West Windsor, N.J. – Tables adorned with palm fronds and guests in fedora hats, white suits, and floral dresses set the tone for "A Night in Old Havana," this year's theme for Mercer County Community College's (MCCC's) signature annual fundraiser to benefit student scholarships. Held at The Stone Terrace in Hamilton on April 5, the event marked the MCCC Foundation's 30th annual “Spring Into Student Success" (SISS) gala.
More than 200 guests enjoyed the festivities while helping the college raise a record-breaking $130,000 in proceeds. MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang expressed her deep appreciation to all attendees.
“For many students, financial support from donors is what allows them to earn their degrees and achieve their dreams, which, in turn, helps make Mercer County a great place for us all,” Wang said, adding that the college has also enjoyed key support from Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the MCCC Board of Trustees.
Also participating in the program were Co-Chairs Pasquale Colavita Jr., Nina D. Melker of Berkshire Bank, and Peggy Iucolino of PNC Bank. Foundation Board Chair Lori Danko, and MCCC Vice President for College Advancement Joseph Claffey.
Noted Claffey, “As the college’s new vice president for college advancement, this is my introduction into what makes Mercer such a special place for students to get their start. It’s a place where students are treated holistically and nurtured to succeed.”
Danko added, “Many Mercer students do a monumental balancing act – between family and work, between academic assignments and extracurricular activities – like our amazing student leaders who are volunteering tonight, our five-star Phi Theta Kappa chapter, and our championship sports teams. By being here tonight, you are supporting their success.”
The event featured a formal dinner, live music by the Renaissance Orchestra, and a large silent auction, which netted close to $12,000.
Aviation Flight Technology student Cindy Treyger was the student speaker. Treyger, the recipient of the generous Timothy H. Burns Memorial Scholarship and the Sky’s the Limit Scholarship, described her Mercer story as a dream deferred.
Noting that she had wanted to fly since childhood, Treyger put that dream aside for other pursuits. She earned her college degree, joined the Air Force, where she became a Russian linguist and met her future husband, and eventually turned her attention to raising her family.
When her husband began taking flight lessons, Cindy decided it was her turn too. Using the GI bill to cover some of the tuition costs, she enrolled at Mercer and began taking flight lessons with MCCC’s partner, Infinity Flight Group, at Trenton-Mercer Airport.
“I feel extremely fortunate to have found this program. My long-term goal is to fly for an airline. Mercer’s partnership with Infinity and Infinity’s agreement with Piedmont Airlines means that I could realize that goal in as little as a year after I complete this program.”
Treyger notes that the scholarships gave her a major boost that was helpful financially and also good for her morale. “It’s inspiring to know that someone chose me to receive them. I hope that someday I am in a position to give back to another aspiring aviator,” she said.
The evening included an awards presentation honoring community partners for their outstanding contributions and service to MCCC. Receiving this year's Spirit of Education Award were Infinity Flight Group and Piedmont Airlines. As evidenced by Treyger in her speech, the two have played a major role at Mercer dating back to 2014, when Infinity began teaching the flight portion of the aviation program, turning a struggling program into one that is fully enrolled and is training pilots to fill an anticipated pilot shortage over the next decade. This three-way partnership is unique among community colleges, drawing students from a wide swath of the tristate region. Representing Infinity was President Greg John, and representing Piedmont was Lynette Darnell, Manager of Pilot Programs.
NJM Insurance Group was the recipient of the Distinguished Benefactor Award for its civic engagement and support of MCCC’s mission to expand facilities and offerings at the James Kerney Campus in Trenton. Since 2013, the company has pledged $225,000 that has resulted in the renovation of MCCC’s newest Trenton building, Trenton Hall, which now houses the James Kerney Campus Gallery (JKCG), a community room, an outdoor courtyard, and programs in Fashion Design, Security Systems Technology, Cybersecurity, and Health Professions. Representing NJM was President and CEO Mitch Livingston.
The Distinguished Corporate Partner Award was presented to Wells Fargo for its donations totaling almost $70,000 since 2013. In addition to general scholarship support, the bank created the Wells Fargo Urban Scholarship Fund in 2014, which has awarded tuition dollars to nearly 40 students from Trenton area schools, some of whom have no other access to funding. In addition, Wells Fargo regularly hires MCCC graduates, as well as current students. Wells Fargo was represented by Carlos Arroyo, Bank President of the Central Jersey Region.
A special highlight of the evening was the induction of MCCC’s very first professor emeritus, Dr. Yong Sup (Sam) Sim, as a director emeritus of the Foundation Board. Chair Lori Danko presented Dr. Sim with a plaque in gratitude for his contributions to the Foundation and the college. “Sam spent his entire career at Mercer, where he was director of the library and taught information technology and IT literacy until retiring in 1995. Since then, he has been a fundraising leader in the Professors Emeriti Association and as a member of the Foundation Board.”
In addition to Colavita, Danko, Iucolino, and Melker, community representatives on the gala steering committee included Amy Andrejco, Milena DeLuca, Mara Franceschi, PatHartpence, Kathy Klockenbrink, Karen Kennedy, Savita Lachman, Linda Martin, Wayne Staub, Paula Taylor, Melissa Tenzer and John Thurber.
The event enjoyed the support of a long list of sponsors. They included NJM Insurance Group (Royal Palm Sponsor); Wells Fargo (Tropicana Sponsor); Dow Jones and PNC Copacabana Sponsors); Fulton Bank and Arlee’s Blends (Rumba Sponsors); Borden Perlman, IEW Construction, PSE&G, PFM, Rutgers, and Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc. (Mambo Sponsors); Jammin’ Crepes, Berkshire Bank, Mercadien, Capital Health, RJW Barnabas Health, First Bank, Infinity Flight Group, Thomas Edison State University, TD Bank, Investors Bank, Bank of Princeton, Dr. And Mrs. Vladimir Ban, and Domain Computer Services (Cha Cha Cha Sponsors); Edward Jones, Princeton Air Conditioning Inc., and Phoenix Advisors (Conga Line Sponsors); and The Plohn Family, Aamir A. Rehman & Hina J. Ghory, New Jersey Business And Industry Association, Carol L. Golden and Pam Hersh, Melissa Tenzer, Dr. and Mrs. Yong Sup Sim And Princeton Memorial Park, and Jim Faridy (Name Your Scholarship Sponsors).
Supporters who missed the "Spring Into Student Success" gala still have an opportunity to give as part of Community College Month in April by clicking here.