Smoothing the Path

December 13, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

Deslyn Andrews and Winnie Feng Xia Hu each look forward to a life of giving back.

Scholarships will help them achieve long-deferred dreams.

COPE provides BMCC students with a wide net of services—from academic support to help finding childcare

Deslyn Andrews was 19 when she arrived in New York from her native Grenada, joining her mother, who had emigrated earlier. Her plan was to enroll in college.

“I’d left behind my older sister and five younger brothers, who remained in my grandmother’s care,” she says. Her father had assured Deslyn that he could afford to finance her education.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OxlG_-Apo4&list=UUdQLw2tPB8QujPUo5cE7Waw&index=1[/youtube]

“I naively believed him,” she says. “There was no money.” College would have to wait. Deslyn’s only choice was to put her plans on hold and get a job.

That was 10 years ago. A nursing major who has maintained a 4.0 GPA, Deslyn is on track to graduate from BMCC this year and train to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. Business Administration major.

Winnie Feng Xia Hu has traveled a similarly hard road since childhood. But the going is easier for both these days thanks to COPE/Mitsui USA scholarships, which cover two years of full tuition costs.

A wide net of services and support
The mission of COPE—or College Opportunity to Prepare for Employment—“is to provide BMCC students with a wide net of services and support to succeed academically,” says COPE director Sondra Salley.

“Many of our students arrive on campus with no real sense of their skills or the kind of careers they’re suited for,” she says.

“We can help them assess their skills and choose appropriate majors.” COPE leverages wide-ranging community contacts to help students find jobs, housing, and, for single mothers, daycare.

Salley also seeks out students who may be candidates for scholarships, and shepherds them through the application process, as in the case of Deslyn and Winnie.

Back when her initial plans to enter college fell through, Deslyn took a job in a discount store, working 12-hour days, six days a week for less than minimum wage, but her $300 paycheck paid the light bill and half the rent on the apartment she shared with her mother.

She was also able to send money home to Grenada to help her grandmother and siblings. When her Green Card came through in 2010, she screamed in joy and enrolled in BMCC. “I was 28,” she says, “but I felt like a teenager.”

Winnie Feng Xia Hu was five when she emigrated to the U.S. from China with her family. “My mother was schizophrenic and kept my brother and me from attending school because she feared the outside world would harm us,” she says.

Isolated from other children, she knew little about books and less of libraries. When she was nine, she was removed from her family so that she could attend school while her mother received psychiatric treatment.

“In junior high, I discovered there actually was such a thing as public library, where you could take books out for free. It was amazing. We didn’t have money to buy books, so I borrowed a lot,” says Winnie.

Helping in two languages
Throughout her school years, Winnie continued to read, learn and gain fluency in Chinese and English, meanwhile dealing with constant financial worries, the pressure of caring for ill parents and a bout of severe depression.

After ending an unhappy marriage, she took online courses at CUNY while caring for her year-old daughter at home. She transferred to BMCC in 2011, but interrupted her studies last spring to care for her child, who had developed pneumonia.

She is currently working full-time at a non-profit organization, using her Chinese and English language skills to assist clients—all of them Chinese, and most with little or no knowledge of English—in translating documents and correspondence and applying for government assistance

Winnie hopes to return to school in the spring and complete her studies at BMCC the following semester. Eventually, she says, she would like to use her bilingual skills, business training and background in pharmaceutical management to establish an organization that promotes greater understanding of Chinese medicine in the U.S. healthcare community.

“My COPE/Matsui scholarship will help get me through my last two semesters at BMCC,” she says.