By Andrea Alvarado:
Each of us have different talents, dreams, aspirations, and destinations, yet I believe we all have the power to make a greater tomorrow. Monday, March 9 was an unforgettable day for me, when I joined a diverse group of Brookdale students as part a unique delegation to the state capitol.
The visit was coordinated by the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) under a new initiative called Student Lobbying Day. Kevin Przystawski, Nicholas Sakowski, Celia Crudup, Layla Taqi and I joined Dean David Stout, Dean Richard Pfeffer and representatives from community colleges across New Jersey at the statehouse in Trenton to engage with elected officials and advocate for support.
Dean Pfeffer said it was “one of those rare moments where we get to have our voices heard and speak for the extraordinary value of community colleges.”
Our endeavor started with arriving to the Wyndham Garden Hotel where we registered and had a welcoming from Dr. Lawrence Nespoli, president of NJCCC. Dean Pfeffer had the opportunity to share some thoughts and encouraged every community college representative to have an open mind and, most importantly, to have the courage to speak from the heart.
Our first meeting was with N.J. Sen Samuel Thompson, from District 12, where we were able to thank him for his support and interest in community colleges. Celia, an amazing goal setter and a single mother, explained how she had to drop out of college but has come back now that her daughter had the opportunity to go college. Celia said that Brookdale has given her the opportunity to get an education while juggling her many responsibilities including a full time job, parenting and community service.
Sen. Thompson, whose personal success story started at a community college, told us how he earned his B.S. degree at the University of Arkansas Little Rock and then earned a PhD in physical chemistry at Louisiana State University. He said he believes that a community college alumni can accomplish anything.
“They made us feel like they are genuinely concerned with our opinions and what they could do to help or assist in funding and other issues that community colleges face,” Celia said.
Next we had the opportunity to meet with Assemblyman Declan O’ Scanlon of the 13th District, who was eager to meet with us and discuss our various career plans.
I shared with him that English was my second language and that the biggest lesson I have learned through my experiences is that it is not about having everything go right, it’s about facing what goes wrong.
I was able to speak from the heart about how coming to Brookdale has been the best decision I have made in life, providing me with a remarkable, affordable and quality education. Assemblyman O’Scanlon encouraged us to have the courage and drive to accomplish the goals we all believe in.
“The whole experience was as enjoyable as it was enriching,” said Nicholas.
Then we had the honor to meet Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini from District 12 at the Statehouse cafeteria. Assemblywoman Angelini is a truly delightful person, and clearly enthusiastic about her work. Layla spoke with her about being the first member of her family to go to college, and how she has been able to make a difference at Brookdale as secretary of the Student Life Board.
Nick had the opportunity to share his story as well, explaining how he came to Brookdale through the NJ stars program and is now president of the physics club and the vice president of Alpha Pi Theta (PTK) honors society. He is recently received a $5,000 STEM fellowship at Brookdale and is considering to transfer Massachusetts Institution of Technology to major in Chemical engineer program.
“It was not only an opportunity for personal growth and experience, but also a chance to lobby for a noble, selfless cause,” he said.
Lastly we had the opportunity to meet with Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande from District 12. Assemblywoman Casagrande was a burst of sunshine and radiated a lot positive energy. She was aware of the difficulties that community colleges face and asked us for our thoughts on a possible solution.
Kevin, the current president of Brookdale’s Student Life Board, discussed a number of issues that concern Brookdale students, including tuition costs. Kevin went on to explain the quality of education that students receive here at Brookdale and the outstanding opportunities the college offers, both of which led him to choose Brookdale over another institution.
I consider this day a success not only for Brookdale, but all of New Jersey’s community colleges. As Celia said, “Just being there and in that environment makes you want to become more involved in the issues and try to make a difference. Our group made an impression, and some actually told us that we were the MVP’s of lobbying day!”
Many people wonder what sets individuals like us apart, I strongly believe that it comes down to having an open mind, an open heart, a whole lot of courage, and determination. We have faith in what can be. We believe in New Jersey, community college education and that we can make a change in this world.
I owe a great amount of appreciation to the NJCCC, Brookdale Community College, Brookdale Community College‘s B.U.I.L.D (Brookdale United in Leadership Development) program, our team captains Dean Pfeffer and Dean Stout, and all of the legislators we met with for their time and their inspiring words.
From this experience I have learned to open my mind to new beginnings, my heart to those who are willing to support my dreams, and to become courageous and determined to accomplish all I set my mind to. I learned to believe in myself and in those around me.