Liberal Arts Major Earns Spot on Prestigious All-USA Academic Team

2020 All-USA Academic Team member and BMCC student Lilah Beldner is congratulated by BMCC Interim President Karrin E. Wilks.

March 4, 2020

Lilah Beldner, a liberal arts major at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY), has been selected as a member of the 2020 All-USA Academic Team, sponsored by Follett Higher Education Group with additional support provided by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and Phi Theta Kappa.

Only 20 students nationwide were selected for this prestigious honor, which is based on their intellectual achievement, leadership, and community and campus engagement.

As a member of the All-USA Academic Team, Beldner will receive a $5,000 scholarship and medallion, which will be presented at the Phi Theta Kappa’s Presidents Breakfast held during the AACC Convention on Monday, March 30 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Her journey to higher education, as with many BMCC students, has not been a straight line from high school to college.

“I came into BMCC with preconceived notions about what my college experience should look like, and compared myself to my friends who had linear and traditional college trajectories,” Beldner says. “However, from my first semester at BMCC, I had professors who spotted my love for learning and encouraged and challenged me. I also learned how to put myself out there to take advantage of BMCC’s abundant resources.”

She explains that having been out of the classroom for a few years, this was a learning process for her.

“Once I started to become an active member of the BMCC community in my second semester, even more doors opened for me and I began to form meaningful relationships with professors and peers. I transformed from being a timid freshman with no confidence in my academic abilities to fiercely advocating for myself and excelling inside and outside the classroom.”

Professor Alex d’Erizans, who is Senior Faculty Advisor for BMCC Phi Theta Kappa, met Beldner as a student in his western civilizations course and introduced her to the Phi Theta Kappa group at BMCC.

“Then I did an Honors project with Professor d’Erizans that focused on an all-women’s concentration camp in World War II, a work camp,” says Beldner, who used resources at both the CUNY Grad Center and BMCC Library to complete her research. The  20-page paper was nominated by the BMCC Honors Committee for Beacon 2020, an annual conference that celebrates student scholars at two-year colleges, and will be hosted by Lehigh Carbon Community College in Allentown, Pennsylvania on June 5.

“A passion of mine is all things related to women’s rights and gender studies,” says Beldner, who wants to eventually transfer into a bachelor’s degree in public health and public policy.

Changing focus, to help others

Homelessness is another issue that Beldner cares deeply about, and working to support homeless services has led to an interest in public health and policy.

“I became interested in public health and public policy in San Francisco, when I started working at Lava Mae, a non-profit that provides mobile hygiene —they  convert trailers and buses into places for people to shower, among other services — and BMCC helped me build on this passion,” Beldner says.

One class in particular, ‘Health Problems in Urban Communities,’ opened her eyes to public health crises beyond just homelessness. “BMCC’s ethos is a model in the community and has given me a perspective that will guide my pursuit of a career in public health and public policy,” she says.

Beldner has also steered her education to reflect a personal connection to the issue of homelessness.

“I grew up in San Francisco,” she says. “I had a cousin who was a bit older, about 15 years older than I am, who was homeless. That made me extra aware, growing up, of the circumstances that can lead to homelessness. It’s impossible not to be aware of homelessness, if you live in San Francisco.”

Having parents who are artists was another influence on Beldner’s academic direction. “My mom was a professional dancer in her youth and took me and my brother to see Don Quixote, the ballet performance, when were we little,” she says. “After that, I auditioned to get into a ballet class at the San Francisco Ballet. Then when I was 17, I left high school to be in their pre-professional program.”

At some point, Beldner realized that while she loved dance, she didn’t want to devote her life to a career in ballet. She moved to Seattle at the age of 18, then back to San Francsico, where she joined the staff of Lava Mae, a nonprofit accelerator that helps communities develop a mobile hygiene service for individuals who are homeless.

Opportunities at BMCC provide more direction

Eventually, Beldner moved to New York City, where she has cousins, and an aunt who suggested she apply to BMCC.

“My academic credentials weren’t great,” Beldner says. “When I was in ballet school, I was in an online high school program.”

Even so, Beldner was accepted, and has thrived at BMCC. In addition to the Honors project she completed on women in World War II work camps, she took an Honors ethics class, and completed a paper on the acceptance of trans students, which was selected to be included in the Fifth Annual Undergraduate Women’s Philosophy Conference this April at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

She also took part in the Exploring Transfer Program at Vassar, in Summer 2019, joined the BMCC Learning Academy, earned a BMCC Foundation scholarship, and is a member of the Goldman Sachs Local College Collaborative through BMCC.

When she is not in class or working on a special project, Beldner finds time to mentor women students through the BMCC Women’s Resource Center.

“My mentees have both been awesome,” she says. “One is older than I am; she’s a mom and she’s from Gambia. My other mentee is younger, and she’s from Boston.”

Beldner, who lives in the East Village of Manhattan with three roommates, works part time as a community manager at The Right to Shower, a social enterprise in New York City that supports mobile shower organizations, including Lava Mae, the nonprofit she worked with in San Francisco.

Advocating for the homeless, women’s rights and gender equity have been threads in Beldner’s educational journey. Another constant are the opportunities she has found at BMCC. “I admire the way in which BMCC helps equalize education for students from ANY walk of life,” she says. “One can truly go anywhere from BMCC.”


  • Liberal Arts major Lilah Beldner is one of 20 community college students nationwide to be selected for the 2020 All-USA Academic Team
  • Beldner will receive a $5,000 scholarship and recognition at March 30 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convention
  • At BMCC she also takes part in the Goldman Sachs Local College Collaborative, is a BMCC Foundation Scholar and mentor for the Women’s Resource Center

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