Pride of John Jay

May 29, 2013 | John Jay College of Criminal Justice

CROSSING THE POND

Look out, England! John Jay is sending two of its best and brightest to study at prestigious British universities.

Nicolas Montano, a CUNY BA student majoring in Psychology of Juvenile Delinquency and International Criminology, and Popy Begum, an International Criminal Justice major, have taken full advantage of such John Jay offerings as the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, the John Jay-Vera Fellows, the SEEK program and the Honors Program. Montano won a prestigious British Marshall Scholarship — the first John Jay student to do so — that will allow him to pursue a master’s degree in Research Methods in Social Policy and Sociology at the University of Liverpool, followed by a master’s in Criminal Justice Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Begum won acceptance to the highly competitive master’s program in Criminology and Criminal Justice Research Methods at Oxford University. She plans to focus her studies on human trafficking, forced marriage and youth issues. Begum has already conducted undergraduate research in these areas with Professors Jana Arsovska and Ric Curtis.

Montano and Begum have earned numerous fellowships, scholarships and internships, and point with pride to their John Jay experience. John Jay made me and Oxford is going to embrace me,” Begum said. “No matter where you come from, what your background is, you can make a difference.” Added Mon tano: “I decided to attend John Jay because of its mission of educating for justice. Now I am really excited and proud to represent John Jay and to take with me all that the College stands for.”

Both seniors credited the influence of their parents as well. “My mother is illiterate and she was never given the opportunity to attend school because of her gender,” said Begum, who was eight months old when she and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh.

“Because of her I became even more focused on attending and doing well in college.”
Said Montano, who is American-born of Salvadoran parents: “Having witnessed my parents’ struggle to make a better life for my sister and me, and being taught the values they hold dear, I was able to mature into the young man I am now.”

 

A PROMISE KEPT

“Personal growth and achievement are goals that ultimately drove me forward.” Elena Daniels has indeed achieved, and admirably so — she is the Salutatorian of the Class of 2013, graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA as a Legal Studies major.

Daniels grew up in a working-class family in post-Soviet Russia. By the time she finished high school in 2002, the demand for English-language skills was high, and she was given an opportunity to improve her linguistic abilities through work and travel in the United States. With just $500 in her pocket and no friends or family to turn to, she found a place to live and a job, and soon enrolled in an English language school. It was a crucial turning point for Daniels.

“I met my future husband, whose job as a legal assistant ultimately inspired me to pursue my long-time interest in law and transfer to John Jay,” she said.

Her experience growing up in Russia has served as part of her motivation. “I have witnessed high-level class inequality,” said the first-generation college student. “I have personally experienced the pains of being legally powerless to seek fair treatment. I could choose not do anything and just hope for the better, or I could try and do something about it.”

As she prepares to move on to the next phase of her personal growth — law school — Daniels believes that her choice of John Jay was a good one: “John Jay kept its promise of delivering the most positive learning experience and in-depth education while encouraging the pursuit of justice and excellence.”

 

PAYING IT FORWARD

Rosmarin Belliard wants to become the kind of role model that Vielka Holness, Director of the Pre Law Institute, was for her.

“Vielka has had a positive, influential role in my transformation as a student,” said Belliard. “Her dedication to her students’ success and amazing work ethic has inspired me to be very dedicated in all that I do.”

A grateful participant in PLI programs, Belliard is majoring in Political Science with a minor in History, both disciplines that have fueled her interest in public affairs, women’s issues and immigration.

“I am a proud John Jay student,” Belliard beamed. “My exposure to diverse views, people and social problems has instilled a greater humanity within me and has revealed that I can only pursue a career that will bring positive change to many lives.” She has interned with the Law School Admission Council, the office of former Gov. David A Paterson, and the Hon. Marguerite A. Grays, Presiding Justice of the Queens County Supreme Court.

While Belliard envisions attending law school in the future, that dream is temporarily on hold so that she may participate in the highly selective New York City Urban Fellows program — one of three John Jay students, and one of only 25 undergraduates nationwide, to be chosen for the 2013 cohort. The program offers exceptional students the opportunity to work in the Mayor’s office or one of many city agencies, along with a seminar series, site visits and trips to Washington, DC.

 

A SECOND CHANCE

There are so-called “non-traditional” students, and then there’s Joseph Adams.

Adams first stepped through the doors of Haaren Hall in 1968 — 20 years before John Jay College occupied the facility. The building at the time was Haaren High School, where Adams was a 15-year-old freshman, “burdened by social issues and very low self-esteem.” Education was not a priority, and he soon dropped out.

Now, 45 years later, Adams is exiting Haaren once again, only this time with a bachelor’s degree in Deviant Behavior and Social Control from John Jay.

The road from dropout to college graduate included struggling with a learning disability, obtaining his GED, putting in 15 years as a school safety officer before an accident ended his career, and raising four of his six children as a single parent. He saw them graduate from elite prep schools and top universities, including Harvard and the University of Chicago. One is a major and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, another has written three books of poetry. “Because of my lack of education, I couldn’t actually help my kids with their schoolwork, so they helped each other.”

It was the fortuitous location of his doctor’s office just up the street from John Jay that set Adams on the path to college. “I knew the building, so I just stepped inside for a visit,” Adams said of Haaren Hall, “and I felt like something embraced me.” That embrace would come to include the Office of Accessibility Services and various academic mentors and support services. “Anywhere I turned to get help, I got it,” said Adams. Among his “pillars of support” was Professor Lori Martin in the Department of Africana Studies, with whom Adams would later work as a research assistant.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Adams, who plans to apply to the MPA program at John Jay, and hopes to work with single parents, especially men. “Every day I see the building when I come in to school and I know I’ve been given a second chance. Social issues are no longer an adversary to me. I am motivated, dedicated, educated, and now graduated.”

 

SHALL WE DANCE?

One is from Bushwick, Brooklyn, the other from Prince George’s County, MD. One is aiming for a graduate program in counseling psychology, the other is a Forensic Science major who loves the hands-on work of a laboratory. Those differences didn’t keep Arielis Hernandez and Danielle Carthorne from finding each other — they have bonded through the medium of dance, in John Jay’s celebrated Universal Image dance troupe.

Carthorne, the budding scientist, is the club’s president, and Hernandez its vice president. They have kept up busy extracurricular lives while compiling Dean’s List grade point averages, and both point out with undisguised pride that they are graduating in four years. “It takes a very special person to finish on time,” said Hernandez.

“Something said Forensic Psychology to me, and I just liked it and ran with it,” Hernandez said, quickly adding, “If it weren’t for John Jay’s professors and their love of teaching, I wouldn’t have stayed with it.”

Carthorne came to New York from Maryland in 2006, initially to study massage therapy. “That was my Plan B,” she said with a chuckle. “But the economy was bad, so that didn’t work out. I decided to go back to Plan A and enrolled in John Jay.”
Both have enjoyed career-specific internships. Hernandez’s led to being offered a position at Echo Park, a leadership- and self-esteem-building program in East Harlem for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Carthorne, who is specializing in criminalistics, served hers with the Maryland State Police crime lab. “I’m more of a hands-on person,” she said of her career plans. “DNA is too boring for me.”

Their work together in Universal Image has given them a chance to perform before a variety of audiences, in settings that include talent shows, freshman orientation and more. They see it as part of what they like best about John Jay — after their education. “I love all the clubs, the community outreach,” said Hernandez. “Student life is great.” Added Carthorne, “I love seeing the President walking around, mingling with the students.”

Up next is graduate school for Hernandez, and a job in a crime lab for Carthorne. Of her overall John Jay experience, Hernandez said (with a nod of agreement from Carthorne): “We came, we saw, we conquered.”

 

EYE ON THE BALL

Ratko Rakocevic is as smart a young man as he is athletically gifted. Two seasons with the John Jay men’s soccer team and a glittering 3.81 GPA bear that out. But in 2008 he was a non-English-speaking émigré from Montenegro who came to this country to attend Essex County Community College in New Jersey on an athletic scholarship.

“I didn’t need to know English,” he recalled recently. “I just needed to play soccer.”

Two semesters of remedial English took care of the language deficiency, and Rakocevic has gone on become a stellar student in the International Criminal Justice major, capped by winning the 2013 John Jay Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award.

It could easily have been otherwise. After finishing his studies at Essex, he was offered — and turned down — athletic scholarships to Rutgers and Seton Hall universities. Instead, he chose John Jay.

“My parents struggled to send me and my brother to school,” said Rakocevic, whose family remained in Montenegro. “I saw an opportunity to come here to play soccer at the college level, and I knew that would be my opportunity to discover myself, express my potential and be respected, appreciated and rewarded for it.”

Reaching his long-term goals suffered a setback in July 2011 when he was seriously hurt in a car accident on Manhattan’s West Side. The injuries cost him the 2011 soccer season and would require a full year of physical rehabilitation. “It messed me up for life,” he said. “I’m reminded of it whenever I play soccer.”

His drive to succeed may have been slowed, but not thwarted. Rakocevic’s abilities earned him an internship with his native country’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, where he attended conferences, filed reports and provided translation services. He obtained the internship on his own. “I just applied, and then used the opportunity to make connections,” he said.

Rakocevic plans to take some time off before applying to law school or a graduate program in international relations. “Between school, sports, recovering from the accident and trying to make a living, I need a break. But I’m open-minded and I like to experience new things. I’m not afraid of what might happen next.”

Established in 1964, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York is an international leader in educating for justice. It offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.jjay.cuny.edu.

For more information, call:

Doreen Viñas-Pineda 212-237-8645