WEST WINDSOR – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) recognized a year of achievement among its Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) students at a ceremony and luncheon on May 9. Serving as master of ceremonies was Tyler Anderson (Class of 2021).
“I am a proud member of EOF and excited to mark the end of my first year at Mercer,” Anderson said as he welcomed his fellow students and other guests in the MCCC Conference Center auditorium.
“We are so proud of your accomplishments,” said MCCC President Jianping Wang. “We thank the faculty and staff who mentored you and cheered you on. And to the graduates, we know you can and will go further. Mercer is just the beginning.”
Following an invocation by Rev. Robert Wittik, MCCC’s chaplain, Dr. Diane Campbell, Vice President for Student Affairs, offered her congratulations. “This is the time of year we look forward to most. We see you all year in classes and now we see you having gotten the job done – either graduating and moving on, or returning to Mercer in the fall to complete your associate degrees.”
Campbell pointed to an essential ingredient of success – grit. “That’s what makes someone successful. Our EOF students have it. It’s what propels you to excellence,” she said.
The alumni speaker for the ceremony was Anida Masuod, a 2013 graduate. The daughter of Afghan refugees, Masuod was born and raised in Trenton and during high school participated in the Upward Bound program at Mercer’s James Kerney Campus. She is now a health care coach at Capital Health Systems.
Recalling her journey at Mercer, she said, “EOF welcomed me with open arms. I worked two part-time jobs while going to school full-time. I gained skills that helped me get my current job.”
Masuod recalled tough times when she needed to turn to her EOF advisers and says she came out of those meetings with more resolve. “If they call you out on something, appreciate that,” she told the students. “They see potential in you that you may not be aware of.”
Masuod transferred to New Jersey City University (NJCU) after Mercer and immediately got involved in the EOF program there, where she continued to find a supportive community. Having decided to tackle some challenging science courses at Mercer, she recalled that her GPA upon transfer was not strong. “But by senior year at NJCU, I graduated cum laude,” Masuod said.
In her current job Masuod works with high risk patients who need help navigating the hospital setting, including providing them with a better understanding of their diagnosis and recommended treatments.
"Working in this position has given me purpose," Masuod said. "I realized that coming back home to help people in my community was my real purpose.”
She encouraged students to never stop learning. “Continue to seek knowledge in every discipline. Have multiple mentors and know what your real support system is. And don’t let anyone get in the way of your hustle.”
Next up was the Graduate Roll Call. Thirty students were presented with the EOF stoles that are worn during Commencement. Seven of these students were singled out for their membership in the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, which requires a GPA of 3.5 or higher. They included Maria Fayyaz, Jailene Figueroa, Gertrude Honutse, Nunana Honutse, Jessica Isaac, Zainab Nabeel and Mabel Yeboah.
Two students, Yeboah and Yinping Huang, were named to the Fall 2018 President’s List for achieving a 4.0 GPA and 46 students were recognized for High Academic Achievement (a GPA of 3.0 or higher). Eleven students earned Perseverance Awards and 12 were selected for the Commission of Higher Education and EOF Awards.
The recipient of the Professor Maria Rodriguez “Above and Beyond” Award was Academic Counselor Leroy Wilkerson. In accepting the award, he noted that he preferred to stay in the background. “But I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Professor Rodriguez. She was my mentor. She taught me how to do my job so that I could teach students how to do theirs,” he said, adding, “All of the staff members here try to make a difference in students’ lives. My name is on the award, but it’s about all of us.”
Receiving the Dean Edward Frederick “Champion Award” was Bilquis Zaka, a financial aid officer who was praised for her holistic approach to each student. Zaka, an MCCC alumna and former EOF member, recalled Dean Frederick’s influence in her life. “If you knew Dean Frederick, you knew that he took action to do what he had to do. He gave me my chance. He was a champion for the program and a champion person,” Zaka said.
Assistant Dean and EOF Director Barbara Jefferson announced the 2019 Community Partner of the Year Award. This year’s recipient was Sharea Farmer, of RS Counseling and Wellness Center. Farmer was selected for “her generous work and unwavering support of MCCC and EOF students.”
Jefferson noted that Farmer is like a mom to students. “She has taken them on college tours, held free workshops, and helped them take care of themselves in all areas of their lives.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, Jefferson added her own congratulatory words to students for a year well spent. And, she offered some sage advice.
“You have your whole life ahead of you," she said. "Surround yourself with people who are busy and have the same goals and dreams that you have. Connect with those who could be your mentor educationally, someone you can turn to in family situations, someone you can turn to spiritually. Be on a mission to do that."
Jefferson continued, “You have to find your purpose and your passion in life. Helping others and loving one another are good places to start. Go forth and do really good things.”