For Grace Theresa Agalo-Os, John Jay’s Student Council president, “Progress feels amazing.” Few would know the feeling better than her. During her three-year tenure on the Student Council, Agaolo-Os has overseen a wide range of accomplishments, and will graduate leaving behind a serious legacy.
Agalo-Os was born in the Philippines and has a spinal disability, one of the reasons she came to the Untied States. “A lot of my work here at John Jay is about accessibility rights,” she pointed out. “Before I came here, we did not have equal access to exit the building through Haaren Hall.” In three years on the Student Council, she mobilized support for campus accessibility through conversations, petitions, and testimony given to CUNY officials. Because of her efforts, a state-funded lift will be installed at the 59th Street mezzanine and the 10th Avenue entrance to Haaren Hall.
“For those future students who won’t have to struggle with the degradation of your friends having to pick up your wheelchair so you can join them, it will be incredible for them to be able to feel that way.”
Other accomplishments by Agalo-Os and the Student Council include the hiring of a full-time nurse practitioner and an LGBTQ task force coordinator in the fall; renewed funding for Single Stop; and new earmarks for the Office of Accessibility Services.
Agalo-Os, a Political Science major with a minor in Anthropology, she plans to visit her family in the Philippines after graduation, before return-ing to apply for internships at City Hall and, eventually, attending law school.
Head of the Class
Not even a severely broken leg during her junior year could stop Jessica Jean from being a four-year member of the women’s soccer team, or a four-year member of the Honors Program, or president of both the City University and John Jay Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Highly motivated, service-oriented and goal-driven, Jean will be earning her under- graduate degree through the CUNY Baccalaureate program, with a double
major in Education Psychology and Communication. She’ll be putting her talents — learned and innate — to work in the fall as part of the Teach for America initiative.
“I’ve been pretty much able to do what I wanted through the CUNY B.A.,” said Jean, who dabbled in three different majors at John Jay before a handful of caring mentors suggested she try the CUNY degree route. In Teach for America, she’ll make a two-year commitment to teach in one of New York City’s middle or high schools. “Whatever school I’m assigned to, I’m going to make the best contribution I can.”
The TFA program will put Jean through graduate school, and she hopes eventually to earn a Ph.D. and become a college professor.
If success is a product of hard work and dedication, Jean is a sure bet. In addition to her involvement as a student athlete, she has been a Peer Ambassador, a Peer Mentor with the Urban Male Initiative, and campus recruitment coordinator for the CUNY Service Corps. She says of her future, “There’s a really big picture outside of where you are, and even if you can’t see it now, you have to keep trying to build a better version of yourself. Personal growth doesn’t stop.”
It’s not that Piotr Tandek doesn’t like John Jay — far from it, in fact — but he is about to complete his B.S. degree in Criminal Justice in just two years from admission to Commencement.
Tandek, who is all of 19 years old, was part of the first cohort of the ACE (Accelerate, Complete, Engage) program, and will be the first to graduate from the two-year-old student-success initiative. He entered John Jay already armed with more than 30 credits thanks to high school AP classes, proficiency tests, foreign language skills (he’s trilingual), and the Police Cadet Corps.
“I told my advisor I wanted to graduate in three years,” said Tandek, “and I was told â€˜What’s your hurry? It might be hard.” So instead, with full course loads year-round, including winter and summer mini-semesters, he’s finishing in two.
Tandek’s service in the Cadet Corps is part of his preparation for a career with the NYPD. While he will have to wait until age 21 to be sworn in, he plans to use the time to good advantage by pursuing a master’s degree in history at the College of Staten Island, in order to teach after his NYPD career ends.
“I have a goal to do 25 years, and get to lieutenant by age 30,” said Tandek. “I want to have the power to change things. I want to be proactive. I want to be on the job to serve people.”
Online, and On Her Way
Credit John Jay Online with providing the flexible workspace Farah Chichgar-Singh needed to make her dreams come true.
Chichgar-Singh, the daughter of Indian immigrants, came to John Jay College as the first in her family to pursue a higher education. Having watched her parents work hard to provide
for the family’s needs, Chichgar-Singh devoted herself to higher education as a gateway to a better life. “My parents work hard,” she explained “We had everything we needed, but not much of what we wanted.”
Her own hard work is about to pay off, with a Master of Public Administration degree via the Inspector General track.
Chichgar-Singh started at John Jay as a traditional student but soon transitioned to John
Jay Online to take advantage of the flexible schedule — her second son was born while she worked toward her master’s degree. Her sons, ages 7 and 2, serve as her motivation to finish her degree and pursue the career of her dreams. “My sons see me working and doing homework,”
Chichgar-Singh said. “They are learning how important education is.” Her oldest son dreams of becoming a police officer, and Chichgar-Singh hopes someday to have another John Jay College graduate in the family.
She is now the first in her family to obtain a college degree. “There were some tough times, but I pushed through them. I thought of my boys and I knew I couldn’t give up.” With her degree, Chichgar-Singh will pursue a career in fraud investigation. When asked what advice she would pass on to her boys, she said simply, “Never give up, no matter what.”
No Bones About It
Victoria DePrimo says she’s wanted to work in forensic science since grammar school, and she chose to attend St. Joseph Hill Academy because it was the only high school on Staten Island that offered a forensic science class. As a student in John Jay’s PRISM program, DePrimo has diver-sified her skills by picking up a biology minor and a concentration in toxicology, bringing her ever closer to her dream of working in a crime lab.
“I came in with an open mind for forensics,” she said. “What I like about it is that that it’s always changing, never stationary. There’s always something brand new that has come to light in research that changes the way we examine different evidence, and that’s what I love about this.”
An Honors Program student, DePrimo has been working with Professor Angelique Corthals
in studying bone density, with an aim toward discovering how marks on bones can be used to trace the implements or weapons used in assault or murder cases.
The typical forensic technique is to blanch bones before conducting evaluations, but De Primo says her research suggests changes in the protocol for forensic anthropology identification. “It’s possible that if they don’t blanch it they could have more accurate results,” she said.
The real-world impact of the work is what De-Primo says turns her on about forensics, which she plans to continue studying in graduate school at the University of New Haven. “I’m so excited for what the future holds,” she said.
Making the Most
Just how badly did Marcus Johnson want to attend John Jay College? When he applied to but was not accepted by the College, he was devastated. Fortunately, his mother did some online research and learned about the SEEK program. And so, on the day of his high school graduation, still robed in his cap and gown, he and his mother headed to John Jay, met with SEEK officials and won his coveted admission. Now the 22 year old single father is about to earn his bachelor’s degree in International Criminal Justice, the first step toward what he hopes will be a career as a Foreign Service officer.
Johnson will leave behind a record of increasingly high achievement at John Jay, including three years in the Honors Program, appointment as a John Jay-Vera Fellow, and a term as president of the College’s chapter of Chi Alpha Epsilon, the national SEEK honor society.
Johnson believes in both internal and external motivation. “Internal is wanting to be the change in the world. External includes family and friends, who push me to go past my limits” Among those motivators is his 4-year-old daughter, of whom he says, “I want to expose my child to opportunities I was never presented with, and have a life that’s better than mine.”
A veteran of numerous internships, including placements with UNICEF, the Clinton Founda-tion and the National Urban League, Johnson is quick to credit them with “helping me figure out what I feel passionate about, and helping me realize that my goals are possible.”
Service is his guiding ethos. “I’m not doing this just for me,” said Johnson, who is going
on to graduate school at Columbia University. “I’ve been able to take full advantage of every opportunity that John Jay has to offer. It would be dishonest if I didn’t try to give back — to my family, my friends, my community.”
Ariana Castillo recalls having heard a saying: “If your parents recognize you intellectually after graduating from college, the institution hasn’t done its job.” Apparently John Jay did its part. “The one fundamental thing that I’ll always remember,” she said, “is my mom all of the sudden realizing who I was and how much I had developed. Now, she’s concerned that I’m too much of an advocate.”
Castillo, a Forensic Psychology major, says that her four years at John Jay awoke an activist inside of her that she is prepared to bring with her wherever she goes.
In her freshman year, Castillo developed connections with the Prisoner Reentry Institute, and participated in a learning exchange at the upstate Otisville Correctional Facility, taking classes with inside students through the Prison to College Pipeline. “It solidified the fact that I wanted to work with incarcerated individuals,” she said.
This experience influenced Castillo to pursue a master’s degree studying clinical psychology, through which she aims to apply her understanding of psychology to the criminal justice field. In the fall, she will be enrolling in the University at Buffalo (SUNY), an institution she became connected with through her involvement with McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.
Castillo, who beat cancer during her junior year, also studied abroad in Tanzania, working with a theater arts program for local youth.
“No one of these opportunities can outweigh the other,” she said. “Being in P2CP, being in McNair, working as a peer success coach on campus, and being a Vera Fellow â€“ they each played a major role in developing who I am today.”