Meet Rhonda Paladino, a new NPC student with a story to tell. Something that stands out about Paladino is that she has no qualms when she talks about her past. When Paladino tells her stories she tells them with a sense of relief, as if she’s been climbing up a hill and now she can finally see the downhill slope.
“It feels like my whole life I’ve just tried to be somebody,” says Paladino. “And since I’ve started at NPC, I feel like I am somebody for the first time in my entire adult life.” Paladino then repeats with a smile, “I finally feel like I’m somebody.”
Paladino is the first to admit that she had a love of learning from when she was a child. Her commitment to raising guinea pigs and winning 4H competitions led her to study genetics and biology at an early age, which fueled a curiosity and desire to learn anything she could wrap her mind around. “I owe my desire to learn to my mom. She allowed me to be curious and study anything I wanted to. It’s the reason I know so much about guinea pig genetics and biology,” says Paladino.
When Paladino recounts her teenage years, she talks about how dropping out of high school came down to “negative self-talk.” After dropping out, Paladino took on a number of “odd-ball” jobs and was also a waitress on and off for over 16 years. But Paladino says it was an ordinary day that helped her make a life-changing decision: “I was waitressing, doing something that was frustrating to me, and I just hit my breaking point; I asked myself, ‘Why am I here? I can be so much more.’ I quit my job that day and drove straight to NPC.”
As she started NPC, she credits the academic advisers with directing her to financial aid options to help her afford college, which was a major concern. She was introduced to scholarships and eventually won the CellularOne Scholar-ship for her essay on what text message she would send to the world. Paladino’s response: “Find a way to love learning. It’s not just school. Knowledge is Power. Be powerful.”
When asked if she’s now feeling what she wrote, if she really is feeling “powerful,” Paladino gives a firm “yes.” “For the first time in my life I don’t feel like life is living me; I finally feel like I’m controlling my own life. I’m not drifting. Starting an education has helped me set goals, and now I’m working toward them. For the first time in my life I have backup plans. I have purpose, and that’s powerful to me.”
Paladino is now pursuing her childhood dream of finding a career in genetics. She credits NPC professors for rekindling her love for science in her biology courses. Once she completes her Associate of Science degree at NPC, Paladino is planning on attending Northern Arizona University to further pursue her study of genetics. And that backup plan? Paladino would like to try to become a college professor herself. “I’m not your typical student. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I’m almost 38… And I’ve been so humbled and inspired by the help I’ve received at NPC, I would love to give back, to help others just like me.”
Paladino remembers the feelings she had before she started her educational career: “You know, it’s easy, maybe especially in this area, to feel trapped. I want to help others achieve more. Maybe even inspire others and help them reach their goals.”
When asked if she has any advice for other potential students like herself, Paladino simply states, “You can do it. No matter who you are, you can do it.”
– Michael Nilsson