July 2024 Winners

Being There for Students Right Out of the Gate and as They Cross the Finish Line

Photo of Bonnie Flaherty

Bonnie Flaherty

CUNY Start

Bonnie Flaherty, who served as HEO Marshal for this year’s spring commencement, beamed with pride as former CUNY Start student Melanie Jerez gave her Valedictorian speech. “I loved her speech. She focused on taking chances, following a dream, and finding community. Her words reflected a successful academic journey that had its beginning in CUNY Start and the culture of care she found at Queensborough.”

Melanie, the first in her family to attend college, took math with CUNY Start in her first semester at Queensborough, joined ASAP and worked as a math tutor with CUNY Start for several semesters. Bonnie said, “I had the pleasure of advising a math section that Melanie was assigned to last year and had the opportunity to work with her. She was a trusted and valued mentor and guide for students just starting on their college path.”

“Whenever there is an opportunity, Bonnie is eager to help improve student success. She is a beloved advisor to students and mentor to her instructors and advisors alike,” said Michael Pullin, Ph.D., Dean for Academic Initiatives who nominated Bonnie for the C.A.R.E.S. Award.

CUNY Start had its first cohort at Queensborough in Fall 2011, serving 50 students. Bonnie joined the program as an English teacher in Spring 2012 and trained new English teachers over the next few semesters to support the expansion of the program. Today, CUNY Start typically serves 350 students each fall, 250 students each spring, and 125 students each summer.

The programs have helped thousands of students prepare to thrive in college, meeting all their developmental English and math requirements, and prepare for the challenge of college-level work. They work with a dedicated advisor who will make sure that they have the tools needed to successfully navigate the first semesters of college.

Dean Pullin added, “Despite the long hours and challenging work for students, CUNY Start is warm and welcoming. Most of its students complete the program and go on to pursue associate degrees. Some of these same students return there for advice and assistance long after they have matriculated. It becomes their home on campus.”

Bonnie’s home was originally in rural Iowa. When she was a young girl, her family moved to Iowa City. She attended the University of Iowa, earning her bachelor's degree in English and Secondary Education in 1995. She then taught middle and high school English outside of Des Moines until 2000.

During this time, Bonnie met and married her husband, who had also grown up in Iowa. “My husband had always loved New York City, so we took a chance and moved while we were both still early in our professional lives.”

“We lived in Yonkers, then moved to the Upper East Side and when our growing family needed more space, we settled in Jackson Heights where we have lived ever since. It has been a joy to raise our daughters in this tight-knit community, experiencing everything that Queens has to offer.” Bonnie has been an active participant in Jackson Heights, leading Girl Scout troops for 13 years, volunteering with a local youth swim team, and working with the community Open Streets initiative since 2020.

Bonnie learned about CUNY Start through a close community friend who taught in CUNYStart at Kingsborough Community College and told her about an opening in the program at Queensborough. At the time Bonnie was wearing many hats, freelancing from home, conducting curriculum development for Kaplan and Pearson, and finishing a master's degree in English literature at Hunter College.

“This was the kind of teaching job I had imagined for a long time. A chance to provide students with a steppingstone to a successful college experience.” Bonnie accepted the job at Queensborough in 2012 as a teacher in the CUNY Start program for English, where she taught until 2014. After working in a professional development position for LaGuardia Community College’s Adult and Continuing Education division for a year, Bonnie returned to CUNY Start in 2015 in a leadership role.

And what do students say about their CUNY Start experience?

“All my life * math was my nemesis, not anymore.”

“Everything we went over comes up some way somehow in my classes.”

“I feel I have an advantage over students who did not go through the program.”

“They do not give up on you.”

“Instructors have an engaging way of teaching.”

“If not for CUNY Start, I would not have survived college.”

“It has made me a better overall student and person.”

In addition to directing CUNY Start, Bonnie led the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP) for more than a year after their long-time director retired in February 2020.  Bonnie is also helping lead the development and implementation of a new First Year Experience program for Queensborough students. She collaborated with Michael Verdino, Director of Academy Advisement and Carolyn King, Associate Professor, Math to create a first-year success curriculum for first time students.  Elizabeth Nercessian, Director of the Student Success Center, and Bonnie are co-chairs of The First Year Experience task force. They piloted several sections of the classes in fall ‘23 and spring ‘24. Part of the QCC’s Strategic Plan, these initiatives are expanding to serve 500 new students in fall ‘24.

*Quotes are based on CUNY Start/Math Start video

A Behind the Scenes Role, Flawlessly Performed, Showcases Success

Photo of Jesse Peña

Jesse Peña

‘08, College Laboratory Technician
Academic Computing Center

Outside of Jesse Peña’s office in the library basement is a three-dimensional sign that reads “ON THE AIR” in thick red letters. The neon sign—which still works at the flip of a switch--is an artifact from the 1970’s when WQCC, a student-run radio station, broadcast music and talk throughout the campus.

There is an ironic connection between Jesse and this sign.

Jesse has been a familiar voice and presence to his colleagues at Queensborough for 14 years. He is an apt audio-visual technician who is ready on a moment’s notice to provide technical support to academic departments, special events, performances, and cultural exhibits. And if there is a technical glitch, he pivots on the spot. Indeed, Jesse’s job is LIVE.

“Jesse is passionate about his work and consistently strives to solve complex technical issues,” said Alexia Wang, ‘23, a curatorial fellow involved in multiple projects of the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC).

Alexia, who nominated Jesse for the QCC C.A.R.E.S. Award, added, “Jesse is supportive, empathetic, and exceptionally flexible in finding alternative solutions. He cares deeply about the entire campus community and offers students and interns learning opportunities and practical experiences.”

“Alexia is a joy to work with,” said Jesse. “She has helped reduce my workload by quickly picking up technical skills I share with her. She is a great asset to the Kupferberg Holocaust Center and the Art Gallery.”

Jesse, born and raised in Queens, graduated from Queensborough in 2008 with an associate in science (A.A.S.) degree in Computer Engineering Technology. He continued his education at New York City College of Technology and upon earning his bachelor’s degree in 2010, City Tech offered him an adjunct College Lab Technician line in the Engineering Technology department.

At about the same time, he was offered an adjunct College Lab Technician line at Queensborough.

“Taking the job at Queensborough was an easy decision. I had been happy here as a student and knew I would be happy here as an employee. I was right.”

Soon, in 2012, he began working with the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP) and CUNY Start. Throughout his career at Queensborough, Ray also worked with QPAC and served as a technician for Continuing Education and Workforce Development (CEWD).

When Jesse first came on board he worked with Ray Perez and Tom Shemanski in the Academic Computing Center. “I met Tom when we were on the same volleyball team as students. I worked with Ray for more than a decade. They showed me what Queensborough’s culture of care means as I learned the ins and outs of the job.”  When Ray went out on medical leave in 2016 Jesse was promoted to full-time College Lab Technician.

Ray and Tom had also taught Jesse to expect the unexpected.

“I learned long ago in this job that there is humor in everything,” laughed Jesse. “Years ago, a high-profile event was taking place in a lecture hall and the microphone and PowerPoint failed at the same time. Everyone in the audience --and on my team-- turned to look in my direction. I love knowing I can help the show go on.”

A typical day for Jesse starts with looking at the schedule then starting the setups around campus-PowerPoint, TVs, webcams, laptops, projectors, and mixers. If it is Wednesday during Club Hours that usually includes speakers and microphones.

“Being around happy students during club hours makes me happy and their laughter is contagious. Some of these same students like to stop by and talk with me about music, and audio equipment and the history of the WQCC station which leads to them learning more about the history of the campus.”

Jesse is on his own quest to learn about the history of the world. So far, he has traveled to 45 countries including Austria, Hungary, Turkey, and Malta.

But his mind is never far from his home at Queensborough and friends and colleagues he has known over the years. He smiled as he remembered what Ray once said, “Jesse, you will win an award someday.”

Sometimes predictions come true.

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.