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Student veteran 'humbled' by selection as 2013 Newman Civic Fellow

Oct. 26, 2013

President Ray Di Pasquale presents Chad McFarlane with a certificate recognizing his selection as a 2013 Newman Civic Fellow. President Ray Di Pasquale presents Chad McFarlane with a certificate recognizing his selection as a 2013 Newman Civic Fellow.

Chad McFarlane is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. The General Studies major has seen more in his 30 years than many have seen in a lifetime: A stint of homelessness and five years of service in the Army, including two tours in Iraq as a tank gunner, were some of the experiences he had under his belt before enrolling at the Community College of Rhode Island. Still, with all of that behind him, tackling college was the goal that perhaps made him the most nervous.

After struggling to find a place of his own, McFarlane moved in with his sister in Providence, and looked into taking classes at CCRI after completing high school through the Providence Alternative Diploma Program. But after being “profoundly affected” by the events of 9/11 and realizing he wasn’t quite ready for college yet, he knew the military would be the path for him – at least for the time being.

“While I was in the military, I sort of had a fear of college. I hadn’t had a lot of positive reinforcement about school. But after being deployed to Iraq twice, I learned that if I could handle that, I could probably handle college,” he said.

Once he left the military at the rank of sergeant, McFarlane moved to Florida, where he worked as a postal carrier for three years. There, he said, he saw what not having an education meant. He frequently delivered mail in “bad neighborhoods,” and knew that the alternative to a college degree could potentially be bleak. It was then that he decided to conquer his next challenge and moved back to Rhode Island to pursue his degree.

McFarlane hopes to graduate in next spring with his associate degree and then he’ll go on to transfer to a four-year institution to continue his education. He said that CCRI has nurtured his burgeoning passion for electrical engineering, which he hopes to parlay into a career.

“I’m a person who likes to problem-solve, and I like understanding how things work. With engineering, you create things that make the world better, essentially,” he said, adding that the variety of applications for the trade, from medical to infrastructure, gives him many options through which to “leave his impact on the world.”

But McFarlane needn’t wait to leave his mark; he’s already devoted his life to bettering the lives of others, whether it is through his military service or in his involvement with the Student Veterans Organization, where he’s been president since December 2012. McFarlane said the organization has about 150 members and works to advocate for student veterans on campus and to provide “a sense of unit camaraderie” among veterans.

“I’ve heard my story quite often from other students. Transitioning is hard. You’re five, 10 or 15 years older than the average freshman, and you don’t necessarily understand other students,” said McFarlane, who shared that he had struggled with PTSD after his deployment. “So we try to be a buffer for those students, and a safe place.”

From July 2012 to January 2013, McFarlane received a competitive fellowship from The Mission Continues, an organization that awards veterans six-month fellowships to work with a local nonprofit of their choosing to help better their community. In McFarlane’s case, this time was spent establishing the military and veteran student offices at CCRI as well as reaching out to other Rhode Island colleges and universities to “try to unite student veterans around the state.”

His work with the SVO earned McFarlane the honor of being named a 2013 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, an award sponsored by KPMG. McFarlane said he was both surprised and tremendously humbled to receive the award, which validated his life’s work of caring about his community, giving back and “making his environment better.”

“That’s something I’ve always sought to do,” said McFarlane, citing his involvement in the Boy Scouts, JROTC and the military. “It’s about wanting to really connect with your community and making a positive impact.” 

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