This past spring, Melissa Kong celebrated her graduation from Hunter College with a master’s degree in mental health counseling. She has come a long way since first starting her career at John Jay as part of the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge program (SEEK), an initiative that provides additional support for low-income and first generation students. “SEEK was a big support system at first, especially because of the academic advisement and help with financial aid,” recalls Kong. “From there, I started making connections with other people and professors.”
Kong went on to make the most out of her undergraduate experience at John Jay by becoming an intern with the Peer Ambassador Leadership Program, where she learned foundational leadership skills and was able to further build her network at the College. When she decided she wanted to go to graduate school, it was with the encouragement of her mentors on campus that she began preparing her application. She didn’t have the best grades, she admits, but she wanted to “wow” the admissions boards by writing about her junior year internship at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University.
“I remember sitting in the library and writing the first two paragraphs of my graduate school application,” said Kong. “I showed my mentor and asked if I was on the right track, and she was like yes, this is great! You have to keep going!”
Once she became a graduate student, Kong enrolled in the CUNY Counseling Assistantship Program (CUNYCAP), which is designed for students enrolled in a CUNY graduate program who previously received their undergraduate degree at a CUNY college. CUNYCAP students become paid assistants at a CUNY college of their choice, and for Kong the choice was clear. “I did my assistantship at John Jay because I was so attached to people here,” she said. “That program helped me afford my tuition, and I also gained professional experience.”
Now, Kong now works as a Social Worker in Preventive Services at New Alternatives for Children in the Bronx, where she helps families who have children with special medical needs. Though she is usually busy with her caseload, she tries to return to campus to visit the people she remains close with. Her commitment to John Jay is partly due to her experience during her roughest times in graduate school, when it became difficult to balance her rigorous classwork with other obligations. “I would come back to John Jay and everyone would always validate how I felt. They reminded me that I would get to my goal if I were just patient,” she said.
That patience has paid off, and Kong is now in a position she would have never been able to imagine when she was just starting out as a first year student. “I tend to minimize what I do,” she said, “but one thing John Jay taught me is that I have power. I’m only just starting my career, but people are already reaching out to me on LinkedIn to get to know me and ask me about my past experiences. That’s power.”
As an alumna, Kong looks back on her undergraduate experience fondly. “I’ve been on many different campuses now,” she said, “but John Jay is different. Everyone makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger, and they’re welcoming to all. No matter who you are, nobody is dismissed here.”