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Grad will spend summer in native Cape Verde
as Metcalf Fund award recipient
May 6, 2015
Some might say that if you want to turn your life around, hard work is the way to do it. Some will admit that to make a real change, you have to have a little help. Rosa DaLomba knows it actually takes a bit of both.
"It was a very dark time in my life," she recalled, speaking of the years that followed dropping out of high school three months shy of her graduation.
What should have been a time of expansive possibility was instead a limbo for DaLomba, who defiantly moved away from home, spending the winter of 2007 sleeping in her car before settling in nearby Canton, Massachusetts.
"I had no goals, no aspirations – nothing to make me look forward to the next day," she said. "But in the back of my mind, I think I always knew that wasn't what life was about."
Now 26 and preparing to graduate from CCRI with associate degrees in both General Studies and General Business and a 3.51 GPA, the East Providence resident looks back on that time with a maturity and poise that points to just how far she's come in the intervening years.
DaLomba's lucky break came, as it often does, in an unexpected encounter. In 2008, she met Alex Matulewicz, who would become her mentor. "When he was talking to me, it was like he already knew my story. That was the first time that I heard someone say that I had potential. He started giving me encouragement, kind of planting those first little seeds to see where things would go," she said. "Then he brought up school, and he had my full attention."
Bit by bit, DaLomba gained momentum. Matulewicz told DaLomba to close her eyes and imagine her future. Where did she want to be? What did she want to accomplish? She painted a picture with her words, drew out the image of a woman who was an ideal student.
It was an admirable dream, but for DaLomba, the prospect of education remained nightmarish. English was her fourth language – she emigrated from Cape Verde when she was 7 and speaks fluent Creole, Portuguese and Spanish – and while she could communicate conversationally, she was essentially illiterate.
"I had such a hard time in high school," she said. "I'm not someone that is confrontational; I like to make people feel good. But when I would get called on, I'd become a whole new person. It didn't matter what I had to do to get kicked out of class, I'd do it, as long as I didn't have to read."
And with that admission, DaLomba had reached the core of what was holding her back. She knew she would have to start pushing herself if she was ever to emerge from her self-imposed cocoon an ideal student and confident person. She enrolled in the Exeter Job Corps Academy – "The best move I've ever made," she said – where she found she had natural leadership abilities.
Through the Academy, she received a certificate in business administration, and then enrolled in the New Summit School and received her diploma online. She went on to become the class president, leadership award-winner and commencement speaker for her class's graduation from the Job Corps Academy. But perhaps her biggest accomplishment came when she earned a perfect score on the GED® reading test, and was recognized with an award from her school.
"I remember we had an awards ceremony and the woman on stage called my name," she said. "I thought, there was no way this could be me. There must be another Rosa DaLomba. ... I broke down completely. That was the boost for my education. That was the gasoline that was put in my tank. I take that award with me everywhere I go," she said.
She began to work at the former Westin Providence Hotel, winning employee of the quarter in her first three months on the job. She then found her way to CCRI, where she began taking classes in 2012. True to her new form, she dove in wholeheartedly, taking a full course load, becoming a student ambassador and president of the Cape Verdean Student Association, all the while working for Enrollment Services and full time at the Westin. She managed all of this with a patented combination of true grit and humility, always staying open to the support and assistance available to her on campus.
"Although my journey hasn't been smooth, it hasn't been solo, and I am so thankful for that," she said, crediting the college staff, particularly Deb Watson, associate director of Enrollment Services and coordinator of the Student Ambassador Program, whom she called her "school mom."
DaLomba is one of 11 children; her parents came to this country not speaking the language and with little more than a fourth-grade education to help them make their way. Still, she said, they always told her how important education would be to her new life in the States. When she crosses the stage this month, she'll be second in her family to graduate from college; her sister graduated from CCRI last fall.
"I don't want to stop until I get my master's," she said, adding that she's weighing her options for her next steps, which may include pursuing a bachelor's degree in either the Northeast or Europe.
DaLomba's summer is already planned out – she is the recipient of the Michael P. Metcalf Memorial Fund award from the Rhode Island Foundation, a self-exploration and travel grant. She plans to travel to Cape Verde for three months and hopes to reconnect with her roots; lay the groundwork for a mentoring center for the Cape Verdean community in Central Falls and Pawtucket; and deliver clothing, food and school supplies she has collected for the residents of the islands of Brava and Fogo, which were recently devastated by a drought and volcano eruption, respectively.
"I want to help my community," she said. "If I didn't have the help that I did, who knows where I would have been."