Christopher Carbone of Cumberland has seen that what looks like a daunting setback can become an inspiration. The Community College of Rhode Island 2010 General Studies graduate put himself through school while helping care for his two younger sisters who both have serious health problems.
His adopted sister, Megan, suffers from shaken baby syndrome. She is blind and cannot walk. Carbone’s sister Karli, now 15, was born with cystic fibrosis and is frequently hospitalized. Carbone often stays with her in the hospital overnight, trading shifts with his parents.
“Between work, school and the health issues at home, it’s quite a bit to take on,” Carbone said. “But it’s inspiring seeing the progress they can make having these setbacks. It’s more of an inspiration than something that holds me back.”
Carbone, 24, has used that inspiration to succeed, but he did always consider going to college.
He attended high school in Vermont, where he lived with his cousin, and took automobile refinishing courses with SkillsUSA, a nonprofit organization that provides vocational training to high school and college students.
Although he enjoyed restoration and working with his hands, Carbone began to grow restless.
“The more I thought about it, I didn’t really want to be fixing someone’s wrecked car for the rest of my life,” he said.
Having a lifelong interest in electrical technology, Carbone became an electrical apprentice after graduating from high school in 2004, wiring homes and installing lighting and closed circuit television systems.
Carbone enjoyed this work, but when he hurt his back on the job in July 2007, he began to have second thoughts.
What would happen if he stayed an electrician and hurt himself again when he was older and had a family? How would he support them?
“I decided it was time to do something with my head and not my body,” Carbone said.
He decided to go to school for electrical engineering, which would allow him to remain in the field while also challenging his intellect.
“I feel like I’ve reached a certain degree of mastery in a lot of the areas [of an electrician],” he said. “There’s more to learn but not too much more, and I want to broaden my horizons. That’s why I’m going into the electrical engineering field.”
Carbone moved back to Rhode Island in 2008 to help care for his sisters and decided to enroll at CCRI, where his mother had earned a degree in nursing.
“When I first started here I didn’t know what to expect but the faculty was very helpful,” he said. “If you want it badly enough, they’re willing to help you in any way they can; it’s really great.”
Carbone continued to work as an electrician to pay his way through college, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average until his last semester, and graduated with a 3.92 GPA. He had to move in with his older sister when his office and bedroom were destroyed during the record flooding in March, and he continued to help care for his younger sisters.
“It’s nice to be close to home with sisters who aren’t in the greatest of health,” he said.
Carbone is considering applying to the University of Maine, Ohio State University or the University of Rhode Island to continue his education and become an electrical engineer.
Whichever school he chooses, he plans to be the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.