Class of 2018 Graduate Stories
Hudson Valley Community College has more than 2,000 students graduating this year and each has a unique story to tell. Here are just a few of the stories from the Class of 2018.
Muhammad Al Juburi
Muhammad, his parents and four siblings are refugees from Iraq who settled in the Capital Region in 2015 after several years living in India and Turkey.
He first enrolled in the college's Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) – which delivers free academic programs and workforce training for those who qualify. In the English as a Second Language program, Muhammad gained greater confidence in his language skills while acclimating to life in the U.S.
With the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in computer applications from an institution in India, Muhammad then enrolled in the college's Computer Information Systems – Web Design and Programming degree program. At the same time, he was helping his parents with language and acculturation challenges, and also helping care for his siblings, two of whom have Cerebral Palsy.
Muhammad admits that, at first, he felt disheartened and felt as if he was starting over with his academics in his mid-20s, but he learned that some of his international coursework transferred to the college and he also found professors like Joe Stennard who encouraged him along the way. He also was happy to note that the curriculum was focused on the latest programming languages, which made it easier to help him gain employment.
Muhammad is grateful for his time at the EOC and Hudson Valley and graduates with a 3.9 GPA and a variety of job prospects just ahead.
Kiana Aikens graduates with an Individual Studies degree. A single mother of a three-year old boy named Dante, Kiana was determined to begin her college education despite having her hands full with an infant child.
Kiana admits that juggling motherhood and schoolwork was stressful. She's thankful for the love and support of her mother who not only motivated her to start college but also helped out with young Dante when Kiana had to study. Early on in her college career, Kiana said, her mom probably had more confidence that she would succeed than she did. Eventually, some of that confidence rubbed off.
Kiana also sought out and found help among our academic support staff – especially the coaches in the Center for Academic Excellence. "People at this school do care about you. Mr. Ellis, Mrs. Doreen McGreevy, they were there for me," she said.
Life won't slow down for Kiana after graduation. First comes boot camp and then active duty with the Army National Guard. Oh, and at the same time she plans to continue her higher education toward a career in law enforcement. She'll also still be Dante's mom.
As a mother of six children, a wife, and a library volunteer, Jenny Edwards already had plenty on her plate when she first decided to go back to school. But when her oldest son started at Hudson Valley, Jenny decided it was time to look into pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher. So, in 2015, she added "college student" to her growing list of titles.
Jenny wasn't completely new to the task of teaching, and was already a pro at juggling multiple responsibilities at once. For over 15 years, she had homeschooled her own children, and at one point was teaching five different grade levels in the same year. But when her family moved to Cambridge, the four middle children asked to go to public school and so, during the school year, she was left with her two-year old and a little more free time than usual.
"I had one year where it was me and the baby and it was great, but I need to teach," she explained. "I guess it's a passion. I'm thankful that I decided to go back to school and fulfill my dream of becoming a preschool teacher."
Jenny decided to find out if there was a teacher education program here at the college and found the Early Childhood program, which proved to be a perfect fit. After meeting with the program's academic advisor a month before fall classes were to begin and scrambling to find proof of her high school diploma, she was enrolled, and a little nervous.
"It's humbling to be back in college after 20 years," she said. "You're sitting there in a classroom with students who are your kids' age. But my professor, Eileen Mahoney, took the time to help me through that first semester. And it's led to everything since."
While a second-year student in the Early Childhood program, Jenny was approached by her local library and asked if she would work on setting up a preschool there. The Village of Schuylerville had no preschool program and the public library had stepped up to offer a space. She was more than happy to accept.
"I felt like I walked into a job that was tailored just for me," she said with a smile.
The first summer she ran the preschool, about 10 youngsters, ages 3 to 5, took advantage of the free, twice weekly program. The next year, the number of students doubled. In 2017, the preschool was named Library Program of the Year by the Southern Adirondack Library System for its innovative community service programming. Jenny credits her experience as a Hudson Valley student with helping her create such a positive experience for students in her own classroom.
"All of the elements that went into that program came out of what I learned in the classroom here," she said. "Being a student at Hudson Valley, I could not have asked for a better experience. When you go out in the public schools and the private preschools, they love Hudson Valley students. They know the education you get here is so good, and so deep."
Ryan was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, but he never let that stop him from pursuing his passion and giving back to others.
As a kid, math was always his favorite subject, and he hoped to one day be a video game programmer and study computer systems and programming. But his career goals changed when Ryan was inspired by his 7th grade math teacher, now principal, Craig Schull, and he began volunteering in the classroom, helping children as a National Honor Society community service project. He loved it so much, that he continues to clear a day of his schedule to go back and volunteer at his alma mater. He's also clocking hours toward his teacher certification.
Ryan also volunteers each summer at Camp Mohican, which provides a fun and enriching environment for kids with developmental disabilities. He attended the camp himself, and now goes back to work with the children. All told, he's gone 14 summers in a row!
Ryan's uncle, Russ, went to Hudson Valley and he heard good things about the college's academic programs, so he decided to enroll. Here, with hard work, dedication and support from our Center for Access and Assistive Technology and Learning Assistance Center tutors, he's excelled and his goal of being a teacher.
When asked what the best part of his college experience was, he says it the positive response he's gotten to his achievements, and the mentorship he's received from Professor Mary Hampshire.
He's now off to The College of St. Rose to pursue a dual degree in special and elementary education and plans to become a teacher that will continue to inspire others.
Maria Jenkinson graduates with a degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling after working towards that degree for the past three and a half years. She has pursued her education with tenacity, taking evening classes, day classes, hybrid classes and online classes, first part-time and then full-time, all while working a full-time job.
A native of Argentina, who came to this country nearly 20 years ago, Maria had worked in restaurants for most of her time in the United States and she admits that for many years she struggled with the English language. It didn't help that her future husband was an American with a degree in Spanish Linguistics who always wanted to speak Spanish.
But Maria knew that if she wanted to return to college she would have to do it with stronger English skills. "I basically taught myself by watching TV, and by forcing myself to learn and converse with others in English," she said. "But when I came to school, it was another level – you have to read and write at this academic level. It was scary. "
The first few classes she took at Hudson Valley – especially English Composition I and II - challenged her even further to master the language, but was worth it. She said her college experience has been fulfilling and opened up a pathway to a new career helping others. Maria hopes to continue her education toward a master's degree in social work, after she moves to California this summer with her husband.
"I really want to help people and continue in the social work field. I have empathy for people who are suffering," she said.
Talib Kingwood originally came to Hudson Valley from Washington DC's Anacostia High School to play football. He was the quarterback of his high school team, and was excited to start his college career on the gridiron. But before the start of his first semester, he sustained an injury to his elbow and shoulder that put him on the bench. Complications from that injury meant that he never got to step onto the field for the Vikings.
Fortunately for Talib, he is not a quitter. Though he was disappointed, he put his athletic dreams on hold temporarily, and channeled his energy into his academic work. And it paid off. He graduates from the Business Administration program with a 3.3 GPA - the first person in his family to earn a college degree.
But Talib's dreams continue. In the fall, he will attend Buffalo State to major in Business Marketing. With his injuries fully healed, he will also finally get the chance to play college football.
Candi married her high school sweetheart, had two children and worked as a stay-at-home-mom. She's the type of person who always puts other first, and college seemed out of the question.
While raising her children, she began caring for the mentally and physically disabled, those with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's or dementia as well as those entering hospice care. She said she always loved working with the elderly. They have so much to say, and they're so wise, she noted.
One patient Candi cared for earned her Ph.D. as an adult student, and she challenged Candi to return to college and earn her degree. Virginia J. Dersch, Ph.D. (Ginny), Candi's patient, changed the course of her life and she knew that education was the key for Candi to do the same. Ginny was an adjunct in sociology for about 20 years. Even with her illness she was still mentoring and in a sense, recruiting students for the college.
With Ginny's belief in her, Candi found the courage to apply to Hudson Valley's Individual Studies program at the age of 40. Candi recalls being anxiety ridden on her first day of classes; nervous to be the older student in the class. Despite those nervous feelings and some very serious physical health and financial struggles along the way, Candi says she has no regrets, and would do it all again.
Candi said it was incredibly special to study Sociology and Cultural Diversity with Ginny's husband, Professor Dan Polak. "The professors here really do care about their students, and they do everything to help them succeed. I'm actually sad to leave," she said.
Candi plans to earn a master's of social work and a Ph.D. in psychology at the University at Albany. Her former patient, Ginny, once told her to "go with her strengths." She's doing just that and graduating today with a 4.0 grade point average. Candi's success is tangible evidence of Ginny's contribution.
Bella Nortey was only 11 years old when she, her father, and her siblings moved to the United States from Ghana in search of a better life. Bella left behind most of her immediate family and friends, including her mother. Despite these challenges, Bella rose to the occasion. She caught up quickly to her peers, and graduated from Albany High on time in 2015.
Unsure about what to do next, she decided to enroll at Hudson Valley. But the demands of college were more difficult than she expected. Once again, she found herself facing a challenge: her grades had slipped so far that she lost her financial aid, and she was faced with the possibility of having to drop out of college.
But Bella had not come this far to fail. Determined to get back on track, she asked for help from the Center for Academic Engagement, and was able to pull her grades up and refocus on her goals. She approached academics with a new determination and quickly made the Dean's List and the President's List. She joined a variety of clubs on campus, including the EOP, CASP and BLSU. She became a campus tour guide for the Admissions Office and started working two jobs in addition to going to school, at the Kids Foot Locker and the Boys and Girls Club, where she is now an assistant director. She also volunteers and teaches Sunday school at her church. With all these experiences, she discovered that she has a passion for helping children, and decided to focus her future on that dream.
Today, Bella graduates with her associate degree in Business Administration. She will attend SUNY Plattsburgh this fall to will pursue a dual bachelor's/master's degree in Entrepreneurship and Marketing. Her ultimate goal is to move back to Ghana and open a children's hospital to help families who can't afford medical care.
A native of Albania, Inesa Pengu came to the United States with her husband several years ago to pursue her higher education. She has excelled in the classroom and has also remained an active member of her community. Chosen to receive the USA Today Phi Theta Kappa - All New York Academic Award, she also has been named to the Hudson Valley Community College President's List during each of her semester. She serves as a peer tutor at the college and is also a member of the Engineering Club.
More importantly, Inesa is committed to using her education to serve the greater good. Last summer, she returned to her native country to do hands-on research related to water quality.
"My mission also consisted of water quality testing from private and public wells in my country of birth, Albania. I thought I'd start somewhere where my help was going to be of greater significance, a country where simpler problems exist but there's also a lack of help from responsible parties, as well as lack of regulatory rules," she said.
Inesa hopes to continue her engineering education at RPI.
When Severina Rivers was a young girl growing up in Trinidad, she had a special affection for her elders. Her grandmother, her great aunt and others in her village became her confidants and, in turn, she took care of them and they had a special place in her heart.
These day, Severina, who has been a Certified Nursing Assistant for more than a dozen years at Saint Peter's Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, still cares for the elderly. She will you tell you that, to her, it is a special calling to help those nearing the end of their lives, and their families.
"Working with the families, it's so important to give them a sense of peace while they are going through the grieving process. It's a gift to work with these people," she said. "And to go to school to fulfill that gift and understand the professional side; I knew I had to continue my education."
Two years ago, Severina crossed the graduation platform earning a certificate in Bereavement Studies. Today, she graduates with a degree in Human Services, and hopes to continue her education through the bachelor's degree program that Cazenovia College hosts on campus.
"I'm going to celebrate this graduation, because I put a lot of work into this. You need to celebrate the triumphs in your life, big or small."
An Air Force veteran, Michael Shortsleeve has made great use of his Post 9-11 GI Bill since leaving the service. Michael graduates this year after completing both the Overhead Electric Line Worker certificate and the Electrical Construction and Maintenance degree.
Michael's eventual goal is to start a career with National Grid and he's done pretty much everything he needs to do to make himself a viable candidate, including taking the time last summer to get his commercial driver's license.
Michael decided to join the military after high school and he admits he wasn't the greatest student prior to that, but he's made up for it at Hudson Valley. He graduates today with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
"Being a little older helped me concentrate on what I needed to do," he said.
Atlanta native Tyler Sims had offers to play college football out of high school, but had to start his football career at the junior college level because of his grades. Tyler and a friend both decided to attend Hudson Valley Community College. At midterms, both failed off the team and stopped attending classes. Due to their poor academic performance, they also both lost their financial aid.
Tyler's friend returned home, but he decided to stay in the area and get a job. He was able to save enough money on his own from the spring and summer to pay for school for the fall semester. Tyler knew he wouldn't be eligible to play football and so he dedicated his time towards improving his academic standing, utilizing the academic resources at Hudson Valley. With his grades on the rise, he regained his financial aid in the spring and returned to the football field the following fall.
Tyler has accepted a full football scholarship to Mars Hill University.
Sometimes second chances are a great life lesson. Dental Hygiene graduate Alex Sutherland started the program in 2015 after her dreams of entering dental school hit a minor speed bump. Alex had completed a pre-dental bachelor's degree at Russell Sage College but her scores on the dental school entrance exam were a little below her expectations.
"I spoke to an advisor who pointed out that I should try a different path" Alex said. "They said maybe I should get into the Dental Hygiene program at Hudson Valley just to see if I even like the field."
Alex's first year in the Dental Hygiene program was a little more rigorous than she expected, especially in the hands-on clinical portion of the curriculum. "Academically, I always did well in the classroom," she said. "But it was in the clinic that I started to realize that I couldn't just scoot by, and my professors let me know that I wouldn't be moving on to the second year."
Her professors did see potential in Alex, though, and they suggested she re-take the first-year of clinic the following year. With that second chance, Alex didn't let her faculty or herself down.
"My professors always believed in me and they knew that I would work hard if the opportunity presented itself. That next year, I wanted to prove to them that they made the right decision. I worked as hard as I possibly could both academically and clinically."
Alex's goal is still to become, a dentist and after her three years here at Hudson Valley, that goal is getting a little closer. With the experience she gained in the dental hygiene program, Alex retook her dental school entrance exams and is awaiting word on whether she was accepted to her top choice.