“He filled the stage with energy, passion and focus.” (Success Stories Series)

Mauricio Pita-Goncalves: Actor, Dancer and Singer

(Reprinted from Naugatuck Valley Community College “Alumni Spotlight,” July 2010)

Mauricio Pita-Goncalves, a 2009 graduate of the visual and performing arts theatre and dance program at Naugatuck Valley Community College [Waterbury, CT], and former vice-president of the College’s Student Government Association, was accepted into Yale University’s 2009 Summer Conservatory for Actors at the Yale School of Drama.

The highly selective program chooses only 30 students out of thousands of applicants worldwide. The conservatory only selects academically and artistically strong students who are willing to explore new concepts in a challenging environment by working with Yale alumni, faculty and theatre professionals as well as in workshops at the O’Neill Theatre Center and one-on-one classwork.

“Before Mauricio became a student of mine, I saw him in theatre productions at our College,” said Elena Rusnak, professor of English and dance at Naugatuck Valley Community College. “I was drawn to this remarkable young man because he filled the stage with energy, passion and focus. His seriousness of purpose is always recognizable and his determination unsurpassed by any student I have had in my long teaching career.”

The program is an intensive conservatory based on the principles of Stanislavski and focuses on the personal and professional growth of its participants. The conservatory consists of six different elements of acting which include: play analysis, acting class, voice and speech, improvisation and mask, movement and scene study. Patrick Diamond, director of the Yale Summer Conservatory for Actors, has worked extensively on Broadway, in Italy and in the U.S.

Mauricio has received awards including Outstanding Theatre Artist: Student of the Year 2007-08, the Who’s Who Among American Junior College Students, the Billie Mae Collier Scholarship for the Performing Arts – Voice and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa and National Scholars honor societies. He has worked extensively as an actor with the New Zenith Theatre, the Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut and the Terpsichorean Dance Ensemble. He appeared in the summer of 2008 at the New York International Fringe Festival’s New York premiere of Symphony Pastorale and Fugue Series by Los Angeles playwright Robert Barnett. Following his Yale work, Mauricio will attend Marymount Manhattan College as a drama major in fall 2009.

What’s New?

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


(Photo credit:  poptheology.com via Google images)


Welcome to the revamped “You Can Do College” site!  As you can see, several changes have been made to make it more accessible.  After all, the site is about you and for you!

Which got me thinking about revamping and revising …

When it comes to education, colleges and universities are in a constant state of having to “think ahead.”  They must anticipate your needs this year, next year and five years from now.  As technology changes, so must classrooms and courses.  Colleges are trying to help you prepare for a new life that will probably be rooted in your education.  Therefore, they must be forward thinking.

Are you keeping pace with colleges?  What’s new with you?  Are you revamping and revising your life?  Are you thinking ahead?  Are you preparing yourself for an interesting future?

Many colleges and universities are beginning their new academic year this week.  There’s always a crackle of excitement in the halls, the classrooms and the bookstore.  There is a sense of anticipation, sort of like New Year’s Eve – because it is a new year – an academic new year.  The atmosphere of a college campus is alive with possibility.

If you have never experienced the excitement of an academic new year, now is the time.  Although some schools are beginning classes right now, others will kick off over the next month.  You still have time to enroll in that dream course you have been thinking about.  And, even if you don’t enroll, maybe you can take a stroll around the campus of your local community college.  The excitement might just rub off on you!

So, there are a lot of new things going on:  a new blog site for “You Can Do College,” a new academic year, new plans for the future – and maybe even a new you!


(Note:  Many thanks to PepperStation for their ideas and changes to this site!)

“Setting Yourself Free” (another view on the idea of “perfectionism”)

(Reprinted from the 8.12.2011 post of The Daily Om)

According to The Daily Om, we need to remember that being imperfect is part of being human.  This interesting article is a nice complement to the previous post “I’m a perfectionist” from 8.1.11

Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

It is good to remember that one of our goals in life is to not be perfect. We often lose track of this aspiration. When we make mistakes, we think that we are failing or not measuring up. But if life is about experimenting, experiencing, and learning, then to be imperfect is a prerequisite. Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be our best. We simply accept that there is no such thing as perfection—especially in life. All living things are in a ceaseless state of movement. Even as you read this, your hair is growing, your cells are dying and being reborn, and your blood is moving through your veins. Your life changes more than it stays the same. Perfection may happen in a moment, but it will not last because it is an impermanent state. Trying to hold on to perfection or forcing it to happen causes frustration and unhappiness.

In spite of this, many of us are in the habit of trying to be perfect. One way to nudge ourselves out of this tendency is to look at our lives and notice that no one is judging us to see whether or not we are perfect. Sometimes, perfectionism is a holdover from our childhood—an ideal we inherited from a demanding parent. We are adults now, and we can choose to let go of the need to perform for someone else’s approval. Similarly, we can choose to experience the universe as a loving place where we are free to be imperfect. Once we realize this, we can begin to take ourselves less seriously and have more fun. Imperfection is inherent to being human. By embracing your imperfections, you embrace yourself.

Hollywood Screenwriter (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from “Alumni Spotlight” July 2010, Naugatuck Valley Community College web site)






John Fusco, accomplished Hollywood screenwriter, credits Naugatuck Valley Community College [Waterbury, CT] with the start of his successful career. He has written eight major motion pictures, six of which he also produced. You might recognize a few of the titles: Babe, Crossroads, Thunderheart, Young Guns and his latest, The Forbidden Kingdom, featuring Jackie Chan and Jet Li together for the first time. He also wrote the Academy-Award nominated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. His research experiences on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation led to the controversial Thunderheart in 1992, an acclaimed expose of federal abuses in contemporary Native American communities. Fusco also went on to write the Native-themed ABC mini-series Dreamkeeper and the popular Disney epic Hidalgo.

A Waterbury native who grew up in Prospect, John was a high school dropout working in a factory and playing music in local nightclubs. He turned to Naugatuck Valley Community College, where he met his wife, Richela Renkun, to rebuild his life on his own terms. John’s sister, Kathleen LeBlanc, is an associate professor of human services at the College.

He fondly recalls, “The supportive environment and stimulating faculty encouraged and challenged me to streamline my goals. Although I was out of school for six years, Naugatuck Valley Community College helped prepare me to transfer to the school of my dreams — NYU Tisch School of the Arts.”

While at NYU, John won the prestigious Nissan Focus Award for students which led him to collaborations with DreamWorks and actor Robert DeNiro.

He is the author of the novel Paradise Salvage, currently earning rave reviews in Britain.

“I’m a perfectionist.”

By Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


Have you ever said that?

I was one of those “perfectionists” a long time ago.  Then, I began to realize what I was actually saying – and doing.

First, I finally became aware that using a standard of “perfectionism” – an unattainable goal – gave me an excuse either to not attempt something or not complete it.  “It” could never be perfect, so what was the point in trying?  I felt that I was avoiding putting myself in an inevitably failing position – and that was a good thing (or, so I thought).  This mindset created an obstacle for returning to school.  Because I did poorly in math in high school, I would, of course, do poorly in college.  Why would I set myself up for failure?  Consequently, for 5 years I put off attending Schenectady County Community College, even though I really wanted to try.

Second, if I did attempt the “whatever,” I left no “wiggle room” and, therefore, no latitude for changes and adjustments.  This mindset produces unnecessary stress on an individual.  I recall the first math class I took upon my enrollment in Schenectady County Community College, and the first exam.  I earned a 98%.  Believe it or not, I was furious!  I argued with the instructor for quite some time after class.  To me, not having a 100% was the same as failing.  Rather than rejoicing in earning an A+ on the first exam, I left shaken and disappointed with myself.

What happened with these two scenarios is that I undermined any chance at success.  By dong so, I reinforced an already-low self-esteem.  “Perfectionism” was a trap that kept me from moving forward.  I remember when I earned my first “B” at the Community College (Psychology II, I think), a family member expressed great relief.  Apparently, I had been pushing so hard for the academic “Holy Grail” of GPAs – the 4.0 – that my family was beginning to notice the stress taking its toll on me.  By earning a “B,” I had to simply resolve to do my best for the remainder of my courses.  I ended up with a 3.86 GPA upon graduation with my Associate’s.

By the time I graduated, I had learned to let go of “perfectionism” and replace it with goal-setting.  As I crossed off all the goals I had attained – each course, each semester, and finally, graduation – my self-esteem began to become more positive.  The unattainable “perfectionism” had been eclipsed by attainable goals.  This set up an empowering pattern of achievement that would sustain me for the rest of my academic career.

So, the next time you say to yourself “I’m a perfectionist,” ask yourself “Why?”  Is it helping you create a better future or is it, in reality, what is holding you back?


“Seeking another path …” (Success Stories Series)










(Reprinted from Community College Times of the American Association of Community Colleges, 4.4.11)

Richard Leigh –  Virginia Highlands Community College

The list of performers who have recorded songs composed by Richard Leigh reads like a who’s who of country music: George Jones, Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Kathy Mattea, and Mickey Gilley, among many others.

Eight Leigh compositions—among them “Come From the Heart,” “Put Your Dreams Away,” and “That’s the Thing About Love”—rose to the top of the charts. His biggest hit, Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” won a Grammy for Country Music Song of the Year in 1978. He has been inducted into Nashville’s Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, owns a space on the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Star Walk and has produced songs that have sold more than 50 million records.

Not too shabby for a kid born in the hollows of Washington, D.C., who spent his high school years in the notably un-countrified suburb of McLean, Va.

Although Leigh always loved country music, his desire to go straight from high school into the music business was thwarted by his adoptive mother.

“She said, ‘Please go to college, because no woman is going to want to live with a guy who sits around on a couch and plays his guitar all day and doesn’t make any money,’” Leigh says. “I’ve since found out many women do, but I told her, ‘Alright, I’ll go to college.’”

After a high school guidance counselor recommended a career in forestry, Leigh, who liked camping and canoeing well enough, enrolled in the Haywood Technical Institute (now Haywood Community College) in North Carolina.

“After nine months, I realized I hated every minute of it,” Leigh says.

Seeking another path 

When Leigh looked into Emory & Henry College in Virginia, which his best friend attended, he was told he’d have to wait until the following fall.

“Then I applied to Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) [Abingdon, VA] and they took me right on the spot,” he says.

A chance encounter with William Van Keyser, head of the VHCC drama department, lead to an invitation to act at Barter Theater, the local professional company.

“I said I don’t act, and he said that doesn’t matter,” Leigh says. “I said that’s great, but does it pay anything, because I was putting myself through college. He said no, but you get school credit if you change your major, so I changed my major to theater.”

After three plays, Leigh had to join the union to continue performing at the theater.

“I had my Actor’s Equity card before I finished community college, which was unheard of,” Leigh says. “When I applied to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to finish my bachelor’s degree, they told me no one had ever applied to the theater department there as a pro.”

After graduating from VCU in 1974, Leigh moved to Nashville to break into the music business as a singer and songwriter.

“When I went to Nashville, I thought—naively—that all singers wrote their own songs,” Leigh says. “I got down there and found they needed songs because singers didn’t always write them. Turned out I was pretty good at making them up—better at that than singing.”

A year later, “I’ll Get Over You,” a song he wrote for Crystal Gayle, reached No. 1 and was nominated for Country Music Awards Song of the Year. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” came out a year later and the next 30 years saw a stream of hits.

A desire to succeed

Leigh says his top ingredient for writing songs is a strong desire.

“I’m just of average talent, of average intellect, nothing ever stood out about me except my strong desire,” he says.

And while he’s usually introduced as “the guy who wrote ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,’” he considers “It Ain’t Gonna Worry My Mind” his greatest achievement.

“It’s a song Ray Charles recorded on a duet album with Mickey Gilley,” Leigh says. “Ray Charles is my idol, and his singing it was probably the greatest thing that could happen to me. And the second verse talks about the state of Virginia—it’s a very personal song.”

One other song with great personal resonance is “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” which he wrote after happening upon obituaries of his father who, along with his mother, died when Leigh was 2½ years old.

“It was a 10-million-selling record for Reba McEntire, and I think it’s still considered Reba’s greatest hit,” Leigh says.

Leigh, who with his wife, Shannon, lives on a Tennessee farm, keeps busy writing songs, lecturing, doing voiceovers, and performing concerts. In each of the last three years, he has performed benefit concerts at VHCC, which he remembers warmly as the place that gave him his start.

“The fact that I would walk into VHCC and it would change my life is phenomenal,” Leigh says. “Think of me, an orphan who walks up the steps of this school and is allowed to have an affordable education and rise to the top of his profession. That’s pretty amazing, and I couldn’t have done it without the school.”

The Fuel of Self-Doubt

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.


The other day I had lunch with a colleague.  We reflected on our experiences in our respective doctoral programs – she at Columbia University and me at the University of Utah.  Even though we were enrolled at different times and at different places, we shared one important thing in common – self-doubt.  We both felt that while we were in the programs, that we shouldn’t be there and that we would probably never complete the required exams and dissertation.

Some of the self-doubt came from the lack of support – or “negative support” – from  family members.  Our pursuing our education was resented by some of the people closest to us.  In addition, we compared ourselves to our cohorts and felt like we were out of place.  We subordinated ourselves to the opinions and performances of others.

In the companion book to this blog – also entitled You Can Do College – I recount all the self-doubt I had from the time I entered into the local Community College on through to the last weeks of my Ph.D. program.  The doubt finally evaporated when I earned my last degree and actually held the piece of paper that confirmed my achievement.  (I wonder, though, if the self-doubt would return if I decided to pursue another degree.)

Self-doubt appears to be a part of the process.  We put ourselves into new situations and new environments.  This takes us outside of our comfort zones.  Let’s face it – it just feels weird.  We are immersed into a learning environment where it means that we are no longer the experts in our field.  As Non-Traditional Students, we are generally the oldest in the class and wonder if we will be able to keep up with the concepts, with the technology, and with the other students.  We give ourselves all kinds of reasons to doubt our abilities.

Still, one must persevere.  In spite of all of the doubts, my colleague and I finished every program we began.  There was no coasting through, however.  The road we took was littered with stumbling blocks – time management, family needs, money, work issues and so on.  Some of the other stumbling blocks, though, we put there ourselves – most of which were born out of self-doubt.  Yet, we completed everything we started, making our accomplishments even sweeter.

Is this where you are?  Are you doubting your ability to return to school?  Are others adding to your own insecurities by discrediting your academic ambition?  Does it seem that you will be out of place in a college learning environment?  Enrolling into a program will not make those insecurities go away, but, as you earn good grades, your insecurities and doubt will lessen.

Perhaps self-doubt is the fuel that helps us to push ourselves.  You have probably said to yourself at one time or another, “If I can do this, I can do anything.”  The key word is “do.”  Don’t spend so much time overthinking your enrollment into college that you delay taking action month after month, year after year.  One thing is for certain:  getting a higher education is a no-lose proposition.  You can never be worse off for having attended college.  So, let the doubts be what pushes you – and then you will feel like you can do anything.


Keeping Things Running (Success Stories Series)

(Reprinted from New Mexico State University Alumni Spotlight Archives, 2010, Dona Ana Community College)



Jay Armijo was raised in Sierra County and brings a home-town perspective and passion to his position as executive director for the South Central Council of Governments. Having worked for several state agencies, two councils of government, and as a County Commissioner Jay has worked directly with all thirty-three New Mexico counties helping to provide services to Veterans, Senior Citizens, small businesses, and communities that lack adequate infrastructure.

Jay attended the Dona Ana Community College [Las Cruces, NM] Automotive Technology program and graduated in 1988. He has worked in the automotive industry as a technician as well as owning and operating his own automotive repair business. Jay currently holds ASE and General Motors Certifications and attributes his passion for diagnosing and repairing vehicles as the key element that gives him an exceptional ability to facilitate solutions to challenges facing communities.


The Empowerment of Accountability

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

(Photo credit:  David Richardson accessed via Google images, 6.26.11)

I have been thinking a lot about the people in my life, primarily my daughter and son-in-law who – everyday – assume the monumental responsibilities associated with owning their own business, and providing physical, emotional and intellectual care for their 15 year-old son, who has cerebral palsy.  Both of these challenges require a commitment that is relentless and riddled with obstacles.  BUT, the rewards are the fuel that propels them onward.

These rewards are made possible through the simple act of being accountable for their own thoughts and actions.  To put it another way, they do not play the “victim” card when it comes to the circumstances in both their personal and professional lives.  On the rare occasion when a deadline has not been met or a client conveys dissatisfaction, they do not point the finger at others, and other things, and say, “It’s not our fault.”  Maybe the unmet deadline or unhappy client occurred because of technical problems or an oversight, but they go about identifying the problem and fixing it, rather than becoming defensive about the circumstances.  Because, no matter what the reasons behind their immediate dilemma, the bottom line is, it is up to them to turn things around.  They would rather use their time to create a solution rather than lament about the problem.  This accountability, or the assumption of responsibility for one’s actions, also applies to their business successes.  When their clients are delighted with the completion of a project, it is the result of my daughter and son-in-law’s efforts, not outside forces.

In addition, they do not play the “victim” card when it comes to their son.  Everyday encompasses both the routine and unexpected.  After visiting them (they live in another state), I always return home and tell my friends and colleagues that my daughter and son-in-law live a “different life from you and me.”  The things we take for granted, such as jumping in the car to run to Home Depot, requires an hour’s worth of preparation when they take their son.  Again, they could sit back and say, “Life’s not fair” and sulk about the circumstances.  Rather, they ensure that their son is included in everything – whether choosing the movie to watch that night or going on vacation (which means finding locales and places to stay that have accommodations for wheelchairs).  The rewards come in their son’s progress.  At 15, he is slowly learning to walk, can name all the U.S. Presidents since Hoover, and is working on learning President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day that will live in infamy” speech.  Their assuming responsibility for their son’s most minute needs also gives them the opportunity to assume responsibility for their son’s most minute successes.

People who either do not understand the connection between their actions and subsequent outcomes, or refuse to accept the connection astound me.  Two family members come immediately to mind.  The first periodically goes through long stretches of time where he does not call me because, as he says, I “challenge him.”  He is the perpetual victim who has drowned his life in alcohol.  He complains that he does not have money to do anything.  When I remind him that he has chosen this life, he recoils.  The same is true for the other family member.  She went for a long period of time of withdrawal from me for the same reason.  She didn’t like being “challenged.”  Although she is not an alcoholic, she is in a continual state of depression over the circumstances of her life (e.g. She quit her job without creating a financial plan to sustain her.).   Both of these family members could have created positive changes in their lives, but for some reason found the act of being accountable threatening.  Neither of them understood the power behind being the “captain of your own ship” and mapping your course.

These are two sides of the same coin of accountability.  Understanding the connection between your actions and the results in your life lifts you up and moves you forward.  The other side, that of denial of responsibility, leaves you stuck in an emotional and physical quagmire.  This means that the simple act of being asked, “Why are things the way they are?” can be a productive impetus to resolving problems, or a question that becomes offensive.  The former leaves you empowered, the latter leaves you powerless.

So, where are you in this scenario?  Chances are, you are somewhere in between.  You know your talents and probably accept your ability to use those talents for different levels of success.  For instance, if cars are your passion, you may use your talent to keep the family’s car out of the repair shop, or perhaps, you have rebuilt a classic car.  However, you may not have yet made the connection between other abilities and other actions.

Maybe you have thought about returning to school but have not done so because you don’t think you belong, or you think it’s too big of a challenge?  Maybe you have always wanted to, but are afraid?  If you accept the responsibility for your future – including all of the challenges that may be thrown at you – you will have empowered yourself to take control of your life.

Where Were They Then? (Success Stories Series)

(Source:  Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, www.aatyc.org)

The list below tells us where the successful alumni are now, but it also indicates the two-year colleges where they began their careers.  It is unlikely (although possible) that when Eduardo Padron entered Dade County Junior College, he said “One day I’ll be President of Miami-Dade Community College.” Or, that Gwendolyn Brooks said “One day I’ll be the nation’s Poet Laureate.”  But, that is where they are now.

Everyone has to start someplace.   The old saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” is true for all of us.  The “Notable Two-Year College Alumni” list shares with us that first step and where they were well into their journey.

Where are you?

Notable Two-Year College Alumni:
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner, Wilson Junior College
  • Eileen Collins, NASA Astronaut, Corning Community College
  • Jennifer Dearman, Intelligence Officer for the Missile and Space Intelligence Center, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas
  • Steve Francis, Professional Basketball Athlete, San Jacinto Community College
  • Fred Haise, NASA Astronaut, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
  • Tom Hanks, Oscar-winning Actor, Chabot College
  • Queen Latifah, Rapper and Actress, Borough of Manhattan Community College
  • Jim Lehrer, National News Anchor, Victoria College
  • James McLean, State Representative, Arkansas State University Mountain Home
  • Kweisi Mfume, President/CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Community College of Baltimore
  • Captain Scott Moore, Pine Bluff Fire Department, Southeast Arkansas Community College
  • Eduardo Padron, President of Miami-Dade Community College, Dade County Junior College
  • Dr. Susan Patton, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, East Arkansas Community College
  • Nolan Ryan, Major League Baseball Athlete, Alvin Community College
  • Deborah Wieneke, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Benton County, NorthWest Arkansas Community College