CUNY Baccalaureate 2011 Memorial Scholarships Awarded

Nine CUNY Baccalaureate students have been chosen this spring as the recipients of the 2011 Memorial Scholarships, given to students who are pursuing careers or are currently working  in Education or Human Services.  These $1,000 scholarships are generously funded by Richard and Mary Beth Ketchum in honor of their parents.  The recipients are:

Rebekah Ambjor

Areas of Concentration:  Health Studies for Children / Creative Writing for Children

Rebekah is planning a career focused on reducing childhood obesity rates through education and hands on gardening and cooking in the classroom. Her goal is to work with an organization such as Grow NYC in their School Garden Initiative. Last year she volunteered at the Earth School in the East Village working alongside their community health and cooking teacher. Currently she is working with Red Rabbit Food Labs, creating a curriculum based on plant and food sciences involving cooking and gardening with 7th graders at the Churchill School in NYC.

Gisela Colon

Areas of Concentration:  Children in the Creative Arts / Child Psychology

Gisela is preparing for a career as a bilingual speech and language pathologist.  Her desire to do so stems a great deal from her personal experience:  her sons are disabled and she has had to educate herself about language and speech skills to help them at home. As a result their communication and reading levels are improving.  Gisela has previously worked as an art teacher and art consultant and she is currently preparing a portfolio of art work to use with children to engage their verbal communication and thinking skills. She is also interviewing speech and language therapists, researching the field, and speaking to educators as she prepares for graduation.

Syreeta Gates

Area of Concentration:  Urban Youth Culture and Social Transformation

Syreeta is pursuing her longtime passion in developing young people to be the best they can be. She has started an organization called Service We Trust (SWT, pronounced “sweet”) that rallies millennial teens and twentysomethings to address the social issues that matter to them most. She has also recently piloted The SWT Life Convo, a transformational program for teens 14-17 targeting their passions, strengths and purposes, with one-on-one sessions led by life coaches and community leaders.  Syeeta recently won a spot in Glamour Magazine’s “Top 20 Women Under 25” list for the work that she is doing with SWT, and she was also recently featured in an article in The Daily News.

Katrina McCandless

Area of Concentration:  Emergency Services for Underserved Populations

Since the age of 17, Katrina has been a fire department member, and is now both an Emergency Medical Technician and a member of the Alaska State Firefighters Association.  She plans to apply to medical school and after that to practice emergency medicine while continuing to develop the healthcare system in rural Alaska and travelling internationally to disaster events as the need arises.  Her previous experience volunteering with Tideline Clinics showed her that visits to rural communities as small as 30 people require travel by bush plane and skiff; to help increase the frequency and level of service of such trips, she is also seriously considering serving as a U.S. Coast Guard flight surgeon aboard one of their medevac/rescue helicopters.  She recently completed field research with Dr. Michael Copass, creator of Airlift Northwest and Medic One, and she looks forward to studying abroad in Latin America.  Katrina is also a student in CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College.

Refugio Ramos

Areas of Concentration:  Psychology/Latino Studies

Refugio is planning for a career that combines his interests in psychology and Latino studies so that he can address the challenges Latinos face in the U.S., especially in terms of developing individual identities and better assimilation into American culture.  For the past 11 years, he has worked in the field of social services as an Intervention Specialist, Administrative Assistant for Volunteer Services, Program Coordinator of Peer Support Services, and HIV Case Manager, and was also a volunteer for the Houston Health Department community advisory board.  He currently works part-time as a Group Coordinator at Queens Pride House, managing volunteer group facilitators, overseeing groups conducted to empower and support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.  He plans to earn an MSW after graduating from CUNY BA.

Therese Savery-Connors

Area of Concentration:  Foodservice Administration for Disasters

Graduating as the youngest in her high school class at 17, Therese had already sat on the town council, ran peer counseling groups, and taken classes in politics and economic development at SUNY New Paltz.  But her first and foremost love has always been cooking.  “I have a thousand tales to tell of a dozen years in kitchens across America:  the resorts, the cruise ships, the formal French apprenticeship that earned me the pleats in my toque.”  She volunteered to cook for people in New Orleans and Houston after Hurricane Katrina and this led to her career plan.  Her degree in emergency food services fits her experience as a chef, her calling as a volunteer, and her appetite for education.  Her goal is to combine these elements to benefit people in disaster situations, working with government and nonprofit agencies such as FEMA and the Red Cross.  She has been accepted to the NYU/Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine Health Career Opportunity Program for summer 2011, and she plans to pursue a fellowship through the NYC Office of Emergency Management.

Alexandra Sebai

Areas of Concentration:  Middle Eastern Studies/Social Work

Alexandra has already completed her concentration in Social Work (with a 3.95 GPA) and will be applying to the American University of Beirut for fall 2011 with the goal of furthering her study of Middle Eastern history, politics, society, culture as well as an intensive study of the Arabic language.  Her career goal is to combine her areas to help the Middle Eastern community fight against prejudices and discrimination and to advocate for social justice within the Middle Eastern community.  She also hopes to embrace the culture that her father did not pass down to her.  She plans addition training after graduation in the social work profession by attaining an MSW and to then provide social work services to the Middle Eastern and Arabic community, especially to those who are non-English speakers.

John Sullivan

Area of Concentration:  Real Estate and Public Policy

John was originally a musician who graduated from the New England Conservatory with a Diploma in Jazz Studies in 1999.  After he moved to NYC, his interests shifted away from music as a profession to affordable housing development.  Since 2004 he has worked for various affordable housing developers while learning the programs and policies that benefit vulnerable populations in need of housing.  He acted as a property manager in housing developments for formerly homeless, mentally ill individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS and other low-income New Yorkers.  He is currently an Occupancy Manager providing oversight for low income housing tax credit programs; he hopes to be able to form his own affordable housing development corporation in the future. Toward that end, he plans to obtain an MBA in Real Estate after graduation.

Benjamin Wasserman

Areas of Concentration:  Philosophy/Dynamics of Informal Education

Benjamin is preparing for a career in Jewish and secular education and academia that includes:   developing widespread and community-specific Jewish and secular educational and leadership programs for youth and families; conducting and applying research towards bridging the gap between informal and formal education; and teaching and training educators on the university level.  He works as the head Jewish education and youth leader at the Edith and Carl Markes Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst and as a youth leader at the East Midwood Jewish Center.  In these roles he has created and directed informal and experiential Jewish education curricula for K-12, facilitated leadership development programs for teenagers, and worked closely with special needs children.  He was  recently just one of just four students selected to present their work at the “Engaging Philosophy” conference held at Mount Holyoke College in March 2011); the goal of “Engaging Philosophy” is to “showcase and explore philosophy’s emerging engagement with ‘ordinary life,’” a major focus of his studies. 

CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies (CUNY BA)  is the University’s individualized Bachelor’s degree.  For more, visit

Contact:  Beth Kneller, 212-817-8238