December 10, 2020
On December 9, the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Paramedic Program in the Allied Health Sciences Department celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2020 — Romina Cornielle, Jayvee Delossantos, Erstein Edwards, Edith Garcia, Jennifer Huang, Garrett Hughes and Matthew Wong — with a small, livestreamed celebration in Theatre 1 on the college’s Chambers Street campus.
The Class of 2020 is unique in that they not only rose to meet the rigorous coursework and clinical requirements of their degree, they rose to the aid of a city slammed into quarantine, its hospitals overfilled with people suffering from a deadly coronavirus.
Putting aside their clinical rotations in the Spring 2020 semester — thus graduating in December, instead of August — the BMCC paramedic students joined emergency medical and ambulance services when New York City most desperately needed all hands on deck.
As one of the graduates, Matthew Wong puts it, “It was very difficult. It was uncharted territory. I saw COVID patients with symptoms I’d never seen or learned about, responding in ways no one had encountered.”
For example, he says, patients with extreme hypoxia or low oxygen levels were not confused and disoriented as prevailing medical logic would expect, but instead, were alert and able to talk.
“COVID changed everything,” Wong says, and that required on-the-spot decisions led by the more experienced ambulance staff.
“They showed us great leadership skills with things you might not learn in class,” he said, “like using situational awareness as opposed to doing it the way you’ve memorized.”
As graduate Romina Cornielle put it, “As paramedics, we work in uncontrolled environments all the time; this is what we are trained for. We were just happy to get out there and help our communities.”
She adds that the delay in graduating “was definitely worth it. This is something we are passionate about, and we had a great Paramedic Program Director Meghan Williams and Clinical Coordinator Madeline Fong who were proactive and moved mountains to get us back on rotations so we could catch up with our degree requirements, in May.”
Fellow graduate Jennifer Huang said, “I’m just very proud of all the hard work we put into graduating, considering all the curve balls that got thrown our way due to this pandemic.”
According to Garrett Hughes, “Moving forward to being a paramedic with a higher scope of practice allows me to treat patients with more invasive and beneficial treatments, which is a great feeling. I’m motivated to continue my education in becoming a critical care paramedic and also a flight medic. Paramedic school has been an extremely taxing process that took a serious mental and physical toll so I feel very accomplished today.”
Edith Garcia said that the first thing that came to mind, when she thought about graduation, was her family.
“They were part of my journey of becoming a paramedic and reaching my goal,” she said. “Although graduation is to celebrate a milestone for me, it’s also a ceremony to celebrate our families that helped us along the way and are now seeing all of our hard work finally paying off.”
BMCC and CUNY staff help paramedic students change course
Meghan Williams, BMCC Paramedic Program Director, spoke at the graduation ceremony and noted that as the paramedic students replaced their clinical rotations last spring with ambulance shifts, they kept up with their coursework, remotely.
“They went to work as EMTs on ambulances as COVID took over the city and NYC called for our brothers and sisters to join us from around the country,” Williams said. “At that time, most of our paramedic students were working full time and going to school full time, and when the pandemic hit, they increased their work hours by 40 to 60 hours a week.”
Among the individuals and departments critical to the paramedic students’ success last spring, Williams recognized CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost José Luis Cruz, and University Dean for
Health and Human Services Patricia Boyce.
She thanked BMCC former Interim President Karrin E. Wilks, Acting Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Erwin Wong, Allied Health Sciences Chair Everett Flannery, Public Safety Director Michael Korn, Assistant Vice President of Campus Planning and Facilities Jorge Yafar, and Chief Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Eric Lugo.
In particular, Williams recognized the dedication of BMCC Building and Grounds staff who made it possible for the paramedic students to resume their clinical course work — postponed in Spring 2020 so they could take ambulance shifts during the COVID surge — on campus in May.
“BMCC Director of Public Safety Michael Korn and his officers skillfully made sure that everyone was safe on campus and that the COVID safety plan was followed,” she said. “Buildings and Grounds staff waited patiently every single session outside the labs and classrooms to ensure they were sprayed, wiped and cleaned immediately after we left.”
Graduates to leverage “science, innovation and even street smarts” as paramedics
BMCC President Anthony E. Munroe offered the seven graduates “hearty congratulations for a job well done under these very difficult circumstances.”
The pandemic, Munroe said, has “redefined how we interact with one another and how we as citizens of this great city support each other during this most challenging time. You have the high honor of stepping into a profession that is being asked to do more than ever before, and at a time when the healthcare industry is challenged with serving so many in need.”
Going forward, Munroe said, “the challenges that you will face will take all of the science, innovation and even street smarts hat you have acquired over the years. You will need all of that to leverage the care and service that you will provide to our community. As graduates of the BMCC paramedic program you are well equipped to face these challenges.”
By recorded message, Ryan P. Greenberg, Director of the New York State EMS Bureau welcomed the graduates to the paramedic profession.
“You’re joining EMS (Emergency Medical Services) at a time when we’re thankful to you for taking this pathway,” Greenberg said. “Twenty years from now, you will truly have a story to tell, of becoming a paramedic in the heart of a pandemic.”
BMCC Acting Provost and Senior Vice President Erwin Wong congratulated the graduates on behalf of the college and BMCC Academic Affairs.
“This has been a challenging and extraordinary period of time,” Wong said. “You’ve made a significant contribution and you’re going to be fantastic in the field. You’re going to serve the people and do what no one else can do. That is awe inspiring.”
The Oath of Geneva, a traditional pledge taken by paramedic graduates, was led by Dr. Diane Sixsmith, the BMCC Paramedic Program Medical Director.
Right hand raised, the paramedics repeated the oath, then moved the tassel on their mortar boards to the other side.
- On December 9 in Theatre 1 and via livestream, the BMCC Paramedic Program in the Allied Health Sciences Department celebrated the graduation of seven Paramedic majors
- The students had delayed their clinical rotations in Spring 2020 — and therefore, their graduation — to take ambulance shifts at the height of the COVID surge in NYC
- “We were just happy to get out there and help our communities,” said graduate Romina Cornielle