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The new faces of college

Last year marked York College’s thirtieth anniversary. This spring,
the college, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY)
system, passed yet another milestone. For the first time, it graduated
more than 1,000 students, about 75 percent of whom were people of color.

The commencement address at York was delivered this year by Dr.
John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus at Duke University and one of
the college’s founders. During his remarks, Franklin spoke about the
early vision he had for York as the provider of a “first-rate public
education” and how that vision has been realized.

“[York College’s] curriculum represents a range of interests and
activities unique not only in this community but in higher education in
this city and across the land. Its student body, eager to take full
advantage of its offerings, runs the gamut in age, tastes, academic
goals, and cultural interests,” Franklin said.

Each year, the “Top 100” editions of Black Issues In Higher
Education present a statistical portrait of where students of color
emerge on the higher education degree recipient landscape. But the
numbers only reveal part of the picture of educational achievement
drawn by thousands of students, some of whom have overcome profound

So this year, in addition to presenting the numbers, Black Issues
has decided to highlight some of the students responsible for the
growing degree surge. What follows are just a few of the personal
stories behind the numbers. Each of the students featured is from York
College because York seems emblematic of the new, increasingly
colorful, face of higher education — the urban public college open to
a wide swath of students, from recent high school graduates to older
workers looking to improve their job skills. York College is ranked
tenth among the top fifty non-HBCUs that awarded bachelor’s degrees to
African Americans in 199506 (see chart page 42), Many students who
enter York needing remediation leave to become lawyers, computer
professionals, research scientists teachers, and doctors. All aspire
toward a better life. And, as their stories reveal, their success at
York College is making the realization of those aspirations possible.

A Convenient, Affordable Option

When Tamara Thomas graduated from high school, she was accepted
into a pharmacy program, “but the tuition was too high.” So she settled
on York College, which was convenient to her home in the New York City
borough of Queens.

“[My chemistry professor] talked me into being a chemistry major,” Thomas recalls.

Her involvement with the Minority Biomedical Research Support
(MBRS) program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, led to
work in the chemistry lab on research projects. A year later she
switched labs on the York College campus and began working on
nucleoside synthesis — work that involves potential antivirus and
anticancer agents.

About to enter her senior year with a 3.9 grade point average, the
twenty-year-old recently received a full scholarship from the American
Chemical Society and is planning on graduate study in pharmacology at
either Yale or Purdue University, One of her biology professors, Dr.
Leslie Lewis, cites Thomas as an example of “a student who is extremely
talented and who because of [MBRS] was convinced to go into research.
She will do very very well.”

Thomas cites York’s small size as one of its: advantages:

“The student-to-faculty ratio is pretty good. I was able to have
one-on-one conversations with my science professors, who got me
involved in doing research,” she says.

Remediation Appreciation

Sunday Olatunbosun came to New York from Nigeria in 1990 with the
dream of attending college. Before he could afford the college tuition,
he had to work for four years as a security guard, starting at about
six dollars an hour and sometimes working eighty hours a week. Once he
had saved up enough money, he matriculated at York College, because of
its convenience to his brother’s home, where he was living.

“Also, I could go into York College with my GED [high school equivalency]. I wasn’t required to take the SAT,” he says.

“I came in having to take a remedial course in English,”
Olatunbosun recalls. “After a couple of weeks in that class, my writing
improved tremendously.”

Four years later, the thirty-year, old Olatunbosun graduated with a
3.9 grade point average and a degree in information science.

“Today, I have gotten five offers to work as a programmer,” he said a few weeks after graduation.

Older and Wiser

Collete Henry came to New York from the Caribbean island nation of
Jamaica when she was four years old and attended public schools in
Queens. In 1983, she went straight from high school to Hunter College,
another of CUNY’s four-year schools, but didn’t even finish the first

“In a way, I wasn’t ready for college in terms of a maturity level,” she says.

Henry dropped out and began working for Standard and Poor’s, a
major financial firm in New York, first serving as an accounting clerk
and eventually working her way up to financial analyst.

Eight years ago. she returned to school — this time attending York
College because of its convenience to her home. Working full time and
attending classes in the evening, she graduated this past spring with a
3.7 grade point average and a degree in business administration. A star
track athlete. Henry also earned the title of City University’s Scholar
Athlete of the Year — at the age of thirty-two.

“School and athletics teach you discipline and time management,”
says Henry, who is planning to apply to a graduate program in business
in the fall.

Proof of Employability

Ingrid Amorini is twenty-six and a single mom who arrived in the
United States from Argentina in December 1990 with no high school
records and no money. But she did dream of going to college, and after
finding work and then working to complete her GED, she entered York

Amorini’s family had come to the United States in part to seek a
treatment for her brother’s developmental disability, a disability that
inspired Amorini to study special education. With support from her
parents, she was able to complete her studies at York and graduated in
February — this year’s valedictorian. She boasts that she graduated
February 1 and went to work as a teacher in a Jamaica, N.Y.. school on
February 2.

“When people say [CUNY graduates] are not employable, I like to point that out,” Amorini says.

In the fall, Amorini will begin work on a doctorate in educational psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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