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Haitian Student Defeats Odds and Aims for PhD Program

Written by Michael Rouleau

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Willimantic, Conn. - "Do something about it." Those are the words that Eastern Connecticut State University student James Chadic lives by. Born and raised in Haiti, enduring levels of violence and poverty unseen in the United States, Chadic has overcome adversity and now has his eyes set on a PhD program in mathematics. "Math saved my life," asserts Chadic. "It showed me how to think."

As much as Chadic loved school, growing up in Haiti he could seldom attend. "I had to stay home and take care of my sister," he said. "My mother worked throughout the day to feed us and my father was in the United States trying to establish a better life for my family. They needed me home."

When Chadic was 14 years old, he was often depressed. "I didn't want live that way. I didn't want to live at all," he said. Upon reflecting on the violence and poverty of his country, he grew teary-eyed. "I know what it's like to be hungry; to have to share a piece of bread among your family. I know what it's like to have to stay on the floor because of bullets coming into the window. I know what it's like to fear for your life."

When he was 16 years old, Chadic was able to move to Norwich, CT, after his father got his permanent resident status settled. To his dismay, his depression worsened as he suffered ridicule by peers for not being able to speak English.

"Everyone laughed at me. I couldn't make friends, not even with my own people"--referring to other immigrants in the area that were further assimilated into U.S. culture. "Quickly I decided to do something about it," said Chadic.

From then on he studied diligently, reading English books and listening to audio lessons for hours on end after school in the library--Chadic also speaks Creole, Spanish and French. "I learned English in three months, and the school moved me to higher level classes with the regular students," said Chadic. "But then I realized that every time you move up the ladder, things become harder."

After his time at the Norwich Free Academy, Chadic moved on to Three Rivers Community College, where his appreciation for education grew and he met one of his greatest mentors, Eastern faculty member June Dunn, whom he affectionately refers to as "mom."

"When James transferred to Eastern, against the advice of his family who questioned the value of college, he was terrified," said Dunn, "but because of his outgoing nature he quickly made friends and came under the tutelage of two professors of the Mathematics Department, Mizan Khan and Anthony Aidoo."

"Dr. Khan taught me that I should not focus on solving 'the problem,' but on the process that gets you there," said Chadic. "Knowing the process gives you insight. I apply this thinking to life. My life is like math."

 When Chadic began studying math at the college level he could only do basic algebra, but now is taking some of the most challenging math courses at Eastern, including "complex analysis." "I was not good at first. I got all the problems wrong." Four years later, Chadic is now receiving invites--and awaiting more--from a number of PhD math programs.

"I'm not afraid to try new things anymore. I'm not afraid to take risks," said Chadic. "I've seen the worst of the worst. Why should I be afraid to fail? The more you fail and then accomplish, the stronger you are."

"I'm happy to be graduating this May and moving on to new challenges, but I don't want to leave; Eastern is family," said Chadic. "I have many people I will continue to visit."

April 2014

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