According to a report by the Center for an Urban Future, raising the college graduation rate by just 10 percent in one decade would benefit NYC and NY State in the amount of almost $700 million. In two decades, it would be almost $1.5 billion.
Some would also say, the cost of not raising the college graduation rate—in terms of lost dreams and aspirations—is incalculable.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez is well aware of these equations. Speaking at BMCC’s recent Out-in-Two Award Ceremony held in the Hudson Room, he shared some history.
“There was criticism during Mayor Giuliani’s administration,” he said. “He was asking, ‘Why aren’t more students graduating in two years, from community colleges?’”
That criticism, President Pérez said, didn’t take into account the challenges students face, and in a letter to The New York Times, he vowed to increase the two-year graduation rates at BMCC, creating Out-In-Two, thanks to generous private donors and friends of the college.
“You provide the energy that I need, when I sit in front of somebody and request funding on your behalf,” he told this year’s Out-In-Two scholars. “We believe in you. We expect you to succeed.”
Signing a contract
Senior Academic Advisor Brandon Graham, and Student Academic Advisor Christopher Pierre co-coordinate the Out-In-Two program, and hosted the award ceremony honoring the new inductees.
“This was the largest applicant pool we’d ever seen,” said Graham, congratulating the awardees—“The Super Eight”—and thanking the administrators and staff who evaluated this year’s submissions.
Out-In-Two scholars must maintain at least a 3.0 average, he explained, “but this group has an average 3.8 GPA.”
The scholars sign a contract, he said, committing to graduate in two years, and they receive $1,500 a semester for three consecutive semesters. They are also provided with one-on-one advisement and priority registration, and are expected to volunteer as peer mentors and for causes off campus.
Making an impact
Acting Provost and Senior VP of Academic Affairs Robert Messina reminded the Out-In-Two awardees, “Each one of you has an impact on someone else. Think of the compounding of that scholarship, as it impacts others in your lives, and generations to come.”
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Gillespie told the group, “You are starting on a path, and going to wind up in awesome places. Wherever you end up, remember that the doors are always open to you, where you started—BMCC.”
Guest speaker Sebastian Suarez, a former Out-In-Two scholar who earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts at BMCC and is majoring in English literature at Hunter College, shared that he is a second generation immigrant from the Dominican Republic.
“Growing up in two places prevented me from completing high school,” said Suarez, who earned his GED and then attended evening and weekend classes at BMCC.
“Not all schools offer those schedules," he said. "Take advantage of the resources at BMCC.”
He also encouraged the inductees “to get involved in the campus community,” and mentioned his own experience donating time as an ambassador at BMCC events as well as for cancer walks and coat drives, at soup kitchens, and with Meals on Wheels, “which gave me a different perspective on the elderly in our city,” he said.
Getting to know the new scholars
Standing in a welcome line near the podium, President Pérez, VP Messina, Dean Gillespie and Dean of Academic Affairs Erwin Wong presented a plaque to each new out-in-Two scholar.
A luncheon followed in the Hudson Room, and the new Out-In-Two scholars mingled with their supporters.
“I was aware of women’s lack of access to health care in my community,” said science major Hajaru Hamza, who grew up in Ghana and wants to return to her home country someday as an obstetrician/gynecologist.
Serafin Gonzalez, a Computer Network Technology major, described himself as a “full-time employee of the City of New York, full-time father and full-time student,” while accounting major Lirwane Barry, from Guinea, West Africa,shared that “Three years ago I would never have thought I would be here. I was barely speaking English.”
Jonathan Blake grew up in Brooklyn and is “the second in my family to go to the college,” he said, adding that he wants to attend Baruch College or City Tech someday, and work in finance.
Video Arts & Technology (VAT) major Oshton Cox is another Brooklynite. “Six years ago, I was going nowhere,” he said. “Now I feel like I have a lot of opportunity.” Yunen Espinal, also a VAT major, is from the Dominican Republic. “I fell in love with New York City when I came here two years ago to learn English,” he said. “Eventually I want to be part of a TV channel’s creative team.”
Early childhood education major Sarah Tiapula-Stein grew up in Singapore and is fluent in Mandarin and ASL—American Sign Language. “I’m also participating in a research fellowship at Teacher’s College now, a Saturday enrichment program for children,” she said.
Patricia Zeballos thanked her accounting professor Joel Barker for encouraging her to apply for Out-In-Two. “I grew up in Switzerland and I’m half Caribbean,” she said, and is deciding now on which additional language, when added to her repertoire of English and French, would best serve her career.
African American studies scholar Andrew Smallwood, a professor in the Ethnic Studies department, was one of the evaluators of the Out-In-Two applications.
“I looked at the students’ ability to communicate their family situation, or pressures they may be experiencing, as they’re pursuing their education—that’s one factor,” he said, “but we also take into account their career goals, and how they plan to use this opportunity to make a larger contribution to their family, their field, the City, or society in general.”