GBCC's 70th commencement ceremony Saturday

05/11/2016 by Lisa Proulx

PORTSMOUTH – Commencement for the 200 members of the Great Bay Community College Class of 2016 is Saturday, May 14 at 10 a.m. the Pease International Tradeport campus.

The ceremony will take place for the first time in the college’s gymnasium, part of its new Student Success Center that opened last August.

“It is only fitting that we host the event in a new space that further demonstrates how we have evolved and continue our commitment to enhancing student experiences and opportunities,” said GBCC President Dr. Will Arvelo.

Graduates include traditional and non-traditional students from Portsmouth, Exeter, Dover and Rochester as well as other communities across the state, Massachusetts and southern Maine.

Arvelo said GBCC continues to see increases in the number of graduates transferring to four-year degree programs. In 2015, nearly 60 percent of graduates reported planning to continue their education within six months of graduation.

“The level of STEM education here at GBCC has also changed,” Arvelo said. “We are seeing an increase in the number of students who are interested in moving from GBCC to the bachelor’s degree or master’s degree level.”

The number of students graduating from programs that provide training for direct career entry including aviation, advanced composites manufacturing, welding, business, insurance, massage therapy and medical office administration is also rising, he said.

Natalia Bustos Villescas, a hospitality student and native of Columbia, completed her program in December and is employed as a front office shift manager at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. While at GBCC, she was active in the Hospitality Club, participated in the Women in Leadership mentoring program and volunteered more than 100 hours in the community for various events. She did so while working on her English skills and holding a full-time position at The Hilton Garden Hotel.

“The small classes and the face to face contact with my professors made my journey a most successful one” Bustos Villescas said. “Today, I can say that Great Bay literately changed my life.”

Jason Meagher of Greenland was working as a welder and machinist before attending Great Bay. After a layoff, he decided to follow an interest in graphic design and pursue an associate degree in digital media technologies. He credits his wife for offering support and inspiration.

“She graduated from GBCC with a degree in accounting then went on to UNH and got her bachelor’s in accounting,” Meagher said. “She is currently the CFO of Foss manufacturing in Hampton.”

Going to school part-time also enabled him to help care for their two school-aged children, while building skills for his next career.

Jordyn Cronen of Dover began her college career at the University of New Hampshire while living in Kittery Maine. The out-of-state tuition eventually became too much of a financial burden and she left school to begin working in the hospitality field, coordinating events for Wentworth by the Sea hotel and the Ritz Carlton in Boston. She decided to pursue a degree to pair with her experience and enrolled in the Hospitality Management program. At GBCC, Cronen was also captain of the women’s basketball team and inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa and Kappa Beta Delta honor societies.

“Working full time, taking classes full time, playing basketball and taking care of a family made for a whirlwind the past two years,” said Cronen, “but If it wasn’t for Great Bay, I wouldn’t have come to the conclusion that I wanted to continue my education or have even figured out what I wanted to do as a career.”

She plans to pursue a four-year degree in sustainable agriculture and environmental studies.

Nick Evans of Durham always knew he wanted to be a teacher, but after high school he was hesitant to attend a big college. “I felt like I needed to see what college was like before diving in head first,” he said.

While at GBCC he served on the Student Government Association, was president of the History Club, participated in the Student Ambassador program and was one of two student representatives to serve on the board of trustees for the state’s Community College System.

He will receive his associate in arts degree in teacher preparation and plans to continue on to Granite State College to pursue a bachelor of arts in English language arts in general education with a certificate in special education.

Dennis Durkin of Rye is a former police officer and corrections officer who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from UMass Amherst. In 2015, he decided to make a career change and enrolled in the Advanced Composites Certificate program at Great Bay.

Durkin, who is interviewing for positions with a focus on bonding and finishing, credits the support from instructors and classmates for helping him gain confidence, particularly in math and advanced science. “It was also great to have the interaction with companies like Albany Engineered Composites and Safran Aerospace Composites and BAE,” he said. “The tours and positive feedback all helped to reinforce the whole point of the program which is to access gainful employment and a long-term career.”

Lauren Baylor, president of the Student Government Association, will deliver the Class of 2016 graduation address. As part of a tradition that started in 2012, the college will honor student-veterans by providing them with red, white and blue honor cords to wear during the ceremonies.

Renee Plummer, vice president of marketing at Two International Group, will serve as speaker for commencement. In addition to helping shape the development of the tradeport, Plummer has also been a positive force transforming the community at large, locally and across the state. The college will present an honorary degree to Jacqueline Eastwood, CEO and co-founder of Salient Surgical Technologies and former vice president of Medtronic.

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