Until a few years ago, an education didn’t seem very important to Shane Oliver. The San Diego native dropped out of high school during his sophomore year in 1983, feeling alienated from the educational system.
“I was not your traditional student. I didn’t fit in,” he said. “It was very uncomfortable and I wasn’t doing well.”
Oliver started working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant to support himself. He was at the very bottom rung of the professional ladder in the hierarchical food service world, but over the next 20 years, he reached considerable heights.
“I worked my way up from dishwasher to general manager and I’ve done every aspect in between, from cooking to administration,” Oliver said.
He moved to Manhattan in 1990 after visiting a friend there and worked at many bars and restaurants in what he considers the food capital of America.
Though he enjoyed the city, Oliver dreamed of opening his own restaurant and was beginning to get the sense that he had gone as far as he could go without an education. When he moved to Newport in 2005 to work in the restaurants there, he found himself living just down the street from the Community College of Rhode Island’s Newport County Campus.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get a degree or if I just wanted to take a couple of classes to check it out,” Oliver said, “but the campus was right up the street from my house and it looked kind of cool, so I went there out of curiosity.”
Oliver, 42, of Newport, met with CCRI advisers who strongly suggested that he earn a GED, which he received from the Aquidneck Island Adult Learning Center in 2005.
“I didn’t really like the idea, but I went and one thing led to another,” Oliver said. “Having accomplished that was invigorating, so after that I came back for more. That was the beginning of where I am today.”
Fluent in Spanish, Oliver enrolled at CCRI in 2006 hoping to join the Bilingual Judicial Interpreter program because it involved a skill he already possessed. When that program was full, he returned to his original idea of opening a restaurant or a bed-and-breakfast.
“I’m just a host at heart,” Oliver said. “I like food and I like entertaining.”
After being away from school for so long, Oliver had a difficult start at the college.
“When I finally entered CCRI, I had to take several remedial courses in math and reading because I had no familiarity with any of that stuff,” Oliver said. “I thought that I was the only person who had this sort of story but it turns out that a lot of students who go to CCRI have to take remedial math and English courses.”
Oliver credited the tutors at the Success Center with helping him through his initial difficulties. “It’s been very challenging at times but the motto here is ‘changing lives’ and that’s definitely what [the college] has done for me,” Oliver said.
Oliver worked as a bartender while putting himself through CCRI, sometimes taking courses twice to maintain his 3.6 GPA. As the semesters rolled by, his attitude toward education began to change.
“At first I was just here to get things done and move on,” Oliver said, “but then it became more about absorbing the lessons and applying them to life to be successful.”
Oliver, the first person in his family to attend college, graduated with a degree in General Business. He has been accepted to study restaurant management at Johnson & Wales University, the last step toward his entrepreneurial goal.
After, he plans to open his own business in either his native California or right here in Rhode Island.
“I want to open something that is affordable and a good value,” Oliver said. “This is a great place to open a restaurant or a bed-and-breakfast.”