Jacob Komar, Christian Burns,’05, Paul Kelleher

A diverse mix of students with very different goals comprise the group of over 7,000 credit students who attend Tunxis each year, providing a mix of perspectives that enrich their individual academic experiences.

Among the varied backgrounds are students seeking to gain transfer credits, lifelong learners who want new job skills or personal enrichment, those making career changes, home-schooled students in need of supplemental instruction, and intellectually gifted youngsters who seek educational alternatives and a head start on college.

Part of this latter group, Jacob Komar, 11, of Burlington, found Tunxis offered just the challenge he needed. The gifted student liked the collegiate environment enough to take his SATs early, skip high school and instead enroll full-time at Tunxis in 2003 to pursue a degree that would enable him to transfer his credits as he continued
his studies.

“My classes at Tunxis are more challenging and focused on the essentials,” said Komar, an engineering science major, who didn’t find traditional classroom settings met his needs. “The pace was much better for me too,” with less repetition than he encountered learning with his peers. The higher level of work standards and instructors’ expectations even helped him improve in areas that aren’t his natural strengths.

“Programming Logic” was one of his favorite courses, which perhaps isn’t surprising considering he started tinkering with computers and writing programming code at age five. He also liked his Spanish
class, taught by William Jimenez, lecturer in Spanish. “There was a lot of emphasis on speaking the language in class,” said Komar, noting that it enhanced his learning experience to have an instructor like Jimenez who is teaching his native language and sharing cultural background.

“The nice thing is my Tunxis courses will transfer directly to UConn,” said Komar, where he eventually plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree there in engineering or computer engineering.  After that, he thinks he may want to pursue graduate work.

Komar shares his special talents through volunteer work, which has resulted in national media recognition and numerous awards, including Prudential Spirit of Community Award, Angel Soft Angels in Action award, and Kohl’s Kids Who Care Point of Light Award. His first project at age nine involved acquiring computers that were discarded from his sister’s school, restoring them, and donating them to families who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

Similarly, Christian Burns is a 12-year-old MENSA member whose unique learning needs were also best addressed by attending college full-time. Burns, originally from California, relocated with his family from St. Thomas, USVI, and settled in Farmington in search of different educational alternatives.

Burns started reading when he was 18 months old. The liberal arts and sciences major was 11 years old when he took the SATs, and just one of about 200 children to be accepted into a special program for young students at California State University in Los Angeles. Although he and his family ultimately declined the opportunity, he learned that Tunxis was an alternative through Komar, who was a former classmate of his at private school.

Burns enrolled at Tunxis in 2003, bypassing 8th grade and high school. “I couldn’t believe such a great possibility was in our own backyard,” said Debora Stevens-Burns, Christian’s mother. “Tunxis is a smaller school, it’s close to home, and helped Christian make a better transition to the college experience,” she continued. “It is a cute, heartwarming place, and a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it was possible to have the best of both worlds.”

“I like the challenge and level at which I’m learning,” said Burns, who excels in the sciences and especially enjoyed lectures on osmosis, electron transport and other topics in his biology course with Lynn Laskowski, assistant professor of biology. Laskowski has been a mentor to the young learner, and has recommended additional educational materials and activities for him.

After Tunxis, Burns plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology and explore career options that will enable him to continue following his interest in zoology and wildlife. “I have an obsessive passion for animals,” he explained.

On the other end of the spectrum is Paul Kelleher of Bristol, a 77-year-old retiree who for work and pleasure has taken about 30 credit and continuing education courses over the years.

Kelleher worked in retail management throughout his career, at W.T. Grant Co. for 25 years and then at Caldor as operating manager. Some of the Tunxis courses he took during that time were “Human Resources Administration,” “Management,” “Business Law” and several accounting courses. “When I was managing stores, I dealt with profit and loss statements,” said Kelleher, who already holds a B.S. degree in business administration from University of Maine. “The courses were a good refresher for what I had previously learned in college.”

These days, he takes courses that interest him. He has taken a course in French, which he’d learned years ago but had completely forgotten, and “History of the Western World,” among others. “It’s nice being among a group of people, with students who are very serious and focused,” said Kelleher, noting that his instructors are knowledgeable and compare favorably with the instructors he had at University of Maine. “The community college system is one of the best things to ever happen as far as higher education goes.”

“It’s a great opportunity for young people with limited means to get two years of education at a reasonable price,” Kelleher continued. “Some of these students might not otherwise have had to opportunity to go to college. It’s a wonderful place for everyone.”
This story dates back to 12/03.