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Scholars, Donors Embrace Academic Success at Honors Recognition Luncheon


Donor Kathleen Sturgeon with her son, Connor, and scholarship recipient Nick Prestera.

Students and their donors had a chance to enjoy lunch together. Tables were festooned with inspirational messages.

From left, Dean of Health Professions Robert Schreyer, Nursing scholarship recipients Rachel and her mother, Victoria Fredricks, and Director of Nursing Elizabeth Mizerek.

From left, donor Rita Prassas, culinary scholarship recipient Akino Tomizawa, donor Dean Prassas, and MCCC President Jianping Wang.

Proud Chef Jacket Scholarship recipients benefitted from the generosity of 12 area restaurants and food service companies.

Twenty-four students received Mercer County Freeholder Scholarships. Representing them were, front row, from left, Hanness Cocco, Parhana Chowdhury, and Monica Villegas; back from, from left, Joshua Skula, Matthew Hanaway, Ruth Flores, and Melanie Quezada. They are pictured with Asst. Dean John Simone, far left, and President Jianping Wang, far right.

Architecture student Ronaldo Desiderio was the recipient of three scholarships including the Jamil E. Faridy Scholarship. From left are Jim and Lynne Faridy, Desiderio, President Jianping Wang,and Dean for Business and STEM Winston Maddox.

The MCCC Professors Emeriti group awarded scholarships to ten studnents. From left are Sue Zambrio, Assistant Vice President for Academic Operations, Professors Emeriti Vice President Jane O'Reilly, students Melissa Barrett and Peira Wood, and President Jianping Wang.

West Windsor, N.J. – On Feb. 16, the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Foundation brought together students who received MCCC scholarships for the current academic year, along with the donors who are helping to make their education possible.

The luncheon, which was held at Mercer Oaks, provided a fulfilling opportunity all around – for students to thank their donors and for donors to meet the recipients of their generosity. The event recognized 72 students who are distinguishing themselves academically and as active members of the MCCC community. Twenty-five community and corporate donors joined in the celebration.

MCCC President Jianping Wang welcomed the approximately 150 guests, noting that scholarship support is an essential ingredient in Mercer’s formula for student success.

“We have learned that the biggest factor in whether students enroll at Mercer, continue their studies, and complete their degrees is being able to afford tuition, fees, and books,” Dr. Wang said. “Although Mercer is the most affordable option for higher education in our region, many students simply cannot afford to enroll, and many must study part-time in order to pay for their education and support their families.”

This year, the Foundation is providing more than $500,000 in direct support to students. Scholarship recipients are from practically every discipline of study at the college and range from freshmen in their first semester to students who are preparing to graduate and will use the funds at their transfer schools.

The host for the luncheon was Ed Gwazda, Vice President for College Advancement and MCCC Foundation Executive Director. Also participating in the ceremony were Dr. Winston Maddox, Dean for Business and STEM; John Simone, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs; Dr. Robert Kleinschmidt, Dean for Liberal Arts; Dr. Robert Schreyer, Dean for Health Professions; Elizabeth Mizerek, Director of Nursing; and Sue Zambrio, Assistant Vice President for Academic Operations.

Among the special guests were Board of Trustees Chair Carol Golden, Board Treasurer Walt MacDonald (the trustee delegate on the Foundation Board), and trustees Yasmin Hernandez-Manno and Dwayne Williamson. Alumni trustee Cody Willever also attended. Representing the Foundation Board were President Lori Danko, Savita Lachman, Melissa Tenzer and Aamir Rehman.

Prior to the start of the certificate presentation, the college recognized the Princeton-based Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, which awards funding to 115 colleges and universities, including MCCC. Former MCCC professor Gianna Durso-Finley, who is now the Newcombe Foundation’s executive director, said she was happy to return to the college in her new role. “Charlotte Newcombe never attended college, but was passionate about education, particularly in the health professions. I am happy to be here to celebrate with you as you achieve your goals and dreams,” she said.

The Newcombe Endowed Scholarship Fund has awarded funding to more than 40 MCCC students since 2008. In a 3:30-minute video produced by the college, two Mercer alumni and one current student reflected on what the scholarship has meant to them.
One of those featured was Victoria Fredrick, who attended the luncheon with her daughter, Rachel, a recipient of the Jim and Fannie Floyd Scholarship. Both are studying nursing and expect to graduation in May 2019. A third Fredrick family member is studying Education at Mercer.

Victoria said the scholarship has reduced some of the financial burden of having three family members in college and has made her even more determined to succeed. "There is someone out there saying, ‘I think you’re worth it too,’" she said. Daughter Rachel concurred. “Knowing there is this kind of support behind me is really motivating.”

Physical Therapist Assistant alumnus Darryl Slicks (’14) was also featured in the video. While he was in school, he and his wife had twins and he recalled the boost the Newcombe Scholarship provided. “It allowed me to spend more time at home with my twin babies,” he said.

Some students received multiple scholarships. One was Architecture student Ronaldo Desiderio, who was selected for three scholarships, including the David Fraytak Scholarship, the Jamil E. Faridy Scholarship, and the Business Division’s Architecture Scholarship.

Ronaldo says his MCCC education is opening doors. He currently works at Spiezle Architectural Group while attending school. “The skills I am learning in the classroom are applying well in the work setting.” Ronaldo plans to transfer after MCCC to continue his architecture studies.

Christopher Strasser, one of seven students to receive Tuchman Advanced Manufacturing Scholarships, said the funds are giving him the chance to stay focused on a curriculum that is challenging but rewarding. “I hope to get a good job when I am finished,” Strasser said.

The donors experienced their fair share of gratitude as well. Kathleen Sturgeon said it meant a lot to her to present the Timothy Burns Memorial Scholarship to Nick Prestera, who graduated with his A.A.S. degree in Aviation Flight Technology (AFT) in December and is continuing his studies at Thomas Edison State University. The scholarship is named in memory of Sturgeon’s brother, an MCCC aviation alumnus who passed away in 1989.

Sturgeon says she enjoys reading students’ application essays. “Once Tim discovered aviation, he was passionate about it. I want to feel that passion from the students and Nick’s essay really touched me,” she said. Professor Judy Stillwagon, who also attended the ceremony and is now Mercer's AFT program coordinator, was the first recipient of the Burns Scholarship in 1990 when she was an aviation student.

Two signature fundraising initiatives have consistently added to the Foundation’s totals. In recent years, giving has been particularly robust surrounding two major events: $45,000 in athletic scholarships raised largely through the MCCC Golf Classic for student-athletes, and $120,000 in Foundation scholarships from the Spring into Student Success benefit gala. (This year the event will be held Friday, April 20 at the Cedar Gardens Hall in Hamilton.) Critical funding is also coming from a special fund established to assist students facing unforeseen challenges that might otherwise derail their educational goals.

In continuation of a long-standing scholarship initiative with MCCC’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management program, 12 area restaurants and food service companies provided scholarships to culinary students to cover their chef jackets and other college costs. Participating businesses included Agricola, Elements, Ergo Chef LLC, Firmenich, Gretalia Restaurant Group, Griggstown Farm, Mercer Oaks Catering, Nassau Inn, Jersey General Salsa Company, Terra Momo Group, Sysco Foods, and Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.

MCCC Foundation

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