sean decided to double major in English and Math. Now, he finds himself pursuing an eventual PhD in math with the hopes of becomes a college math professor. However, he doesn’t ever want to lose the one-on-one relationships he gets to have when tutoring at the Learning Center at QVCC, so he would love to continue to foster students through tutoring as well.

While listening to Sean’s educational experience was fascinating, what I enjoyed the most about my conversation with him was his insightfulness. When I asked him what he thought he gained from having gone to QVCC, his answer was unique and incredibly true from my standpoint as well. He said that he gained “an appreciation for the value of education.. Education wasn’t just a chore, it’s a privilege – it’s an amazing privilege. I think if I had just gone to a 4 year university right off the bat and hung out with a bunch of incoming freshman, it would have felt like an overwhelming continuation of high school, where education is a chore or an obligation, or a duty, instead of something you get a chance to do and something you have to work damn hard at. It doesn’t come easy, and even giving yourself the opportunity to get a good education doesn’t come easy.

This mindset is something that I have witnessed several times from people who have gone to QVCC, although I did find it to be especially prominent in homeschooled students who have attended a community college. For many students in high school, I feel as though there is an overwhelming expectation for them to choose the highest quality, 4-year school they can get into. They are expected to literally continue high school at their college, maintaining record-breaking grades while they have a social life and get involved on campus. This doesn’t appear to be the case for many of the homeschooled students that I have had contact with. From my perspective, it appears as though deciding to pursue a higher education as a homeschooler, and perhaps for students like Sean, requires a more active decision. Most of the time, there are more avenues that are seen as acceptable, and sometimes, one of the roads less traveled is a community college. In my town at least, most homeschooled students that I know have attended QVCC for at least a few semesters, so I decided to ask Sean if he had experienced any stereotypical homeschooled students while taking class or tutoring at QV. He told me that he has never noticed a difference academically between homeschooled students and students fresh out of public school, but mentioned that some homeschoolers tend to have a lack of verbal filter. While sometimes surprising, he said that it isn’t overall a bad thing.

Some people are naturally awkward, some are naturally not. I think you may stay awkward longer if you’re homeschooled, but you might also stay happier, and I think that the trade off is probably worth it. You get beaten into shape, socially, in high school, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”

Overall, it was fascinating to talk to Sean about education. He had many engrossing observations about schooling, but none more so than this final quote about QVCC. I was talking to him about the stereotype that community colleges are inherently easy and that the education is somehow subpar, and he shared my opinion that the stereotype couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I think the problem is there is this conflation between the entry requirements and the exit requirements. I think the mantra of some place like UConn is ‘we accept the best of the best, and we produce the best of the best.’ The mantra for something like QV is “we give everybody a chance, but you still have to prove that you can do something with that chance.’ They’ll let people in the door, but they won’t let you out with a degree unless you’ve proven that you can do what they’re claiming you can do. There’s this amazing tendency to say ‘it’s easy to get in, then ergo it’s an easy program all around.’ It’s just a way of giving everybody an opportunity and they shouldn’t be penalized for that.”

I think that Sean’s story needed to be told, but more than that, I wanted to share his outlook on alternative education. I’ve not met many people who truly understand the validity of community colleges and can so effectively explain their worth. It’s hard in this world of herd mentality to be different and to stand out, but I think it might just get a little easier if people like Sean keep speaking their mind and educating young, impressionable students along the way.