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May 30, 2014

Collin Estrada has fond memories of his time at Bridgewater State University. He uses the same word again and again to describe his memories about his time on campus.

“Let's put it like this: L-O-V-E. Love,” says Mr. Estrada, who referred to Dr. Lisa Battaglino, now dean of Education, as his “United States mother.”

“The staff at the Catholic Center at Bridgewater showed a lot of love,” said Mr. Estrada, contacted at home in Belize via Skype. “We had some roommates with us from Jordan who also showed a lot of love. And the teachers and the folks in Bridgewater also showed a lot of love. It was an easy transition."

Mr. Estrada was one of four students who earned a scholarship to attend BSU in 2011, as part of the university’s partnership with Belize. He earned his master’s degree in education in 2012.

The 34-year-old now serves as the coordinator of the Counseling and Care Unit for the Belize Ministry of Education. He is the go-to person in Belize for BSU’s new career development program, which aims to foster career guidance and training, beginning in Belize’s 6th grade classrooms.

Born in Belize, Mr. Estrada has been married to his wife, Zaira, for seven years. They have two boys: Emeri , 4, and Luwen, 2. Mr. Estrada, himself, is the second of five children raised by a single mom, who had left his alcoholic father when he was very young. His mother’s strength was passed down to him and his siblings.

"My mom has always been self-employed. She's a cook, and that is what sent us through school,” says Mr. Estrada. "One of the things that my mom used to pump into our heads is that ‘there was no money for failure.’ There's only money to be able to move forward. For her, failure was not an option."

Mr. Estrada attended Belize’s religiously based schools and went on to be a teacher before getting his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Havana in Cuba. While in Cuba, he worked with families of children with disabilities, and wrote his thesis, Emotional Reaction and Coping Strategies in Family Members of Children with Autism. He later worked as a faculty member at Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College in Belize before being hired by the Ministry of Education in 2008 and attaining his current role in 2012.

He says that children in Belize need more support and help in determining their strengths in order to succeed, but they generally are happy. Though the schools lack the technology of American schools, he says, students are taught the basics: math, English, social studies, science and religious education. “The teachers have a lot of passion in what they do. The children also come to school with a lot of passion, wanting to learn,” he says. That’s no small feat when the tropical temperatures are in the 90s.

Though he’s found his own path to success, Mr. Estrada believes that if he’d had more support in his younger years, he might have achieved his doctorate by now. But his year in Bridgewater was transformative and opened many doors. “When you come back home, you are expected to lead,” he said. "What the year does for you is to be able to sit down and see how you can use knowledge to be able to move the country forward.” (Story by Steve Ide, University News)

Collin Estrada