SUNY Cortland community health major Dominica Boston doesn’t know what she would have done without the campus community when she had her fifth baby in mid-October 2018.
Her son, Kelechi, was born Oct. 18, 2018. Two weeks later, Boston, who immigrated from Nigeria nearly a decade ago, was back in the classroom.
“They helped me finish the last classes of my semester,” she said. “It is a very inclusive community. Those hugs, when you don’t think you can handle your stress, they just show you care. It’s one thing I learned from them and will carry for the rest of my life when I go out to practice.”
SUNY Cortland has some 300 non-traditional students like Boston enrolled.
The College defines its non-traditional undergraduate students as those who are at least 24 years old or have had an interruption or delay in their education since high school. They also might have dependent children, regardless of their ages.
The College celebrated them all Nov. 4-10, during national Non-Traditional Students Week. In addition to an array of activities offered through Advisement and Transition, one inspiring non-traditional student was introduced daily to the SUNY Cortland community.
Boston was amazed at how that campus community embraced her as a relative newcomer.
“You never know how you affect people’s life,” said Boston, of the entire Health Department faculty as well as others who gave her a shoulder to lean on in the difficult months leading up to and following her childbirth.
She recalls how Moffett Center’s kindly cleaner made sure each of her classrooms had a comfortable chair for her as pregnancy expanded her abdomen, and professors gave up their own chairs when one that fit couldn’t be found. Boston occasionally asked to bring her infant with her to class (“He never cried once,” she said). Joyce Green, a Biological Sciences Department faculty member, always has a kind word and piece of candy to help Boston get through her day. Cheryl Hines in Advisement and Transition offered friendly assurances and SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum lent an ear.
Her mother, Veronica Ujumadu, had recently retired from 30 years of teaching in Nigeria and quickly obtained a visa to come to America and help her daughter tend the family. Besides Kelechi, now 1, Boston has two daughters, Adaoma, 10, and Eudora, 8; and two other sons, Chukwuemeka “Chuks,” 7, and Munachimso, 3.
“Without her, I don’t know, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today,” Boston said of her mother, who keeps the children quiet while their mother sleeps, studies for an exam, attends class or goes to work. “She sacrificed everything she had to do back home to come and assist me.
“My children are my strength. No matter the stress I am going through, they put smiles on my face.
"My sweetheart, Gerald, has always got my back,” she said of her partner, Gerald Chukwuma M ’19.
Boston, now a senior who graduates in May, was born and raised in Nigeria, obtained an associate’s degree there and worked as a registered nurse at a hospital labor and delivery room in Aba, Nigeria.
“I came to America, started my family, and at one point I decided to go back to school because I wanted to be a public health nurse,” Boston said.
Arriving in the U.S. in 2010, Boston first lived and volunteered in Vermont for a year before moving to Clay, N.Y., located outside of Syracuse. She cherished Syracuse’s large and welcoming ethnic and immigrant community. Boston and her children were quite content there and she became an American citizen in 2014.
“When I was looking for schools, I felt reluctant because (Cortland) was a very small community,” Boston said.
In 2017, Boston moved her then-four offspring to Cortland and enrolled them in the Cortland City School District.
While maintaining a good grade point average, she will finish all her class work this fall and complete the required fieldwork next spring at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center.
“My fieldwork is in health education programs and some clinicals in the nursing department,” Boston said. “That will help me to practice and help me to give back to this community, which has given me a lot.”
While she attends school fulltime, she also works as a care partner at Guthrie Cortland; and volunteers as a medical transport driver for the underserved with Cortland County Community Action Program (CAPCO).
“It’s hectic but you have to have a positive attitude towards life to be able to handle family, life and school, with parent-teacher meetings and concerts,” Boston said. Adaoma plays the violin and Eudora and will soon start on viola while Chuks is interested in math and spelling.
“I don’t have a plan yet in terms of where I will be after graduation,” Boston said. “I’m hoping to finish this semester strong, start field work in the spring, graduate. Then I will sit back, reflect, plan and explore all options I have and see where life will take me.”
That may mean graduate school for Boston later next year to pursue a master’s degree in nursing with a specialty in public health.
“I would love to stay in the community because I like it here already," she said. "Cortland is a home for me and my children. I am forever thankful.”
For more information about Non-Traditional Students Week events or to recognize an outstanding non-traditional student, contact Non-Traditional Student Support Coordinator Cheryl Hines at 607-753-4726.