Vivian Ostrowski, director, Gateway to College program

Vivian Ostrowski


Youngstown, Ohio. Now lives in South Hadley.


Director, Gateway to College

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity is all those delicious ways we are different from each other. Diversity is understanding that each of us is different, that we bring different backgrounds and traditions and cultures and ethnicities and ways of seeing the world, and we bring that to this place we have in common, and each of the individuals there is committed to having a safe, respectful place where all that difference can come together so that we all get to see the world differently through each other. I think that is the most powerful part of a college experience, independent of what courses we take -- understanding that that person over there, who looks different than me and speaks a different language, and comes from a totally different lifestyle than I have -- figuring out our commonality and being better for it.

Why is diversity important?

We could see diversity as a laundry list, an affirmative action forum -- all of our different identities and how we're different from each other, and maybe that's the first step of diversity. But I think it's really important to understand that there are power dynamics under diversity. Some people have privilege and some people have power. Some people feel like they're in the in group. Some feel like they're in the out group, and so when we're living diversity it means that all of our differences are valued and we can bring them together at the table to shape who we are as a community.

What inspires you?

What inspires me is watching people do what they thought was impossible. In Gateway, our students have dropped out of high school with a GPA of 2.0 or less. We think we know what it means to be a dropout and who those people are, and then they come to this program and the expectation level skyrockets and suddenly they're doing college classes in a college environment and they see themselves as scholars and people and members of a community in ways they never thought possible. So they were disenfranchised and judged and pushed aside and now they're in the middle of things. One of our former students is going to run for student trustee next year. So, going from being totally in the out group to knowing that you have a place at the table and then be willing to take that to your community and inspire your little brothers and sisters and your cousins and neighbors and your mom -- that's what inspires me.

What makes you happy?

I'm hardwired to be happy, so almost everything makes me happy. My golden retriever makes me happy. Having Gateway students sing in talent shows makes me happy. Gateway graduation makes me happy. Talking to my dad makes me happy. Doing home improvements makes me happy. I'm jazzed by people. I'm intrigued by people. I am that person who had a nice childhood and so I see the world through an optimistic, positive, maybe rosy lens, and I try to live so if that can help other folks have a better life, I want that well of optimism to be available. It makes me happy to connect with people in such a way that, at the end, we're both going, damn, isn't it great to be alive?

What do you value about working at HCC?

HCC is the best place I ever worked. I value our mission and the way we live our mission. I love that our students are first generation, that they are ESL, that they are poor, that 10 percent of our students have disabilities, that we have high school students, that we have grandmas and grandpas. I love that we are the Pioneer Valley. If you cut it lengthwise or sideways, we are the Pioneer Valley, and when people come here, they learn how fabulous they are.


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040