LaGuardia Community College Students and Professor
Explore Transfer at Vassar College
Long Island City, NY—September 27, 2013—This summer, a five-week immersive campus learning experience at Vassar College took LaGuardia Community College Writing and Literature major Ashley Arocho, Accounting major David Pan and Associate Professor of Political Science Bojana Blagojevic out of their comfort zones and into a whole new world.
“ET is a great opportunity for students who want to challenge themselves academically and want to experience living on campus. For most students, it is a life-changing five weeks, and I know because I participated in it as student," said Bernetta Parson, a LaGuardia alumna who is now Director of the College’s Transfer Center. Staff in the College’s Transfer Center facilitated each stage of the transfer process for both Ashley and David to ensure thorough and competitive applications.
Participating in the Vassar Exploring Transfer (ET) program enables students to see they are capable of achieving even bigger dreams, inspiring them to overcome self-perceived limits. Exploring Transfer offers ambitious students interested in continuing their education an opportunity to take writing-concentrated courses that are designed to enrich intellectual growth within the disciplines of liberal arts and sciences.
“Now I know I can handle anything that’s thrown my way,” Ashley said confidently.
“I got to take classes with really intelligent students. It was very rewarding,” says David about his summer experience.
For faculty, the program offers an opportunity to enrich their perspectives on research, expand their peer network and along with the students, experience non-urban, residential campus living.
“It was a very integrative experience for me because I was able to connect my personal experience of growing up in wartime with how I explore it on an academic level,” explains Dr. Blagojevic.
Since its inception in the 1980s, the College’s ET partnership with Vassar has exposed LaGuardia students to the reality of four-year colleges by challenging their limits and inspiring them to want more for themselves when it comes to higher education.
“We have benefited from the participation of many LaGuardia students and faculty over the years, and LaGuardia/Vassar alumni are eager to stay connected to the program decades later,” says Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latino/a Studies Light Carruyo, the Director of the ET program at Vassar.
Ashley and David not only broadened their academic horizons, they also gained confidence in their ability to pursue their education beyond an Associates Degree.
Now pursuing her Bachelors in English at John Jay College, Ashley is considering earning her Masters, while David plans to include Vassar in his list of four-year colleges once he earns his Associates at LaGuardia.
Dr. Blagojevic shared her knowledge and personal experience with students and faculty at Vassar by co-teaching a course entitled “Growing Up in War and Peace: the Shaping of Human Experience,” with Vassar Psychology Professor Nicholas De Leeuw. Positive feedback Dr. Blagojevic received from students on her current research encouraged her to persevere with her work on peace building.
“The intense immersion into academic life that is permitted—or demanded, depending on how you look at it—by a five-week residential program like Exploring Transfer and the kinds of connections that people make with each other, with faculty, and with the course material are key benefits for all participants,” said Professor Carruyo.
Exploring Transfer is a three-course summer intensive program designed to give community college students a transformative learning experience by exposing them to the reality of four-year colleges through intensive curriculum in a dormitory campus setting. Full scholarships cover the cost of tuition, campus residency, meals, books and supplies for the 29 students selected from community colleges across the country.
“The students were first-generation college students, many come from CUNY schools and some are international students, but the majority have overcome some difficulties in pursuing their degrees, and they show great potential for academic success,” said Dr. Blagojevic of the summer cohort.
“As faculty, we helped them explore possibilities of continuing their education and show them that they can do it.”
Classes are team taught by professors from Vassar and participating two-year institutions. Professors are paired with
fellow educators by submitting a course proposal, which is circulated among Vassar faculty who also apply to co-teach the summer intensive course. The pair work collaboratively on syllabi, lectures, discussion groups and assignments, teaching as a team.
With two professors of different fields working together in each class, the collaborative element of the curriculum offered a comprehensive learning of each subject, as well as a solid support system.
Ashley was in search of a challenge to prove she had what it takes to perform as well as her peers at a top-notch four-year school. She got her wish.
“The work was so rigorous, but the counselors and professors were very helpful. I met with them outside of class whenever I was having difficulties,” Ashley said about ET faculty and staff, which usually include Vassar students or alumni who are familiar with the intensity of the college environment. And as a city resident who has always commuted to school, residential campus life was a wonderful change of pace.
“I would walk around the dorms and chat with other students. It was a very warm place.”
David decided to go the extra mile at Vassar to cultivate his communication skills before pursuing a career in the business industry.
“We got out of class, and we would have to go to our dorms and start our essays right away,” said the native Chinese speaker, whose courses examined food and poverty from political and socioeconomic perspectives.
Dr. Blagojevic applied after learning about the program from one of her students. Teaching on a residential campus was new to her, as was team-teaching; both turned out to be rewarding.
“Vassar is a beautiful campus; it was a wonderful opportunity to reflect, research and teach,” said Dr. Blagojevic. “We aimed for each of us to teach for part of every class so we could cover different aspects of the topic.”
Working with Professor De Leeuw turned out to be ideal as well: his focus on psychological childhood development complemented her political science perspective of how wars start. Dr. Blagojevic’s personal experience of having grown up in wartime Bosnia informed her teaching, enriching the personal narratives covered in class, which included a book of her poetry.
A few of of her students grew up in war-torn countries or lived in conflict situations, and one, a student from a different ethnic group in her native Bosnia, shared in a reflective writing assignment that his experience with the coursework—particularly reading Dr. Blagojevic’s poetry collection: "Story of One Heart: How Poetry Became One Girl's Dance for Life in the Midst of a Raging War"—provided profound insight into ethnic tolerance and the equality of all human beings. “That was a special moment,” Dr. Blagojevic said.
Dr. Blagojevic also participated in the student selection process, meeting with Vassar faculty to review and discuss students’ applications and essay statements. Outside the classroom, she connected with students during office hours, in zumba classes for both students and faculty, by organizing volleyball games with students during open gym periods.
Warmly referred to as Professor B. by the students, she was honored to give the commencement address to the summer cohort, praising their determination, persistence and intellect; and she assured them that they had all the tools they needed—smarts, confidence, and a support-network—to write their own futures.
“The Exploring Transfer scholars leave feeling invigorated and ready to jump back into their studies with more confidence and more awareness about the kinds of doors and opportunities that are out there and are within reach,” Professor Carruyo concluded.
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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.