A Happenstance Second Chance

Every beginning at Rock Valley College is different. While many students start their journey by applying with the intention of enrolling, others are brought to campus with no intentions of registering but have someone in their life who thinks otherwise. Felipe Gelacio’s beginning at RVC is the latter.

Before starting at RVC, Felipe was doing his best to raise his son as a single father and stay on the right track. At 22, Felipe was involved in an ATV accident, and he was found at fault for it. Because of this, he had to serve seven years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. This accident also left Felipe with paralysis of his left arm.

Once released from prison, Felipe faced difficulty finding employment due to his felony record and paralysis. Then he found RVC.

“One day, my uncle called me and asked if I would like to ride along with him to RVC because he had to finish some paperwork for his classes. I figured, why not? I had nothing better to do,” said Felipe. “When he finished his paperwork, he turned to the staff member helping him and told them to sign me up for college. My initial reaction was no.”

Felipe’s uncle then urged him that attending college could help him with his parole.

“I didn’t think at the time about how going to college could provide me more opportunities in life, but it did sound like a good way to get my parole officer off my back,” shared Felipe.

Felipe then enrolled in classes for the spring 2015 semester. Within Felipe’s first semester at RVC, his parole officer took him off parole because of the upward path that he was on.

Felipe’s journey has not been an easy one, though. Felipe began in remedial classes and struggled as a non-traditional student. But that didn’t stop him from pushing forward.

“What each department within the RVC community has in common is a commitment to student success. We would love to see every student retained each enrollment period and persist on until graduation. We understand that each student’s journey is different, but the goal is always completion,” said Tekkahmah Curry, DEI Specialist. “I’ve had the honor to be present at the very beginning and now the end of Felipe’s student journey. Felipe is a dedicated and compassionate person who is a testament to perseverance. When Felipe first enrolled, he struggled, early on, with time management. We put a plan in action to come to my office after classes and work on his course work until it was complete. I watched Felipe take advantage of the resources available to him and put in the effort to meet personal and academic goals.”

Felipe’s goal was to be a part of RVC’s Manufacturing Engineering Technology program, and he made it there.

“Once I got to the point where I was actually in the engineering program, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to use the machines because of the physical limitations of my arm.”

Felipe didn’t think the program would be able to help him, but he was wrong.

“Professor Clark and Professor Greenlee said I didn’t need to worry about anything. I didn’t realize how helpful they were actually going to be and how much support I was going to get even from other people in the program,” shared Felipe.

During his time at RVC, Felipe has been a part of many programs and has grown into a strong campus leader. He’s the president of the TRIO First Generation Club and a valuable student worker, winning RVC’s Student Employee of the Year Award two years in a row. Felipe is currently working in the Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.

“It is a joy to watch him be the first to greet passersby asking how he can assist them and directing them to the resources they are seeking,” said Tekkahmah. “Felipe is in the home stretch in his academic journey. Yet again, I’m witnessing Felipe take advantage of academic resources to be a better student, participate in student clubs, and be passionate about helping others. As he prepares to complete his student journey, I wish Felipe all the best!”

Felipe is a staple in the RVC community. He will be graduating from RVC this spring and will continue his education in Manufacturing Engineering at Northern Illinois University in the fall.

“Despite all of my struggles, I have managed to get to this point,” said Felipe. “I have worked hard and failed many times. I never gave up, even though it was difficult for me. I want to show people that no matter where you come from in life, it is always possible to make the impossible happen.

In the future, Felipe hopes to own his own manufacturing company where he can help people who are being released from prison. He wants to help people gain skills and give them a secure place to work.

“I know what it’s like to go through those steps and struggle once you’re released. I want people to know they don’t have to settle or go back to a life of crime.”

We asked Felipe if he could envision himself where he is now when he was incarcerated. “Never. The only vision I had was getting out, trying to find somewhere to work, and going from there. I never thought that I’d be going to college,” he shared.

Not everyone’s educational journey starts because they know they want to go to college or they have a significant career goal ahead of them. Some people simply happen upon campus, and it changes everything for them. And at RVC, we are grateful for that.