How do you measure success? When it comes to colleges, most people would say graduation. But that’s not necessarily true when it comes to community colleges. Take the case of five students at Borough of Manhattan Community College, who have been accepted to Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges. By any measure, their transfer to these colleges is a success, but they are not all graduating from BMCC.
These students had all been out of school for a number of years before enrolling in BMCC. Older students, in particular, tend to find community colleges play an ideal environment for launching them on the road to success. At the same time, having made the decision to return to college, these students tend to be very focused.
“If you had told me ten years ago that today, I would be an honors student and would be accepted into one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, I would have thought you were crazy,” said Rosa Luciano, a BMCC student who has been accepted to both Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges for the fall semester. Rosa is not alone in her sentiments. She speaks for a number of other BMCC students who have also been accepted to prestigious colleges. This year, all of BMCC’s applicants to Mount Holyoke were accepted, as were all but one student who applied to Smith. The one who has not yet been accepted is on the waiting list.
Antasia Azure, a 35-year old Upper West side resident from Australia. She has been accepted to Mount Holyoke, and she has also applied to Yale. Despite these ambitions, she is not entirely sure that she will leave New York. Azure is also a finalist for a prestigious Belle Zeller scholarship, awarded by the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York. If she receives it, she thinks she will finish her bachelor’s degree here in New York City through the CUNY B.A. program.
In 1998, a temporary position at the Australian Mission to the United Nations provided Antasia with the opportunity to work with leaders committed to global conflict resolution and human rights. “I soon realized that to have a powerful sphere of influence and a positive effect on international relations, I needed to be both informed and educated to the highest degree,” she said.
She decided to earn a B.A and a Ph.D. Despite having taken any number of certificate courses, Antasia never accumulated any college credits, and she needed to earn a GED before enrolling in college. She turned to BMCC for her GED and then enrolled in the writing and literature program. At BMCC, Antasia says she has found “an amazing support group of faculty at BMCC and intelligent interaction with fellow students of diverse perspectives.”
Today, Antasia is an honors student at BMCC with a 4.0, and last semester, she completed an honors project in modern poetry. She serves on the advisory committee of the Writing and Literature Program and her poetry is included in the Literature Club’s (soon to be released)
booklet of poems. She is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. After September 11, she volunteered with the Red Cross near Ground Zero. She has also been involved with the Southern Cross Group, a recently successful international campaign to allow Australian citizens to hold dual citizenship.
Antasia aspires to be a freelance journalist and international correspondent.
Nathalie Vaughn is a 37-year-old mother of two from Guyana. She has been accepted to both Mount Holyoke and Smith, and she has decided to attend Smith in the fall.
For the past 17 years, Nathalie has been working for the Episcopal Church in a variety of jobs. She decided to enter college upon the advice of her supervisor, who noticed that Nathalie picked things up easily. She advised her to go to the next level and get a degree, so Nathalie enrolled at BMCC because the campus was a convenient commute from her job and because she thought a community college would be a good place to start her college education.
At first, she intended to get a degree in business management. However, last summer, she participated in the Exploring Transfer Program at Vassar College, where she received an award for the best performance in the program. “When I came back from Vassar, I knew that business was not for me,” she says. So she switched to liberal arts, and now she is considering majoring in anthropology or literature after she transfers to Smith.
At BMCC, Nathalie did an honors project for her online Asian American literature course. She compared four novels from Caribbean American and Asian Pacific writers. She recently participated in a conference for CUNY faculty and students on Women and Work at the Center for Worker Education. At BMCC, Nathalie is a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
Nathalie works full time while also attending BMCC full time. That coupled with her responsibilities as a mother of two makes for a very hectic lifestyle. “My whole life involves a lot of juggling, and it’s not easy. I compromise by giving up a little sleep. But the commitment I have for my college education makes it easier,” she says. Nathalie’s commitment to her education includes moving to Massachusetts while her fiancée remains in New York.
“My experience at BMCC has been marvelous,” she says. “I don’t think I have met one professor who has not made a positive impact on me. BMCC is a great resource for moving ahead.”
Nathalie lives in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, near Prospect Park
Then, there is the threesome of students—Tania Bruno, Angela Lewis, and Rosa Luciano—who met when they traveled together to open houses at Smith and Mount Holyoke. The three had all attended a meeting at BMCC in the fall with admissions representatives from Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley. The admissions representatives encouraged the students to come to an open house. Tania Bruno decided to do so, and she borrowed her stepfather’s van to go to an open house weekend at Mount Holyoke and Smith. She contacted her professor, Tricia Lin, to ask her if she knew of any other students who might be interested in attending the open house. Lin sent an email around to the students who had attended the meeting with the admissions representatives from Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley. Three other BMCC students and a student from Hunter College decided to drive up with Bruno. Eventually three of the BMCC students—Tania Bruno, Angela Lewis, and Rosa Luciano—decided to apply to Mount Holyoke and Smith.
En route, the three became fast friends. Throughout the admissions process, they encouraged and supported one another. Now, it’s possible that they might transfer to the same college.
Tania Bruno, 25, will graduate from BMCC in June. With acceptances to both Mount Holyoke and Smith, the Upper West Side resident finally chose Smith. However, she says it was a very difficult decision to make because Mount Holyoke was extremely inviting and welcoming. Ultimately, she chose Smith for its more urban location and teaching style in languages.
Tania had briefly attended a four-year CUNY college immediately after high school, but she didn’t do well and dropped out. After working for a number of years, she came to the realization that she needed a degree to get ahead. Deciding that she wanted to finish her college education as quickly as possible, Tania gave up her full-time job to take a full load at college. She now works part-time from 9 to 2 and attends BMCC after work.
Tania found that her experience at BMCC differed from her other college experience, primarily because the professors were much more attentive. “When I came here, I felt like I was home. I had the attention I wanted,” she says. “At BMCC, I felt free to ask questions, and the professors encouraged that. The professors took time for students and made themselves available for students. I have enjoyed everything that I have been taught here,” she says.
After September 11, however, Tania considered not coming back to BMCC, which is just a few blocks from Ground Zero. “I was afraid we would have more attacks,” she said. For the three weeks that classes were cancelled at BMCC, Tania was depressed and cried constantly. Then, a couple of other students called her and asked if she was going back. “I didn’t want to have to start all over again and transfer,” she said, so she returned to BMCC when it reopened October 1. Now, she says, “I am so glad that I came back. Being in this school has been the happiest time of my life.” What helped matters even more, she says was attending the meeting with the representatives from Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley. “It was wonderful to come back to BMCC and meet these other women who were so welcoming and who wanted us to come to their schools.”
Of the support network that formed among the three BMCC women, Tania says, “We developed a sisterhood that we never had before with anyone in school. The support we had from each other and from Professor Lin created an incredible bond.”
Angela and Tania found that they shared much in common in terms of their personal experiences. “The one thing we both agreed upon is that we had been on the same path; we both wanted to be educated but certain things had deterred us, and now we are back on the path.”
Of their newfound good fortune in college acceptances, Tania says, “The opportunity that Professor Lin presented to us [to meet the admissions representatives from Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley], we saw as a door, as a new beginning to the one thing we always wanted to achieve. It’s a blessing that we have never received before, and we feel a bit overwhelmed by it”
A few years ago, Angela Lewis, 35, thought she was “too old to change.” Then her father died, and Angela visited an uncle in Florida. During her visit, her uncle suggested that she think about going to college in the United States. A family friend introduced her to BMCC staff member, Marva Craig, who encouraged Angela to apply to BMCC as an international student. So, Angela, who had just sold her house in England, moved to New York and enrolled in college.
For Angela, who had left school at 16, BMCC proved to be the ideal place to start her college education. After holding a variety of office positions, she realized that she could not go any farther without a degree. At BMCC, she met a number of students her own age who had come to similar conclusions. She works part-time and is a keen member of a church.
Because of her work experience, Angela initially thought she would major in business. She soon realized that she preferred the liberal arts. “After a semester at BMCC, I realized I could do whatever I really wanted to do,” she said. Now, Angela, who is an “Out in Two” scholar, is ready to graduate from BMCC in June. She has been accepted to Mount Holyoke College, and she hopes to be accepted at Smith.
She calls her BMCC education, “wonderful.” “It changed me as a person,” she said. “The professors wanted you to ask questions. The hungrier I became, the more they fed me.”
In the fall, her advisor and a professor encouraged Angela to meet the representatives from Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley when they visited campus. When Angela attended the meeting the next week, she felt out of place. “When I realized what these selective, private colleges were, suddenly it was the old Angela sitting there. I thought, ‘what are you doing here?’”
Nevertheless, when a professor sent around an email asking students if they wanted to join Tania for the drive up to Massachusetts, Angela jumped at the chance. On the way up in the van, Angela says, “We just gelled. We all had the same hunger and the same passion. We were all so alike, yet so different.” Because Angela is an international student, she faced earlier deadlines than the others did. The first to have an interview, Angela told the others that the admissions officer at Smith was so nice and so welcoming that she felt as though the two of them were just having a chat. From that point on, the women decided to refer to chats, instead of interviews. The three friends, she says, injected each other with energy. Now, Angela is encouraging other BMCC students she meets to take advantage of opportunities available to them.
“If you had told me ten years ago that today, I would be an honors student and would be accepted into one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, I would have thought you were crazy,” said Rosa Luciano. She is a 25-year-old BMCC student who has been accepted to both Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges for the fall semester.
Rosa lives in Graves End, Brooklyn. She grew up in Canarsie and Park Slope. Rosa calls her experience at BMCC “a turning point.” She admits to having a checkered past—playing hooky, trying drugs, and spending several years in and out of girls’ homes. In fact, Rosa dropped out of school after eighth grade. She never went to high school. Instead, she worked in a variety of positions, for the city and then on Wall Street. “I did very well, but I saw that degrees were important,” she said. Consequently, Rosa decided to earn a college degree.
Because she never graduated from high school, she had to earn her GED first. She studied for it on her own and passed the exam. Then she enrolled in BMCC where the multicultural environment appealed to her.
Rosa has worked full time as a bartender at night while also attending college full time in the day. What’s more, she is very active on campus. The former dropout is now an officer in Phi Theta Kappa honor society and a member of the Latino Honor Society. As the public relations officer of Phi Theta Kappa, Rosa is responsible for organizing community service projects. She spearheaded a drive to buy teddy bears for children at a school in Spanish Harlem during the holidays. She also arranged for the honor society to mentor children in the same school. Recently, she attended the Phi Theta Kappa national conference in Nashville, Tennessee, which she called an “amazing experience.”
At BMCC she says she has had many “good, positive professors from day one.” What’s more, her professors gave her direction. They pointed her to others in the college who could help her and to opportunities she might be interested in.
Her professors told her about the visit from admissions officers from Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley. She had researched all of the colleges ahead of time, and came to the meeting brimming with questions. A member of the threesome, Rosa organized a visit to Wellesley in January for the three women. “By that time, we all knew each other really well,” she says. The three students speak to each other at least once a week. They helped each other with their college applications, reviewing each other’s applications.
If she could give advice to other students it would be: “that if you are serious, you can succeed. The people at BMCC are very supportive,” she notes. “If it wasn’t for BMCC, I wouldn’t be going to Smith or Mount Holyoke.”