Queens’ community colleges are gearing up for the fall semester, getting ready to prepare new and returning students for a volatile job market and helping residents, immigrants and international students learn English to pursue their dreams.
Queensborough Community College, which is located in Bayside, is expanding its successful “Academies” program to all full-time students this fall to help them complete their associate degrees by connecting with resources and academic support.
The program was previously only for freshmen, but now all students will have access to their advisors for the duration of their time at QCC.
“We wanted to expand to a whole other level,” said Arthur Corradetti, an associate dean for Academic Affairs.
There will be five academies: Business; Liberal Arts; Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; Health-Related Sciences; and Visual and Performing Arts. Incoming students will be automatically enrolled in an academy when they select a course of study.
QCC is also using an early alert system, called Starfish, through which teachers can refer struggling students to advisors and recommend tutoring.
QCC also provides vocational certifications to help people enter the job market fairly quickly, according to Denise Ward, the dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development.
About 300 students, most of whom are out of work, are studying to become medical office assistants. QCC won a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and offers the only such program in New York State, Ward said.
Judith Richburg, the program director at CUNY Career Paths, said that 68 students have successfully completed medical office assistant occupational training and some are working as phlebotomists, EKG technicians or in hospital billing departments.
Richburg said QCC is working with employers such as Parker Jewish Institute and the Ozanam Hall Nursing Home to tailor their curriculums to their needs.
As for the students, Richburg said they are “thrilled” to be able to earn college credit, while obtaining skills they can use to get jobs.
Mercie Tacury worked at CitiGroup for 26 years, until her job was outsourced. She decided to pursue a college degree and graduated from QCC with a medical office assistant certificate this summer. She said that with the healthcare industry poised to expand through Obamacare, she hopes to use her new skills at a hospital or an insurance company.
“All adult people have an opportunity here to take advantage and use all of the resources and attain knowledge,” Tacury said.
About 120 students are enrolled in a Massage Therapy program at QCC, according to Isabella Lizzul, the program’s coordinator. The program is Middle States accredited, which means that students can transfer their credits to other programs.
The curriculum consists of science courses such as anatomy and physiology, kinesiology and neuroscience. At the end of the two-year program, students sit for the board for professional certification. The program includes electives for students who choose to work in hospitals, with pregnant women, people with sports and orthopedic injuries and Thai massages.
The hospital-based and pregnancy specialties within the QCC massage program are affiliated with North Shore Manhasset Hospital.
“When they get done, they really know what they’re doing,” Lizzul said. “They’re really prepped and ready to go.”
QCC sports massage students have worked on dancers from the Russian Ballet, members of the Bayside Senior Center and stressed-out CUNY Law School students.
Many students go on to become physical therapists, work at spas or hotels, service semi-professional sports teams or start their own massage practices, Lizzul said, noting that massage therapy applies to many different areas.
QCC also offers a Chinese academy, where 200 to 300 students learn the language and culture. Many are second- or third-generation Americans and fear losing their cultural identity, Ward said.
At LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, about 1,200 students will study English as a Second Language at the school’s English Language Center, the largest noncredit program in New York City. Students come from all over the world to brush up on reading and study for the TOEFL tests, according to Victoria Badalamenti, the center’s director.
“Our students have academic backgrounds in their country,” Badalamenti said of the international students who come over with student visas and often need some remedial classes to pass placement tests. The center also has a language clinic to provide free additional practice for students.
The Ecuadorian government began sponsoring students to learn English at LaGuardia this past winter, and the Colombian and Peruvian embassies are looking to follow suit, Badalamenti said.
Residents and immigrants participate in free civics programs in the division of Adult Continuing Education, but they have long waiting lists, she said.
An “enjoyable unique part of the program,” is a Dance as a Second Language elective class, whereby students are required to communicate with dance partners in English, Badalamenti said.
Roberto Lam came from Panama to pursue his dream of attending college in America. He took ESL classes before he was able to enroll in math, science and engineering classes, which he said helped prepare him for college engineering classes.
He was among the first class to graduate from LaGuardia with a degree in electrical engineering in 2007 and continued his education at City College, where he also graduated with honors in 2010. Students who earn an associate degree in engineering at LaGuardia are automatically admitted to City College to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Lam is working as an adjunct instructor in the math and computer science departments while pursuing a master’s degree.
At LaGuardia, he prepares projects for students in the engineering labs, which give them hands-on experience, from programming robotic arms to designing bridges using software.
Professor Abderrazak Belkharraz, the dean of the Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science Department, also credits LGCC for his professional success. He began working there nine years ago as an associate professor and worked his way up to head the department.
“They make you so comfortable and give you everything you need to succeed,” Belkharraz said. “This is a most amazing place.”
He noted the remarkable diversity in his students, who come from all over the world and speak over 140 different languages. He said that while many are struggling financially, they strive to fulfill their dreams of finishing college.
“There’s fire in them, you can see that, sense it in them,” he said.
Belkharraz said his dream came true when he won a grant, along with Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology at LaGuardia Airport to establish the LaGuardia Youth Center for Engineering Excellence.
The LYCEE program offers college credits to Queens high school students for participating in an afterschool program where they build robots and learn computer science. Students present their work to their peers and take part in competitions.
Also for high school students, LaGuardia is launching the New Energy Technology program in the fall of 2014 to prepare students for jobs in the energy sector. LaGuardia professors are working with National Grid and Con Edison as they design the curriculum, according to Belkharraz.