Macaulay Honors College: A Decade of Success

CUNY shines spotlights on students’ achievements

Macaulay Honors College students  working on a project last year at the  Manhattan campus.

Macaulay Honors College students working on a project last year at the Manhattan campus.

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Macaulay Honors College at CUNY is saluting the stellar achievements of its 1,200 graduates — the doctors, lawyers, educators and businessmen – who are making great strides in their fields. The nationally recognized Macaulay Honors College, created by CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, attracts students from around the world, many of whom continue their studies at noted graduate and professional schools, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the CUNY Graduate Center.

More than 60 percent of Macaulay’s students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and about a third are the first in their family to attend college. Like their Ivy League peers, Macaulay students have been awarded some of the world’s more prestigious fellowships, including the Rhodes, Fulbright, Mitchell, Truman, Goldwater
and National Science Foundation awards.

Macaulay students enroll in one of seven CUNY senior colleges — Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter, Lehman, Queens or Staten Island. Each student develops an individual academic program that includes research, global learning, graduate and professional mentoring, community engagement and close faculty collaboration.

Selected for their top high school records and leadership potential, Macaulay students receive a full-tuition scholarship, a laptop computer and technology support, a $7,500 grant to pursue global learning and service opportunities and a Cultural Passport that gives them access to New York City museums, libraries and other institutions.

Here are six of Macaulay’s rising stars who are carrying the college’s legacy through its second decade. For more information, go to

Eyeing the law

W hen Matthew Signorile entered Macaulay, his plan was to become a high school history teacher. With deep roots in Staten Island — his family has lived there for more than 100 years — he wanted to get his degree close to home so he chose the program at the College of Staten Island.

Four years and a double major in political science and English later, he’s on his way to Cornell Law School, considering a career in government and diligently keeping journals as source material for a book or two he has up his sleeve.

Along the way, Matthew, a graduate of Staten Island Technical High School, seriously pursued stand-up comedy; fostered a natural talent for writing; interned for three politicians on Staten Island and in Washington, D.C.; and spent three weeks studying in Italy.

Matthew, a 2010 graduate of Macaulay, has deferred his admission to Cornell for a year so he can work fulltime for the district office of U.S. Rep. Michael E. McMahon (D-NY). When he looks back on the last four years, Matthew credits much of his journey to Macaulay.

“I’m sure if I didn’t go to Macaulay, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I am now,”
he says. “A lot of things wouldn’t have happened. A Macaulay person told me about each of my internship opportunities, and Macaulay paid for my Law School Admission Tests.

They’ve really given me so much more than other colleges. That’s the most important
thing — they really care. And they’re always behind you.”

Aiming for the top court

It was her father’s taste in TV shows that helped Katherine Mateo decide what she wanted to be.

“My dad was always watching Law & Order,” she says. “I always thought it was cool — I wanted to be a judge.” A member of the Macaulay-Lehman College Class of 2011, Katherine is on track to make that goal a reality. She plans to attend a dual-degree program at either Georgetown University or Harvard Law School after she graduates.

“I want to be a federal supreme court judge,” she says. “I don’t want low-impact, I want high-impact! As a federal supreme court judge, you can actually make changes that have a real effect.”

Katherine moved with her family to New York City from the Dominican Republic when she was 6. By eighth grade, she had become committed to academics, researching high schools and choosing DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx because of the Macy Honors Gifted Program.

This same high standard of self-motivation is what brought Katherine to Macaulay.

She chose Macaulay for its flexibility and opportunities and Lehman College for its small size.

“I saw how small the Macaulay program was at Lehman — it’s about 50 people, and everyone was interesting,” she says.

At Macaulay, Katherine, who is pursuing a triple major in political science, physics and philosophy, has applied her ambition and curiosity at every opportunity.

Gearing up for medical school

Even in a population of overachievers, Daniel Lubelski is a standout. After taking only three years to graduate pre-med in 2009 from Macaulay at Queens College, Daniel went on to a fully funded research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. When the fellowship ended in summer 2010, he was off to a highly selective program at the Cleveland Clinic that trains the physician-researchers who will advance the course of medicine and science.

“It’s a five-year medical school with a focus on research,” he says. “They pay for tuition so that it’s financially feasible for graduates to go into academic medicine.”

Daniel, a graduate of the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway, chose Macaulay because “I was looking for a place where I could be with other overachieving students. I was thinking Ivy League because I imagined those were the only places I could get that kind of experience.”

A neighbor in Queens was a Macaulay student. “After speaking to my neighbor and my guidance counselor, I learned about what Macaulay had to offer,” he says. “The decision was pretty much a no-brainer for me.”

Daniel is interested in neuroscience or neurosurgery but wants “to go in with an open mind and be exposed to as much as I can before making a final decision on my specialty.”

Filming his future

A creative eighth-grade teacher in the South Bronx introduced filmmaker and 2006 Macaulay alumnus Christopher Figueroa to his future when he announced that it wasn’t enough simply to learn subject-verb agreement.

Christopher says the teacher challenged the students to think critically. The students were split into groups and told to write a play. Then they had to film it, and that’s how Christopher, a graduate of St. Raymond High School for Boys, found his vocation.

Although two prestigious universities accepted Christopher, he says they couldn’t compete with Macaulay’s benefits and the resources available to film students at
Brooklyn College.

Through Macaulay and its Opportunities Fund, Christopher made a film to satisfy the final requirements for his degree. “Together,” which is about two eighth-grade best friends who are accused of cheating on an exam, won the Peace Prize at the 2005
Brooklyn College Film Festival.

Through his films, Christopher says he hopes viewers find something compelling or
gain information.

“Film is useless unless you’ve got something to say,” he says.

After earning a bachelor’s of arts degree in film production, he enrolled in the master of fine arts program at City College, where he made a short documentary, “A Bronx Morning: The Story of a Single Mother,” that gives a glimpse of his sister’s life.

Christopher completed his graduate studies in 2008 and is in his second year as a Van Lier Fellow at BRONXNET television, where he is a news reporter, videographer and editor.

Traveling to learn

For Macaulay junior Isabella Cardona, carving an academic path was puzzling, but when she found a program that allowed her to follow her passion, the decision became simple. Inspired by her love of travel, Isabella chose to pursue international
studies with an emphasis on political science at the College of Staten Island.

Isabella, who graduated from Susan E. Wagner High School, was born in Staten Is-
land. She says her Colombian parents “emphasized the importance of travel and having a global perspective. Traveling has always been typical for us. I’ve really come to appreciate the world outside of New York, and I want to know more about it.”

Thanks to the Macaulay Opportunities Fund, Isabella spent a winter intersession in Salvador, Brazil, and in the summer of 2010, she had the chance to perfect her third language, French, also her minor, in Paris.

Isabella appreciates the fact that Macaulay offers a challenging curriculum in a supportive setting. Because of this, Isabella discovered a new appreciation for science. The third of the four interdisciplinary seminars Macaulay students take, which focused on global climate change, turned out to be her favorite.

As for Isabella’s future, after she graduates in 2011, she is considering a stint in the Peace Corps or pursuing a law degree.

Waxing philosophical

Daniel Blondell, Macaulay-Hunter College Class of 2010, never looked at his middle-child status as a disadvantage. “You get all the wisdom from an older sibling, and there’s still someone you can teach and torment,” he says.

This take on family dynamics explains his enthusiasm for philosophy, his major, and the academic rigor of Macaulay.

Daniel’s mother, a school counselor, and his father, a social worker, nurtured his pursuit of the arts, supporting his attendance at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where he studied drama. Yet his parents instilled in him the notion that, whatever profession he chose, it should impact social welfare.

“There was always the assumption that you would do something that would be productive for other people,” he says.

This attitude is apparent in Daniel’s internship choices: He worked for New York City
Council Member Gale A. Brewer and for the Democratic National Committee. He moved on to The Glover Park Group, a strategic communications firm; WNET, Channel 13; and most recently New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation. He attributes his invaluable internship experiences in part to the advising team at Macaulay.

Daniel is leaving the door open to return to graduate school perhaps for a master’s of business administration degree and a law degree or an advanced degree in a field he may develop a passion for along the way.