URI student’s atypical path to college degree provides unexpected benefits

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Barrington resident to graduate May 17

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2009 – Somravanh Litthisack readily admits that she didn’t have the usual college experience. She didn’t live on campus, pledge a sorority or participate in extracurricular activities.

Yet as she prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 17, she knows that the atypical path she followed provided unexpected benefits and was the right path for her.

“I was pregnant at 17 but still determined to go to college, and URI was the best option for me,” said Litthisack, 28, who grew up in Providence and Cranston but now resides in Barrington. “I took all my classes at the Providence campus because it was an easier commute and I wasn’t away from my son as much. Because most of the students there were adults who have had more life experiences, the opinions expressed in class were more diverse and it opened up more doors.”

She enrolled full time for two years beginning in 2000, then took off two years to have another child, and later completed her degree part time majoring in human development and family studies.

“I was a parent at such a young age that I had to grow up fast,” Litthisack said. “I needed someone to show me how to access the resources that were available to me. I’m a people person, and now I want to get involved to help others and show them how to get everything from housing to food to clothing.”

While taking care of her sons and holding down a wide variety of part-time jobs, Litthisack made sure that community service was a key component of her education. A poverty class introduced her to homeless shelters and soup kitchens, where she spent many hours as a volunteer.

“The classes that provide these experiences outside of class were especially helpful and meaningful to me,” she said. “They never had to push me to visit these agencies. It gave me a chance to give back to the community and provided a sense of selflessness.”

As a volunteer at Asa Messer Elementary School in Providence, Litthisack served as a mentor to students, working with them in groups on math and other subjects and building a bond.

“I was a little apprehensive at first because it wasn’t in the best area of Providence, and I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But the thirst for knowledge that those kids have is great; they wanted to learn so much. It was amazing to see that.”

During her final semester at URI, Litthisack interned at Prevent Child Abuse of Rhode Island, a national organization that builds awareness about child abuse. She helped in developing the Strengthening Families of Rhode Island initiative to train child care center workers and parental involvement groups about the signs of child abuse and how to keep parents and children engaged.

While the depressed economy is making her job search difficult, Litthisack is optimistic she will find a position where she can use her own experiences as a young parent to help families in need.

“I really want to make a difference to people,” she said. “And I want my children to see that they can have a positive impact on someone’s life. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and feel good that I have done something good for another family.”