To hear Cindy Salazar tell it, she had no idea what she wanted to study when she enrolled in BMCC three years ago.
“I knew I would eventually pursue a career in business,” she says. “But as for what I’d major in, I was clueless.”
Salazar decided to major in Liberal Arts, at least initially. She knew she’d give college her best shot, but she never dreamed that she’d complete her studies with a straight A record as valedictorian of the class of 2014.
But for those who know Salazar, who grew up in the culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood of East Elmhurst, Queens, her success comes as no surprise.
Both her father and mother emigrated to the U.S.—from Mexico and the Dominican Republic respectively—to escape poverty and build a better life here. “Ever since I was little, my parents always stressed the importance of education,” Salazar says.
“They read to me and my sister constantly, enrolled us in tutoring programs, and encouraged us to take part in extracurricular activities.” Her sister Aimie graduated from CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College last year and is currently interning for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The sisters are the first members of their family to earn higher education degrees.
While Salazar personifies the term “self-starter,” she is quick to credit those who have helped and inspired her along the way, beginning with her parents, sister and grandmother.
At BMCC, she says, Allana Hankey Thomas in the academic advisement center, and Kimberly Chu in the Career Development Office, “helped me navigate the new world that BMCC presented and offered invaluable insights into the many possible career paths open to me.”
In the classroom, Professors Manita Pavel, Claire Pamplin, Mary Padula, Hilaro Barrero and Miguel Ramos challenged her academically “with a thoughtfulness that has influenced me in so many powerful ways.”
At an early age Salazar began accompanying her father, who was a sales rep for a fashion design company, on calls to his customers,” she recalls. “I watched how he interacted with his customers and developed tightknit relationships with them, and it helped bring me out of my shyness,” she says.
Little did she know that she’d taken a first, early step toward finding her calling.
“Although my father was a salesman, he also designed shoes for the company he worked for, and eventually started his own shoe company,” Salazar says.
Since then, she has contributed her own design ideas and helped her father build the business. “It’s become something I am passionate about,” she says.
After graduating from BMCC with a degree in Business Administration, Salazar will pursue a Bachelors degree in Fashion Merchandising Management at FIT and eventually hopes to earn an MBA in finance. Over the summer she will work with her father on growing his company.
A very full plate
Given how much activity and accomplishment Salazar manages to cram into a day, one might wonder if she ever sleeps.
At BMCC, she has taken part in a wide array of campus activities, all geared toward giving back to the college community. In particular, she is a Peer Achievement Leader and a volunteer in the “Each One Reach One” program, which pairs academically challenged students with peer mentors.
In addition, she has participated in the Goldman Sachs Leadership Program at BMCC, the Leaders in Investment Banking workshop, the Financial Literacy at the Macaulay Honors College, and the Citigroup/BMCC internship program.
Away from the campus, she has been extremely active in her community, serving as a lector in her church, a Board of Elections poll worker, and a volunteer in the Jackson Heights Rehabilitation Center, as well as a John Jay Sophomore Leadership Program photographer and event coordinator.
For all that she has accomplished, Salazar hasn’t lost sight of the anxiety she felt in her first days as a college student “I had no reference point for how to face the challenges that I would experience at BMCC,” she recalls.
“I was scared, and there were days when I simply didn’t want to go back.”
But quitting wasn’t in her DNA—nor in her family’s. She worked hard, but sometimes finds it hard to believe that she has come as far as she has.
“Being valedictorian,” she says, “is a humbling experience.”