When Justin Canfil first enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®), he wasn’t sure if college was “for him.” Today, he is an Ivy League graduate and an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University ― one of the nation’s most prestigious engineering and computer science institutions.
Canfil didn’t earn good grades in high school and after graduating, he went to work in a warehouse. Though he was earning more than the minimum wage, Canfil had more in mind and hadn’t completely given up on learning.
“Tri-C was nearby, affordable and had a great reputation,” he said. “I fell in love with my classes early on and kept going back.”
While enrolled at Tri-C, he became particularly invested in his history and Japanese courses.
After learning about the transfer options available to Tri-C and other community college students, Canfil set his sights on earning a four-year degree.
“I found something to work toward,” he said. “Tri-C was my pathway to college. With poor high school grades and little sense of direction, I never would have been admitted to places like Case Western or Ohio State without Tri-C ― not in a million years. Tri-C changed that.”
After earning his Tri-C Associate of Arts degree in 2007, Canfil transferred to The Ohio State University, majoring in political science and graduating summa cum laude. His classes in history and Japanese helped inspire an interest in global politics, which steered him toward a career in international affairs, including a stint at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.
Canfil credits former and current Tri-C faculty members for his trajectory ― specifically, Mary Hovanec (history), Jerome McKeever (English), and Kalyan Dasgupta (Japanese) -- who gave advice and wrote recommendation letters that helped him transfer to Ohio State; and also, Donald Gabriel (math), who advised him as he began his doctoral studies at Columbia University. He now holds two master’s degrees and a PhD degree from Columbia.
Canfil is currently an assistant professor of International Relations and Emerging Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also a research associate at Princeton University and a Stanton nuclear security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Prior to holding those positions, Canfil was a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard University and taught graduate courses at Kent State University. In addition to teaching, his job involves computational and experimental research into the causes and consequences of technological innovation in the U.S., China and other countries.
Canfil also received a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct doctoral research in China and has held fellowships at the University of Oxford, Harvard, the London School of Economics, the University of Southern California, Peking University, the Wilson Center in Washington D.C. and more.
“Thanks to my professors ― who were incredibly compassionate but weren't afraid to push me ― I learned to reinvent myself at Tri-C,” Canfil said. “Tri-C helped me realize for the first time that I had at least partial control over my future if I was willing to work hard.”
Canfil encourages potential students to give Tri-C a try.
“Tri-C was where I first discovered learning could be fun. If, like me, you're not yet a high-achieving student, the quality of education is so high that Tri-C may finally be your chance to learn to become one. If you're ready to work for it, Tri-C can offer an incredible launchpad to wherever you want to be. And if you're not a transfer student, it's still a great place to learn a lot of cool things at a very low cost.”