Two out of Eight Vanguard Awardees Statewide Are BMCC Students Entering Nontraditional Fields

March 23, 2023

Two Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) students; Computer Information Systems (CIS) major Diona Peddie and Animation and Motion Graphics major Yailenis Rodriguez Diaz, are among eight winners statewide of the 2023 Vanguard Award, which recognizes outstanding post-secondary students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that are nontraditional for their gender.

Peddie is on her way to becoming a Linux administrator. “I want to make a mark in this field to prove that women can do it,” she says.“Also, as Black people make up only about 9.5% of all Linux administrators, I want to show that I can be successful in a career that is nontraditional for a Black woman.”

Rodriguez Diaz has dreamed of working in animation since she was 12 years old. “Having more Latinas in the world of animation who can create a voice and a space for our art is my goal,” she says. “Only 28% of females are part of the industry of animation, and only 11% are Hispanic or Latino. Trying to be part of an industry that is mostly dominated by men can be intimidating, but it does not take away the possibility of success for me.”

The Vanguard Award is administered by the New York State Nontraditional Employment & Training (NET) Program, Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, and sponsored by the New York State Education Department through a Carl D. Perkins grant.

NET defines nontraditional occupations as those in which one gender comprises less than 25% of the employment in that field.

Giving a voice to other talented women is part of the process

2023 Vanguard Award winner Yaelinis Rodriguez Diaz
2023 Vanguard Award winner Yailenis Rodriguez Diaz

“Growing up I was not able to use store-bought art supplies because they were expensive, so I used to make my clay with glue and flour to sculpt,” says Rodriguez Diaz, who grew up in a small town in the Dominican Republic and moved with her family to New York when she was fourteen years old.

“When I was in seventh grade, I won a computer because of an art competition within all the public schools in Santiago de Los Caballeros,” she says. “I started drawing on Microsoft Paint with my computer mouse as an alternative for doing cheaper digital art.”

One of her plans is to create an animated cartoon series which she has entitled, “Elves.” The story, she says, “is about a kid who moves to a new town, just like I did when I was a child, and finds little elves living in his garden. The little boy becomes friends with one of the elves and gets the opportunity to transform into one of them and has adventures in the world of elves deep down in his garden.”

Rodriguez Diaz says she wants to “give younger kids the same good memories I had when I was a kid watching cartoons in the D.R., and I also want all the people who have been helping me to achieve the dream I have been talking about for so long.”

She adds, “I want to prove that Latino women have a lot of talent to share and I also want to give a voice to the young artists from my country, the D.R., and my new country, the U.S.A. I will face the opportunities that life gives me with all my strength and talent, and try my best until I meet my goal to become a female Latina animator making cartoons for other Hispanic girls like me and my sister Yanelis.”

Pursuing a non-traditional career can motivate others

2023 Vanguard awardee Diona Peddie
2023 Vanguard Award winner Diona Peddie

Diona Peddie has learned to be more assertive and self-compassionate, she says — skills that come in handy for a person whose choice of a career confronts bias in others.

“I’ve also learned to ignore negative remarks and people assuming that I know nothing about technology because I know I have a lot to offer,” she says. “I don’t want to waste my time and energy worrying too much about what others think. However, I cannot ignore the overall lack of representation of women in the tech.”

She plans to work as a Linux administrator, and explains that Linux is an operating system that most of us use every day.

“It is open-source software, which means anyone can view, run, modify and redistribute Linux software and code. Because of this, Linux is everywhere and powers TVs, cameras, mobile phones, computers, routers, cars, watches, servers and even NASA’s Perseverance Rover. I wish there were more women trained in this valuable resource. Currently, less than 12.7% of Linux administrators are women, and less than 10 percent of all Linux administrators are African American like me.”

In addition to setting an example for women and others who want to pursue careers in technology, Peddie helps erase stigma about living with mental illness through her involvement with Fountain House, a community mental health center in New York City.

“I give IT support to members and staff there, and teach others computer skills including digital literacy, user awareness training, 3D printing and how to use essential programs such as Excel, PowerPoint and Zoom,” Peddie says.

She volunteers from 10 to 20 hours a week at Fountain House, manages their IT support ticketing system, and maintains the Fountain House Education website, which she designed.

“All this helps reinforce my certainty that I want to work with computers in the future. Seeing the impact I have on others to get involved in IT motivates me to be a leader in a male-dominated industry.”

BMCC sustains nontraditional students through mentoring, flexible schedules and more

“A lot of support is necessary to sustain students who enter nontraditional fields such as faculty and peer mentors, evening/weekend classes, childcare services and tutoring, just to name a few,” says Antonette McKain, Director of Evening/Weekend and Off-Site Programs as well as the Perkins Grant Officer at BMCC.

Director McKain says that providing these services seven days a week, from very early in the morning until late at night, assists students in achieving not only their professional goals but also their personal goals. “There is nothing more gratifying than witnessing these efforts come to fruition so that students receive the honors that they have worked so hard to achieve!” she says.

“I am so proud of both of these young women,” said Professor Susan Stratton, who nominated this year’s winners for the Vanguard award.

“Both are from the same writing intensive section of MEA’s Introduction to Contemporary Media class that met in Fall 2022. They have undergone real struggles, each in her own way, to obtain an education. BMCC is such a special place. Both Yai and Diona are just one chapter of the many educational stories of our students striving against all odds to get an education that professors like me witness in our classrooms every day.”

She adds that “not only is the Vanguard Award an honor for the college, but it helps our students stand out in their professional communities and will be of help to them as they move on to further education and employment in their fields.”

Faculty are invited to join next Vanguard nomination cycle; this year’s virtual award ceremony is April 13

According to Janice Zummo, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for Academic Support Services at BMCC, It really takes a village to identify and nominate non-traditional students for the Vanguard Award. At the crux of the nominating process is the faculty member who identifies and nominates outstanding students. And we need more faculty to get involved.”

Dean Zummo thanks Professor Susan Stratton, whose winning students were among those nominated by their professors this year.

“We know that our students are exemplary and if given the chance will shine in the pool of applicants, so we need to get more nominations,” Dean Zummo says. “Both Dean Michael Hutmaker and I were available to support the faculty and also nominated students throughout this process.”

The Vanguard Award Ceremony will be held virtually at the Nontraditional Employment Training (NET) Conference on Thursday, April 13 from 1 to 4 p.m. To register for the conference and the award ceremony, please email

For more information on the Evening/Weekend and Off-Site Programs at BMCC, visit here, call (212) 220-8325 or send an email to

For more information on how to nominate students for the Vanguard Award, please contact Antonette McKain at

Programs such as the Evening/Weekend and Off-Site Programs,which support students entering non-traditional careers, support BMCC’s strategic goals including Strategic Goal #4: Improve Completion and Transfer Rates through Integrated Support Services.


  • Animation and Motion Graphics major Yailenis Rodriguez Diaz and CIS major Diona Peddie, members of BMCC’s Evening/Weekend and Off-Site Programs,are two of eight winners statewide of the Vanguard Award
  • Award recognizes outstanding post-secondary students enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that are non-traditional for their gender
  • Award program is administered by the NYS Nontraditional Employment & Training (NET) Program, Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, sponsored by the NYS Education Department through a Carl D. Perkins grant

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