Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stefano Sarris rakes in academic honors, is accepted to Cornell


The worst day of Stefano Sarris' life changed its path, but it couldn’t derail his college and career plans.

Determination and drive, combined with support from the community that has adopted him, has led to one of the best days.

Germanna intersnhip coordinator Cheri Ober, student Stefano Sarris and adjunct professor Harvey Gold
Germanna intersnhip coordinator Cheri Ober, student Stefano Sarris
and adjunct professor Harvey Gold

The Germanna Community College student whose dreams dimmed when his mother passed away suddenly in 2010, will graduate from GCC at 7 p.m. on May 14 at the Fredericksburg Expo Center in triumph.

This spring Sarris, a 25-year-old Spotsylvania County resident and native of the Netherlands, was selected as a Phi Theta Kappa All-Virginia Academic Team member and was named a Coca-Cola Silver Scholar and All-USA Community College Academic Team member.

The biggest thrill, though, came when he was accepted for transfer to Cornell University—his first choice—in late April.

Welcome to NerdNation: GCC student Stefano Sarris at April's
Phi Theta Kappa national convention in Orlando

“It’s my dream school,” Sarris says of Cornell. “It’s kind of surreal. I never thought it’d be possible to go there.” He said it was one of the best days of his life.

Harvey Gold, an adjunct professor of environmental sciences and bioethics at Germanna who has taught and mentored Sarris, congratulated him by saying, “There will be better ones, but this is a grand day.”

Sarris’ path to Cornell has been filled with twists and turns.

Stefano Sarris gives the 'A-OK' sign after being accepted to Cornell

He came to America from the Netherlands in 2009.

He had done a little acting at the Amsterdam Dungeon, a tourist attraction, before deciding that environmental science was his true calling.

“The overarching reason for moving to the U.S. was to study,” he said. “America is doing wonderful things in the field of environmental science.”

Sarris was thinking in terms of sustainability as a child.

“Even when I was very young, I didn’t like the idea of throwing things away that didn’t have to be,” he says. “I always thought, ‘What’s wrong with the older toys?’ I never needed new things.”

He has always enjoyed taking walks through the woods and camping.

“I want to do what I can to protect nature,” he says. “I want the next generation and the generation after that to enjoy it.”

His mother had told him she would provide financial support while he went to college here.

Then he received a phone call from his brother saying, “Mom is in the hospital.” She’d been diagnosed with cancer. Hannie Sarris went into a rapid decline, passing away a short time later. She was 57.

Sarris’ mother had been his “go-to person. It knocked me off my feet. My world collapsed.”.
He didn’t stay down for long, responding by working--and then by working some more.

“I wanted to go to school and make my mother proud,” Sarris says. He put in 50-hour weeks at Paragon-Splitsville, in Spotsylvania, working his way up to theater manager.

After two years of working and saving, he enrolled at Germanna in the fall of 2012, unsure what to expect. Would he be accepted? He needn’t have worried.

“Germanna has really given me everything I needed to prepare myself,” Sarris says. “It’s been wonderful, coming here as a foreigner and being embraced. Being made to feel so happy and comfortable here was a big factor in my success.”

Stefano Sarris clowns with Germanna Experiential Learning Coordinator
Cheri Ober, who helped him get an internship with Marstel-Day

He said Gold and GCC Experiential Coordinator Cheri Ober, who helped him get an internship at Fredericksburg environmental consulting firm Marstel-Day, gave him the academic and moral support he needed.

“I couldn’t be more thankful,” he says.

He put himself through Germanna, with financial support from the GCC Educational Foundation in the form of a scholarship provided by Atlantic Builders’ Adam Fried and help from the GCCEF’s Rich Gossweiler Fund.

Gold says that learning to deal with adversity and finding ways to solve problems in life is the same as it is in scientific research.

“You see a need and you find a way,” he says.

Sarris is showing a real aptitude for that.

Monique Lewis, a Germanna faculty member and PTK advisor, says Sarris “epitomizes the diverse student body found at GCC. Our students have unique stories and overcome great odds to become successful. His drive is awe inspiring.”

Stefano Sarris on the set of the Germanna Today cable TV show with
GCC President David A. Sam and Prof. Ashley Anglin

Ober says: “It’s been rewarding to witness Stefano’s growth throughout his internship. He has become increasingly passionate about environmental concerns and will definitely make a difference in changing how the world perceives them. He’s got the right mix of talent, creativity, intelligence and charm to empower people to change.”

Sarris says his internship at Marstel-Day has helped him realize there he wants to work for a nonprofit organization helping communities in the U.S. and around the world that are facing environmental problems.

He’s thinking now about combining his affinities for the arts and preservation by making documentaries on the environment.

“There was kind of an epiphany that occurred to me during my internship that this is what I want to do—what I’m destined to do,” Sarris says. “It broadened my horizons further than I thought they could reach.”

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