New York Needs You Fellowships Bolster First-in-Family College Students

Brooklyn, N.Y.—Loney Isaacs, a Haitian-born senior in the School of Business, is looking forward to receiving his B.B.A. in finance and investments next spring. He will be the first member of his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He was also the first Brooklyn College student to complete a two-year New York Needs You (NYNY) Fellowship earlier this year.

The program aims to help low-income, first-generation college students like Isaacs to overcome the particular challenges they face in their pursuit of higher education.

“Low-income students who are the first ones in their family to go to college are five times more likely to drop out than other students,” says Suzanne Grossman, career education and training coordinator at the Magner Center for Career Development and Internships.

“No one in my family had gone to college,” admits Isaacs. “I didn’t even know anyone who had gone to college.” Isaacs was among 100 students selected from over 400 applicants from other CUNY schools, as well as NYU, Columbia, Barnard, and Pace. The number of applicants, says Grossman, has increased yearly and now stands at 600.

Isaacs was a child when he moved with his parents from Haiti and settled in Brooklyn. Not long after their arrival, his father died.

Three years ago, when he enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Isaacs realized how little he knew about what it takes to succeed in college. He received an e-mail about the NYNY Fellowship program one week before the application deadline and decided to take a chance.

The pace of the fellowship was grueling. Every two weeks, in addition to their regular course work, Isaacs and the other fellows underwent an eight-hour work session devoted to constructing résumés, nailing interviews, learning the rules of business etiquette, making successful presentations, and other career-related topics. Fellows attended talks by such speakers as Bill de Blasio, the New York City public advocate; entertainer P. Diddy; and Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J.

“We also had to serve two internships,” Isaacs adds. “I did four.”

Along the way, he demonstrated sufficient leadership to become a NYNY Fellowship Ambassador, responsible for recruiting prospective students through one-on-one meetings, group information sessions, blog posts, and social media. He also organized an on-campus event for World AIDS Day, which drew more than 300 students and guests.

In May he completed the two-year program, just in time for the start of his senior year.

Although Isaacs is the first Brooklyn College student to complete the NYNY fellowship, he will not be the last. Junior Shristi Singh, a chemistry education major, has already finished the first year of her fellowship. Scholars Program student Iqra Akram and fellow sophomore Sumaiya Sarawat began their two-year stints in the program this fall.