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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116

Pawtucket woman: Earning college
degree is about the journey

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- May 1, 2003 -- Jane Stanford started her college degree in 1965. She returned to school in the late ‘70s, again in the ‘80s, and 90’s, generally taking one course at a time. This May, she will finally earn that degree in English from the University of Rhode Island. She took all of her courses at URI’s Feinstein Providence campus.

"People ask me what I’m going to do after I get my degree," the 55-year-old Pawtucket woman says. "It’s never been about a job, but about the journey."

Stanford has been accompanied on her educational trek by her supportive family: her husband, Don, and their two daughters, Amanda, 21, just finishing her junior year at Northwestern University who formatted her mother’s papers for class, and Julia, almost 17 who is mentally disabled and who always asked her mother if she got an "A." Even Stanford’s brother, Joe Polselli, a ’72 URI alumnus who is a professional writer in California, offered his sister writing tips.

Over the course of her college years, Stanford has seen the typewriter replaced by the computer. She has even taken an on-line class in art history with virtual classmates. "I downloaded the images so I could get a better look at them," she says with some degree of technological proficiency.

She took at least five classes with URI English Professor Walter Cane. In fact, she took a night course this spring semester so that she could have one more course with her favorite professor. "He’s been a gift," she says. "I don’t have adequate language to describe where he takes you. When he reads a John Dunne poem, you hear something differently. Walter shows you an entirely different way to understand it."

Stanford enjoys the enrichment of college and doesn’t plan " a job" after she graduates, but she does have a goal, which will couple her education with past experiences. She would like to see her daughter Julia, who is most capable of learning but can’t read or write, on a college campus. "It’s not about a degree for Julia," her mother says. "It’s not just about what she can learn, but about what she can teach others."

Stanford, with the help of her husband Don who is now retired, envisions students specializing in special education to do internships in dormitories that would house special needs students integrated with matriculating college kids.

"It's about the students getting to know the Julias of this world, living and working with this type of student so that they will have a more holistic experience before they start their teaching careers," she says.

"When you’re passionate about something, you can move mountains," she says.

Moving mountains is part of her resume. Stanford’s job experiences include her pre-children years working at Brown University, then as the executive director of Rhode Island Nursing Home Association, and then as director of operations and manager of the Howard Building in Providence.

I’m people oriented," says the soon-to-be URI graduate, recalling a

tenant in the Howard Building who complained every week about the lack of adequate heat in his office. She made the routine visit and listened attentively to his complaint. When she left the job three years later, the man pulled her aside. "I’ve got to be honest with you," he confided. "The heating problem never got fixed," he said. "But I felt a heck of a lot better after talking with you." Stanford said the solution was simple: "I listened."

Stanford took her people skills to volunteer at her children’s schools and to advocate not only for them, but also for all children.

Stanford, along with two co-chairs, lead the effort to build a handicap accessible playground at the Francis J. Varieur Elementary School and used those same fundraising and people skills to convert a classroom back to its original use as an auditorium at Slater Junior High School. She convinced an architecture firm to donate an architect for almost three years. Soon principals, teachers, parents, and students were joining the effort by selling raffle tickets at supermarkets and other fundraising endeavors. When she heard the owner of a Narragansett theater wanted to sell its seats, she contacted him. After their conversation, the man decided to donate the seats to the school in memory of his mother.

"I’m a lover of theater," Stanford says. "At that time, Slater Jr. High had students from 40 different countries. The auditorium was a place the students could share their art, music, dance, and poetry. They could show their differences and revel in the knowledge that different isn’t bad."

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