Counselor, College Discovery Program College Discovery Counselor Expands Students’ Perspective In and Out of the Classroom
I couldn’t imagine anyplace I’d rather be than CUNY,” says Shivani Subryan, a College Discovery counselor at LaGuardia Community College. Born in South America to parents of Indian descent who wanted her to become a doctor, Shivani grew up in the Bronx. Perhaps her early exposure to such a rich geographic palette fueled her curiosity of people and interest in multiculturalism. “By the time I got to college I knew I wanted to work in a hands-on capacity with people,” she explains. “At City College I had many great opportunities to meet people from other cultures.” Courses on the history of the Holocaust compelled her interest and empathy so much that she added a Jewish Studies major to the B.A. in Counseling Psychology she was close to finishing. Jobs she held during her undergraduate and graduate terms –she earned an M.A. Ed. and an M.A. in Multicultural Counseling Psychology from Columbia’s Teachers College- with Jewish organizations like the Anti Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York deepened her fascination with Jewish history and heritage; on a scholarship she traveled to Israel and Poland for the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust; and CUNY’s Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson encouraged her to pursue her interest in orthodox Judaism after they met at a JCRCNY gala event. Her experiences ultimately led to her conversion to Judaism in 2008, the same year she was hired as a full-time counselor in LaGuardia’s College Discovery program. The program assists students who have the potential to succeed in college but lack the educational foundation and economic resources necessary to pursue a degree by providing tutoring, financial aid and personal counseling.Her knowledge of the Jewish immigrant experience helps her with her work at LaGuardia, where students from over 150 countries are enrolled. “This perspective helps me understand the students better, since many of them are also new to this country.” Shivani says. “They too struggle with forming communities here while learning how to navigate mainstream American culture.” Teaching sections of Freshman Seminar at LaGuardia gives her another forum in which to hone and expand her multicultural counseling skills; students from Ecuador, Colombia, Korea, China, Bangladesh, many of whom are ESL students, made her more conscious of speaking slower – particularly challenging, admitted this vivacious conversationalist- and using appropriate vocabulary. “Each class is a distinct community,” she notes. “They differ in questions they ask, how they engage, and how students relate to one another, but I instill that if we, including me, are sensitive to each other’s individuality, we will be able to share and learn from each other.”At times, she may have a caseload of 120 students, whose needs range widely from session to session, with a student on the verge of graduation seeking a letter of recommendation for a NY Teaching Fellows application, to a first-year student who is taking on new life roles as a mother-to-be. Regardless, she considers going the extra mile for students as part of the job, sometimes it’s simply bringing cookies to a Freshman Seminar class.“Most of the students don’t come from wealthy families, and although trying a new cookie is something I may take for granted, it means a lot to them,” she explains. “When I see an opportunity to show students something new, I grab it.” Sometimes it’s a life-changing, confidence boosting experience that can help them clarify and succeed with future goals, like taking four CD students to a holiday networking event bringing together past scholars and present scholarship recipients at the Schepp Foundation, which provides financial assistance to help students educational goals. She herself was at the time seeking alternate funding sources for her graduate tuition.After a quick “Networking 101” tutorial on the subway ride to the 5th Avenue venue that included tips on social etiquette, the art of listening, asking insightful questions, and techniques to share pertinent information about oneself in less than two minutes, the students were ready to go out there and shine. They shone brightly, conversing with professionals and scholars alike. Shyness was cast aside, contacts for academic and professional support were made, and the grandeur of 5th Avenue during the winter holidays was enjoyed by all.“This was when I officially came out of my shell and opened up,” wrote Layla Quinones in her thank you note to Shivani and CD. “I really gained much inspiration from this experience and motivation to continue on with the long struggle that is education.”“I was very lucky to meet two very friendly and helpful medical students,” said attendee Emtiaz Chowdury. “I asked them many questions about medical school and the application process. They answered my questions and suggested four-year colleges and medical schools I should consider. They also told me not to hesitate to ask if I need any academic help in the future.” Enthusiastic involvement is a good way to describe how Shivani lives on and off the job. Active in her Upper West Side community, she arranged an internship for a CD student at the prestigious Maimonides Helathcare Center. Yediot, the Israeli equivalent of The New York Times, profiled her in 2009 as the Inspiring Personality of the Month. “College Discovery lets me bring all my experience, past and present, to bear for the students,” Shivani says.