West Windsor, N.J. – Students at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) often say that they come to regard the college as a second home and their classmates as family.
In some cases, classmates are family. The May 17 Commencement for the Class of 2019 featured three such families graduating together: a mother and her two daughters, a set of twins, and a mother and son.
The Fredricks, of East Windsor – mom Victoria and daughters Lauren and Rachel – recall the summer of 2016 when the sisters were set to attend MCCC, Lauren to study education and Rachel to study nursing. They were familiar with the college, having taken Mercer classes through a dual enrollment agreement while still at Hightstown High School.
It came as a bit of a surprise when their mom, Victoria, announced that she too had decided to enroll at Mercer to study nursing.
The three say it’s been a fascinating and often intense journey, bolstered by their support of each other, along with occasional friendly competition. This was particularly true for Victoria and Rachel, both of whom earned their A.S. degrees in Nursing, a program known for its challenging curriculum.
“We learned from each other,” Rachel said, adding that she got to see a new side of her mom. “She was always the one to ask questions, even when no one else was asking. It was information we all wanted to know.”
The two took many classes together. Rachel helped Victoria with prerequisite courses in Anatomy and Physiology, along with Microbiology. Victoria excels at applying what she has learned, a key skill in the nursing setting that she helped to nurture in Rachel.
Rachel noted it was great just to have someone to talk to. “When you are in the Nursing program, you are in your own world. We understood what each other was dealing with,” she said.
They also learned to respect each other’s boundaries. “If Rachel needed to watch a movie the day before a test, that was her process,” Victoria said.
All three were academic standouts and joined Mercer’s chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) International Honor Society. Victoria became particularly active, serving in leadership roles and working on numerous service projects. At Honors Convocation, she was recognized as one of two students named to the All-USA New Jersey Community College Academic Team and as the recipient of a prestigious New Century Scholars Award, sponsored by the Coca Cola Foundation, the American Association of Community Colleges, and PTK.
Lauren too was recognized at Honors Convocation, receiving a PTK Award and a Presidential Transfer Award from William Paterson University, where she will transfer to earn her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Lauren attended MCCC while working several part-time jobs. She says she confirmed her decision to teach young children after observing preschool and first grade classes as part of her Mercer curriculum.
Rachel supplemented her education by becoming trained to serve on the Mercer County Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer program of first responders that required her to undergo 18 hours of training. She also participated in the college’s Service Learning Tour to Costa Rica in 2018 with nine other students, spending a week leading community service and educational activities focused on dental hygiene and nutrition for elementary school children. She recently returned from MCCC's Study Tour to Ireland, where students learned about the Irish healthcare system and visited historic sites.
Through MCCC’s University Center, the Fredricks will continue to be on campus together in the years to come. In addition to Lauren attending the William Paterson program at Mercer, both Rachel and Victoria will pursue their B.S.N. degrees through the Rutgers-Camden program at Mercer.
Twins Naomi and Natalie Kinnamon, of Hopewell, say they chose to attend Mercer because neither knew what they wanted to study in college. “It’s hard to pick a four-year school when you are unsure of your direction,” Natalie said, adding that two of their closest high school friends also headed to Mercer at the same time.
The Kinnamons said it was nice to get the lay of the campus together and then branch out. And both ended up shining on their own.
Natalie graduated from Mercer with an A.A.S. degree in Advertising & Graphic Design. Two of her paintings were featured in the Visual Arts Student Exhibition; she attended the opening reception with Naomi and their mom. Natalie was the winner of the Samuel Willig Memorial Scholarship at Honors Convocation, presented to an outstanding graphic design student in memory of Willig, who served as chair of the Art Department.
Sister Naomi was also a standout student. She too was recognized at Honors Convocation, earning the Outstanding Achievement Award in Liberal Arts and an Albert B. Kahn Foundation Scholarship. She was one of seven students to be selected for Outstanding Achievement in the Mercer Honors program.
As the twins prepare to transfer to different four-year schools in the fall – Natalie to Virginia Tech to continue her studies in graphic design, and Naomi to Savannah College of Art & Design to pursue costume design, they are excited. “We have been together for the last 20 years. It’s time for us to do our own thing,” Naomi said.
The twins say Mercer was the right choice for them. “I would do the same thing over again. We both figured things out,” Naomi said.
Love and pride were much on display at Commencement for mother and son Magdalena (A..S., Nursing) and Mateusz (A.S., Criminal Justice) Kuklinski, of Lawrenceville.
Magdalena's path to her Nursing degree was a long one. She immigrated to the United States in 2001 with no English language skills, and initially came to Mercer in the mid-2000s to take English as a Second Language classes. With two young boys at home, she took one class at a time until she was accepted into the Nursing program and began focusing in earnest on earning her degree.
Fortuitous timing brought the two of them together in May as members of the Class of 2019.
“It’s a privilege to graduate with my son, especially being Polish and coming to a new country, and starting nursing as a second career,” Magdalena said. “I’m very happy to finish college at the same time. I am very proud of my son.”
Mateusz said it was “kind of surreal” attending college at the same time as his mother, even though they were seldom on campus at the same time. He is already a member of a local volunteer fire department and plans on attending the Dempster Fire Training Center later this year. His goal is to attend the Mercer County Police Academy and work as an area law enforcement officer.
He credits his MCCC education with giving him the flexibility to actively pursue his career goals. “I had a good experience here at Mercer,” Mateusz said. “It’s very affordable. I’m graduating with zero debt.”
As for Magdalena, she already has a new job at Capital Health Medical Center – the same facility where she has been working for years as a lab phlebotomist. Having already passed her nursing licensure exam (N-CLEX), she is scheduled to start working as a nurse in early June.
“I’ll be going back, but this time as a nurse,” Magdalena said. “It’s a happy day.”