2023 Winners of Dean’s Award and Liberal Arts Award Credit Supportive Community at BMCC

May 24, 2023

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Office of Academic Affairs has selected Criminal Justice major Elizabeth Alfieri for the 2023 Commencement Dean’s Award and Liberal Arts major Camila Fernandez for this year’s Liberal Arts Award.

Both Alfieri and Fernandez overcame tremendous challenges and are now on their way to four-year degrees.

The Office of Academic Affairs presents both awards to outstanding graduates at the Honors Convocation.

“The Dean’s Award recipient for 2023 goes to Elizabeth Alfieri, a Criminal Justice major with a 4.0 grade point average,” said Erwin Wong, Senior Vice President and Provost at BMCC. “She is also an Out in Two scholar and a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success.  Alfieri completed her degree while also being a single mother raising a daughter and two sons diagnosed with autism.”

He adds that the “Liberal Arts Award goes to Camila Fernadez, a Liberal Arts major who earned a 4.0 grade point average, despite experiencing traumatic challenges as an adolescent that displaced her from her home in Mexico.  She wishes to dedicate her career to support children and young adults who have been victimized.”

Overcoming Obstacles, Elizabeth Alfieri Earns Her Degree More Than Two Decades After Graduating High School

Criminal Justice major Elizabeth Alfieri was just seven years old when she, her mother, sister and brother moved from Manhasset, Long Island to her grandparents’ one-and-a half-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.

“We moved to escape domestic violence,” said Alfieri. “Growing up in a single parent home wasn’t easy, but my mom was determined to get on her feet and change her story.” 

Alfieri’s mother worked two jobs and earned her Graduation Equivalency Degree (GED) and provided for the family as best she could. Alfieri attended public elementary schools and then an all-girls Catholic high school.

“Coming out of high school, I wanted to become a nurse,” said Alfieri.

Instead, life took its twists and turns and Alfieri encountered adversity and seemingly insurmountable obstacles including involvement with the justice system.

But more than two decades after graduating high school, Alfieri, a first-generation college student and mother of three children, will accept the Dean’s award at the 2023 BMCC commencement ceremony on June 8 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“Finding my way to BMCC after being out of school for more than 20 years was not by chance,” said Alfieri, who just completed her first semester at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. “In November 2020, after one of my pandemic conversations with my sister, I decided to change my story as my mother did and further my education. I googled, researched, read stories and testimonies of student success and ultimately, I chose BMCC.” 

Alfieri overcame the day-to-day challenges of motherhood during a global pandemic and persevered in the classroom, even earning an BMCC Out in Two Scholarship as well as admission to the BMCC chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success.  

She worked closely with professors who left lasting impressions such as Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice Professor Robin Isserles, who Alfieri says, taught her to believe in herself. 

The Out in Two Scholarship— a scholarship program with a supportive community designed to help students graduate from BMCC within two years and assist with their transfer to a senior college—was also beneficial academically, financially and socially, says Alfieri. 

“One of my best memories at BMCC is attending the Out in Two Scholarship meetings with my advisor Maria and fellow scholars,” said Alfieri. “I was able to maintain connections with students at a time when it was impossible to meet in person during the pandemic.” 

Upon graduation from John Jay College, Alfieri plans to work with individuals who have been recently released from prison to expedite their enrollment into college. Her passion and drive to help those impacted by the justice system comes from the many challenges she faced while trying to become a successful individual in society while having a record of justice involvement.   

“My own experience motivates me to give back to the community, by sharing my story and supporting other individuals with similar histories,” said Alfieri. “In five years, I see myself working for an organization that is dedicated to helping individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated so they can further their education, sustain their employment and secure stable housing as they pursue success in their re-entry back into society.”  

Alfieri says she’ll encourage others to consider BMCC as the next step in their education. 

“I’d recommend BMCC to anyone looking for a dedicated and supportive college community to begin their academic journey,” said Alfieri. 

Camila on her way to a career defending children’s rights

Liberal Arts major Camila Fernandez grew up in a small town in central Mexico. The youngest of four siblings, she is the only one among them to attend college.

Currently living in Yucatan Mexico and finishing up her classes at BMCC remotely, Fernanedez plans to transfer to John Cabot University in Italy, where she will study Political Science and International Affairs.

Fernandez found her way to BMCC after spotting an ad for the college at a bus stop near Manhattan’s Bryant Park. She did some research online and decided to apply.

“BMCC gave me the warmest welcome,” said Fernandez, who is especially grateful to Carei Thomas, Director of the BMCC Academic Advisement and Transfer Center. “I always leave our meetings feeling inspired and with a renewed confidence in my ability to finish strong.”

During her time at BMCC, Fernandez utilized the tutoring center and was part of the IMPACT mentoring program. She opted for Liberal Arts as a major and eventually confirmed her career goal objective—to work and protect children’s rights.

“It is my dream to work at the United Nations and further children’s rights and the protection of childhood,” said Fernandez. “In five years, I hope to either be graduating from law school or already working on children’s rights at the international level.”

Fernandez passion and sense of urgency for children’s rights come from challenging personal experiences in her own childhood, she says.  Those experiences left scars and a lot of questions.

“There is so much that is lost when we don’t protect childhood,” said Fernandez. “It is my goal and my desire to tackle the problem from the root, and bring childhood to the center of our political decisions. It would be unacceptable for me not to try.”

She says BMCC has proven to be a beautiful chapter in her life, full of growth and inspiration.

“I am not the same person that entered college two years ago,” said Fernandez.

She said she was grateful to all her BMCC professors including English Professors Chris (Nettie) Vinsonhaler and Marguerite Rivas, and Political Science Professor Peter Bratsis.

“In Professor Bratsis’ course, I learned to approach problems in a different way,” said Fernandez. “I walked away with a completely different worldview, and a new understanding of humankind.”

BMCC works with new students to get them ready for whatever the next step is, says Fernandez. She says she not only gained knowledge, but also confidence and a more clear vision of what she wants to do in the world.

“I am not saying everyone’s experience will be the same,” said Fernandez.  “BMCC will be behind you all the way, the rest is up to each of you.”


  • Elizabeth Alfieri completes degree more than 20 years after graduating high school
  • Camila Fernandez grew in Mexico, will attend university in Italy
  • Fernandez and Alfieri say BMCC offers a supportive community of faculty, students and staff

share this story »