BMCC student Josean Melendez had extra reasons to celebrate this holiday season.
In December Melendez received a letter of admissions from Poughkeepsie-based Vassar College that included news of a full scholarship. He’ll start classes at the four- year institution this spring semester.
Melendez got acquainted with Vassar after spending a good chunk of last summer at the school thanks to BMCC’s participation in the Exploring Transfer Program, or ET.
The Vassar ET program accepts around 30 students each summer from participating community colleges, including BMCC. For five weeks students are tasked with a vigorous course load that earns Vassar college credits.
“The conversation, the debate, the understanding of concepts was a great learning process,” Melendez said of his experience adding, “when you’re surrounded by students that are engaged, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
What led him to BMCC
Melendez said he owes a good portion of his latest success to the inspiration he received from his professors at BMCC.
With the help of the G.I. Bill, the Staten Island resident chose BMCC after four years of service with the United States Coast Guard. He figured he’d been out of school for such a long stretch, that he’d test the academic waters at a community college before jumping into another four-year commitment.
The diversity of the BMCC student body, the Tribeca location and the wide array of course offerings also appealed to Melendez.
Originally a liberal arts major, Melendez soon found himself gravitating towards the school’s criminal justice program, and The CUNY Justice Academy.
A path to John Jay College
Students enrolled in the Justice Academy automatically receive dual admission into John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Melendez said the John Jay College relationship serves as inspiration for BMCC students looking to follow through with a four-year degree. Not only that, he said the classes themselves were challenging and timely.
“The classes in the criminal justice program were all thought provoking, and there was always something happening in the news, which most of our professors encouraged us to talk about, debate and deconstruct academically,” said Melendez.
A life-changing opportunity
During his second semester in the program, he had a meeting with Assistant Professor Dr. Yolanda Martin, the program coordinator of the BMCC Department of Criminal Justice, herself, a Vassar alum.
By then, Melendez was thinking he might want to explore becoming an academic, perhaps a teacher or professor. But, around two weeks after their initial meeting, Professor Martin encouraged Melendez to investigate and apply the Vassar ET program. He applied and got accepted. He says his time there last summer was life changing.
When he heads off to Vassar this spring as a full-time urban studies major, he plans to take his education all the way to graduate school.
“The urban studies program offers a whole matrix of sociology, urban planning, political science and education in urban environments,” said Melendez who added, each is an area of study he holds dear.
After graduate school, he says his dream is to create a non-profit organization that works on the ground level to re-construct individual community fabrics.
Changing communities two blocks at a time
Among other initiatives, his organization would specifically create rigorous after school programs; and work closely with local police precincts to help prevent young people from falling into the criminal justice quagmire.
He envisions approaching a community’s problems on micro verses macro basis.
“If you can get a victory on the local level, bring change to an area within just a couple of blocks, I think those types of changes empower people to become more civically and politically active.”
Advice for current and future BMCC students
Melendez spent his own early childhood in Brooklyn. He attended PS 269. Later, the family moved to Staten Island, and Melendez became a student at Curtis High School.
“High school was okay. I just sort of flew through. It wasn’t a totally negative experience, but, it wasn’t necessarily inspiring either,” he said.
He called himself an okay high school student, not exceptional. Melendez said that he thinks it’s easy for students to glide through the city’s crowded public schools without having their deficiencies fully addressed.
After the Coast Guard and his time at BMCC, he said he realized that effort and time management often pay off by offering bigger opportunities.
“Specifically, time management is key to that success. But also, work on your writing skills. You can know everything in the world, but if you can’t express it effectively, then it’s a little tougher to prove your point,” he said.
And, he tells others it’s crucial to make time to meet with professors during office hours. Spend time with them and discuss things that interest you.
“Try to sit down and find out what the strengths or weaknesses are in a written assignment,” said Melendez.
While he’s thrilled about his next chapter at Vassar, Melendez thinks dedication and effort can pay off regardless of location.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, it’s just how hard you’re willing to work and tap into the goldmine of knowledge that’s there at BMCC,” he said.