The premiere issue of Marks of Excellence, a new annual journal published by the BMCC Office of Public Affairs, highlights the diversity of achievements BMCC students have garnered in the last year.
“In these pages,” writes BMCC President Antonio Pérez in the journal’s forward, “you will have a first-hand view of the creativity, dedication and scholastic achievement of more than 25 BMCC students in a wide array of fields, from poetry to economics to neuroscience.”
These honors include having won scholarships for academic excellence, as well as recognition in math, speech and science competitions. BMCC students changed the lives of others by reaching out through a poetry collective, volunteering as peer counselors, teaching dance, publishing a short memoir, contributing to biochemical discoveries, and being accepted into an Ivy League college.
Celebrating the student-mentor bond
Each student’s success story shares one critical component—the support and encouragement of a BMCC staff person or faculty member, whether supervising a research project, facilitating access to academic opportunities, or just offering the right advice at the right time.
“It’s satisfying, and an honor, to be called a ‘mentor’,” said Nicholas Ofiaja, Professor Emeritus in the Ethnic Studies department, who worked closely with Kaplan scholars David Thelemaque and Wilson Acuna. “Teaching is all about showing people who to become what they want to be—in this case, showing students to be the kind of scientist they want to be,” said Science Professor David Krauss, who is leading a project examining the ecology of New York City parks with student Kimberly Thompson.
Math team co-coach Professor Jason Samuels describes math competitions as “the continuation of a long tradition,” and his colleague Michael George, who also helped lead students Xian-Zhen Zhu, Owen O’Leary, Si Si Cui and Sheng-En Zhang to victory added, “Life can be seen as one big problem-solving exercise.”
Students' unique contributions
Student John Aceveda sends a message of hope to children through his award-winning poetry collective, El Grito de Poetas, and his mentor Professor Jean Yves Plaisir notes that, “to have a natural gift with spoken word is quite an advantage because before children learn to read and write, they speak—and they speak with their imagination.”
Nodira Makhmudova and Yohan Garcia each won the Laurel Award as outstanding CUNY GED students, and continued to excel academically at BMCC—while volunteering to help new immigrants learn English, and lend a caring ear as peer counselors. “Volunteerism helps students identify…how they are a part of change in our society,” said BMCC Women’s Resource Center Director, Deborah Parker.
BMCC alumna Lori Colon and student Sheldon Porter, Phi Theta Kappa members who each won the Coca-Cola scholarship, have set an example for other returning students as they balance their academics with careers in music and dance—and credit Professor Alister Ramírez Márquez and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Gillespie for guiding them toward their goals.
Former English major Anthony Heyward wrote an essay about his grandfather, "Granddaddy," that was published in the Phi Theta Kappa anthology, Nota Bena. “I have witnessed Anthony walking away from a disappointing situation with the same grace and pride he experienced with his ‘Granddaddy’,” said Professor Precious Sellars-Mulhern.
Sharing skills, across the disciplines
Coming from another mentoring point of view, Science Professor Brahmadeo Dewprashad guided BMCC honor student Kwame Amin in research on a native Caribbean plant reputed to lower blood pressure. “It is essential that we re-stock the research pipeline—and our students have much to offer that pipeline,” he said.
Computer Science major Amy Cusma, who won the CUNY League of Active Speech Professors contest, understands the value of communication in the information technology field, and so does her mentor, Professor James Webb. “Because of Amy’s growth as an effective communicator, her skills will propel her into the frontline of her career,” he said.
Gary Waiyaki, a Cleo and Zack science scholar at BMCC, conducted surveys on genetically modified food, guided by his mentor, Professor Manita Pavel. Allana Hankey-Thomas, who coordinated the Pathway to Success program at BMCC, shepherded a group of recent BMCC graduates to acceptance by Cornell University—Eric Maimon, Santiago Salazar, Ksenia Saenko, Ojore Akpala, Wazier Browne, Tomi Olaniyan, Qianzhuang Qu and Sandrea Sicangco. “They’ll continue to have each other’s support at the university,” she says.
The biggest challenge
“Perhaps the biggest challenge in assembling this issue of Marks of Excellence was having to choose which students to feature,” writes President Pérez in his forward remarks.
Another challenge was visually and thematically presenting the students and their mentors in a way that emphasizes their unique spirit and contributions. The Office of Public Affairs worked closely with the Office of Academic Affairs and a wide array of academic departments, creating the first journal in a series that will continue to highlight student achievement and the mentoring that sustains it.