October 21, 2014
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CCRI honors those committed to changing lives for better
Cranston Herald photo
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Tom and Sondra Pitts, who met as sweethearts at Cranston East, listen at CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale honors them as community champions. Sondra is a member of the first graduating class at CCRI in 1966. She and her husband remain active in supporting the college.

Changing lives was the theme for a celebration Thursday evening that brought more than 300 people together at Rhodes on Pawtuxet.

And while education, and specifically the Community College of Rhode Island, enables change, some things don’t change year after year.

That applies to the four individuals honored this year as education and community champions. All have been unwavering in their support of the college.

And it is that commitment, CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale told the audience, that makes “Rhode Island stronger.”

Cranston Senator Hanna M. Gallo and Warwick and Cranston Representative Joseph M. McNamara were honored as education champions. Sondra V. Ahlijian Pitts ’66 and Thomas E. Pitts Jr. of Cranston were recognized as community champions and Carousel Industries was honored as business champion.

Sondra Pitts, who enrolled in the college the year it opened, said she couldn’t be more grateful for her experience. Her husband, Thomas, observed, “There are still thousands of lives to be changed and they will be just as grateful.”

Tom and Sondra were high school sweethearts at Cranston East. He went on to Yale University while Sondra became a member of the college’s first graduating class in 1966. Her involvement with the institution has carried on long after the couple married in 1969.

She is a member and past president of the CCRI Alumni Association, and the two made the gift enabling creation of the Alumni Association Student Development Center at the Knight Campus. Tom, a retired attorney, assists CCRI as an adviser to the president. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Community Preparatory School in Providence, which educates third- through eighth-graders of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Senator Gallo also attended the college, and as she pointed out in her remarks, she was the first in her family to attend college.

She called CCRI “a catalyst for changing lives” and an affordable “bridge to a four-year degree.”

Gallo was first elected in 1998. She serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education and is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce.

Gallo earned a bachelor’s degree in communicative disorders from the University of Rhode Island in 1995 and a master’s in speech-language pathology in 1997. She works as a speech language pathologist for the Cranston School Department, helping children to overcome speech impediments and improve their oral communication skills.

First elected in 1994, McNamara represents District 19. He is the chairman of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee.

His Statewide Virtual Education Act was signed into law last year to promote the use of virtual courses as part of public education in the state. He is a member of the New England Board of Higher Education.

McNamara was one of two House members to receive the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s Hospitality Ambassadors of the Year Award in 2012, being cited for his legislation affecting trans-fats in foods. Also in 2012, he was honored with the Thomas A. Lamb Home Advocacy Award by the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care; the Tracey A. Kennedy Leadership in Advocacy Award by the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Heart Association; and was recognized by the American Cancer Society for Lifetime Achievement in Tobacco Control.

McNamara is a retired educator, previously serving as director of the Pawtucket School Department’s Alternative Learning Program. He received his Master of Education degree from Providence College. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree at Boston University and graduated from Pilgrim High School.

Named as business champion, Carousel Industries is a technology solutions integrator focused on helping customers solve IT problems. The company’s solutions address many areas, including voice, mobility, visual communications, data networks, unified communications and managed services. Carousel looks for new employees with strong technical skills, and several of the recent technical and accounting hires have come from the Community College of Rhode Island.

The company has hired 20 CCRI alumni in the last year, mostly to work as technicians and field engineers. These are graduates skilled in technologies such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), video and data infrastructure. Other CCRI hires have worked in accounting.

In accepting the award, Carousel CEO Jeff Gardner talked about the vital role CCRI plays in educating the state’s workforce.


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