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They have faced challenges and difficulties brought on by the pandemic, but like students at colleges and schools across the country, they are resilient and have stayed determined to accomplishing their academic goals. Here, members of the Class of 2020 share their stories and their plans for the future.   

Greg Wilder, Human Services (A.S. degree)

On April 17, Greg Wilder completed his manuscript, "Pink Cloud Poetry." It contains all of the poetry he has written since he started treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction, and April 17 marked his third year of sobriety.

What was your journey to becoming a Human Services major at the College?
"For a long time, I never thought I could get a college education and that I was not going to be able to change my situation. I started drinking heavily and it went downhill from there. When I entered treatment, I feel like things systematically fell into the right place for me to progress to the level I’ve reached now. It's given me a purpose that didn’t exist for me before I went into treatment.”

Why did you choose Human Services?
"I was not able to do the things that I like to do, like art and writing, because I was using drugs which made me more depressed and made me use drugs more. I was still finishing the intensive outpatient treatment program at New Choices Recovery Center, and I thought about getting into something related to the field. I want to be an art therapist. I was in a place where I felt pretty hopeless and I would like to provide a good example for people who are in the place where I was.”

Your internship brought you full circle?
"In Fall 2019, I started interning with New Choices, co-facilitating the Recovery Writing and Expressive Arts groups. It has been a great experience."

You’ve been an active member of campus as Vice President of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a Member of Rhythms Literary Club, and Treasurer for the Student Government Association.
"I wanted to make sure I had some sort of community to be actively involved in. That has also helped me build a network of people who have been able to really help me progress through college."

This fall, Greg plans on pursuing his bachelor’s degree in either Art Therapy or English.


Olyvia Velez, Nutrition (A.S. degree)

Much of the work that Olyvia Velez does as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) in a local group home is to assist clients with setting goals and then achieving them. She has set a goal for herself of becoming a Registered Nurse. Her degree from the College is taking her one step closer to that goal.

What is a typical workday like for you as a DSP at the group home?
"We work in the residential setting and help residents with daily activities. They set goals for themselves and we help them, like some of the residents would like to transition into living in an apartment by themselves. We help them learn how to cook meals on their own, take them to the pharmacy, and show them how to order their own meds. We take them to appointments and do other things like helping with laundry and cleaning projects and organizing their medications for the week. We also show them how to take the bus to and from places so that when they work they know how to use transportation.”

What do you find gratifying about being in the healthcare field?
"I enjoy it because the residents look at you like a family member. Although they know you’re staff, they see you every day and they develop a relationship with you. You’re at their home, cooking, cleaning, doing activities with them. Whatever makes them happy makes me feel complete; that fulfills my day.”

What were some of the things you covered in your science classes that further sparked your interest in the field?
"Although I work in the direct support setting helping people, our science courses went so much more in-depth and showed us why we do certain things and metabolically what’s happening in our bodies. Actually, my psychology classes put a lot of things in perspective about why people do the things they do.”

Olyvia plans to transfer to nursing school in Spring 2021 to pursue her associate’s degree in Nursing, followed by her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.


Jah’leel Muhammed, Business Administration (A.S. degree)

Jah'leel Muhammed's first job as a teenager was working at a local fast food restaurant. It left a big impression on him and changed his thinking about what he would study in college.

Can you talk about why you chose to study business?
"When I was in high school, I started working at McDonald’s and after six months, I was promoted to crew trainer. Then, I was considered for a management position when I was still in high school. I wound up liking it so much that I thought ‘one day I want to own my own business.’ I was first going to go to college for culinary, but I decided that business was what I wanted."

You become so enthusiastic when you’re describing your management experience.
"I just loved the responsibility. I knew that when things were going right, it was because of the decisions I made. I had trust and confidence in myself.”

Has that enthusiasm grown since you’ve been at the College?
"Yes. I like that the professors use real-world examples and things they went through and things they did. With those examples they gave me, and when I was reading different approaches to management, I easily understood it."

What is your other passion besides business?
"I always liked plants growing up. I live in an apartment and last summer, I had a small garden in the backyard and on the porch. I grew tomatoes, potatoes, and broccoli. Besides business, I would love to get a degree in the botany field and get into plant-gene splicing so that we can develop crops to grow for people in third-world countries, so people will have more food."

How has this semester been for you?
"Personally, I don’t like online classes. I’m a better ‘in-person learner.’ You can be in a class and you’re sitting next to one person who is 80 and another person who is 19. You learn a lot that way, besides what the professor is teaching."

Jah’leel is planning to pursue his bachelor’s degree in Business and play basketball.


Niamh Schmid, Performing Arts: Music (A.S. degree)

During the fall semester, the College’s Chamber Ensemble performed the premiere of a composition written by Niamh Schmid, a Performing Arts: Music major, pianist with the ensemble, and also a violinist. The title of the piece was: "Hope."

What was the inspiration for "Hope?"
"I like to do character sketches or write off of a mood. I was writing for a quartet with four different movements, different characters. I have good friends - one is a violist and one is a cellist; I had written it with them in mind. I really liked that the College was able to accommodate having my composition played by the ensemble."

You recently gave a 40-minute solo performance in the Taylor Auditorium and because of the pandemic there was no audience (but your performance is on YouTube for all to enjoy). Would you share your thoughts about that?
"That was a unique opportunity – to give a solo recital. It was hard that no one could be there, but it’ll be cool to have it on social media. Putting together a large amount of music by yourself is great experience. The songs I learned were also audition pieces for four-year schools.”

You’ve been playing piano since you were 13. What drew you to it back then and made you decide to pursue it as a career choice?
"I love the unique ability to express things. I’ve always enjoyed listening to it and talking about music. It helps in other areas like problem solving and public speaking. At the College, I’ve grown a lot and learned how to be a professional musician working with other musicians. In our Chamber Ensemble you have to be able to communicate with your peers and make a plan for how to practice together and what to work on. I found that really valuable."

Niamh earned a merit scholarship to attend the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College to pursue her bachelor’s degree in music performance this fall. She maintains a private studio teaching piano at her home (via Zoom now) in Howes Cave.