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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.