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In Celebration of Women's History Month
Windsor, N.J. - The power of education, the importance of
mentoring, the drive to succeed, and a passion for one's work
were the major themes of panel discussions at both the West
Windsor (WWC) and James Kerney (JKC) campuses as MCCC women
celebrated Women's History Month on March 15. Alumni, faculty
and other female professionals shared their personal success
stories and offered sage advice to the current generation
"The purpose of our celebration today is to inspire you
and give you something to take with you on your journey,"
JKC Career Counselor Kimberly Bowser told the group at the
Kerney campus. Many of the panelists were first generation
college students who attended school with the encouragement
of family members or mentors.
The program at the West Windsor campus was hosted by MCCC's
chapter of the American Association of Women in Community
Colleges. Panelists included Director of Advisement/ Enrollment
Services Latonya Ashford-Ligon; Athletic Trainer and Associate
Athletics Director Lisa Camillone; MCCC Work Study Coordinator
Jean Falvo; MCCC Board member Gwendolyn Harris; Biology Professor
Diane Hilker; Associate Professor of Business and Technology
Andrea Lynch; and Student Activities Events Coordinator Tina
Young. The Kerney Campus event was hosted by MCCC's Division
of Student Affairs and featured Administrative Specialist
Ayodele Kanyako; Learning Center Coordinator Joann Mia; The
Islamic School of Trenton's Administrative Director Bayyinah
Muhsin; and Director of the Mercer County One-Stop Career
Center Virgin Velez.
Lynch described the path that brought her to Mercer. A first
generation college student who grew up in Camden, she was
intrigued by computers, a new field when she first attended
college, particularly for women. After graduating from Rutgers
University, she became a computer programmer and then went
back to school to earn her master's degree in Business. "But
I always wanted to teach," she said. First a volunteer
at JKC, her current career as a faculty member combines business,
computers and teaching. "Never give up on your dreams,"
MCCC trailblazer is Camillone, the first in her family to
set her sights on college. "I knew I wanted to go to
college from the time I was 10," she said. The best athlete
in a family of boys, she was used to the "tomboy"
label. "There were no organized women's sports at that
time. My high school gym teacher was my mentor," she
said. While attending Montclair State, she met the school's
athletic trainer. "I knew I could do that. I didn't see
hurdles." She advised students to "put your head
down and go for it!"
panelists pictured with students, from left, Dr. Gwendolyn
Harris, Professor Diane Hilker, Dr. LaTonya Ashford-Ligon,
Lisa Camillone, Tina Young (foreground), Associate Professor
Andrea Lynch and Work Study Coordinator Jean Falvo. The panel
moderator was Amy Immordino.
JKC, the panel featured Ayodele Kanyako, Mercer County One-Stop
Director Virgin Velez, moderator Diane Campbell, The Islamic
School's Bayyinah Muhsin, Learning Center Coordinator Joann
Mia and Career Counselor Kimberly Bowser.
and others who attended the event at the MCCC Conference Center
gave a hearty round of applause to panel members.
Gwendolyn Harris noted the importance of being prepared for
opportunities. Having first earned a bachelor's degree in
Social Work, she went on to earn a master's degree in Business,
and finally her doctorate one class at a time. "Hard
work was drilled into me by my family," she said. She
also spoke of the importance of believing in yourself. "Trust
that you will figure it out," she advised. Harris has
worked as a leader in health and human services for the city
of Trenton and the state of New Jersey. She is also giving
back by serving on the MCCC Board. "This is my community.
I have a stake here," Harris said.
For Dr. Ashford-Ligon, one of the keys was "having many
cheerleaders." A lifelong Trenton resident, she found
mentoring and networking to be key to her success. She earned
her bachelor's degree in Business and served as a JKC recruiter
for seven years, continuing for her master's degree at Rider
and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Rowan. She notes
that her educational background has been useful in unexpected
ways. "It all connects. Whatever you gather in your lifetime
has a purpose. Stick to it."
Joann Mia earned her GED from Mercer in the 1970s, but didn't
further her education until the late 1990s. Discovering that
it's never too late, she earned a certificate as a legal secretary
and then her associate degree in Humanities and Social Science.
She completed her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education/American
Studies from Rider University and then her master's in Liberal
Studies from Thomas Edison State College. While education
has become a way of life, Mia says it felt like an impossibility
in the beginning. "The determination is inside you. I
used the resources at Mercer, and then I became the resource
so I could help others like me."
Bayyinah Muhsin was working full time when she returned to
school at Mercer to bolster her credentials. "I realized
if I didn't make the time every day, I would never accomplish
my goals. I persevered and I was able to do it," she
said. Muhsin earned her associate degree in Liberal Arts,
and then went on to earn both her bachelor's and master's
degree from Sunbridge Institute in New York, which specializes
in teacher training for Waldorf education.
Virgin Velez moved to the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico when
she was a child. Also a first generation college graduate,
Velez's parents "gave me all the emotional support I
needed," she said through tears. After earning her associate's
degree in secretarial science at Mercer, Velez got a job in
the governor's office. Four years later she returned to Mercer
and took a class, which led her to pursue her bachelor's degree
at Rider University. In
her current position, Velez works closely with MCCC to help
students and graduates find jobs. "I love what I do,"
she said, adding that her drive to continue her education
has inspired her sons, nieces and nephews to do the same.
"For some people, Mercer is the means to a job, and for
others, it's the first step in their education," Velez
said. "If you think about your own situation, you can
always come up with 1,000 reasons why you can't get the education
you want. But sometimes you have to look past those obstacles
and just find a way to do it."
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