Carolina’s Path: A Culture Of Education, From Colombia To Cleveland

Carolina’s Path: A Culture Of Education, From Colombia To Cleveland

Don Foley
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 12:00 AM
All, Press Releases, Students, Employees, TBR, Alumni

It was twenty years ago in Pereira, Colombia when Cleveland, Tennessee’s Maria Carolina Roman and her family fled their home for a new world. Her country, once known for being one of the world’s leading producers of coffee beans, had become known for guerilla violence and terror groups which walked among the citizens.

Roman’s father, Oscar Giraldo, was a salesman in Colombia. His job regularly required travel across the country. Because of the violence causing dangerous conditions for him in his day-to-day work, Oscar and Roman’s mother, Carmen, would eventually make the difficult decision to move her and her brother, Julian, out of the country.

Over the next two decades, Roman’s life would go from uncertainty and fear to one of education and a career in Southeast Tennessee. And, this month, Roman was selected to one of the top spots at Cleveland State Community College. She is now the Executive Assistant to the Office of the President.

“The Executive Assistant to the President needs to be a passionate advocate for Cleveland State,” said Cleveland State Community College President Dr. Bill Seymour. “This is how the President, the President's Office, and the College are best supported and represented.  Carolina Roman is just that person.” 

As an 18-year-old young woman back in 2000, Roman began college life when she enrolled in the Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira (Technological University of Pereira). Living and learning In a city of nearly half a million residents, Roman was looking forward to making a better life for herself and her family. “Not many Hispanic people here in our area get the chance to finish a college education,” said Roman. “Now, I get the chance to help.”

First joining Cleveland State Community College as a college student in 2013, she would complete her Associate’s Degree in 2016. At her graduation, Roman was honored with the college’s Most Distinguished Graduate award. “President (Bill) Seymour actually gave me the award,” said Roman. “I was completely shocked by it. It made me so proud. And, so many of my family members were there to see it.”

Shortly after moving on with her educational pursuits at nearby Lee University, Roman would quickly move into a new position with the college as the Hispanic Latino Student Support Specialist. “Being able to help so many students who faced similar situations as I did adjusting to college was such a great opportunity for me,” said Roman.

From work-study jobs to earning part-time support positions, Roman would continue to become a part of the Cleveland State Family. “Beyond the jobs, I take part in helping lead the college’s Diversity Club and playing a role in our Equity and Inclusion Committee.” In 2017, Roman also helped the college obtain a Student Engagement, Retention and Success (SERS) grant used to help support Hispanic students and their culture at Cleveland State.

As if earning an education and all of the additional honors by a then 34-year-old mother of six weren’t impressive enough, you need to know the rest of the story.

It was just 16 years before walking across the graduation stage at Cleveland State’s L. Quentin Lane Center that a teenage girl from South American first set foot in the Volunteer State… without knowing a single word in the English language. “Coming to the country on a tourist visa in 2000, I knew nothing,” said Roman. “It was scary for me. I wanted to learn.”

Soon after, her family would be granted political asylum to allow them to stay in the United States. However, it would be ten years later before she would have the chance to earn her citizenship. “After 9/11, the world changed in so many ways,” added Roman. “For my journey, it meant that everything shut down. The process to become a citizen became more difficult, and a much longer process, than ever before.”

In the meantime, Roman would do all she could to further her future by learning all she could. Roman would enroll in several ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to try to eliminate the language barrier. “And, even though I graduated from high school in Colombia the year before coming to the U.S., I even took classes at Cleveland High School for a semester to try to pick up anything I could,” said Roman. “I wanted to do everything I could.”

After eventually earning her citizenship in 2010, Roman could begin to see a better life here in Tennessee. And now, two decades later, this woman who once feared for her and her family’s lives half a planet away, is now helping break barriers for others who have now come after her.

“As an alumnus who attended as an adult student, who knows the challenges of juggling school, family and work, and as a successful student advocate through her recent position, Carolina was a natural choice,” said Seymour. Today, Roman is just a few classes away from earning her Bachelor’s Degree. “However, it all started with Cleveland State,” added Roman.

Roman and her husband, Vari, live in Cleveland, Tennessee. He serves as a manager at Cleveland’s Monterrey Mexican Restaurant. Her 20-year-old son, Chandler, just graduated from Cleveland State last year with an Associate’s Degree in Business. Her children Nikolas, Ashlalin, and Andres are all students at Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Tennessee. Her youngest, Santiago, is a student at E.L. Ross, also in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Roman’s oldest son, Tristan, passed away while serving in the U.S. Army in 2017. Today, Tristan’s four-year-old son Nolan is a huge part of their lives. “Our grandson is such a blessing,” said Roman. “He’s a part of our son that is always with us.”

From a family now shaped by the culture and traditions of two nations, Roman is giving back by not only shaping the future of those who share her blood, but those who share her heritage, trials, and future dreams of success.

To learn more about Cleveland State Community College, visit the college at or call 423.472.7141. Students are currently enrolled online and on-campus through the CSCC main campus in Cleveland, Tennessee, as well as CSCC’s Athens Center in Athens, Tennessee and Monroe County Center in Vonore, Tennessee.

CSCC is the College System of Tennessee’s reigning College of the Year. CSCC directly serves Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, and Polk Counties in Tennessee. The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving more than 110,000 students.

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