Gateway Student Arlo Caisse Talks ‘Opportunity’ and Community at the Mount

Arlo Caisse
Photo provided by Arlo Caisse, representing the SAGA at a student organization expo

Arlo Caisse has been one of Mount Wachusett Community College’s many dual enrollment students since they started the Gateway to College program in the fall of 2022, when they were just 16 years old. “I was homeschooled my whole life up until I started here at MWCC as a Gateway student,” said Caisse. Both Caisse and their sister are first-generation college students, and their sister is a former Gateway student herself. “My sister was the biggest reason I chose to go to college. I wanted to learn, and I needed to learn some important things…things I could have learned at home, but my sister encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.”

Attending college has been full of unexpected, life-changing experiences for Caisse. “Originally school wasn’t my priority. If you told me I would be in college right now, I probably would have laughed a little bit,” they admitted.

Since beginning their college career at the Mount, they’ve joined three of the student organizations on campus: the Campus Activity Team for Students (CATS), the Student Government Association (SGA), and the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA). “I firmly believe that being involved in your community is important!” explained Caisse. “It allows me to get out of my daily cycle of class and homework, [and] it gives me time for human interaction. I strongly advise everyone to find a welcoming community to be a part of.”

Recent studies show that engaging in extracurricular activities heightens students’ sense of connection with their college community, resulting in a 17% increase in this regard. Additionally, these activities often serve as a source of inspiration for students, motivating them to explore fields related to community service. As a matter of fact, 80% of college-bound students actively engage in public service at the college level. This commitment to helping others is a significant driving force, as emphasized by Caisse, who expressed, “All of [the] clubs mean a lot to me. I am very big on volunteer work and helping others.” In addition to having the opportunity to help others, one of the other things they love the most about the Mount is the “supportive people” they’ve met since enrolling.

Although their experience has been largely a positive one, they’ve had to overcome some challenges, as well. “I tend to overwork myself,” they admitted. “If there is anything I have learned from school, it’s to take a break…Balancing school, clubs, home life, and work is a hard task but it is doable. You just need to plan it all out accordingly…Just make sure to take care of yourself too.”

Coming from a homeschooled environment, there was a learning curve for them when it came to being in a classroom filled with other students and, consequently, distractions. “I was always by myself when it came to learning but now there is a whole class.”

When they’re not devoting themselves to their classes and extracurricular activities, Caisse can be found spending time with their family, learning more about the things that interest them–such as photography, criminal justice, culinary arts, and human services–and playing tabletop role-playing games, namely Dungeons & Dragons. “Ever since I was young, making characters with awesome backstories was my favorite thing to do. I have well over a dozen OCs (Original Characters) that I used for stories, D&D, and many other things,” they enthused. “It’s so much fun to get groups together–big and small–to play a fun game like D&D.”

Across the board, Caisse is a perfect example of adaptability, compassion, and resilience, demonstrating the courage to step out of one’s comfort zone and embrace new horizons. They hold a well-deserved optimism about their future, with a unique perspective on the word “opportunity.”

In their own words, “…I don’t mean [opportunities] that will get me on cool trips or…a better paying job. The opportunities I am looking forward to are ones where I can help people or make someone’s day. I get the most joy out of life when I am doing something for someone else. Sometimes people say, ‘you are born to do something,’ and I believe it. I could have any job in the world, but it would mean nothing to me if I didn’t have the opportunity to help someone else.”

Originally posted in the Mount Observer, November 2023.