The question in Professor Peggy Schuyler’s Advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) class on October 1 at Capital Community College was “Hartford: Window of Opportunities for Immigrants?”
Helping to answer the question in the affirmative was a guest speaker, Rohan A. Freeman, the Jamaican-born Founder and President of Hartford-based Freeman Companies.
Freeman Companies is an urban-based site development, engineering and construction services firm that has rapidly expanded over the last five years. In 2014 it relocated to John Street with offices in a historic firehouse near the South Green.
The company is now working with Centerplan Development Company and is responsible for site development, engineering and construction services for the Downtown North (DoNO) project where the new baseball stadium adjacent to Capital’s campus is going up for the Hartford Yard Goats.
A land surveyor and engineer, Freeman finished high school in his native Jamaica and moved to Hartford in the early 1980s. He enrolled at one of Capital’s founding institutions, Hartford State Technical College, before transferring to the University of Connecticut.
From his high school days in Jamaica, Freeman said he excelled at mathematics and knew he always wanted to be an engineer. It took Freeman seven years from entering classes at Hartford State Tech to UCONN and earning a degree to become a professional engineer. Freeman’s story of getting to and completing college resonates with most Capital students who are balancing work with part-time study to pay tuition. Seventy-six percent of CCC students attend part-time.
Freeman, an accomplished mountaineer, shared his passion of climbing the world’s highest peaks with students in the Advanced ESL class. He is the first African-American to climb the Seven Summits.
It was after his climb of Mount Everest that Freeman launched his company in 1999 with a promise to clients to “elevate your expectations.” The enterprise began with Freeman as the sole employee and has grown to 40 staff members.
Running and growing his business is “about integrity and performance at the end of the day,” according to Freeman. Asked who he admired as a role model for his career success, Freeman said that he was “self-motivated rather than looking to others” from his days of juggling work and entering classes at Hartford State Tech. “With hard work you can succeed in this country.”
In answering students’ questions, Freeman pointed out to the class of immigrant students that entrepreneurs who come from other countries account for a high and growing percentage of business start-ups. Immigrants, according to one report, accounted for 28 percent of all new businesses in the U.S. in 2011. Freeman put the percentage even higher today.
In addition to meeting the challenges of basing and keeping his business in Hartford, Freeman gives back to the community in many ways by serving on children’s charities including Hartford’s Camp Courant and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford. In 2014 he established the University of Connecticut School of Engineering “Freeman Companies BRIDGE Endowed Engineering Scholarship” to support minority students with an interest in civil engineering who have overcome obstacles such as socioeconomic or educational disadvantage.
President Wilfredo Nieves also visited the class on October 1st and thanked Freeman for his motivational talk to the students in Professor Schuyler’s ESL class.