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Start Here, Go Ivy League

July 8, 2010

After graduating from BMCC, many students move on to a 4-year school to pursue their bachelor’s degrees. Most graduates stay within the CUNY system, transferring to Hunter College, York, Baruch or another CUNY college within the five boroughs.

And other students will leave NYC to pursue an education in Ithaca, a small, friendly town in upstate New York. Quite the suburban difference from the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan, Ithaca has waterfalls, farmlands, gorges, vineyards…and the Ivy League Cornell University, where seven BMCC alumni have been accepted this fall, thanks in part to the Pathway to Success program.

An exclusive partnership

Implemented at BMCC two years ago, the Pathway to Success program prepares students for the admission and transition from BMCC to Cornell University. It’s Cornell’s way of reaching out to community college students and encouraging them to transfer to Cornell after they receive their associate degrees.

BMCC is the only CUNY community college involved with the Pathway to Success program. The other two-year colleges that participate are SUNY’s: Morrisville State College, Monroe Community College, Nassau County Community College and Suffolk County Community College.

Cornell’s Web site calls Pathway scholars, “a dynamic group of motivated and intellectually curious transfer students.”

Supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Cornell University’s Pathway to Success program provides prospective transfer students with information, support, and guidance as they explore the transfer admission and financial-aid processes.

Students with the most potential

At BMCC, Allana Hankey-Thomas of the Academic Advisement and Transfer Center and Freda McClean, Director of Academic Advisement and Transfer Center, along with Sussie Gyamfi of the Office of Student Affairs, coordinated the Pathway program.

First, they reached out to the honors students during the fall semester—most of whom are also members of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) or Out in Two—they believed would be a solid match for the Pathway program.

Interested students then interviewed with the coordinators. Once accepted into the Pathway program, more work needed to be done. After all, these students have to be prepared for the workload of an Ivy League university. They have to posses the drive, academics and stamina to transition from BMCC to Cornell.

 “Our goal as coordinators was to work Pathway students through every resistance they had," said Hankey-Thomas. "Even when the students doubted themselves or their abilities, we’d say, ‘Yes, you do have a chance of getting into Cornell.” 

Once accepted into Pathway to Success, the students had to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher in their final classes. “The Pathway students received advisement and we guided them through the courses they’ll need to take in order to transfer into the school they want at Cornell,” said Hankey-Thomas. 

Program perks

Hankey-Thomas always encouraged Pathway students to challenge themselves. “They’d want to take an ‘easy’ class and I’d tell them, ‘that’s well and good for now, but that won’t help you in the future.’ The standard goes up at a 4-year school."

The most critical part was guiding the students through their Cornell application essays. “Each school within Cornell has a different application policy,” said Hankey-Thomas. “When students apply to the school, their application is coded so Cornell knows this is a Pathway student.”

Hankey-Thomas, Gyamfi and McClean formed a small committee of English and Social Science professors to help each student with his or her Cornell application essays. Before they completed their applications, BMCC Pathway students visited Cornell, met with Cornell representatives and spoke with current students.

No guarantees

Just because students are accepted into the Pathway to Success program does not mean they are guaranteed admittance to Cornell. Students are also encouraged to apply to other schools, such as NYU and Columbia.

Once enrolled at Cornell, the Pathway students receive invitations to transfer student events, a stipend for living expenses, peer mentoring, access to career development services and more.

Plus, an added bonus—they’ll have each other. “This year’s group of accepted Cornell students have already bonded,” said Hankey-Thomas. “I see them together all the time, and they’ll continue to have each other’s support at Cornell.”

Alumni Eric Maimon, who plans to study hotel management at Cornell, agrees. “It will be nice to know I won’t be ‘alone’ up at Cornell,” he said.

Standout students ready for the future

BMCC alumni Ojore C. Akpala, Wazier Browne, Eric Maimon, Qianzhuang Qu, Ksenia Saenko, Santiago Salazar and Sandrea Sicangco were accepted for Cornell’s fall 2010 class, and will enter the university as Juniors.

Alumni Tomi Olaniyan, part of the first group of Pathway graduates, was accepted to Cornell last year, but deferred her acceptance, and will enroll this fall.

“My dream was to go to a big university,” said Browne, a former Out in Two scholar and tutor who plans to study applied economics at Cornell. “This program gave me the opportunity.”

Alumni Ksenia Saenko, who also plans to major in economics at Cornell, said what she’ll miss the most about BMCC are the professors and the diversity of the students. “There is diversity at Cornell, but not like there is at BMCC,” said the Belarus native.

Ojore C. Akpala, another aspiring economist, said the Pathway program gave him social and academic confidence. “Cornell will be a very competitive environment, and the challenge will be a new one that I am willing to face head-on.”

Santiago Salazar, who is interested in architecture, urban planning and real estate, said he had a “huge support system” at BMCC. “I learned how to be a leader, work in groups, and how to manage my time,” he said.

Salazar recalls that he called his parents and said, “I have some sad news. I have to leave New York City—but it’s because I’m moving to Ithaca to attend Cornell University.”

Like Salazar, Maimon said his parents are “happier than I am—and I’m very happy” about his acceptance to Cornell.

A connection remains

The Pathway to Success program is not a scholarship. Once Pathway students were accepted to Cornell, they applied early for financial aid. If the family income is 75K or lower, tuition is covered. If the family income is 75K to 120K, tuition is 3K per year. And if the family income is above 120K, students pay the tuition amount quoted by the university.

Currently, three BMCC alumni attend Cornell through the Pathway program; having transferred into the college as Juniors last year. They were the first Pathway group to attend the university, and the incoming group will be the last.

Unfortunately, additional funding for the Pathway to Success Partnership program—for all five community colleges involved—has not been renewed.

However, Hankey-Thomas remains positive that just because the program will cease, the bond between Cornell and BMCC will remain strong.

“This primary goal of the Pathway program was to establish a relationship with Cornell; to show students they can come from a community college and do as well as any other student,” she said. “And it did what it set out to do, while also allowing us to tour the campus and speak to the individuals there.”

Hankey-Thomas said that there will still be a connection between BMCC and Cornell since administrators from both schools have gotten to know each other.

“We will continue to identify honors students who are a good match for Cornell,” she said. “And any future BMCC students who are interested in transferring to Cornell will have a whole group of fellow alumni to talk with about the university.”

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