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Student clears learning disability hurdle and aims for Ph.D.

COM Foundation honors Jessica Cronin with Leadership Award


KENTFIELD, Calif.—May 13, 2008—Despite struggling for years with an undiagnosed learning disorder that loomed as an obstacle to every school assignment, Jessica Cronin grew up thinking about college. She was just 13 years old when she attended one of her mother’s night courses at College of Marin and was captivated by instructor Hank Fearnley’s lecture on political science theory.

Now 24 and graduating this weekend with AA degrees in Political Science, French and Liberal Arts, Cronin is on her way to UC-California, Berkeley on a full scholarship.

“It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I realize I’m smart,” Cronin says. “It’s amazing to me that I passed high school.”

A recipient of the College of Marin Foundation Leadership Award, Cronin is the keynote student speaker at the Foundation’s Scholarship Awards Ceremony Friday, May 16 at 5 p.m. The brief ceremony will be held in the cafeteria of the Student Services Building at 835 College Avenue, Kentfield. On Saturday, Cronin will join about 300 other students at the graduation ceremony (Graduation Information Below)

“Jessica has an innate ability to provide a vision and then get out of the way and let other people make it theirs,” said Margaret Elliot, executive director of the Foundation. “She’s the kind of person that provides positive support for others. She’s a real influence.”

Cronin, who graduated from Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, grew up hearing teachers say she wasn’t applying herself. In reality, she simply wasn’t able to keep up with the workload. “I’ve been that kid all through my life whose mom was told I wasn’t working hard enough,” she recalls. Her mother would ask the teachers, “Then why is she crying over her algebra assignments?”

At COM, Cronin took advantage of free learning disability testing and found that she reads 32 percent slower than the average student. She examined her study habits.

“My brain doesn’t work that way,” she says. “It’s OK, it just needs more time.” Cronin accepted a notetaker to help her in classes and she listened to text books on tape. An extra time allotment on tests helped her maintain a 3.7 grade point average.

“A lot of people go undiagnosed,” said Cronin. “My mom didn’t have the $200 to spend on diagnostic testing. Once I got to school and found out I wasn’t stupid I found it much, much easier,” she says.

In addition to being a speech and political science tutor for other students on campus, Cronin has been active in student government and the Alpha Gamma Sigma Honors Society for which she’s served as secretary, president and vice president.

“I consider her an outstanding leader,” said Toni Yoshioka, a campus counselor who also serves as staff advisor to the AGS group. “For all the semesters I’ve been an advisor I consider her the best president we’ve had. She’s so energetic and enthusiastic and fun.”

During her time at COM, Cronin has returned to Fearnley’s political science classroom for six courses. “He’s the reason I love political science,” she says. “His classes are always interesting.”

Fearnley says Cronin’s “intellectual stamina and passionate dedication to learning rank her among some of the best students” he’s taught in his 35-year career. “As far as I am concerned, she's capable of excelling in any university in the country.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree, Cronin has her sights set on a Ph.D.

“Eventually I want to teach,” she says. “I pretty much loved all my teachers here.”


College of Marin Foundation Scholarship Awards Ceremony begins at 5 p.m., Friday, May 16. The brief ceremony will be held in the cafeteria of the Student Services Building at 835 College Avenue, Kentfield.


College of Marin Graduation Ceremonies begin at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 17, at the Harlan Center Fine Arts Quad Area, Kentfield Campus. A reception follows. Media may park in lots near Fine Arts, Harlan Center, Student Services Building.


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