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The COVID-19 Class: A senior’s journey to finding belonging and personal growth during the pandemic

ABOUT THE FEATURE

The “COVID-19 Class” is a mini-series documenting the experiences of three members of the Class of 2024 from the College of Agriculture. Though they were presented with a distinct set of challenges as they began their collegiate careers, these students found community, excelled in their studies, and became leaders. Learn about the obstacles they faced, the growth they have seen in themselves, some of their favorite memories along the way, and what's next for them.

Remi Carrella, senior in agribusiness and management in agricultural economics

remi-carrella-2Four years ago Remi Carrella, now a senior in agribusiness in agricultural economics, travelled over 700 miles from his hometown of Randolph, New Jersey, to pursue his education at Purdue. Excited for a new chapter of adventure and growth, Carrella knew that time was of the essence. "You only have a short window to make the most of college and education is more than just learning; we are each here to grow as a person.”

For Carrella, his personal goals included earning a degree from a highly-rated college of agriculture, finding a strong community, and growing his cultural understanding.

Looking forward to all that college would bring and the memories he would make Carrella knew he also needed to prepare for the new challenges he would face by starting college during the COVID-19 pandemic. "I am very extroverted, but here I was from across the country starting at a large university and I only knew four people from my hometown. I didn't know how I would find the community I was looking for with my college experience, with all of the restrictions in place."

Determined to find his fit, Carrella took every opportunity to build connections.

"At the beginning I was always looking for creative and safe ways to meet people. Along with the few friends from my hometown and some people my mom had connected me with from a Facebook group she belonged to, we began early on freshman year to meet at the Co-Rec lawn to play volleyball. Anyone who walked by would be invited to play. This is a fun memory of meeting people during my first weeks on campus," he said.

The learning challenges were also hard at times, but Carrella focused on remaining positive. "My first semester, all but two of my classes were virtual. Everyone within the College of Agriculture was so kind and understanding. I remember professors doing what they could to help us during this unique situation, from offering lectures and notes online to answering our questions. The kindness of those I have encountered during my studies will always be one of the reasons I am proud to be a Boilermaker." Looking back, he believes although it had its challenges, virtual learning helped him remain focused on his studies and get him off to an excellent academic start.

Carrella also found a community of students with shared cultural and life experiences. He rushed at Alpha Epsilon Pi his freshman year, and later served as fraternity president. He also held leadership roles with Purdue Hillel and Chabad at Purdue. The experiences he found through these communities have helped to not only find belonging during his four years at Purdue but also gave him opportunities for personal growth. He is proud of his work through these organizations, such as organizing a Holocaust remembrance walk which over 100 people attended.

As safety restrictions lifted, Carrella continued to seek out ways to expand his academic understanding and cultural awareness through study abroad programs in Greece and Italy. “My study abroad opportunities were some of my top memories from my time at Purdue,” he said. In Greece, he studied wine through a program that offered a cohort at a university there. In Italy, he transferred directly to a school called Bocconi University. The program was in the school of business with a focus on agriculture.

“These experiences not only allowed me to travel across Europe and expand my cultural understanding, but they also helped me grow in expanding my knowledge of the global agricultural business,” Carrella said. His time in Europe also helped cultivate his understanding and passion for the wine industry.  He hopes to one day enter the wine industry professionally.

With goals of finding community, growing in cultural awareness, and completing a degree in a field he is passionate about all checked off the list, Carrella is about to start his professional career at PepsiCo in Nashville, Tennessee as a customer manager. That means a new city, community, and adventure, and he feels prepared.

"If anything, the pandemic taught us all the real value of relationships and to make the most of your time with people. I've learned just how important community is, and I'm excited to expand my community in my next chapter."

Adventures await, but there is one last thing to do-- and it's something he has never experienced (traditionally): graduation. "My high school graduation was virtual, like many others experienced. Instead of walking up a stage, I sat in my living room as a photo of me flashed across a screen." Now, Carrella looks forward to walking across the stage at Elliott Hall, this time with his family and friends cheering him on.

As he prepares for a hard goodbye to the community he has grown to love, he leaves a bit of advice for his fellow Boilermakers from the lessons he has learned.

Remi Carrella stands at Purdue in cap and gown
"It's important to accept every experience and opportunity that comes your way. Try new things, escape your comfort zone, and never say, 'No.' You'll be surprised how much you learn about others, the world, and yourself in the places you'd never have expected to find yourself. Four years is not a lot of time, but you can make them some of the most exciting years of your life."

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