Perseverance Pays Off


By Alaina Lavoie ’15

When Bret Rowean ’20 toured colleges in high school, he said, “Westfield State was actually the first college I ever visited, so all the others had to live up to it.”

Rowean loved the campus layout, wanted to play for the baseball team, and connected with the strong resources at the Banacos Academic Center and its Learning Disabilities Program. He met the program advisor for the Learning Disabilities Program, Michelle Rizk-Jarvis, and baseball coach, Nathan Bashaw, and knew that this was the University he wanted to attend. He enrolled as a criminal justice major in the Class of 2020.

Shortly after the semester began, Rowean suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was at home, immobile, for four weeks. A neurologist told him and his family that he would likely not reach 100 percent recovery for five years. Rowean withdrew from three of his courses and audited the other two.

Even though he’d been at Westfield State for less than a week, Rizk-Jarvis says Rowean had made an impact. When he returned to campus four weeks later, he was welcomed and supported by friends he’d made in those
few days. “Everybody was so responsive to me coming back,” he says.

Rowean had a goal then. He wanted to graduate with his class in 2020.

Many of Bret’s friends were upperclassmen, and he saw them all prepare for their own graduations together. He imagined his class graduating while he had to wait another year and decided—no matter what it took, he would walk with his class. “If something doesn’t work out, I don’t look back,” Rowean says. “I was never scared that I wouldn’t overcome the accident.”

Rowean channeled the energy he would have spent playing baseball into his coursework, and he also took part in intramural sports. He completed two internships, including one at Fenway Park.

His mother Susan Rowean said, “He definitely is his own person, and I think that probably helped in this situation.” She and her son also credit Rizk-Jarvis for her continual support of Rowean: guiding him through which courses to take, helping him register and adjust his schedule every semester, and making sure he had the appropriate support and resources.

According to Susan Rowean, no other college or university has a program that lives up to the standards set by the Banacos Academic Center. “Michelle was unbelievable throughout this entire process,” Bret Rowean said. “She cared about me. She went above and beyond for me.”

Rowean has completed his bachelor’s in criminal justice and graduated cum laude with his 2020 class, which will officially commence in May 2021. He was awarded the Sue Krieg Scholarship, named for Banacos Academic Center Associate Director Susan Krieg, who Rizk-Jarvis calls “the backbone of the Learning Disabilities Program.” She says, “It was a unanimous decision to honor Bret for his hard work and unwavering perseverance.”


About Author

Comments are closed.