Lisa Webb Sharpe, Ed.D.
Sr. Vice President for Finance, Administration and Advancement

In September 2015, Amelia, 40ish, emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. She and her two children traveled from Havana through Mexico, destined for Lansing, where relatives were waiting to welcome her. It was a difficult trip without her husband, and complicated by her lack of familiarity with the language, culture and weather.

My family helped Amelia’s family get appropriate winter clothes and find a suitable place to live. Michigan was much colder than they anticipated, and learning to dress in layers to stay warm helped ease the transition ever so slightly. We also helped her son find work near their apartment. They were off to the races.

Cubans enjoy special immigration status in the U.S, which is why Amelia enrolled her children in the local elementary and high schools, applied for a social security number, accessed health care, secured a work permit, and began her new life here in America within days of her arrival. Her daughter absorbed English very quicly, fueling Amelia’s and her son’s determination to do the same. Having met other Cuban Americans whom attended Lansing Community College where they learned to speak English quite well, our family encouraged her to enroll at the College. I immediately connected Amelia with a very helpful Spanish-speaker on campus. She successfully applied, took her placement test, and enrolled. Amelia was so excited because she was well on her way to a new life in America.

After taking a bus in bone chilling temperatures, Amelia arrived at school on the first day of class only to discover her 5 p.m. class would begin two weeks later according to the note taped on the classroom’s door. She and other confused students needed help. It was supposed to be the first day of class, but only for her course starting at 6 p.m. This was not a great way to begin a student’s experience. Amelia was undeterred. Amelia really needed daytime classes so she could be at home in the evening with her daughter. Again, I sought assistance from our helpful Spanish speaker. All required signatures were gathered, and her schedule was adjusted.

Three weeks ago, Amelia shared that all was progressing well. Amelia is learning English and navigating campus. Her courses are difficult, but she is making it. Last week, she landed a job on campus, allowing her to support her family, and continue her education. The wonderful resources available to all students at community colleges can help change lives and increase access to all that America has to offer.