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“And then I realized I needed a different challenge in life,” he said.
That’s how he ended up at Holyoke Community College – and why the school has earned his never-ending gratitude.
Despite a less than stellar high school transcript, he knew HCC “would actually give me a chance,” said Gruel. “HCC was there to give people a second chance.”
Once enrolled, encouraged by his professors, he buckled down. He believes he had a better academic experience at HCC than he would have had he attended a four-year program right out of high school. Once Upon A Time There Was A Girl Who Really Loved Dogs And Turtles It Was Me Shirt, hoodie, tank top
“The classes were small and the teachers actually cared about you,” he said. “I still have an incredible memory of the math and physics professors at HCC, and it was mutual. They went out of their way to know their students and to figure out where they could help.”
It was not easy. He worked two jobs while a full-time HCC student, sometimes studying while logging third shift at a gas station.
“I was willing to work at it, but there were people who were willing to support me and that’s what I needed,” he said.
Gruel graduated with honors and an associate degree in engineering, an accomplishment he remains proud of to this day.
“This was something I had done for myself and I had earned it,” he said.
It also earned him acceptance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where he found he had an affinity for engineering. And here is where his humility rears its head again.
“A lot of things went my way,” he said. “In addition to working hard, there’s a lot of luck involved in where we end up in our lives.”
In his senior year at RPI, he learned that two friends who also had gone to HCC were doing co-op semesters in the field working at engineering jobs. He decided to pursue one, landing a co-op placement at the prestigious Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, a federally funded research and design center managed by Cal-Tech, with the vast majority of its funding and contract work coming from NASA.