Accomplishments by Top Grads Celebrated at MCCC's 2019 Honors Convocation


WEST WINDSOR – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) recognized the academic excellence of more than 100 students during its 2019 Honors Convocation on May 17. Held in Kelsey Theatre just hours before the college’s Commencement, students received certificates and scholarships to recognize their achievements.

Joining in the celebration were administrators, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family members and friends. Presiding over the ceremony was Dr. Theresa Capra, Professor of Education and the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award.

All of Mercer’s academic divisions were represented, as students were escorted down stage by faculty program coordinators, where they were congratulated by Dr. Jianping Wang, MCCC President; Dr. Robert Schreyer, Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dr. Diane Campbell, Vice President for Student Affairs; Deans Dr. Farah Bennani (Business and STEM), Dr. Kevin Duffy (Health Professions), and Dr. Robert Kleinschmidt (Liberal Arts); and Joseph Claffey, Vice President for College Advancement.

Prior to the start, Music students Kylan Hillman, Samuel Meerwarth and Joseph Suarez provided a musical prelude to the festivities. A PowerPoint slide show capturing many of the honorees during the past academic year ran on a loop.

“The students we are recognizing today never settled for anything less than excellence during their academic journeys,” said Capra in her opening remarks. “Their ambition will continue to lead them through the rest of their education and professional lives.”

Speaking on behalf of MCCC alumni was Carly Layton, who graduated from Mercer in 2018 and has continued her studies in Psychology through the William Paterson University program at Mercer. She currently serves as the alumni trustee of MCCC’s Board of Trustees.

“Throughout my time here, I’ve learned important, valuable lessons,” Layton said. “I’ve learned that there is no shame in asking for help, that sometimes it takes a team to push forward. And although we come from diverse backgrounds and face individual challenges, we all share the desire to succeed.”

Honors Convocation graduates received scholarships that will help them as they move on in their scholastic endeavors. Ricardo Dengler was the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award in Mathematics, as well as the Professor Betty Wallace Cornelius Mathematics Excellence Scholarship. Dengler will study chemistry at Rutgers University in the fall.

A returning adult student, Dengler recalls his time at Mercer as life-changing. “People can have a profound effect on you if you hear from them at the right time. When I was younger, I was not in the right environment to hear them. While I was at Mercer, light bulbs went off for me,” he said.

Business Administration graduate Mabel Yeboah, who received the Fred Anker Memorial Scholarship, observed that “Mercer goes way beyond grades. There are so many activities on campus that make a difference. Mercer has prepared me emotionally, physically and academically.” Yeboah will continue her studies at Rutgers in supply chain management.

Several top scholars received multiple awards. Akino Tomizawa earned the Excellence in Chemistry Award, as well as the Education Award presented by the MCCC Faculty Association Scholarship in Honor of Professor Emeritus David E. Collier. She was also the recipient of an Albert B. Kahn Scholarship and National Science Foundation S-STEM Scholarship in Biology and Chemistry. Tomizawa, who previously studied culinary arts at Mercer, is transferring to Rutgers to pursue her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology and food science.

Among other honorees who were called to the stage multiple times were returning adult Jerald Albrecht, the recipient of the Rocky Brook Garden Club Scholarship and an Albert B. Kahn Foundation Scholarship, and Victoria Blankenbiller, who received a Mercer Honors Program Achievement Award and a National Science Foundation S-STEM Scholarship in Math. Blankenbiller will continue her math studies at The College of New Jersey.

Twin sisters Natalie and Naomi Kinnamon were both in the spotlight. Natalie earned the Samuel Willig Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Advertising and Graphic Design, while sister Naomi received the Outstanding Achievement Award in Liberal Arts, an Albert B. Kahn Scholarship, and a Mercer Honors Program Achievement Award.

Honors Convocation was also an opportunity for Mercer's Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) students to shine. Eight members of the Mercer chapter earned 5-Star Awards. PTK officers Simone Beukes and Victoria Fredrick were recognized for being selected as Mercer's representatives on the PTK All-USA New Jersey Community College Academic Team. Fredrick was also acknowledged for receiving a New Century Scholars Award. Fredrick will continuing her Nursing studies at Rutgers on the MCCC campus.

In total, ten students received Albert B. Kahn Scholarships and an additional ten were recipients of National Science Foundation S-STEM Scholarships. William Paterson University awarded scholarships to 20 students. Numerous other students received named scholarship from generous donors.

Scholar athletes were also acknowledged. The Forman Athletic Memorial Scholarship went to Karissa Estelle (women’s soccer) and David Stec (baseball), while Dr. Cynthia Schaffer Memorial Scholarships were awarded to Taylor Mastropasqua (women’s soccer) and Jared Schram (baseball). Estelle was selected to the 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association All-Region 19 Second Team and Mastropasqua was Mercer’s representative for the 2019 National Women and Girls in Sports Day.

While many of the students recognized on stage will be transferring to four-year colleges in the fall, others are heading straight to the workforce. Marissa Roth, who earned her associate degree in Television Production in 2011 and returned to earn a second associate degree as a Medical Office Assistant, is already working for Medical Diagnostics Laboratory. She said, “I learned a lot at Mercer. It definitely prepared me for employment. Now I am full-time with benefits!”

Paralegal graduate Samantha Costa, who was this year’s student speaker at Commencement, is also on the job. An independent internship through the Paralegal Program with the Office of the Public Guardian led Costa to a permanent paralegal job there. “I have not had a bad day at work,” she said. “I am in a field where I help people. It’s a job that matters.”

Ten NJ Stars graduates were also among the honorees, along with seven Mercer Honors grads.

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Science student Akino Tomizawa received four awards for academic excellence. She is pictured with, from left, Board member Larry Nespoli, President Jianping Wang, Professor of Chemistry Helen Tanzini, Dean Farah Bennani, and Interim Vice President Rob Schreyer.

Among the eight PTK scholars to receive 5-Star Awards were, from left, Keighley Hullfish, Lena Garcia Lopez and Austin Chee.

Graduates Victoria Fredrick, fourth from left, and Simone Beukes, represented Mercer on the All-USA New Jersey Community College Academic Team. They are pictured with, from left, MCCC Board member Larry Nespoli, President Jianping Wang, PTK advisers Gina Migliaccio and Jingrong Huang, and Interim Vice President Rob Schreyer.

Mercer scholar athletes recognized at Honors Convocation were, second from left to right, David Stec, Karissa Estelle, Sofia Stepanoff and Taylor Mastropasqua. They are pictured with John Simone, Assistant Dean for Student Services, and Keir Livingston, Associate Athletics Director, far right.

Natalie Kinnamon, the recipient of the Samuel Willig Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Advertising and Graphic Design, shakes hands with President Jianping Wang as proud faculty member Tina LaPlaca looks on.

Carly Layton, alumni member of the Board of Trustees, was a guest speaker at the ceremony.

Commencement student speaker Samantha Costa heads down stage with Paralegal Program Coordinator Erin Rybicki. Costa received the Outstanding Achievement Award in the Paralegal Program.