Student Snapshot: Joyce Aboutaan

Joyce Aboutaan is part of CU’s first cohort independent of partner institutions (CU Solo). Joyce is a vocal part of this cohort. During my first visit to CU Solo, Joyce’s presence was unmistakable. Her passion is inspiring and, often times, contagious. Recently, I met with her to discuss her project, one that sees its relevance increased thanks to recent changes in U.S. politics.

College Unbound: Tell me about your project.

Joyce Aboutaan: My project is to create a sustainable pathway to higher education for undocumented adults between the ages of 25 and 50. I chose that specific age group because that age range typically doesn’t qualify for scholarships. Our projects have to be passion-based and this work relates to my own story. I came to the US as an undocumented child and grew up in an education system that often excluded me. Now that I have gone through it and am no longer undocumented, I want to give back to people who were in the same position I was.

CU: What is the biggest challenge pursuing this project in the political climate that we are now facing?

JA: The biggest challenge is the revelation that America is a lot more prejudiced and unkind to immigrants than we first thought. The President-elect is someone who is openly racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-human rights. We don’t know what his election means but it’s not far off to imagine people being detained, people deported, and families torn apart!

CU: What is the next step in your project?

JA: I am working on hosting a fundraiser at The MET School in collaboration with CASO (Coalition for Advocacy and Student Opportunity)  RI.  This fundraiser will be a “tour of the worlds” international dinner. I am hoping to draw some very influential political and education representatives from all over Rhode Island. Plus, the dinner will be a chance for all in attendance to come face-to-face with the people who would be most affected by anti-immigration actions.

CU: When was the last time your project inspired you, or humbled you?

JA: During this last term, in Nick’s (Longo) class on Collaboration, I had to write a public narrative containing my self-story. When I was done writing it, I realized how powerful a catalyst my story is. It could break down barriers and allow people to trust me to advocate on their behalf. It really made me want to devote my efforts to this project, at a time where this work is so crucial! These are people’s lives we’re talking about! Nelson Mandela said it best: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

CU: How did you come to College Unbound (CU) and what effects have you seen in your life as a result of being at CU?

JA: The first college I went to was the University of Massachusetts Boston. I completed about a year and a half there but I had to leave when I moved to Rhode Island. I went to Lincoln Tech, graduated, and became a Certified Medical Assistant. I thought I was headed for a career in Nursing but, when I tried to start my Nursing degree at another institution, I was told my credits would not transfer. A few years after that, I began realizing I was performing the duties of a Nurse but I was not getting paid the same.

I enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) and started working on my Nursing degree. Close to the end of my degree, I had a surprise pregnancy. With no family or support systems in place, finishing the degree was looking less likely every day. I attended a family night at The MET School, during which I heard about CU from Dennis Littky. The degree sounded great but it was the support systems that really drew me to CU. I really didn’t have that support anywhere else. Now, I’m part of the first CU Solo cohort!

CU: What is that like?

JA: It’s equally inspiring, exciting, and nerve-wracking. It’s inspiring because being in this cohort has pushed me to be introspective, acknowledge my passions, and pursue them with intensity. It’s exciting because I’m involved in work that I never thought I would be doing. And it’s nerve-wracking because my success is tied directly to the success of my other cohort-mates, and to CU in general.

CU: In the spirit of giving back and using your voice to highlight others, who would you like to spotlight for helping you and your project thus far?

JA: Me [laughs]. It’s funny, but I’m serious. I take pride in allowing myself and my story to be told in a raw, unfiltered, and unapologetic manner! Also, to use my story to help those who are in the same position I once was and let them know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how dark it may seem, there’s always a light. Trust me!