WNPR

College Kicks Off In Connecticut For Students From Puerto Rico

Nov 6, 2017

Carolina Riollano flew into Florida on a humanitarian plane that was packed with people. Most of them were elderly or ill. But Riollano’s reason for leaving her home was different. She came here to learn.

"My college was flooded, and the public library wasn't working," she said. "There's no communication."

She's a fourth-year student at the University of Puerto Rico, studying biology. But Hurricane Maria halted that. Now she's at Central Connecticut State University, taking advantage of an eight-week semester that was custom-made for students from the island.

She was living with her grandparents on the island when the hurricane struck. They still don't have water or electricity. It was hard to leave, but they're happy she's here, she said. And all things considered, so is she.

"I'm pretty happy actually, I mean, it's a new experience," she said. "I'm a little cold, actually, because I'm not used to this weather."

Getting into CCSU wasn't complicated. All she had to do, she said, was provide proof she was a student and her transcripts, and she was in.

Student David Perez also has Puerto Rican roots. He moved to the mainland as a child, and he's been helping Riollano and other incoming students acclimate to the area's weather -- and the culture.

"Connecticut's a lot different than Puerto Rico, the lifestyle is a lot different," he said. "Just making sure that their mental health and their physical health is OK, because all of that matters."

Twenty students started the shortened semester last week.

Serafin Mendez is a communications professor at CCSU. He's been working with the university's president, Zulma Toro, to get students from the island to come to college here. Riollano said that Mendez's mother reached out to her family, and that’s how she found out about the offer.

Mendez said the choice to help students was an easy one.

"We realized that the university needed to be part of the efforts to help some of these students -- not because we are Puerto Ricans, but because it's the right thing to do," he said.

This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.