February 2024 Winners

These Students Show CAPE-ability Everyday

Photo of Vivian Fernandes,’17

Vivian Fernandes,’17

Disability Accommodation Specialist
Office of Accessibility Services

A dedicated and supportive mentor, a confidante and role model who empowers students, instills confidence, and fosters an environment of trust and mutual respect.

These are just some of the qualities that Scott Underwood, College Laboratory Technician, Academic Computing Center, and Dr. Brian Mitra, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment have used to describe Vivian Fernandes. They agree she is a shining example of what the C.A.R.E.S. Award stands for at Queensborough.

Vivian has worked in the Office of Accessibilities (OAS) since 2015, first at the front desk, then as a notetaker in classrooms, and as an Academic Skills Coaching Specialist before her reclassification to Disability Accommodation Specialist.

Currently Vivian is working part-time while she pursues her master's in science degree in Disability Services in Higher Education, an online degree program at the School for Professional Studies. It is the first program of its kind in the country.

“Working with disabled students calls for a connection that goes beyond the classroom. They are determined to be as independent as possible and want to be treated the same as everyone else. They want access to tools that will help put them on a path to academic and social success.”

“And that is our charge. And we have excellent tools to help our students reach their goals.”

Just a few of the major assistive technologies are Kurzweil 1000 and ZoomText, advanced software for reading and Zoom meetings for people who are blind or legally blind. Materials from classes can be printed in Brail. Kurzweil 3000 is a literary support software and Dragon is a voice recognition software for people who are dyslexic or have mobility issues. Glean is a notetaker for students who are hard of hearing—or who need a writing option.

All the technology is in OAS where students are trained to use the software and download it on their phones, iPads, or laptop. If they had technical support in high school such as a note taker, OAS provides them with matching software.

“We want to create an individualized education program based on the assistance the student received in high school,” said Vivian. “Determining the software needs and other accommodation requires careful consideration and includes whether extended time is needed to complete exams and quizzes.

Students must self-identify their needs and then OAS conducts an intake to approve them for accommodation. Vivian works with students on time management, study skills, note taking, motivation, self-confidence, and goal setting.

Vivian emphasized that it is not all about software and academic counseling. Snacks and Chats is a group activity held weekly to encourage social connection and trips to the cultural centers. Last semester students played pool in the lower level of the Student Union and explored virtual reality.

Vivian knows how important it is to make friends at college. She withdrew from Queensborough several times before she got her A.S. degree in Criminal Justice in 2017. “I was painfully shy and isolated--afraid of making mistakes. I missed making friends and getting involved in clubs and other activities.” She says she was fortunate to meet Student Disability Services Director Ben-Ami Freier, who hired her for a work-study position that encouraged her self-confidence. “I have learned so much from him about the disability world itself.”

Like many Queensborough students the language barrier was her first hurdle. She arrived in the U.S. from her home country of Brazil in 2004 and settled with her mother in Astoria, Queens.

“The first thing I felt was the vibrancy of New York City-- the many possibilities in education and employment that I did not have in Brazil. I still feel that way--even more so--as I have reaped the benefits of a quality education and enjoyed lasting bonds with my colleagues and students. I love the culture of care at Queensborough.”

Dr. Mitra notes that Vivian brings her special brand of enthusiasm to the College’s Welcome Tables and Fuel Up for Finals and Technology and Gaming Club holiday parties.

Recently, Vivian and a colleague of hers from CUNY Start received kudos from a parent for supporting his son emotionally during a difficult transition from high school to college. The father commended them both as amazing individuals.

“I want to be a dedicated advocate in every way I can.  Every year I attend the Student Empowerment Rally in Albany along with Queensborough students and alumni to request more support for resources for students with disabilities.”  

Belief in Oneself is Just the Beginning

Photo of Monalisa (Mona) Gomes

Monalisa (Mona) Gomes

Higher Education Assistant and Program Support Specialist
CUNY Start Program

The other day, a letter was sent to CUNY Start by a father, thanking Mona Gomes for her extraordinary support of his son, Steve, that made such a wonderful difference in his life.

The letter described his son as “having been bullied throughout middle and high school. As a result, he suffered from chronic depression and gave up attending college. [I am so grateful] Mona stepped in and, along with the Office of Accessibility Services, encouraged him to express his individuality and believe in himself.”

Her efforts on behalf of this student and many other students demonstrate an exemplary commitment to inspiring students to succeed, to stay the course, and get their degree. Mona exemplifies the College’s culture of care.

“It’s important to meet students where they are,” said Mona, who noted that CUNY Start provides an academic safety net. “Steve struggled from severe social anxiety, so we worked with him to build a hybrid course schedule that allowed him to be online two times per week. His stress level eased, and he passed every course in one semester. Now he is studying computer science.”

CUNY Start is a developmental education program for students who need to take one or more skills development courses before beginning credit-bearing courses. At a maximum cost of $75 per semester, CUNY Start can help save limited financial aid dollars for courses that will earn credit toward graduation.

Since coming to Queensborough in 2011, the CUNY Start programs have helped thousands of students prepare for college. Students can meet all their remedial requirements, prepare for the challenge of college-level work, and work with a dedicated adviser who will ensure they have the tools needed to successfully navigate the first semesters of college.

Mona launched her career in CUNY Start at Laguardia Community College, where she served for five years in the English and Advisement program.

In 2017, she learned of an opening in the CUNY Start program at Queensborough and applied as Program Support Specialist - CUNY Start student adviser.

“I remember the welcoming atmosphere of my colleagues, the beautiful sunset across the campus as we finished our work and the aroma of the grilled foods from food trucks by the Y building. I heard students speaking an array of languages--Mandarin, Bangla, Urdu, Creole, Spanish, and Arabic as they jumped off the Q27 buses and made their way up the hill to the center of campus. There was a buzz of excitement in the air for the start of a new fall term as fireflies guided evening students to their new classrooms.”

The extraordinary diversity at Queensborough was significant to Mona who was born in Bangladesh where many Asian languages are spoken. Although she emigrated as a young girl with her family to the U.S., she has retained her Bengali culture.

And while the boat has righted itself from the worst of Covid, there were many lessons learned. The crisis brought to the surface a lack of access to technology.  The Office of Information Technology worked long hours—morning to night—making sure students had laptops during the shutdown. Remote teams also distributed laptops to students who had no access to technology at home.

“Queensborough’s laptop loan device was a life saver for students. It was a window to the world and provided an escape from grim reality. During this time attendance was remarkably high. Students were active on Zoom and Black Board and other educational online platforms. Our office also loaned laptops to students, and they could tap into hotspots throughout New York City because many students did not have Wi-Fi.”

She reflected, “The academic rigor here is balanced by a calm atmosphere, a feeling of peace inspired by creativity, student activity and a rare diversity found in few other places of learning. My amazing colleagues, thirty-three in all, including my director, Bonnie Flaherty, are models of professionalism and leadership. We all feel an immense joy in making a difference in students' lives.”

Campus Cultural Centers

Kupferberg Holocaust Center exterior lit up at nightOpens in a new window
Kupferberg Holocaust Center Opens in a new window

The KHC uses the lessons of the Holocaust to educate current and future generations about the ramifications of unbridled prejudice, racism and stereotyping.

Russian Ballet performing at the Queensborough Performing Arts CenterOpens in a new window
QPAC: Performing Arts CenterOpens in a new window

QPAC is an invaluable entertainment company in this region with a growing national reputation. The arts at QPAC continues to play a vital role in transforming lives and building stronger communities.

Queensborough Art Gallery exterior in the afternoonOpens in a new window
QCC Art Gallery

The QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York is a vital educational and cultural resource for Queensborough Community College, the Borough of Queens and the surrounding communities.