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Spotlight on the Class of 2019

 

 
Paola Arias-Batista

 
Associate in Science Degree in Human Services / with Honors

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society

 

Honor Student Among the First to Receive the
Community College Opportunity Grant

Posted July 22, 2019 

 

This spring, Paola Arias-Batista became one of the first PCCC students to receive the New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG), a pilot program that enabled qualifying students to attend classes tuition free.

“I was so happy to receive this,” said Paola who struggled to pay for her own education by working full time while attending PCCC full time.  “Without this grant, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my last semester at PCCC,” she explained. “I was able to focus on my studies more.”

Paola was able to complete her semester tuition free. She received an associate’s degree in Human Services in PCCC's 47th Commencement last May, a triumph for the young woman who came to the U.S. only five years ago from the Dominican Republic (DR).

“I didn’t speak any English when I came,” said Paola. She had been attending university classes in the DR, but left that behind when her father decided to move the family to the U.S.  “I couldn’t finish my degree,” she explained.

To help her family, Paola worked a full-time factory job making plastic bags. “It was not a good environment,” she said. “It was kind of dirty and uncomfortable, but I didn’t know enough English to get a better job.”  In addition, she held down a part-time position in a dollar store.

Determined to improve her situation, Paola enrolled in PCCC’s English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) classes.

Not long after, with stronger English skills, she landed a new job with a company that manufactures products for aircraft.
 “The difference in jobs is huge,” said Paola, who will celebrate her third anniversary with the company in October. “The environment here is clean and pleasant. The focus is also on quality of the product not quantity produced. Each product is checked three times for quality," she explained.

“I’m thankful for my ESL classes,” said Paola. “I had to know enough English to complete the three weeks of training for my new job,” she said. “I would not have been able to do that without ESL.”

With her associate’s degree in hand, Paola plans to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, most likely at Rutgers University, and prepare for a career as a social worker.

She wants to focus on helping people with drug and alcohol addiction, an about face for her.

Paola explained that in the DR, she lived in an area where drug and alcohol abuse was common.

“The attitude in the DR is not sympathetic toward addicts,” she explained.  “I didn’t accept them either.” However, living in the U.S. changed Paola’s perspective. “I realized that I wanted to help them,” she said.

That desire prompted her to major in Human Services at PCCC. While serving an internship at a Paramus agency, Paola observed the theories she had learned in the classroom put into practice. “I developed empathy for addicts and understand them better,” she said.

Paola is the first in her family to earn a degree from an American college. A member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, she is proud of her accomplishment and grateful to PCCC.

“It’s amazing here at PCCC,” she said. “I love the environment. Students study hard to reach their goals and professors always have a door open to help, especially Professor (Michael) D’Arcangelo and Professor (Jennifer) Gasparino,” both of the Human Services Department.

Though more education is in her future, Paola plans to take some time off from school first. “I’ve been working full time and attending school full time,” she said. “I’m going to rest for a while.”

Written and photographed by Linda Telesco