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Introducing Our Gala Scholarship Representatives

4/11/16


These stories are just a small sampling from the approximately 200 students who receive MCCC scholarships each year. Through their generosity, our donors are helping these and other students take their first steps towards achieving their academic and career goals. And, donor support is a powerful reminder to students that others are rooting for them as they strive for satisfying careers and productive lives. There is still time to purchase tickets for the 50th Anniversary Gala here and/or donate to student scholarships here.

Brian Bueno
Architecture


Brian Bueno set his sights on a career as an architect at an early age. He attended high school at Trenton Catholic Academy, and studied architecture at Mercer County Technical Schools (MCTS) during his junior and senior years. When he learned about Mercer’s Architecture program, he knew he had found his college. 

Enrolling in 2013, Brian says he started with the basics, mastering drafting the old-fashioned way as he learned to study and analyze plans and data. Then he progressed to the computer lab and began designing on the college’s state-of-the-art CAD system.

“I am deep into this field. I was born in Brooklyn so I am inspired by big cities. I hope to transfer to a four-year college in either Philadelphia or New York,” he says, adding that his goal is to design houses and other buildings, and furniture. 

“Architecture is art!” he says emphatically.

Brian’s passion has been nurtured at Mercer, where he has enjoyed small classes, individual attention from his professors, and a shared enthusiasm for the field with his classmates.

“Professors are interested in our progress and go out of their way. If you seek support, they are ready to give it,” he says, adding that at the end of the semester, professional architects review students’ portfolios, a key element for transfer.

When Brian enters the field after college, he will already have solid experience. He works in the traffic department of a civil engineering firm, a job he secured while still in high school.

With an older sibling also in college and a younger brother who is a high school junior, Mercer’s reasonable cost has been attractive to Brian and his family. The college’s donors have sweetened the deal even further. “Every bit helps. I have a co-worker who is deep in debt. He tells me how lucky I am not to have that hanging over my head.”

Indeed, Brian is so happy with Mercer that he may be the start of a legacy. “I tell my younger brother that Mercer is the place to go.”

Brian Bueno
 
Jennifer Cordone
Nursing


A wife and mother of two young daughters, a former pharmaceutical sales rep from Manhattan, and a current Nursing student at MCCC – these are all ways to describe Jennifer Cordone, who says that MCCC is giving her the opportunity to reinvent herself.

When the older of her two children was two months old, Jennifer and her husband moved from New York to Robbinsville, at which point she devoted herself to being a full-time mom.

Now that it is time for the second chapter of her career, Jennifer considers nursing to be an ideal choice that will blend her love for science with her desire to nurture and care for people. Plus, she comes from a family of medical professionals, including her mother, who is a nurse.

With the college located just minutes from her house, the strong reputation of the Nursing program and the reasonable cost of tuition, Mercer was the natural place for Cordone to begin again.

She has been motivated by a challenging curriculum and the professors who teach it. “Professors at Mercer accommodate students’ needs. They are available and approachable and they want us to succeed,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer started out at Mercer by repeating some sciences she had taken previously. Now that she is completing her second semester in the Nursing program, she is already mapping out her plan to complete her B.S.N. through Rutgers’ program at Mercer, which includes taking some Rutgers courses online this summer. She will earn her A.S. in Spring 2017 on her way to her bachelor’s degree.

Jennifer was the recipient of the Area VII Physicians Review Organization and the Dr. Paul Janssen Memorial Scholarship this fall. She says she is grateful for the funds, which have helped to pay for tuition and books.

“I am intent on showing my daughters that you can have what you want, but you must work for it. You get out what you put in,” she says.
Jennifer Cordone
 
Ivett Figueroa                   
Education


Ivett Figueroa lived in Queens, New York, until her family moved to Hamilton when she was eight years old. She spoke mostly Spanish in her early years, but after the move, speaking and spelling in English became a priority. Languages have been her passion ever since.

An Education major, Ivett’s goal is to teach Spanish. “I am dedicated to teaching languages because I understand the power of proper communication,” she says.

Following in the footsteps of her sister, who also attended Mercer, Ivett has been inspired by the beauty of the MCCC campus and happy with its convenience to her home.

But Ivett’s greatest motivator has been her two years as a member of the MCCC cross country team. She says it has changed her life. “Every time I finished a race, it made me better for the next time. Running has helped me train my mind and become a stronger person. I have learned to go the extra mile in everything I do.”

Ivett is pleased with Mercer’s Education curriculum, noting that in her very first education course, students were required to visit a school classroom as a reality check on their decision to enter the profession.

And, she has supplemented her classwork by volunteering for Unified Sports, where Education students play soccer and other sports with students with intellectual disabilities from MCCC’s DREAM Program. She plans to transfer for her bachelor’s degree in the fall, and will add Special Education courses to her curriculum. She also plans to begin working as a substitute teacher.

Ivett’s Golf Classic Scholarship from Great Eastern Technologies helped her pay for her books. At one point she was juggling three jobs. Now she is down to just one.

She is thankful to MCCC donors. “You are very smart people. Education is the tool we need to give everyone opportunity. I always knew that education would make the difference for me.”

Ivett Figueroa
 

Kulubo Kokro*
Education


Kulubo Kokro is an adult student who has found a community at Mercer, especially the college’s James Kerney Campus in Trenton.  Kulubo says she struggled to stay focused in high school and stopped going to school in her sophomore. But by 2011, she had found her way back, earning her diploma from the Daylight-Twilight High School. Then she went for training through Job Corps to work as a home health aide. But she couldn’t make ends meet.

Meanwhile her brother, who had attended Mercer, was completing his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at Rutgers and was a voice of encouragement.

“My brother has completed his master’s degree at UCLA and is focusing on a STEM career. He has been my inspiration,” Kulubo says, adding that her older sister also went to college and now works in Human Resources for a pharmaceutical company.  All three are first generation college students.

In 2014 Kulubo enrolled at Mercer. Having always had a soft spot for children and recognizing her own missteps, she says a career path began to emerge.

“I believe I can make a difference as a teacher,” she says. “I want to work with middle school students, especially girls. They will see someone they can relate to and look up to. Some people think there is a lack of opportunity, but it’s out there if you are looking.”

According to Kulubo, MCCC has been an extremely positive environment and the Kerney campus is like a family. "We all know each other and support each other. If we have already taken a class, we tutor those who are coming up behind us. We all want to see each other succeed.”

Kulubo is active on the Student Executive Council (SEC) at JKC. “I am a leader and a positive thinker. I want to share my enthusiasm with others.” As an SEC officer, she leads community services projects on the campus and in the community.

The scholarship Kulubo received from Wells Fargo, one of ten awarded to urban students, has made a difference. “I got my laptop with it. It’s all part of my stepping stones," she says.

*Scholarship Student Representative

Kulubo Kokro
 
Brendon Pearsall
Humanities and Social Science


Brendon Pearsall started college directly after high school, but believes he was not ready to appreciate it. “I believe I would have gotten a degree, but not the one I wanted,” he says.

He began working in his father’s carpentry and building maintenance business as he considered his future. Now, as a returning adult student, Brendon has thrived at Mercer.  He completes his final semester in May. 

Brendon points to some of the obvious ways that MCCC has worked out so well for him. There’s the fact that it’s local, which has allowed him to continue working full-time, as well as the reasonable cost of tuition. But it’s the professors who have changed his life.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the professors, especially in the American Honors programs,” says Brendon, who has taken every possible American Honors at Mercer course he can and will graduate with 25 Honors credits.

Perhaps the biggest single influence on his future career came last May when Brendon went on the MCCC Study Tour to Cuba with Professors Gianna Durso-Finley and Daniel D’Arpa. “Cuba added to my perspective. I saw a diverse and interesting people and another way of life,” he says.

It also put him on a new career path. Originally thinking about being a college professor, the Cuba trip helped Brendon reconnect with his love for gardening and working with his hands. In the fall, he will transfer to Rutgers to pursue his bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Food Systems. He hopes to one day own a small farm business.

The recipient of the Forman and Sloshberg Memorial Scholarship, Brendon says the funding has helped him tremendously, with all of it going towards tuition. He will still have some debt moving forward, but says the scholarship has made his life more manageable – and his goals more achievable.
Brendon Pearsall
 

Akino Tomizawa
Culinology


Akino Tomizawa enrolled at Mercer in Fall 2012 and has been working towards her A.S. degree in Culinology as a part-time student and a busy mother of three.

After previously working in the food service industry in New York City, and then as a baker and prep chef at Agricola in Princeton, Akino knows where her career passions lie, but as a parent, recognizes the difficulty of working in the field while raising a family.

She opted instead to study Culinology, which blends the disciplines of food science and culinary arts and prepares graduates for transfer to Rutgers University, where they earn their bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Food Science.  (Mercer offers one of only a handful of programs in the country approved by the Research Chefs Association.)

“I hope to work for a food manufacturer where I can contribute to new food products while also having regular hours,” Akino says.

While some of her credits transferred from the college she attended before she and her husband started their family, Akino has taken her science prerequisites at Mercer and has found lots of resources to help her be successful, including the Science Learning Center and the Math Club.

And, she notes that her participation in the Hospitality Club has added a lot to her Mercer experience, enabling her to give back to the college and the community. “These activities are all for worthy causes.  And, they help with networking and with meeting students I wouldn’t normally meet. It’s fun,” she says.

A recipient of one of the HRIM program’s Chef Jacket Scholarships, Akino has been grateful for the support. As a part-time student, she has been able to cover almost of her college expenses.

Akino says she is very glad she chose Mercer. “The workload is fair and the professors are always willing to help.  It’s affordable and close enough to home.  It’s a program that works for me.”

Akino Tomizawa
 

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Glenn Kraft