A dream deferred comes true at RTC

Gabriella Cotogna always wanted to go to college, even when people said her aspirations were stupid. 

“My parents told me I didn’t need a degree and that I wasn’t good enough for most colleges,” she said. “I placed my dreams on hold, knowing that I would pursue higher education someday.”

Ten years after she earned her GED and tired of working in retail, she started applying to colleges to pursue her interest in cartography.  

 “The process of finding the right college became more and more negative,” she said. “I was told to pursue other careers, or I couldn’t find answers to my questions.”

It was different at Renton Technical College.

“I chose RTC because it finally felt like college would be possible,” she said. “I met people who were caring, loved their jobs, and wanted to help me launch my educational journey.”

The Land Survey Program was a great fit for her goals and interests, and she has thrived. In addition to attending full-time online classes, she works full-time at Sitts and Hill Engineering.

The RTC Board of Trustees selected Cotogna for the Transforming Lives Award, presented by the Washington State Association of College Trustees. She will be honored at a ceremony in January.

“I had no idea this program would land me in a world that I love and feel passionate about. I never imagined I could do something even remotely close to this. The Land Surveying Program has shown me a career filled with incredibly kind and passionate people. I have never met a group of people who so love what they do and delight in sharing it with others.”

Cotogna is grateful to instructor Martin Paquette and the late Jim Coan, who recorded some online lectures, for their education and support.

“Jim Coan inspired me to learn more about the history of the field when he helped me learn to use my antique Theodolite (surveying tool),” she said. “Martin Paquette has been a wellspring of knowledge, helping me understand and find a love for Land Surveying and its related fields.”

Paquette said he saw her affinity for the program from the start.

“Gabby came into the program with a keen interest in the science and art of surveying and was eager to the rest of the story in or program,” he said.

She will graduate in 2022 and plans to continue her education, with a goal of earning a master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems.

Cotogna, who no longer has contact with her parents, urges anyone considering taking the leap to college to do so and not listen to the naysayers.

“Going to school can be scary and daunting at times, especially at a slightly older age. but it is very well worth it,” she said. “I have been a happier and more empowered feeling person since starting school. If I could pass along something about my experience, it would be: don’t doubt yourself. And know there are so many people at RTC willing to help you achieve your dreams.”

RTC land survey student Gabriella Cotogna
RTC land survey student Gabriella Cotogna