MOUNT LAUREL >> In 2010, Instagram was invented, an earthquake devastated Haiti, Apple unveiled the iPad and a local, first-generation college student began her studies at Rowan College at Burlington County only to stop a few semesters after.
Although Gina DiMaio always enjoyed learning, she struggled to maintain focus and organization. DiMaio, like many of her peers, received a late-stage diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at the age of 24. This diagnosis put her early learning struggles into perspective and gave her a reason to seek professional help and develop coping skills.
“We all know there's long been a stigma about mental health; it’s something that most people are embarrassed to share, although thankfully that stigma is starting to fade away as most are now understanding and embracing the importance of mental health,” DiMaio said. “However, there are still tons of misconceptions regarding ADHD, especially how it presents in females which is probably why I went undiagnosed for so long.”
DiMaio, a 3+1 Biology student, grew up with a budding curiosity and interest in science. In Pre-K, she would sit in the dirt during recess collecting various acorns, pinecones and interesting rocks.
“I would shove them in my pocket and bring them home to my grandmother who kept them in a glass jar, which she still has to this day! My interest in biology was sparked by my 6th-grade science teacher who introduced us to cell biology. I found the tiny cellular world fascinating. I think that's when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science,” DiMaio recalled.
Now, entering her junior year, Gina said coming back to college as an adult learner has been an “eye-opening” experience.
“Returning eight years post-high school, I have gained more self-confidence and skills from the working world which no doubt has contributed to my academic success. I have this newfound passion and determination to redeem myself from my first few semesters at RCBC. I am no longer the unmotivated person I was when I first graduated high school. For the first time in my life, I am consistently earning A's and B's, and I ended up graduating with my Associate of Science with honors,” DiMaio said.
As for advice for fellow adult learners, Gina recommends utilizing a calendar system, meeting new people, seeking professional help when you need it and never giving up on your dreams. This summer, she accepted a part-time position with the NJDEP Division of Parks & Forestry as a Seasonal Resource Interpretive Specialist (Naturalist Educator). Due to the coronavirus, however, the nature center she was slated to work at closed to the public, so she has been developing self-guided activities and social media engagement to adhere to social distancing protocols. RCBC prepared DiMaio for this role in many ways including challenging her to think critically.
“In particular, Professor Meadows and Professor Tokazewski have encouraged me to apply my scientific knowledge of various biological and ecological concepts to real-world situations. General Biology Skills and Global Ecology are hands-on courses where I had the opportunity to carry out and practice student research. We actually ‘did science’ instead of reading about it from a textbook -- which is pretty amazing. These courses were no doubt challenging; however, they have expanded my mind on how I approach and study biology. Looking back now the skills I have gained at RCBC have primed me to be successful as a seasonal naturalist in carrying out interpretive programs.”
DiMaio’s love for nature and the environment extends to her personal life as well. She enjoys kayaking, hiking, camping and gardening. She’s also logged more 150 volunteer hours at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, assisting with the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife. Additionally, she’s completed a summer internship with Saddler’s Woods Conservation Association assisting with habitat restoration, invasive species removal, storm debris clean-up and community outreach.
“As I got older I found myself spending more time in nature and feeling so at peace and mentally refreshed after a camping trip or kayaking the Delaware Water Gap. Once I began getting involved in the community through volunteering and meeting like-minded people I realized I found my calling.”