Bronx Community College Student Changes Major to Dietetics and Nutrition: Captivated by Gardening Joys

Bronx, NY – For Bronx Community College (BCC) student Aliza Koszuk, a summer gardening project became a transformative experience that influenced her to shift her career path.

A liberal arts major, Koszuk had been leaning towards studying international affairs when she first enrolled at BCC in 2009. But a year later she responded to a call to help tend a summer garden on campus. Because of nurturing that successful vegetable and fruit garden, Koszuk now has set her sights on a career as a dietetics and nutrition major.

When she graduates from BCC, after taking a chemistry course next summer, she will pursue her studies at Lehman College in fall 2011.  She then plans to get her master’s degree and work as a dietician at a hospital or nursing home. “I want to help people improve their eating habits,” said Koszuk.  “Dietetics is a great choice. You can help people in an important way that becomes noticeable over time.”

 Koszuk’s transformation began on Earth Day in April when the BCC campus was abuzz with students participating in activities highlighting protecting the environment. At 43-years-old, Koszuk said she had been uncertain and intimidated about coming to college, particularly as to how she would do in the classroom. Bronx Community College is her first college experience. “It has been wonderful,” said Koszuk.  “The BCC professors and counselors have been very helpful to me. I have enjoyed studying and I found out that my memory is good and I’ve proved to myself that I can do well on science tests.”

Koszuk was one of six students selected to be part of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) Leadership Program.  ASAP is a CUNY initiated program that helps ambitious students move through community college in two and one-half to three years as compared to the national average graduation time of four to five years for community college students.

 The group’s task was to create a project that would benefit ASAP and BCC students.  The team was headed by Cyd Williams, an ASAP advisor and facilitator. The group began meeting with David Taylor, dean of Administration and Finance, Professor Charmaine Aleong of the Dietetics and Nutrition Science Program, and Professor Claudio Mazzatenta of the Biology Department (who had received a grant for starting a garden). ASAP contributed $1,000 to help implement the garden project. The College’s Physical Plant Services staff prepared six 3’ x 6’ vegetable garden plots near the newly built, and soon to be opened, BCC Early Childhood Center.

Professor Aleong gave her advice based on her knowledge of and experience in raised bed gardening. “I performed a demonstration to the ASAP students on gardening with the use of two donated grow boxes,” she said. With the assistance of the students, Aleong planted herbs, strawberries, and flowers in the grow boxes. She also acted as consultant to the students during the spring planting, summer staking of plants, watering, and soil weeding. “The students did a fantastic job as most of the vegetables and flowers were grown from seed,” said Aleong.

The excitement of preparing the garden, planting seeds, and then nurturing them to maturity was a marvel for Koszuk. She was smitten by growing healthy food, and became well aware of the impact it can have on people.  “I have always been health and food conscious. We only have one body and what we put in our bodies affects us greatly. The more natural foods we consume, the better it is for us,” said Koszuk.

In two months those gardening plots bloomed into bountiful growths of snap beans, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, okra, eggplant, watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers, and herbs (such as thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and wild flowers). Learning how to nurture a healthy garden was a new and completely captivating experience for Koszuk, who found out that the good campus soil, hot sun and daily watering and weeding were a big influence on healthy plants shooting up.

She was assisted by other ASAP students and Dilcia Gonzalez, a Physical Plant Services staff member. Koszuk’s sense of responsibility and curiosity soon had her developing a green thumb. Each morning at 8 a.m., Koszuk, who lives only 15 minutes from the College, walked to campus and stopped at the ASAP office to pick up Kathleen LeCadre, career and employment specialist, and Cyd Williams.  They would head off to the garden to water and weed. They would often share vegetables and fruits with students and faculty.

“It just seemed like such a wonderful idea to grow a garden in an urban setting,” said Koszuk. It is so important to incorporate nature into our lives. Just being around the garden changes the way I feel. It makes me take a breath, slow down a little, and be more sensitive to nature’s way.”                    

Founded in 1957, Bronx Community College (BCC), the oldest of City University of New York’s six community colleges, serves as the engine for academic and economic mobility for motivated students from diverse backgrounds and preparations. More than 11,000 students from over 109 nations are enrolled in 30 associate degree and certificate programs including Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Computer Graphics, Nuclear Medicine, and Business Administration, Digital Arts, Computer Information Systems, Education Associate, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology, Electronic Engineering Technology, Liberal Arts, Marketing, Accounting, Human Services, Media Technology and Paralegal Studies. BCC’s 43-acre campus, high above the Harlem River, features architectural masterpieces of Stanford White and Marcel Breuer, as well as the Hall of Fame of Great Americans, the nation’s first hall of fame. BCC President Carolyn G. Williams is in her 14th year of leadership service to the College, which is located at  2155 University Avenue at West 181st Street, formerly New York University’s uptown campus until 1973.

The College is home to initiatives not commonly associated with two-year institutions, such as the Center for Sustainable Energy, which promotes the use of renewable and efficient energy technologies in urban communities. The National Center for Educational Alliances (NCEA) ) is currently collaborating with South African Further Education and Training Colleges and universities to create linkages between these institutions and is also working to enhance student and academic support at the colleges. NCEA also coordinates the College’s global initiative which facilitates global learning within and outside of the classroom.

Bryant Mason / (718) 289-5208 /