Summer 2001

Providing Intensive Care For the Crisis in Nursing



ou will recall the speech pathologist Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and the fairy-tale transformation of Eliza Doolittle's speaking skills he accomplishes. Now consider this educational fairy tale, which has some similar plot elements: A young woman of 19 arrives in New York City, an immigrant from Albania with no English whatsoever, and in a mere five years-all the while working part-time-she is transformed into a graduating college senior with a 3.9 GPA and the holder of numerous honors and scholarships, notably the Cassler Scholarship and the National Honor Society's Golden Key.

This fairy tale is no fiction: it actually happened to Ravena Ormanidhi, a newly minted Lehman College graduate. Her major? It is too perfect: Speech Pathology- which may explain why her English is so pristine that Henry Higgins himself might be fooled. Ormanidhi has been a prized employee in Lehman's Office of Recruitment for several years, and she often deploys her powers of elocution at recruitment-related events. Thus it was that on May 19 she became "our Fair lady," speaking eloquently and convincingly to an audience of prospective CUNY students about her gratifying experiences on the Bronx campus. The venue was a CUNY Information Fair at Lehman High School co-sponsored by Bronx State Senator Guy J. Velella.

Beginning in August 2000, ten CUNY Information Fairs have taken place throughout the city. Their purpose has been to spread news of such inspiring stories as Ravena's-and of the equally impressive educational opportunities at CUNY-beyond campus perimeters and into the surrounding communities. All of these Information Fairs have been co-sponsored with elected leaders in key city neighborhoods, sometimes in collaboration with boards of directors of major apartment complexes such as Co-op City and Rochdale Village. Many community leaders are often in attendance.

CUNY Fairs take place on weekends at high schools and community centers, drawing hundreds of local residents interested in learning about the opportunities available at CUNY colleges. The Office of Admission Services provides information tables staffed by college recruiters and expert CUNY counselors on financial aid and immigration issues.

Publicity and outreach for the Fairs are coordinated by the Office of University Relations. CUNY Fairs supplement individual College Open Houses by bringing CUNY staff, faculty, and students into the communities in a familiar and friendly setting. Recently, good vibes for these festive occasions with a serious purpose have been provided by a sound truck from radio station Hot 97.

On April 28, a Hot 97 DJ was busy out on Northern Boulevard, outside a Flushing Info Fair co-sponsored by Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin and City Councilwoman Helen Marshall. Almost 1,000 Queens residents were inside, strolling from table to table, picking up information on CUNY programs. Encouraging the Fair-goers, McLaughlin, an electrician by trade and the leader of the Central Labor Council, expressed pride in his "working class background" and lauded CUNY for being the educational "backbone of the city, allowing working people to send their children to college or go back to college themselves."

Ravena Ormanidhi, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin conferring with Councilwoman Helen Marshall, Assemblyman Edward Sullivan; bottom from left, Senator Guy Velella, a very forward-looking visitor at the Lehman High School Fair, Patricia Fraticelli speaking at the Ascension Church Fair. Photos, André Beckles.

Proud alumna of Queens College and mother of two CUNY grads, Marshall called CUNY "our insurance for a productive work force." The chair of the City Council's Committee on Higher Education also observed, "We don't have oil wells or gold mines in New York. Our natural resource is our people, and the way to nurture and protect that resource is through education." Amid the oratorical flourishes, an amusing "fair tale" was unfolding. It became apparent that word on the Information Fairs had spread, and this one was being crashed by some well-intentioned recruiters of a spit-and-polished sort. Making an unscheduled appearance was the U.S. Army. It was politely suggested that the CUNY Fair was intended for prospective college students, but the Army was invited to leave some materials for consideration and encouraged to discuss collaboration in the future. Some CUNY officials were left mulling the idea of returning the compliment by taking over the well-known Army motto: Be All You Can Be-at CUNY.

Another word-of-mouth anecdote indicates the effectiveness of Info Fair outreach to the community. On February 24, a Fair was held at Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton High School, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, helping several hundred predominantly Hispanic Sunset Park residents. Over one month later, the "grapevine" came alive and the Mexican Consulate began receiving calls from Mexican members of the Sunset Park community, asking for more information because they had seen posters and fliers distributed for the February event. CUNY officials immediately responded by enlisting Professor Allan Wernick-the prominent immigration and naturalization attorney and Hostos Community College faculty member who heads the CUNY Citizenship Project-to organize a counseling session with the Consulate. More than 300 people participated. Now the Consulate and interested faculty and community leaders are helping to plan further outreach to the growing Mexican community in New York City.

Ravena Ormanidhi is not the only recruitment star born since the first Info Fair was held in August 2000, sponsored by City Councilman Guillermo Linares. Readers will recall from the Winter issue of CUNY·Matters the story of Patricia Fraticelli, a native Dominican mother of three, rising to ask some questions during a Q&A on that warm day last August at P.S. 48 in Washington Heights. She was having problems at Bronx Community College with registration for remedial courses.

Her problems were resolved with head-spinning alacrity, and Fraticelli's confidence soared: "I am going to transfer to a CUNY senior college, and, whatever field I finally decide on, I am going to get a Ph.D." (This confidence is possibly explained by her 4.0 GPA.) She offered to speak at the second CUNY Fair, at George Washington High School in Washington Heights and won public praise from the likes of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and that Fair's sponsor, City Councilman Guillermo Linares.

There are some new plot twists in Fraticelli's Fair tale to report. She has become an articulate Fair regular, speaking at the one sponsored by City Councilman Adolfo Carrion in November at Jimmy's Bronx Café and, most recently, at the Fair sponsored by Assemblyman Edward C. Sullivan on May 5 at Ascension Church in Manhattan.

And in April CUNY students participated in a Model State Senate in Albany at the Somos el Futuro Conference. Students debated legislation on the floor of the Senate, within the actual chambers used by senators, and Fraticelli played the role of Senator Roy Goodman from the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Could a political star have been born at that first CUNY Fair?

The most recent Information Fair was held on June 16 at the Rochdale Village Community Center in Jamaica, Queens, and the next Fair will be held outdoors in mid-Manhattan's Bryant Park in late July. More information on future Information Fairs can be found on the CUNY Web site, www.cuny.edu.