LaGuardia alumni graduate having learned to ask questions, to push boundaries, and to demand more of themselves.LaGuardia Community College graduated its first class of 254 associate degree candidates in 1973. In the 40 years since, our family of alumni has grown to over 45,000. Here are some other interesting facts about LaGuardia alumni:
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Who: Carlos Freire, multimedia project coordinator for LaGuardia’s Department of Marketing & Communications. An Ecuadorian-born documentary film maker, he spent part of the past two years traveling around the world with Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. Carlos accompanied President Carrea on trips to China, Saudi Arabia, and NYC—creating documentaries about President Correa’s visits to Beijing, Shanghai, and the Great Wall of China, and to the king’s palace in Saudi Arabia. At LaGuardia: In 2001, Carlos’ dream was to graduate from LaGuardia within two years. But this dream was interrupted by the doctor’s diagnosis of sarcoma in his right leg. One doctor wanted to amputate his leg, but fortunately, he learned about a different doctor doing experimental research to treat his type of cancer. The treatment saved Carlos’ leg, and his cancer is now in complete remission. “Surviving cancer changed my perspective about many things in life, but didn’t change my dream of being a college graduate,” he said. Carlos, now age 42, graduated from LaGuardia with an Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) degree in Media Studies. Opening New Doors: “Two important things happened at the same time—winning top prizes for a trailer I made for the horror film Mark of the Beast and in a LaGuardia documentary video contest, and meeting my mentor William Kelly,” said Carlos. William Kelly, LaGuardia’s Editorial Managing Director, was a judge in one of the video contests Carlos had entered. William was impressed with Carlos’ work and offered him a job working as multimedia project coordinator. “Working with William has been great. Not only do I love my job, but he’s become a mentor to me, and I credit him with the fact that I’ve earned my bachelor’s and MFA. He’s helped me to gain confidence in myself and my work, and I’m so grateful." Impact: “From being a student to an alum then a staff member and hopefully a faculty member one day, LaGuardia has provided me with endless opportunities and experiences—incredible opportunities to enhance my knowledge and refine my skills, tools to succeed, and more,” said Carlos. After LaGuardia, Carlos earned a bachelor’s in film from Brooklyn College and an MFA in documentary production from City College.
“I want to quit my job in publishing and pursue my passion for beekeeping,” said Claire Marin. And then she did it! Then she got stuck….so she signed up for LaGuardia’s Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Who: Claire Marin, a beekeeper, owner and founder of Catskill Provisions, a NYC-based artisanal foods and craft spirits company, which sells raw honey, honey-infused whiskey, honey-sweetened ketchup, chocolate-honey truffles, maple syrup, and more. Her devoted followers include renowned chefs Marc Meyer of Cookshop and Hundred Acres, Jean-Georges of ABC Kitchen, and Jay Lippin of Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, NY. As well, her products are sold at Dean & Deluca, Zabars, Union Market and Baldor. At LaGuardia: As her business was becoming more and more successful, Claire was becoming increasingly overwhelmed. As she says, “I was about to lose my mind. I was going through a desperate time, both personally and professionally. I needed something to give and it wasn’t money. I just didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t have the answers any more. I felt defeated, yet we kept selling and growing.” In early 2016 she sought advice from her friend, Chef Jody Williams of Buvette Gastrotheque, who told her about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB) program at LaGuardia Community College, which Jody had just signed-up for as well. Claire applied to the free four-month program and was accepted! Impact: While she found the 10KSB program to be grueling—it required 100+ hours of classroom work as well as 100+ hours work outside of the classroom, and wanted to quit many times—Claire finished and now credits it with teaching her about delegating, systems management, and the importance of having down time. “Before the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at LaGuardia Community College, when we received an order, I’d get in my car and make the delivery myself. But now we have a system that manages our production and deliveries with many new efficiencies.” The result is, her overall quality of life has improved, and she’s able to devote more time to managing her staff and strategic decision-making, such as putting together a growth plan. The program reinforced the need to have sufficient staff, so she hired two additional people. And she’s been seeing a nice increase in sales! Opening New Doors: “The program brought to surface a lot of the confidence I have,” said Claire. As well, through 10KSB she made connections with other members of her cohort—which included several other foodies: 2 caterers, 1 restaurant owner, 1 café owner, and a candy company owner—people she now turns to for advice or to commiserate with about their industry. Making her feel that she’s no longer alone at the top of her foodie empire.
Who: Gretchen Philbrick, 9th grade English teacher at The Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Conn. At LaGuardia: By age 34, Gretchen had already been working for 20 years at a series of low-paying jobs with few opportunities for advancement. “I had barely graduated high school. I wanted to attend college but didn’t know how as it was never part of the story in my family. I knew I was smart but had no idea how to access the college system. One day while surfing the internet I saw an ad for CUNY offices in Midtown, so I went there to submit an application. I heard that LaGuardia had one of the most culturally diverse student populations around and that’s all I needed to hear. I figured that if there’s that many people from different backgrounds, there must be a place there for me too.” Opening New Doors: Urged by a professor, after two semesters at LaGuardia she was accepted into Exploring Transfer, a program designed to introduce community college students to the possibilities of transfer to a four-year college through a summer of courses at Vassar College. At the conclusion of the program, her professors urged her to apply to Vassar and she was accepted. She went on to graduate from Vassar with a bachelor’s in literature (with general honors), before earning a master’s of arts in teaching from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. Impact: Gretchen credits LaGuardia for turning her life around and helping her become the teacher she is today. “LaGuardia gave me a second chance. My professors were so inspiring and I felt like they really saw and heard me. For me, LaGuardia was a great proving ground – it showed me that I can handle college-level work. I even attribute my husband and 10-year-old son to LaGuardia, because I didn’t see having a family in my future without the ability to have a stable life and career. Now I always share my LaGuardia experience with my students and encourage them to see education as a stepping stone to so many great things in life.”
After becoming pregnant with her first child at age 13 and getting married at 14, Queens native Lillian Zepeda didn’t think much about college; she was a mother and a homemaker first, working part-time at her mother’s real estate office. But after visiting her sister at college, Lillian realized she needed something more.Starting at LaGuardia Community College in 2009, Lillian became a Communications Studies major and hasn’t looked back. Taking a full course load during each session while caring for her two children, Lillian still managed to become Phi Theta Kappa’s Vice President of Recruitment and Retention. “It was a lot of responsibility. More than anything else, I learned how to manage my time,” she says.Lillian’s desire to pursue a career in public relations and her talents in communications led her to an internship in LaGuardia’s Office of Marketing and Communications. “My internship allowed me to step into the real world of public relations, where I could put into practice what I learned in class,” she says.With a Community College Transfer Opportunity Program scholarship of $20,000 per year, Lillian will be attending NYU Steinhardt in the fall to study Media, Culture & Communication. She also received a PTK transfer scholarship for her first semester and a Finch Grant for community college women entering a four-year college.“LaGuardia is really interested in having their students transfer after graduating,” she says. “It’s not just about work. The College is interested in making its students into scholars; helping them become students who will succeed at four-year colleges.”
A Life or Death DecisionAlbert Knowles ’10, a graduate of LaGuardia’s Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program and a current student in its paramedics program, decided to enter the health field after his diabetic father’s life was saved by a paramedic passenger as his family was flying to the Caribbean for a family vacation.“It made me soul search. I realized that was what I wanted to do,” says Albert.The 30-year old arrived at the decision when he was being forced to make a career change. Despite a strong record teaching high school English in New York, and a Master’s degree from Mercy College in adolescent education with a specialty in English and Spanish language arts, he was laid off from his teaching position.“The EMT program was life changing,” says Albert. “For me it was a second chance because I felt I had my teaching career set up and then it all fell apart.”One month after graduating, he landed a full-time job with a private ambulance company in Yonkers. Initially, he was hesitant to try LaGuardia’s more advanced, free, one-year paramedics program.“I didn’t feel I was ready to move into advanced life support, but my instructor told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I could not pass up. He assured me that I could handle the demands of the program.” Albert enrolled that August.Now working full time at the ambulance company, Albert feels comfortable in the program and with his decision. “This is where I need to be,” he says. “The doors opened, almost on their own, and I am inching forward.”
My name is Claudia Duarte and I graduated from LaGuardia Community College in 2002. I always wanted to know what I could offer as an alumna, and LaGuardia has allowed me the opportunity to do just that by sharing my story with you in the fall edition of LaGuardia Connections, the College’s alumni e-newsletter.I was born in Colombia and my family moved to the United States in 1988 in search of a violence-free life. The opportunity to migrate to the USA was a dream come true. College had always been among my life goals and after graduating from high school, I enrolled at my local community college to begin achieving my dream, but family issues and financial pressures forced me to change my plans.I struggled to make ends meet by working two jobs, which meant school got left out of my survival plan. Motherhood influenced my decision to continue my education so I could better my family’s life. My husband also encouraged me to enroll at LaGuardia, telling me it was the best community college in New York City. In 2000, I started on my new path. My first few days at LaGuardia were quite difficult because I had been out of school for eight years. I was also working a full-time job and expecting my second child. This new endeavor seemed very difficult at the time but my desire to be a professional was bigger than my fears of failure. During my attendance at LaGuardia, I had the opportunity to experience education at its best. Although the academic expectations were a challenge, they really helped me to become a well-rounded individual who was ready for world. It also prepared me to enter a four-year college with more confidence. In 2005, I graduated from The City College of New York with a B.A. in Communications and an open door to success. I achieved the highest level of education of anyone in my family, and am proud to serve as a role model in this regard for my children. Today, I am a Public Health Educator for the City of New York. I can honestly say that the benefits of achieving an education are far greater than the fears that held me back years before. LaGuardia was always the backlight to my success as a student and also as a professional. I always refer back to my beginnings here to my friends who want to go back to school. I look forward to sharing my message of hope and success with LaGuardia students through participation through alumni mentoring opportunities and at other fundraising events, where I can also reconnect with my peers.
Three years ago, Layla Quinones became pregnant at 16, and her life was turned upside down. Forced to move into a homeless shelter, she also had to make the difficult decision to drop out of Aviation High School, despite having good grades, because she could no longer take the shop classes that could lead to injuries.“I knew I had to get a career,” Layla says. “No matter what happened that was what I had to do.”Fast forward to 2010. Layla is a LaGuardia Community College Liberal Arts/Math and Science major with a perfect 4.0 G.P.A., a student-researcher at the Hospital for Special Surgery, an active member of College Discovery and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a soon-to-be-NYU collegian on full scholarship upon graduation from LaGuardia in September, and CUNY's Student of the Month for October.She enrolled in LaGuardia’s CUNY Catch GED program in 2008 and in two months passed the exam with the highest score in New York State that year, enabling her to enter LaGuardia that September. Her son London joined her, spending his days at LaGuardia’s Early Childhood Learning Center.With her personal life back on track, Layla planned to major in secondary education and go on to a senior CUNY college, but she soon rediscovered her passion for physics and mathematics and switched her major. She joined Bridges to the Future, a program for minority students who are interested in the sciences, and began doing bio-medical research at Hospital for Special Surgery. She also enrolled in College Discovery, the CUNY-sponsored academic support program, where she not only received tutoring services that led to straight A’s in her first semester, but also gained a foundation in teaching by tutoring her peers in English, math and physics.When Layla transfers to NYU, she will be working toward a degree that will lead to a teaching career. But when she finally steps into the classroom, she plans on teaching her students more than physics. “When I came to LaGuardia I was exposed to a different world. And this is part of the reason I want to be a high school teacher. I want to influence these young kids, and grab their attention, not just about physics, but I want to help them identify the bigger picture.”