KINGSTON, R.I. – April 23 — 2015 – Steven Ardente was born with nerve damage that led to permanent hearing loss, which meant he could detect sounds, but they were muffled. At 6 months old, the Johnston resident who grew up in Smithfield, began wearing hearing aids.
Doctors told his mom to enroll him in a school for the deaf, but she would hear none of it, traveling all over the country talking to experts about her son.
On May 17, Ardente, who still wears hearing aids, and his mom will not only celebrate his successes along the way, but his graduation from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public relations.
“One of the doctors referred us to Nancy Skurka, a 24-year-old speech pathologist at the time, who worked with me for years,” said Ardente, who was a campus tour guide for two years and who will enter his second summer on the URI orientation team.
“My mom is my hero because she never quit seeking the right help for me and for getting me to South County to see Nancy three times a week,” Ardente said. “My mom’s biggest worry was how my speech would develop. Nancy is one of the big reasons why I speak so well today.”
Regularly listed on URI’s dean’s list, he’ll graduate with a 3.56 grade point average.
Ardente started college at Assumption in Worcester, but transferred to URI in the summer of 2012. He thought initially that Assumption was a better school, but once he arrived at URI, he learned that the University’s numerous opportunities would help him develop in a variety of ways.
“We have 16,000 students here, but URI is still a tight community,” said Ardente, who served in Congressman Jim Langevin’s Warwick office as a constituent services advisor. “If you go ahead and make that effort, you can really connect with people.”
And connect he did. His first involvement was with URI’s Mentor and Tutor Internship program, which paired Ardente with special needs pre-kindergarten children to work with them during activities. He did that for two semesters, and then became the student director of the program for the last year, during which he coordinated placement of 35 student interns in the state’s public schools.
“That first year, I worked with a student who was on medication during the first semester. It would keep him up at night, and then he would come to school listless and fall asleep,” Ardente said. “But in the second semester, he was taken off medication and we really connected. When I came back in late January, he was a different kid. I was surprised at the impact that I could have with someone who has a disability. But having a disability myself allowed me to connect with him.”
Ardente is not sure what career he will pursue, but the Mentor and Tutor Internship got him thinking that one of his dream jobs would be school principal. “I initially did the internship because I needed the credits, but it became so much more than I ever expected.”
His campus tour guide work was “cool because I had a chance to meet people from all over the world and from states I never would have expected. I get lots of questions about my hearing aids from little kids. It’s cool to teach them.”
An orientation leader last summer, he will extend his time on the Kingston campus after he graduates while he works as a member of the orientation management staff as the logistics coordinator.
But working in a congressman’s office, or being a tour guide and orientation leader weren’t Ardente’s only activities.
He was a URI Writing Center tutor where he helped undergraduate and graduate students with the writing process and coached English language learners. He was also a URI101 mentor for two semesters, during which he helped 20 to 30 freshmen become acclimated to college life and their majors.
“I love URI, and one of the best parts of campus life is the opportunities you can get here,” Ardente said. “I built a lot of good relationships with friends and professors, something I value. I am going to miss that, and now I am going to have to figure things out on my own.
“Once I leave URI, I will look for a job, maybe live with mom for a little while to save some money,” he said. “I will probably pursue a master’s degree in public administration, but I want a change from URI. I am not a snow guy, so maybe I will be going to California.”
Photo by Nora Lewis