Commencement 2016: Providence resident credits son, URI Talent Development Program for success

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Celebrating birthday same day as commencement

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 5, 2016 – University of Rhode Island senior Alexia Arriaza calls her son a miracle baby and it would not be a stretch to call her a miracle graduate. When he was born at only 36 weeks, doctors discovered he had polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop in the kidneys. The condition can be fatal.

The diagnosis shocked Arriaza, who at the time was starting her sophomore year at the University. Her son spent his entire first year of life on dialysis and a year later he received a kidney transplant that was donated by his father.

“Since the transplant, my son is doing great,” Arriaza said. “He’s receiving a lot of services from Early Intervention to catch up on his speech, occupational and physical needs, but overall is doing amazing and loving his new kidney.”

Despite the hardships, stress and long nights in the hospital, Arriaza returned to URI in the spring of 2015 and was able to graduate early. The Providence native received her bachelor of arts degree in Spanish and political science in December and will be participating in URI’s Commencement on May 22. And she’ll get to celebrate twice, as she celebrates her 22nd birthday that same day.

Through it all Arriaza’s peers and teachers describe her as a student with an amazing work ethic and a remarkable ability to juggle school with all the pressures of being the mother of a young child with serious medical problems.

During that period Arriaza, took the fall semester of 2013 off to focus on her son’s health and his road to recovery. She stayed committed to her studies by attending classes closer to home at the Providence campus and also enrolled in online courses to help her stay on track.

Arriaza enrolled at URI through the Talent Development program and says that it was the best part of her college experience. She says the financial help from the program and support from the staff and her peers during her son’s time in and out of the hospital helped her every day. Her son’s will to survive also made her a stronger person.

“The TD program gives minority students like me invisible wings that help us navigate effectively throughout the college experience, social life and financial process that everyone faces in college,” said Arriaza. “Their support helped me become responsible and organized with my studies.”

She says one of her biggest supporters at the University was Sharon Forleo, associate director for Education Programming of Talent Development.

“Sharon provided me with the support I needed during an extremely rough time in my life. I am very thankful for her guidance, and she has a very special place in my heart,” said Arriaza.

Thanks to her internship experience and passion for learning, Arriaza is now working as a medical interpreter for Horton Interpreting Services, Inc.

“I enjoy breaking barriers to help people communicate effectively and express their concerns freely to get medically treated without the fear of not knowing English and not seeking help at all,” Arriaza said.

Arriaza is hopeful for her future and her son’s.

“We are still doing evaluations that the school department requires and are hoping to start preschool in September of this year,” she said.

As for her next step, she is applying to URI’s Spanish master’s degree program.

“I want to be a role model for my son. Everything I do is for him. Balancing motherhood and academics was difficult, but it was nothing close to what my son went through. He is my inspiration to keep going.”

This release was written by Caitlin Musselman, a URI Marketing and Communications intern and a public relations and political science major.

URI Photo by Mike Salerno Photography