Talent Development alumna credits program with giving her confidence, ability to thrive

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Gianelle Alba. Photo courtesy of Gianelle Alba.
Gianelle Alba. Photo courtesy of Gianelle Alba.

KINGSTON, R.I., Nov. 2, 2018 — Following her high school graduation, Gianelle Alba wasn’t sure if college was for her. But once she arrived at the University of Rhode Island, Alba found a home in the Talent Development Program, which linked her to faculty members and advisors who made sure she never gave up.

So, she didn’t.

Recently, the Talent Development Program held a 50th anniversary gala to celebrate success stories like Alba’s and the achievements of the more than 3,000 graduates of the program.

From its first class of 13 students in 1968, the University of Rhode Island’s Talent Development program has grown into a large and thriving initiative that gives underserved Rhode Islanders the chance to earn a University degree.

“From the start of my first year, I knew my advisors wanted success for me as much as I wanted it for myself,” Alba said. “Gerald Williams (Talent Development director) took the time to get to know me and every TD student, to help us identify our needs and meet our goals. Ed Shear (assistant director of Talent Development for admission) sat with me every semester to help me design a perfect schedule, keeping in mind my three majors and my desire to graduate on time. Failure was never an option.”

Alba’s three majors were sociology, Africana studies and gender and women’s studies.

“For anybody, acclimating to college and the independence that comes with it can be a challenge,” said Alba, who graduated in 2015. “My neighborhood consisted predominantly of people of color, and when I came to URI, I became a minority, which was a culture shock.”

To help introduce students to campus life and ease the transition, Talent Development requires its students to live on campus and take courses during the summer. This way, students form a tight-knit community while getting a head start on their academics. With this support, Alba said she could be herself and feel supported in faith with people she could relate to, both faculty and peers.

Alba recalled a time when she knew that Talent Development was not just a program; it was a family. At the beginning of every year, the program hosts an assembly to build excitement for the new opportunities that await the students.

“One of my best friends since elementary school, Kirby Nunez, had a dream to start a clothing line. As the son of immigrants, he was told that his passion was not practical,” said Alba. “At the assembly, one of our advisors got on stage wearing one of Kirby’s designs on a hoodie. That showed just how far faculty will go to support the dreams of their students.”

Soon after the assembly, Kirby had to continue restocking the line because the demand was so high, all thanks to a supportive statement made by a faculty member. Now, Kirby is an apparel designer for PUMA group, an international athletic apparel brand worn by some of the biggest club and national teams in the world.

During her time as an undergraduate, Alba studied in Cape Verde, India and finally Cuba as part of URI’s inaugural trip to the island nation that had been off-limits for U.S. visitors for decades.

“Gianelle came into the Talent Development program with uncertainty about her major and life choices,” said Williams. “It was a pleasure to watch her confidence grow daily. She became an impressive student leader who valued strength, independence and courage.”

Following graduation, the Providence native packed her car and moved to Atlanta, where she found a job that had little to do with any of her college majors but was everything she had hoped for.

Alba now works as an event designer for a company that does full service decorating for special events, luxury weddings and corporate events. Alba is heavily involved in sales, production and event management and oversees production. She serves as the point of contact with clients, including Delta Airlines, from the beginning of a project until the end.

“I am blessed to have had a Talent Development experience,” said Alba. “TD gave me the courage to study abroad, pursue three majors and to become comfortable with myself and my position on campus. My advisors and the faculty and staff pushed me to be fearless and taught me to not be afraid to experience new things and succeed.”

Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.