Perseverance and pride: URI student finds support when he needed it most

URI mechanical engineering student overcomes academic and financial challenges

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 26, 2021 – Jeancarlos Nolasco has always been very independent. A first-generation college student, he navigated the college admission and financial aid process on his own.

However, even the most independent individuals need help once and a while. Nolasco, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rhode Island this spring, received support when he needed it the most.

“Even though I was used to doing things on my own, I learned that I didn’t have to do that at URI,” said Nolasco, who is from Cranston. “The academic challenges I faced required me to seek help. As I progressed through the curriculum, I realized I needed to use all resources available to truly succeed.”

Finding His Path

Unsure of what he wanted to study at the start of his college career, Nolasco was accepted into URI’s Wanting Engineering program. The program allowed Nolasco to complete the academic requirements needed to gain admission to the College of Engineering, while addressing his financial needs.

“I struggled heavily during my second and third years because I had many financial obligations due to living on my own,” said Nolasco. “I had to become a part-time student while working 40-45 hours per week. Many times, I was faced with the decision of either missing class due to work or showing up late for work, or calling out entirely, in order to attend a mandatory class or to take an exam.”

The Support to Succeed

Feeling stressed, confused and discouraged, Nolasco considered switching majors or taking a gap year. Instead, he reached out to Jared Abdirkin, assistant dean of the College of Engineering.

“Within minutes of sending my email, I received a call from Dean Abdirkin asking to meet with him right away,” Nolasco said. “Dean Abdirkin took a look at my transcript and explained that even though I was behind, that was no reason to give up. The feeling of encouragement and having someone like Dean Abdirkin believe in me, was the positive reinforcement I needed to accept the challenge and continue on.”

Abdirkin credited Nolasco for his perseverance.

“Jeancarlos is a great example of persistence and the results of our collective support for underrepresented students in particular,” said Abdirkin. “This achievement belongs entirely to the student. I’m very grateful to be part of a system that makes this possible. This is why I am in this field and so proud to be in the College of Engineering.”

A Supportive Community

Administrators such as Abdirkin weren’t the only source of support Nolasco discovered along his academic journey. In his fifth year at URI, he joined the student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

“I knew about NSBE because I had many friends that were part of the organization, but I always felt like I would not be able to give it the time it deserved due to my situation,” said Nolasco. “Once I joined, I immediately understood that NSBE was all about being successful and helping others be successful as well.”

The support Nolasco felt from the group extended well beyond the classroom.

“It was reassuring to meet other students and share our experiences, not just the good experiences such as high grades, internships and job offers, but also the failures, rejections and growth as young adults,” said Nolasco. “NSBE offered a never-ending support system throughout all aspects of life, not just academically. You always had a study partner, company in the cafeteria or a life counselor at any given moment.”

Charles “Chuck” Watson, assistant director of diversity for the College of Engineering, provided guidance to Nolasco and other NSBE students as the group’s advisor.

“Chuck truly believed that with determination, self-discipline and high expectations, we could all be successful,” said Nolasco. Chuck had high expectations of us, not only academically, but as young adults. He always made sure we were respectful and represented the university with pride anywhere we went. As busy as Chuck was, he always made it very clear that he was always just a knock on the door away at any point if we needed him for anything.”

The Beginning of an Exciting Career

Expecting to do an internship in his junior year, Nolasco found that due to the pandemic, companies weren’t taking students and were retracting offers that were already made to students.

In his senior year, Meister Abrasives, an abrasive tool grinding company in North Kingstown, offered Nolasco an internship and he took full advantage of the opportunity.

“All the abrasive grinding wheels are designed and manufactured to exact customer specifications,” said Nolasco. “I was contacted by engineers all over the world who had specific grinding applications. Using computer aided design software, I produced a drawing and a model that would get manufactured and sold to that customer. I learned a ton of CAD and received a lot of hands-on manufacturing experience.”

After his four-month internship in the winter of 2020-2021, Meister Abrasives offered Nolasco a full-time salaried position upon graduation as a product and design engineer.

Pride and Perseverance

Thankful and proud that he overcame many academic and financial obstacles in his academic career, Nolasco hopes he can inspire others facing similar challenges.

“I know it sounds cliche, but I would tell young people to just not give up and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t accomplish something in life,” Nolasco said. “Even if it’s necessary to work in order to save up some money, I truly believe choosing education is a life changer.”

Nolasco also recommends taking advantage of available resources.

“There are many faculty, students and people like Dean Abdirkin and Chuck who are willing to help,” said Nolasco. “And if they can’t help you, they will put you in touch with someone who can. Just by kindness, respect and meeting new people, you never know what kind of help you will find. Network and surround yourself with like-minded people.”

At URI, Nolasco turned a tough start into a very promising future. He’s hopeful that others can experience a similar comeback story.

“When it comes to college, you are not defined by your life up to that point, good or bad,” said Nolasco. “College is really the time where you can open up and be yourself. There is something for everyone in college.”

Support for Underrepresented Students

Thanks to a $2.5 million gift made this spring from anonymous donors to honor College of Engineering Dean Raymond M. Wright, who is retiring in June 2021, students such as Nolasco may be able to pursue their degrees with less financial-related stress.

The Raymond M. Wright Fast Track Master’s Engineering Endowment will provide one year of full tuition and fees for students enrolled in the final year of the fast-track degree program, which offers an accelerated timeline to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.

The dean of the College will choose the recipients, with preference given to those who are traditionally underrepresented in engineering, including women and people of color.