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arts and sciences

A self-described mediocre student, Kristen Dearborn almost didn't make it to college.

Kristen Dearborn, 2016 Barnard Scholar

In the spring of 2013, a string of her college applications had been rejected. By her own admission, she was not a very good student in high school – her report cards reflecting an “alphabet soup” of grades. “I just didn’t like school very much,” she said.

And when she finally received an acceptance letter – from Southern Connecticut State University — it was conditional. She would need to pass two courses with a grade of “C” or better during the summer between her senior year at Sheehan High School and the fall semester at SCSU – a testing ground known as the “Proof of Ability” program.

The program is designed for students who show signs of academic promise, despite inconsistencies in their grades. Dearborn had started showing improvement in her grades during her junior and senior years of high school, spurring admissions counselors to give her a second look. She took up the Proof of Ability challenge in earnest.

“I wanted to prove to myself I could do it,” Dearborn said. “Those two classes were intense for me.”

Despite the pressure, she passed those courses – a writing composition and a communications class — with flying colors. She would be allowed to enroll for the fall.

“I was so elated,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m doing this. I’m moving in.’”

Not only did she set her sights on a college degree, but she sought to graduate in three years – a full year earlier than the traditional four-year path. Her plan was to take classes during summer and winter sessions, in addition to full course loads during the fall and spring semesters.

And right on schedule, on May 20, Dearborn will be receiving her diploma – a Bachelor of Arts degree in English — after three years of classes. The SCSU Undergraduate Commencement ceremony will be held at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, starting with the procession at 10:15 a.m.

Dearborn proved to be a model student. She earned the prestigious Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award – which honors four SCSU seniors each year for outstanding academic achievement and community service. She attained a 3.7 GPA, in addition to having served as vice president of Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society) and a member of the Zeta Delta Epsilon Honorary Service Society. She also is a volunteer at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“I loved every second of my experience at Southern,” she said.

Vivian Shipley, a CSU Professor of English who taught Dearborn in two poetry courses, said she was impressed by the student’s vigor, as well as her poetry.

“I have been teaching full time at SCSU since 1969 and Kristen is one of the most talented poets I have ever taught,” Shipley said. “Kristen had a remarkable ability to interact with other poets because she is open-minded and sensitive to cultural differences. She also enabled others to open up and share their ideas because she was courageous enough to write about some very complicated subjects. Like Kristen’s multiple achievements at SCSU, her moving poems provide inspiration for all who read them.”

Michael Shea, chairman of the SCSU English Department, also praised Dearborn.

“Ms. Dearborn’s story is among the most inspiring and fascinating I have heard from a Southern student,” said Shea. “Her journey of personal growth…is the kind that inspires all of us who work with students at Southern.”

Dearborn has been accepted into SCSU’s Master of Public Health program, which she will begin during the upcoming fall semester.