two years ago, Patricia Fraticelli was driving to work in her little
1985 Honda Civic, and a big new Lincoln Navigator sailed by. "I
want that!" she said to herself. "Hmmm, I work five more
years and get a raise of, what, $50? No, no, no. I have to do something
Soon the Dominican
native, who immigrated to New York City nine years ago, was announcing to her
husband and children in their Bronx apartment, "I'm going to college."
And that she did, with spectacular results so far. Fraticelli
enrolled in Bronx Community College in 1999 with a major in Human Services, and,
though she has three small children-6-year-old Chanel, 5-year-old Destiny, and
9-month-old Freddie-she is carrying 19 hours of course work this term and maintaining
a flawless 4.0 GPA.
Fraticelli, an ebullient and eloquent speaker, told of her rush-hour epiphany
when she addressed the audience at the third in a series of CUNY College Information
Fairs. (CUNY also collaborated with union local 1199 on a Fair-see page 9.)
Fairs are designed to radiate the University's recruitment energies out from the
campuses and into local communities.The Bronx Fair was co-sponsored with Bronx
City Councilman Adolfo Carrion, Jr. and held in that famed eatery, Jimmy's Bronx
Café, on a Sunday afternoon in November. About
1,000 prospective CUNY students were in attendance.
Football was far from
Fraticelli's mind, but her "give it the old college try" message was
pure locker-room-at-halftime. "A college education helps us to have an open
mind and see things more objectively. I was so judgmental when I came to BCC!"
And it also brings financial security: "Why did I come to the States?
Well, to achieve the American dream. But you won't do that earning $5.25 an hour!
You want more, and that is why you are seeking an education." And the 29-year-old
also emphasized, "It is never too late." To her fellow immigrants she
advised, "Don't be intimidated by the language, and be proud of where you
are from. If you know where you are coming from, you know where you will be."
Fraticelli's climactic advice was simple but heartfelt: "The CUNY door is
open: take advantage of it."
Councilman Adolfo Carrion, Jr
that tough act, Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson called Fraticelli "a shining
example of what is being done at the City University."
was not the only stirring speaker on hand. Councilman Carrion, under whose aegis
the Fair was presented, expressed delight to see "family groups walking from
table to table planning how to build their future." Carrion, who holds a
Hunter College Master's in Urban Planning, also reminisced about his homemaker
mother going back to school at BCC when it was at 184th Street (Carrion was later
to teach junior high school on that site).
recalled his book-loving father, who became a preacher for 45 years, adding, "In
my family, what was constant was the value of a higher education, the love of
knowledge and the power that knowledge gives you." He went on to identify
the City University, "with its long, long tradition of serving new immigrants"
as another constant in his increasingly multicultural 14th District. He then told
the prospective student body, "You are making a good investment of your time,
thinking of CUNY as your stepping-stone."
Three college presidents
were on hand to urge the CUNY career path. Lehman College President Ricardo Fernandez
offered some irresistible figures to encourage higher education, explaining, for
example, that the total annual income, nationally averaged, for a family headed
by a high school graduate is $49,000; with an Associate's degree it rises to $63,000;
and with a Bachelor's it climbs to $85,000. More intangibly, Fernandez said, "college
helps you learn about yourself and the talents that lie hidden in you."
Bronx Community College President Carolyn Williams spoke vigorously of her campus
as a "gateway to success," and Hostos Community College President Dolores
Fernandez, having noticed several families and older adults in the audience, said,
"You are looking at a college president who went back to school at the age
of 26-with two children, little children! I would not have earned my degrees if
a community college had not opened its doors to me."
Vice Chancellor Hershenson declared every prospective student in the audience
"already part of the CUNY family," and these new family members came
from all walks of life. Okeith Stanberry, a Jamaican citizen, arrived last October
and moved in with an aunt in the Bronx. He quickly applied to BMCC and has just
begun his first term. Recalling his acceptance letter from Chancellor Matthew
Goldstein, he says, "I was very excited when I opened the letter to see I
got my first choice." At Jimmy's Stanberry met with immigration specialists
who advised him on how
to obtain a student visa.
Rick Barbot, a manager of a pest control company, brought his wife and two daughters,
3 and 14. They were doing research both forhis tenth-grader and for a niece who
is a Yonkers high school senior interested in majoring in law and psychology.
Dennis Pinero, 34, has been raising a five-year-old while his wife works.
With the youngster off to kindergarten, the Dewitt Clinton H.S. grad is thinking
of course work in computers and accounting. "I'm here to find out which college
offers what I'm looking for."
Doubtless listening sharply to the
Fraticelli story was 21-year-old Rasheeda Pepper, now a courier service employee.
Her mother was minding her two-year-old and eight-month-old while she hopped from
booth to booth. "I thought if I had more information, I'd be quicker to go
back to school. I want to find the right school."
prospective student is greeted by QCC recruitment coordinator Lisa Michaelessi,
center, councilwoman Helen Marshall, and QCC President Eduardo Marti at Queens
it should be noted, boasts a perfect attendance record at the three CUNY Fairs.
At the first one, enthusiastically co-sponsored by Washington Heights City Councilman
Guillermo Linares at P.S. 48 on August 12, she raised a hand during Q&A to
ask about problems she was having arranging to take two remedial courses at the
Speaking from her Bronx artment by phone to a raucous soundtrack
of children's voices, Fraticelli recalls, "They said they would get back
to me, and I thought, oh sure! That was a Saturday, and I was amazed when I got
this call on Monday."She
was put in touch with counselor Jason Finkelstein at BCC, the problem was resolved,
and the rest is, well, history-in-the-making. It may take a few years. Fraticelli
exudes absolute certainty when she adds, "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."
When the second CUNY Fair took place in Washington Heights, this one at George
Washington H.S. on October 21, Fraticelli shared the podium with Chancellor Goldstein
and Councilman Linares.
Supervising planning for the fairs was the Office of Admission Services, directed
by Peter Cooney. His principal organizer was Rafael Dominguez.
Councilman Guillermo Linares points the way to a CUNY degree at a Washington Heights
Information Fair was held on December 16 at Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens.
Co-sponsored by City Councilwoman Helen Marshall, it featured not only lunch but
the usual full smorgasbord of opportunities for counseling on financial aid, degree
programs, ESL and language immersion programs, citizenship, the Honors College,
and evaluation of degrees and credits already earned. Future CUNY Information
Fairs are being planned with the help of Assemblymen Edward Sullivan and Felix
Ortiz and Senators David Paterson and Guy Velella.
Lest there is any doubt about the educational mood chez Fraticelli,
Patricia ends her phone conversation by telling of the day, recently,
when six-year-old Chanel accosted her in the bathroom and announced,
"The more you learn, the more you earn." "Where did
you hear that?" she inquired. The obvious answer, silly: "You
just have to open your head!"