Sheena Infante-Davis: ‘I Didn’t Make It This Far Alone’
The road to college and career can be long and winding. For soon-to-be Gateway Community College graduate Sheena Infante-Davis, it was steep and rocky, as well.
Sheena, who majors in Restaurant Food Services Management, started at Gateway in 2011, right out of high school. By then, she had experienced more than most people do during their lifetimes. At the time, she was thinking of becoming a social worker, a goal shaped by her many life challenges. Sheena entered the foster care system as a 6-year-old and lived in seven foster homes. Her longest placement was from the age of 7 to 14, but things got difficult, on both sides. “It was bad in the end, but it was still my home,” Sheena recalls.
When she was 15, she became an “older adoptee” of a foster mother; a single woman with whom she had been living for a year. While the stability of her “forever home” in Hamden was welcome, it was difficult to leave behind friends and classmates in Stratford, where she spent her earlier years. Her new Mom gave birth that same year to a biological child – a new brother for Sheena.
“I was depressed and confused with all the changes,” she explains, “but my mother was there for me.” She provided emotional support, including school counseling services. Things got better during her junior and senior years, and she entered Gateway after graduating. She did well at first, but the death of her grandfather, her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis, a difficult breakup, and financial challenges caused her to leave school. She became a certified nursing assistant, working overnight to support herself, but never gave up her dream of returning to college. “I wanted to finish what I started.”
When 24-year-old Sheena came back to Gateway in 2018, she turned to her passion for cooking and baking, which she discovered in the kitchen of an earlier foster mother. “It was relaxing, creative and brought me inner peace.” Unfortunately, Sheena was two weeks late in registering for her first class – a baking course taught by former professor Dan Palmquist – due to financial issues. “He was a blessing,” Sheena says. “He asked me, ‘What do you need for your class?’ and gave me a free baking book, a pair of chef pants and an apron. He encouraged me to go on.”
She received additional support throughout the college community, including from her mentor and advisor, Stephen Fries, Coordinator of Hospitality Management Programs, who says Sheena is “a joy who always follows through”; former restaurateur and GCC staffer Chef Dave McCoart, who recommended Sheena for a job at Claire’s Corner Copia; and Mary Ellen Cody, Dean of Development and Community Partnerships, who encouraged her to apply for the GCC Foundation scholarship program. Sheena was awarded the $2,000 Chaine des Rostisseurs CT Bialage Scholarship for the 2019-2020 academic year, which allowed her to continue her full-time studies,
What’s next for Sheena? While she’s currently out of work due to the pandemic, she’s concentrating on graduation and her future. She wants to grow more in her craft – baking. She hopes one day to combine that with her interest in social work and practice “culinary art therapy,” a means of communication and expression that addresses emotional and psychological issues.
“I didn’t make it this far alone,” Sheena says. “I had ‘big people’ in my life who helped me.” She honors that by doing community service, including working with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), sharing her experiences in the foster care system, including appearing on DCF-TV's “Doors to Hope and Healing.”