When Celeste Singh ’20 arrived in the United States at age 13 from her native Trinidad, an island less than seven miles from the coast of Venezuela, she wasn’t prepared for the enormous culture shock.
“We had to assimilate, and it was just overwhelming,” said Singh. “The accents were different, and the roads were hard to figure out. When I found out we weren’t going back, I just cried.”
Singh and her mother came to the United States with one suitcase each and settled in Cambridge with her grandmother who had arrived earlier.
Singh enrolled at a local public middle school followed by Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School. While she was excited that the school had a swimming pool, it was hard to relate on a cultural level. Her teenage American peers seemed to have so much freedom.
“Everyone was from Cambridge. It was hard to make new friends. I wasn’t allowed to go to the mall or Harvard Square,” she said.
When it was time to apply to college, Singh was lost. “College was never a conversation in my house,” she said. “I didn’t know what the SAT was.”
Still, Singh was eager to continue her education. She received a full tuition scholarship for an SAT preparatory program at Harvard University and would go to Starbucks alone to work on her college essay. She knew she would have to pay for college herself and scholarships were key.
A friend told her about College Now at UMass Dartmouth, an academic support program, so she applied. Thanks to a Dell Scholarship and a scholarship from College Now, Singh’s dream of college was realized.
As she finishes her nursing education at UMassD, Singh is considering a career in an intensive care unit and eventually earning a doctorate so she can teach a new generation of students.
Dedication recognized with Patient Care Award at Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Coincidentally, Singh’s journey to the United States was driven by a search for better medical care and opportunity for her mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother was treated at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute, both in Boston, and has since recovered. She now works as an administrative assistant.
While in high school, Singh began working in patient transport at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and still works there today. Her first patient was a nurse with cancer who was being transported for an MRI. “I took the time to talk to her and she was so thankful," Singh said. "When my mom was sick, I saw how the nurses took care of her. I wanted to be as efficient and as smart as they were.”
Singh’s dedication to her patients was recognized by the renown hospital when she received the Patient Care Award last year. She was nominated by patients and families based on the care they received.
Perseverance, support, and hard work
Singh began the College Now program in 2015. Her first year was difficult and she was filled with doubt. She had to pass chemistry for acceptance into the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS). “My stepdad told me to talk to my professor and get help. He wouldn’t let me quit. I decided that I had to get an A. I went every day for help and got an A+,” she said proudly.
At the end of the year, Singh was accepted into CNHS for Fall 2016. “I was so happy, it was like getting a second chance.”
Despite her hard work, nursing wasn’t easy. “In clinicals, you have to put yourself out there," said Singh. "You have to talk to your professors for help. They’re going to listen to you. They do a really good job of supporting students, but we have to put in the work.”
Dr. Marni Kellogg, assistant professor of community nursing, credits Singh for her dedication. “I was happy to spend time working with Celeste on medication calculation, a critical skill for nurses. After meeting with me and practice, she was able to calculate medication doses correctly; she has carried this skill into practice. Celeste is committed to succeeding, this dedication will take her far.”
Earned honors every semester while working three jobs to fund her nursing education
Paying for college was still a challenge for Singh. A Diversity Nursing Scholarship also helped. In addition to her job in patient transport at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, she also works as a patient care assistant. “I get to see how a hospital works, the teamwork, and see what the nurses, therapists, and doctors do.”
Singh also worked in the College NOW office. “It’s my way of giving back,” she said.
Last semester, she earned a 4.0 and has made the Dean’s and Chancellor’s list every semester at UMass Dartmouth. Singh graduated as a Chancellor’s and Dean’s list scholar.
“Education is very important to me. Overall, I have loved my experience in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences. I am not the same person I was when I came here,” she said. “I have learned to be very resilient, adaptive, and receptive to change.”
Singh exemplifies the importance of working hard to achieve your dreams. “College is a very temporary stage in your life. What you do here really matters,” she said. “If you don’t work hard, you can’t take care of patients and advocate for them.
“Not only did I get a good education, UMass Dartmouth is very well respected by employers. Companies respect the nurses that complete this program,” she added.
Singh will spend the summer studying for her nursing board exam while continuing to work at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and at the Boston Hope Medical Field, a field hospital for COVID-19 patients.
Craig Elkins, director of alternative admissions, College Now/START Program said, “Celeste is one of the most motivated, intelligent, and personable people I have had the opportunity to work with. Over the last four years, her connection with the College Now Program has helped countless incoming students gain the skills they need to be successful here at UMASS Dartmouth. Her thoughtful actions, kind-hearted nature, and strong personality make her the perfect person to enter the healthcare field. Any future patients who receive medical attention from her are lucky to have her at their side.”