West Windsor, N.J. – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) is getting ready to celebrate the Class of 2019 at Commencement on May 17. Close to one thousand students will earn their associate degrees. Some will even earn two degrees. Many plan to transfer to four-year schools, while others will head straight to the workforce.
MCCC students are a truly special group. They have perseverance, they learn how to manage their time, and they succeed, often in the face of significant challenges. Here are just a few of their stories. And, to all of our graduates, take what you have learned at Mercer and continue on your road to success. We are rooting for you!
“Mercer was a fresh start. It changed my life in the most positive ways. I became more confident, excelled in class and made friends. It’s the best decision I ever made.”
Samantha Costa graduates having recently gotten a job as a paralegal with the Office of the Public Guardian, which assists the elderly in cases of financial abuse. She attended Rider University fresh out of high school thinking she would go into teaching, but decided against it. Then she went to cosmetology school and worked at Sephora for four years.
When she enrolled at Mercer at the age of 21, Samantha was determined to find a new path. Within a few months, she knew she had found her passion.
“I’ve always been interested in legal studies. Mercer became a huge part of my life,” Samantha said. “Going to school full-time and working part-time was challenging. You have to make a task list and have priorities.”
She says her professors have been top notch, especially Erin Rybicki, the coordinator of the Paralegal program. "I have learned so much from my Professor Rybicki. She is honest, direct and knowledgeable. She is one of the reasons I love Mercer and my education.”
Samantha got her paralegal job through her MCCC independent study. “I have not had a bad day at work,” she said. “I get engrossed in cases and getting justice for my clients. I am in a field where I help people. It’s a job that matters.”
Samantha observes that people just don’t realize the opportunities at Mercer. “Anyone who wants to further themselves through education can find what they need. You get so much more than classes. There is tutoring and advising. I attended workshops and joined Phi Theta Kappa. I applied for scholarships and they helped me with the process.”
Samantha hopes to one day be a prosecutor. She will continue her education at Fairleigh Dickinson University at MCCC to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Business Technology.
“At Mercer it’s all about people – the diverse student body and professors who are passionate about what they do. You get your general education requirements and you get people who will change your life.”
Caitlin Clarke graduated from Notre Dame High School and was accepted to several four-year schools, but says she has never regretted her decision to come to Mercer.
She notes the stigma that some people associate with community colleges. Clarke took it as a challenge to prove them wrong. “There are extraordinary people here,” she maintains. “When you meet the faculty and staff, you realize it’s not ‘just Mercer.’ It’s so much more. Professors and staff know what they are talking about and they really care about students. They share themselves.”
Caitlin got involved outside the classroom. She served as secretary for the Student Government Association and wrote for the college’s award-winning student newspaper. She gave college tours and made friends who helped to shape her experience.
All of that activity can change a person. “I’m much happier, more sociable and more willing to reach out to people,” she said. “I have learned the value of accepting people. I have developed into the person I want to be.”
As Caitlin prepares to transfer to The College of New Jersey to pursue International Studies, she feels ready for the future. “If you apply yourself at Mercer, you will learn about life,” she said.
“Mercer gave me a life. I could not afford to attend a four-year school. I was able to graduate from Mercer debt-free. Going to community college was the best thing I could have done.”
Bethany Duncan earned her Nursing degree in December and is working at University of Kentucky (UK) Healthcare, “paying it forward,” just as her grandmother encouraged her to do.
Originally from New Jersey, Bethany moved to Maryland before eventually moving back to New Jersey to live with her grandparents. She got her GED and then enrolled at Mercer in 2011, taking one class each semester for seven years while working at New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group.
Following a mission trip to Haiti, Bethany decided she wanted to be a nurse. “Day to day, you get to pay it forward as a nurse,” she said..
She has a long list of faculty and staff members to thank. “I am so grateful for what Mercer has allowed me to do – earn my degree and work in my field at UK Healthcare, which will pay for me to continue for my B.S.N.”
But it was clearly Bethany’s determination that was the key, with one professor observing, “She has more perseverance than any student I have ever met.” Bethany was the recipient of the Perseverance Award at the Nursing Program’s January Pinning Ceremony.
Bethany considers Mercer to be the beginning of a total turnaround in her life. “As a child, I never wanted to go to school. I didn’t read books. At Mercer, I was tutoring other students. Mercer helped me to do that.”
“People can have a profound effect on you if you hear from them at the right time. When I was younger, I was not in the right environment to hear them. While I was at Mercer, light bulbs went off for me.”
Ricardo Dengler is a returning adult student who started his academic journey at Mercer in 2016. Before that, he was in the service industry. “But I always felt I was capable of better things,” he recalls.
When deciding on college, Ricardo first considered a trade school. “But I ruled it out. I wanted something broader and more academic,” he said. “Mercer was the only place to offer this kind of comprehensive education and help me build an academic life.”
Starting with a Beginning Algebra course, Ricardo quickly discovered he had a gift for mathematics, earning A’s in every single class right through Differential Equations and Calculus 3.
"My professors have been amazing, especially Kyle Anderson. He puts math so concisely that it’s easily digestible," Ricardo said.. "“I am passionate about learning and Mercer has been my stepping stone."
Dengler will pursue his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Rutgers in the fall.
“At Mercer, I have grown to know myself as a person and who I want to be.”
After graduating from Allentown High School in 2015, Tyler enrolled at Mercer to figure out what wanted he wanted to do next and its lower tuition costs made financial sense.
After a rough first semester, Tyler adopted healthier habits that allowed him to focus on his education, even while working. Originally taking Liberal Arts courses "just to get it done," he then took a cinema class with Professor Jody Gazenbeek-Person.
“He challenged me and told me to take advantage of my time here,” Tyler recalled. “I switched my major to Communication, sacrificing some credits, but you can do that here.”
Tyler recalls being too afraid to pursue theater in high school, even though he was a leader in the Youth Ministry at his church and went on mission trips to Maine and Guatemala.
He says he found that courage at Mercer, where he has been very active in the Theatre Program, with roles in last year’s production of “Spring Awakening” and this year’s “Return to the Forbidden Planet.”
“At Mercer, I figured ‘why not?’ I feel free here,” he said.
Tyler says he has been repeatedly surprised by what he has discovered – about Mercer and himself. “Mercer is full of opportunities. Faculty members care so much about individual students and their success. That’s a beautiful asset of this college.”
He is planning to earn his bachelor’s degree in Psychology, but says he will continue to pursue acting opportunities.
“At Mercer, you can be independent, but not alone. You can figure out your journey, but you can ask for help. Mercer offers the opportunities to get your life in order.”
Jessica Isaac enrolled at MCCC in Fall 2017. Since then, she has embraced her college experience fully, serving as president of EOF, which she considers “like family.” She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and a 2019 inductee in Kappa Iota, the college’s chapter of Alpha Mu Gamma, the National Foreign Language Honor Society.
Jessica says she has been amazed by what she has found at Mercer. “Professors are really helpful and accommodating. My friends at universities have not gotten the same kind of attention.”
The MCCC staff has been just as caring. “I have gotten a lot of guidance. Counselor Stefanie Williams encouraged me to take four classes last summer. Without her to motivate me, I would not be graduating now,” Jessica said.
In that same caring spirit, Jessica coordinated EOF food and clothing drives on both campuses with her EOF classmates and led a bake sale that raised funds for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Jessica will be transferring to Rutgers in the fall to study cognitive science and plans to continue for her master’s degree in occupational therapy.
“Once I thought my main gift was making people laugh. Now I know I am much more than that. Mercer showed me I have more potential than I thought.”
Mabel Yeboah moved to the United States in 2016 to live with her mother. She earned her GED and started at MCCC in Fall 2017.
“Mercer goes way beyond grades,” she said. “There are so many activities on campus that make a difference. Mercer has prepared me emotionally, physically and academically.”
Mabel recalls lots of great professors, especially Professor Laura Sosa (Business Administration). “When I started out, I was afraid to talk in class because of my accent. But I realized that she didn’t care about that. She was like my mom at school,” Mabel said.
Not initially sure about her path, Mabel changed her major three times before deciding on Business Administration. It was clearly the right choice.
“I love everything about business,” she said with enthusiasm.
Mabel got the chance to prove that during the Rutgers Business School Case Competition in March, when she and five classmates earned first place for their business strategy for a fledging chocolatier. Mabel took the role of “Mary,” the business’s owner, and was first up in her group’s award-winning presentation.
In the fall of 2018, Mabel joined the EOF program and been embraced by the group.. “They have been like a second family to me,” she said. She is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa and is one of only three students to be inducted into the NJ Business Administration Honor Society.
Mabel also volunteered as a tax filer for the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, which was offered at the college for multiple sessions this spring and led by Business faculty member Kenneth Horowitz, a CPA.
“The professors here are so special. They have made me realize that life is about way more than good grades,” Mabel said.
Yeboah will transfer to Rutgers University in the fall to study Supply Chain Management.