By any account, second-year liberal arts major Suzanne Joblonski has faced daunting challenges. At 34, she has struggled with depression, been a victim of domestic abuse and survived the loss of a child. After enrolling in one, and then another CUNY college, her initial efforts to earn an Associate degree were thwarted by what was later—at BMCC—identified as a math-learning disability.
“I could have taken that diagnosis in either of two ways,” she says. “‘Woe is me’ or ‘Well, that is me.’” She chose the latter. “Actually, the diagnosis was a gift, since it confirmed why I was having difficulties with math.” While holding down a job and raising a child with emotional challenges, Joblonski found the energy, time and determination to earn her Associate degree, mentor other students, engage in a full schedule of campus activities and, in her words, “turn obstacles into opportunities.” She will graduate this spring.
An inauspicious beginning
Joblonski is quick to note that her career at BMCC did not get off a promising start. “I’d been going through a difficult time and had trouble focusing on my studies,” she says. “Eventually, I dropped out.” But she returned that summer—2006—to attend a Women’s Leadership Retreat, organized by BMCC’s Women’s Resource Center. “There I met Deborah Parker, who has since become a treasured mentor and ally,” she says. “She suggested that I contact the college’s Office of Services to Students with Disabilities.”
The office arranged testing which uncovered Joblonski’s math disability. She resumed her studies that fall, immersing herself in a range of campus activities—as a program assistant in the disability services office, a peer mentor, a member of the Sisterhood Society, a Sister2Sister mentor, a Welcome Ambassador, and president of Beyond the Limits, which primarily serves students with disabilities. She is also one of 28 students selected to the newly formed CUNY Leadership Academy.
Joblonski has been accepted to the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, and this fall will be attending a CUNY senior college, where she plans on a three-part area of concentration that leverages her most ardent academic passions—journalism, social work and disability studies. Collectively, those three areas comprise what she calls “advocacy through storytelling.”
Advocating for the needy
As she explains it, “I’m interested in using my writing skills to publicize the stories of people in crisis, with the hope that readers—both individuals and those representing organizations—will respond offers of support and services.” She was inspired by The New York Times’ annual Neediest Cases Fund Campaign. But while that effort is limited to the winter holiday season, Joblonski believes that the needs it addresses merit year-round attention. Ultimately, she plans to enter a Master’s program in either social work or counseling and then pursue a law degree.
“There are many people in crisis who are afraid to speak up and seek help—or who feel they are totally alone,” Joblonski says. “I’ve been in that situation and, at BMCC, learned that there are many resources out there if you know where to find them. Once I started talking to staff and administrators here, that’s when I knew that I wasn’t alone. That’s when it all started coming together for me.”
While it is time for Joblonski to move on to the next chapter in her remarkable life, she will always miss BMCC. “I’ve had a different kind of interaction with my fellow students—both from a student and staff perspective,” she says. “But it’s the student in me that will always shine. I want others who come here to know that BMCC is a place where you’re allowed to be yourself, and to create your own destiny.”