RIC alumna Ruth Feliz-Lima '20
On May 16 Ruth Feliz-Lima '20, a biology major with a minor in neuroscience and chemistry, sat in front of her computer at 9 a.m. to attend her virtual graduation.
For the last five years, she had been a student at Rhode Island College. As a young girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, she visited family in the United States but never thought she might live here someday. Eventually, her parents decided to move here, which was not an easy transition for her.
"I was born, raised and went to school in Santo Domingo [the country's capital city]," Feliz-Lima says. There she was able to finish her first year of medical school, before moving to Rhode Island. Looking back, she says, "When I came to RIC it was a totally difficult transition. I didn't even know where I was standing. "
Although Feliz-Lima could manage with the English she learned in her home country, she didn't feel capable or confident enough to speak it here, much less to take college courses in English. So, she decided to join Project ExCEL, a support program at RIC for multilingual students that offers English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in academic reading and writing.
"I enrolled in Project ExCEL without knowing what it was," she recalls. "But it went quite well for me. It helped me to adapt and to write essays. I had no idea how those kind of things were done. It was a good class for transitioning between regular English and academic English."
In her first year at RIC, Feliz-Lima became the first and only assistant of Shélynn Riel-Osorio, former coordinator/director of Project ExCEL, who was also an ESL teacher.
"My first day of class I met this teacher with a Hispanic surname – Mrs. Riel-Osorio. I thought that because of her last name, she spoke Spanish, but that first day a Caucasian lady came to class. It ended up being her husband's last name," Feliz-Lima explains. "Mrs. Riel-Osorio was very nice to me. She helped me a lot in the transition process and guided me to find all the resources that I needed to succeed in college. She helped me apply for financial aid, state and federal scholarships and even student loans"
In 2017 Feliz-Lima met Laura Faria-Tancinco, the new coordinator of the ESL Intensive Program and Project ExCEL. "Laura is the sweetest and most hard-working person ever, which motivated me to continue working for Project ExCEL until graduation, assisting more English language learners with their needs," she says.
Thanks to Project Excel, Feliz-Lima obtained a state scholarship, which she calls "a gift from heaven," in the middle of her first semester at RIC. Later, she had to apply for student loans. Now, she feels confident that with her knowledge and hard work she will be able to find a good job and pay back her loans.
Feliz-Lima still intends to follow her dream of going to medical school. "There are many requirements to enter any graduate program. If it is related to health care, there are even more," she says. "You need to be well prepared and to wait with patience to be accepted."
Despite her early battles with language and other obstacles, including the underrepresentation of Latinos in her field, Feliz-Lima is eager to step forward and accomplish her childhood dream.
"With persistence, everything is possible. Everything requires hard work, but with effort and determination, you can achieve it," she affirms. "Just because I might need to work harder than my neighbor, doesn't mean I cannot do it."