Alicia Starsja, by all accounts, is a super star student. She was a student in the Human Services and Social Work program at BCC while also studying to receive her certificate in the Addiction Recovery program. She graduated in May, 2019 and has left an indelible mark on the campus community and beyond.
Alicia started out at BCC in 2016 with a mindset that she wasn’t really going to be able to succeed at college. Alicia is legally blind, having been born with Aniridia – which means the iris in the eye doesn’t develop. However, after meeting with Eleanore Velez, the Coordinator of the Multicultural Center on campus, Alicia was encouraged and empowered to give BCC a shot.
“Eleanore asked me what my two favorite passions were at that first meeting. I said I was really passionate about helping people and working with children – and she said she thinks she knows the perfect program for me to go into.”
From Alicia’s first semester in the Human Services program, she says she fell in love with the program.
Alicia attended high school locally and says she had limited access to assistive resources that would help her succeed. She had a tilt board in high school as one of the main tools to help her see what she was reading or a magnifying glass. She felt like she was “just getting by” in high school, and that it was her dominance in sports that helped her through school.
“In grade school, due to my brute strength and sheer determination, Alicia’s nickname was ‘killer’,” Alicia admits, “I loved soccer and had been playing it since pre-school – but I also played basketball and volleyball.”
When Alicia came to BCC, she says she received tremendous support from Pam Farron and the Disability Resource Center – especially with assistive technology.
“BCC had the support I needed to succeed. Whether it’s on campus resources, peer support or faculty and staff – all have been very helpful. A lot of people have impacted my growth as a person at BCC.”
Alicia had been a full-time student on campus from the very beginning, because she is very determined when she puts her mind to something. The faculty whom Alicia went to for support or to share many ideas with was Kari Dupuis, the Program Advisor for Human Services.
“Kari is very compassionate and kind hearted, we have a lot of similar qualities,” Alicia said. “She’s a huge support. She really believes in me and has given me the strength to believe in myself. Kari has always been in my corner since day one!”
As a student on campus, Alicia was very involved. She had been a Student Ambassador for three years, a co-facilitator of the Human Services Club that volunteers in the community, the facilitator of student volunteers at the Addiction Recovery Conference that had 135 attendees in the fall of 2018, the creator and co-facilitator of the Human Service Wellness group on campus, was the VP of Community Outreach for the PTK National Honors Society, a tutor and peer mentor through TRIO, and a mentee of the OLLI Mentoring Program. She is also an active member of the Berkshire Benevolent Association for the Blind.
At first though, Alicia wasn’t sure about getting involved on campus. “But then I thought, why not? The best opportunities you have are to take risks. Not knowing the outcomes sometimes creates the best learning opportunities for you.”
Alicia’s two favorite memories of her time at BCC include the connections she made with the people in the Human Services Club who she feels are like her extended family, and the support she received from Peggy Williams, who was the TRIO program Coordinator.
As Alicia became aware of areas for growth on campus and her passion for mentoring, she developed and created a proposed Peer Mentoring Program for the Human Services Program through an independent study with Kari Dupuis. This led to the development of a Peer Mentoring Program through her internship in the TRIO Program.
Alicia’s advice for future students is to make sure they allow themselves to be out of their comfort zone.
“We are all our own worst critics and yet, we all have so much potential – it’s just taking that leap and putting forth your best effort and taking advantage of the resources on this campus to foster your own individual growth. Everyone is here to support the journey – and the journey is worth taking.”