City Tech Scholarship Winner Turns Recipe for Disaster into Promising Future

November 17, 2006 | New York City College of Technology

Brooklyn, NY — November 15, 2006 — Veronica Maldonado’s early years were the stuff nightmares are made from. Her mother died of AIDS when she was just 18 months old; at seven, she saw her grandmother, who was bringing her up succumb to Alzheimer’s Disease. Things just got worse from there, but through it all, Maldonado, 23, was able to stay on the path toward a better future.

“I’m grateful for who I am today. I’m very independent. I’m a very reliable person,” explains Maldonado, a New York City College of Technology/CUNY (City Tech) junior majoring in hospitality management and recent recipient of a $1,000 Brooklyn Eats scholarship from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “People who meet me say I always have a smile on my face. There’s no point in crying.”

The eighth of 12 children of Puerto Rican parents, Maldonado recalls the day she realized her grandmother could no longer manage to take care of herself, let alone her granddaughter. “One day she got up and said, ‘Oh, I have an appointment at the Social Security office,’ and went missing for two months,” she remembers. “They found her at Metropolitan Hospital. When I went to see her, she didn’t even know who I was.”

Maldonado then moved in with her father and stepmother. “Sometimes, we went to bed hungry. Sometimes we didn’t have heat either,” she says. She explains that her dad supplemented his low-paying legitimate jobs by selling drugs. “Some kids don’t like their fathers for that lifestyle, but I feel he’s always been a dad, even from jail,” she says.

By the time she was 12, the family was homeless, and she spent 2-1/2 years in shelters. “Through it all, my family has remained close,” she explains. “Our experiences, though, made me determined to have a better life.”

She thanks her brothers and sisters, now 12 to 34 years of age, for keeping her focused. “We all talked to one another and helped one another; I could go to the older ones for advice anytime,” she says. “I also learned from their mistakes. Some had children when they were young teenagers and I saw how hard their lives were. I realized I needed to stay in school.”

When Maldonado first enrolled at City Tech, she had thoughts of a career working with computers, but found out it wasn’t for her. “I thought back to my younger days and my interest in cooking and traveling,” she says. “My parents only let us watch educational programs on television, which included cooking and travel shows. The programs made a big impression on me.”

In June 2008, Maldonado, an East New York, Brooklyn, resident, will become her family’s first college graduate; the Brooklyn Eats Scholarship is helping her complete her studies, as is financial aid from the Tuition Assistance Plan and a Pell Grant. She proudly notes that she made the Deans List in Spring 2006, with a 3.7 out of a possible 4.0 grade point average.

Last June, Maldonado and several other City Tech hospitality management students participated in a four-week exchange program at l’Université d’Evry near Paris. That trip began just days after she completed a five-month internship at a Walt Disney World resort in Florida. After she graduates from City Tech, Maldonado would like to return to Paris.

“All the hospitality management professors at City Tech have shown me that it’s possible to have a fulfilling career in the industry,” she says. “All of them came to City Tech from prestigious jobs in the field — head of housekeeping at the Peninsula Hotel, top jobs at the Waldorf-Astoria and Disney, among others. They are great role models and I look up to all of them.”

Professor Louise Hoffman guided Maldonado and her two classmates, Rhonda Rondon and Jude Nwabuoku, in the production of “City Tech’s Wild Raspberry Cake,” which was served to the 700 Brooklyn Eats attendees.

“We worked on the recipe from ideas that inspired us from work at the College, in France and the industry,” Hoffman says. “The cake was made a few times until we got the flavors correct. There were many ideas that floated around and many conversations we had in coming to agree to the final product.

“Veronica was our jump-in staff; she was Jude’s hands and support during the building of the cakes, Jude made sure the textures were right and Rhonda worked on the organization and paperwork and also helped with the baking,” she adds. “Veronica helped out in many aspects of this project and took direction really well from her teammates.”

Maldonado’s goals are to become an events planner, write a cookbook and run a hotel. “Long range, I’d like to be the next Walt Disney,” she says. “I want to run resorts and cruise ships.”

Maldonado’s academic success and aspirations have motivated her three oldest sisters and a younger sister, all of whom had dropped out of high school, to obtain their GED diplomas.

“Veronica certainly has inspired all of us here at City Tech,” says Liz Schaible, chair of the hospitality management department. “She has had to overcome what to others would be insurmountable obstacles to get to the place she is today. We’re really going to look forward to hearing about her achievements in the years to come.”

The largest public college of technology in New York State, New York City College of Technology of The City University of New York enrolls more than 13,000 students in 57 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs in the technologies of art and design, business, computer systems, engineering, entertainment, health care, hospitality, human services, the law-related professions, career and technology teacher education, and the liberal arts and sciences. Another 14,300 students enroll annually in adult education and workforce development programs, many of which lead to licensure and certification. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex, convenient to public transportation.

For more information, contact Michele Forsten, 718.260.5979 or mforsten@citytech.cuny.edu.