Message from the President

Marissa Guijarro, NYSACAC President

Greetings fellow NYSACAC members and friends!

As you read this, I hope that you are enjoying our virtual Coming Together and Annual Conference! Congratulations to Marie Nocella, President-Elect and conference co-chair, Adam Castro, VP of Admissions, Mercy College, and a talented and industrious steering committee on a successful event. We are also grateful for the generosity of our conference sponsors. Please also join me in conveying warm wishes and heartfelt thanks to Stephanie Espina, who will end her distinguished tenure as Immediate Past President following the conference.  

This year I had a quote from Maya Angelou on my office door, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” How appropriate for the work that has been accomplished this year! We are blessed with amazing volunteers who create exemplary programs that serve and nurture the professionals in our association. We have been the epitome of “creative” this year. I’m sure that you have exceeded your own expectations in some way (professionally, personally, or otherwise) since our lives changed drastically in March of 2020.  

Our collective resiliency as an association has been truly inspiring.

Have a healthy and happy summer!

Homecoming: Gathering Together to Move NY Forward

Marie Nocella, President-Elect, 2021 Conference Chairperson

The conference is upon us!  The 2021 Virtual NYSACAC Coming Together and Annual Conference, June 8-10, is themed, Homecoming: Gathering Together to Move NY Forward.  The original concept was formed from the theme of homecoming.  This idea was then built upon with the focus being gathering again and figuring out how we move forward with so many changing circumstances and challenges in our profession.  Although we are ‘gathering’ virtually, much thought and hard work has been put into these three days to ensure rich professional development, learning, networking, self-care encouragement, and fun.  

Thank you to our host, Mercy College, and all of the members of the Conference Steering Committee:

Adam Castro, Mercy College

Karen Staller, Lawrence High School

Andy Mantell, Mercy College

Kate Mockler, Mercy College

Anna Ragno, Utica College

Kayla Noonan, Mercy College

Anne Gilligan, Mercy College

Kory McBride, New Visions for Public Schools

Bill Short, St. Lawrence University

Kristen Harris, NYC DOE

Brenna May, Hamilton College

Kristen Sangregorio, Mercy College

Briana Avery, DREAM Charter HS

Lauren Sangimino, Stony Brook University

Brittnay Crucco, Mercy College

Lisa Sohmer, Sohmer College Counseling

Bryan Rothstein, Hofstra University

Luis Barceló, Pelham Memorial High School

Cassie Magesis, The Urban Assembly

Manny Cruz, SUNY Oswego

Cecil Wright, Mercy College

Marissa Guijarro, Suffern HS

Chris Connelly, Mercy College

Meghan DeMayo-Dalen, Suffolk County Community College

Chris Milton, Lehman College, CUNY

Mellissa Bellantonio, Adelphi University

Christine Corrado, Stony Brook University

Meylin Andares, SUNY Central

Christine Murphy, St. Joseph’s College

Nick Savva, Mercy College

Danny Robinson, SUNY Maritime

Nicola Fennel, StreetSquash Inc.

Dave Follick, Nassau Community College

Nicole Ramos, NYU College Advising Corps

Emily Task, New Visions for Public Schools

Randy Bowen, Community Health Academy of the Heights

Erica Padilla, University of Rochester

Richard Alvarez, Queens College

Estrella Redondo, Marymount Manhattan College

Risa Dubow, Eleanor Roosevelt HS

Jaime Caruso, Mercy College

Sandy Behrend, Behrend Consulting

Jatae Daly, College Bound Initiative

Shameek Robinson, College Advising Corps

Jillian Amico, Mercy College

Stephanie Espina, Adelphi University

Joanna Broda, School of the Holy Child

Susan Davidson, Rye Country Day School

Jonathan Hoster, Syracuse University

Tom Nesbit, Russell Sage College

Julia Forman, New Visions for Public Schools

Zee Santiago, NYC DOE

Karen Archibee, SUNY Oswego


This outstanding team of dynamic individuals has helped create a robust conference, which I hope you will enjoy and find beneficial.  I look forward to seeing you soon, virtually!

#DegreesNYC Postsecondary Planning and Success Resource Guide

Lisa LoFaso, Director of Postsecondary Pathways, Friends of WHEELS

Over the last year practitioners across the field of college admissions, access, and success have worked hard to adapt, persist, and innovate to provide high quality services to prospective and current college students alike. With the importance of our work heightened by the impact of the pandemic, members of the  #DegreesNYC working groups collaborated to compile, update, and create a number of resources related to postsecondary planning. We are so proud to share these resources with you all here!

For those who are not familiar with our work, #DegreesNYC is a data-informed collective impact movement co-led by young people and education professionals to move to equity in education in NYC. #DegreesNYC was established in 2016, founded by Goddard Riverside Options Center, Graduate NYC, and Young Invincibles. It is currently supported by Goddard. There are at least five working groups currently collaborating on addressing different topics that impact college access and success with the aim of increasing equity in who is earning quality post-secondary credentials in NYC.

One of these working groups focused particularly on creating helpful tools to make the postsecondary experience easier to navigate. As a result of the thoughtfulness from professionals across several organizations and populations served, and with the support of the #DegreesNYC Youth Council, we have produced the #DegreesNYC Postsecondary Planning and Success Resource Guide. This guide has resources that can assist both practitioners and students alike in navigating postsecondary options. The guide can be found here.

The resource guide covers four categories:

  1. Thinking About Postsecondary Steps

  2. Resources for Enrolled College Students

  3. Specific Situations (Immigration Status, Remediation Policies, etc.)

  4. Resources for Counselors/Advisors

These resources are designed to be accessible by practitioners and students alike. There are also resources not only for first time college students, but for young people considering non-college options, re-enrollment, and transferring. While some resources are focused specifically on CUNY and NYC, many contain information that is helpful for students across the state.

We hope that these resources will be helpful to practitioners in our NYSACAC family, and we invite our colleagues to learn more about #DegreesNYC at or by reaching out to [email protected]. For more information on the guide, please feel free to reach out to our work group chairs (Lisa LoFaso, LMSW: [email protected]  and Robin Blanc: [email protected]).

Camp College Update

Jonathan Hoster and Rianna DeFreece, Camp College Committee

Camp College is offering two virtual sessions this year: July 19 to 21 and August 6-8. Students may attend only one session. Camp College is a free, college access opportunity for students from across New York State. Camp College strives to engage students who are often underserved in the college admissions process. This includes – but is not limited to – first-generation students, students of color, students from low-income families, and students from urban and rural areas. During Camp College, students will engage in small-group discussions, a sample college class, and workshops on admissions and financial aid. They will learn college interview and essay-writing techniques and gain leadership, teamwork, and networking experience. Camp College is a great opportunity for students to learn about the many post-secondary options in New York State and beyond and to meet new friends and mentors who will support them on their path to success after high school. Camp College mentors are college admissions reps as well as school, community-based, and independent counselors. The Camp College applications for students and mentors will be available in late May at Please contact [email protected] with any questions.

Scholarship Spotlight: Aniya McDonald

I wanted to begin by expressing how incredibly thankful I am for even being considered for the award, let alone becoming one of the recipients of it. This award will definitely aid me tremendously in achieving my goals because it will allow me to further my education. As Malcom X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” This award will allow me to prepare for tomorrow and all the days that follow, with this award I can truly reach the next level in my educational journey which in hand gives me the preparation I will need for the rest of my life. 


Scholarship Spotlight: Hamed Bamba

Hello my name is Hamed Bamba. I am currently a freshman at St. Francis college majoring in biology. One thing I have done to navigate this pandemic was I’ve adjusted to the new health and safety guidelines that were put into place. The new guidelines made us unable to attend our freshman year of classes on campus, but instead online. I would’ve never thought that I would start off college over zoom calls rather than in person meetings with my new classmates and professors. 

The NYSACAC scholarship will help me immensely for many reasons. First, since the pandemic took a turn for the worse, my mom became unemployed leaving; only my dad employed. Paying for college is very expensive; private college is especially so. This scholarship means so much to me; it would make me feel a bit of happiness.  I know that I’d be able to put this towards my tuition and not put all the pressure on my dad when it comes to covering my semester’s tuition. 



Membership Spotlight: Lisa Searle

“Lisa is the consummate professional who leaves everyone she works with impressed by her warm demeanor and ability to tackle complicated situations with creative solutions. Lisa has been recognized at the state and national levels with the Rising Star Award for her professional development work on behalf of the Association. Like the proverbial duck, Lisa is cool, calm and collected, but underneath the surface there’s a powerhouse of energy and creativity. One of the best parts of belonging to NYSACAC is getting to know people like Lisa!” - Chris Doyle

 “Lisa Searle is a person of boundless energy and strong character. I first met Lisa when she began her career at Ithaca College in a part-time role as admission counselor. Prepped with the experience she had gained as an undergraduate tour guide and intern in the Gettysburg admission office, she leveraged her resilience and intellectual curiosity as she learned all aspects of the job. Clearly driven by a dedication to serving students and families, Lisa progressed through various roles and now serves as associate director, overseeing IC’s highly complex but always student-centered undergraduate application review.

When I think of Lisa Searle, there is one word that emerges more than any other accolade: fearless. This was evident to me late one afternoon when I walked by her office and overheard a conversation she was having with the parent of a student applicant. Clearly upset and unhappy with the decision we had made, the person on the other end of the phone was relentless in their demand that the college change the student’s admission decision. Lisa was compassionate in listening to the parent, empathetic in understanding where the anger was coming from, resolute in her commitment to serving the student’s best interest, and confident that giving the parent what they wanted in this circumstance would not accomplish that. Grounded in her professional ethics, personal character, and ever-developing skill, Lisa was – and is – fearless.“ - Gerard Turbide

How did you become involved in the college admissions field? 

Like many in admissions and enrollment management, I first became involved as a tour guide at my alma mater, Gettysburg College; my interest in the field deepened after completing a semester-long internship in the Admissions Office during my senior year. After graduating in 2009, I started working as an Admission Counselor at Ithaca College, and have been there ever since. I am a true lifer!

What is your favorite part of your job?

I find many aspects of college admissions enjoyable (traveling to meet prospective students and reading more about students through their application to the College, for example). But I continue to be most interested in the student-centered counseling aspect of my work. I believe deeply in the value of higher education; supporting students by sharing the benefits of a college experience, sharing the opportunities that exist for academic and personal growth, articulating the possibilities for exploration and discovery, and showing a student how they can pursue their academic goals and career aspirations brings me tremendous professional joy.  

What is your favorite work from home habit or routine?

Movement! Whether on campus or working from home during the pandemic, physical activity (either alone or with my family) has always helped me manage the stress of everyday life and remain focused on the next task ahead. Never underestimate the power a quick walk can have on your mood!

What is a piece of advice you won’t forget?

Focus on the present and appreciate what is happening right now.

What advice do you have for young professionals interested in this type of career?

College admissions and enrollment management is an ever-evolving field; be open to new ideas, perspectives, and take advantage of networking opportunities to connect with professionals beyond your office and organization.

How has NYSACAC impacted your career?

Being a member of NYSACAC has afforded me the tremendous opportunity to connect with some of the most dedicated enrollment professionals from around the state and to be able to call them colleagues and friends. Through professional development events, I have found ways to deepen my commitment to access to higher education, broaden my professional knowledge, and build my skill set to better serve students and their supporters through the college search process. I am ever grateful for my time on the NYSACAC Executive Board and have been honored to serve the organization as a College Delegate.

CBO and Opportunity Programs Update: Navigating Your Future During Covid

Tyree Vann, CBO and Opportunity Programs Committee

On April 14th, 2021, The CBO and Opportunity Programs Committee of NYSACAC hosted “Navigating Your Future During Covid!” NYSACAC members, students, educators, parents, and others indulged in a deep dive to gain insight on post-graduation opportunities, pathways, and opportunities to enrich their futures. The event was fun, upbeat, and engaging. Although this took place in a virtual format, the committee plans on continuing similar programs when we can gather in person. A special thank you to host Kory McBride, and to the panelists who participated in the event: Julio A. Torres Jr., Rianna DeFreece, Jonathan Hoster, Jose Ramos, Ikeia Miller, Cassie Magesis, Mohamad Barry, and Shuba Maniram. Students broke out and rotated into sessions along with these educational professionals to learn about NYSACAC Camp College, alternative post-graduation pathways, and the overall college application process. During these times, the future is very important for students, and we are here to help and educate! Please check below to see some of the feedback we received.

  • “I like how all the advisors of the Zooms were so friendly and “on-point” with answering questions.” – Student

  • “I liked all of my breakout rooms, probably because they were able to get more specific about present opportunities for me. I even found myself interested in applying for some of the programs.” – Student

  • “I liked learning about Camp College.” – Student

  •  “My favorite part about today was how supportive you guys are!” – Student

  • “I learned about things I can do if I decide college is not my cup of tea.” – Student

The Transmute Normative

Alex El Helou, SUNY Maritime College

One year ago, institutions nationwide had to adapt to change their standard processes almost overnight. This transition quickly became labeled as our "new norm." Gone was the common practice of meeting with students face-to-face, whether it be in a high school, at a college fair, or in the admissions office. The traditional norm of eye-to-eye became a distant memory for higher education professionals, high school counselors, and prospective students alike. Institutions pivoted to try to create a seamless transition to a virtual world that attempted to mimic the in-person experience. SUNY Maritime took 'virtually' as an operational standard, following various existing simulator experiences we offer to our current students, adapting admissions practices to simulate a real-life experience for the virtual users. Information Sessions moved from conference rooms to Zoom rooms. Campus tours transitioned from a live tour to a virtual walking tour, which is still led by a student ambassador guide. Virtual drop-in sessions were created to provide students with access to an admissions professional through an open Zoom room in an attempt to mimic the open office hours counselors would hold on campus for prospective students and their families. Almost all opportunities to have a face-to-face experience transitioned to its virtual sibling.

The idea was if students could not come to campus, we would bring the campus to them. Some of these changes are not likely to go away. Recruitment efforts in the Fall are on track to potentially blend the two: in-person connection and the virtual experience. This pushes the future of higher education into a more difficult, but better place of access for students. Spaces can be provided for students to meet a counselor from miles away through virtual platforms, just as spaces can be provided for students who do not have reliable internet through physical engagements. 

What will this mean for the future? Will Open House become two separate events, the traditional in-person and the newly adapted virtual experience, or will it change even further into a live-streamed experience of an actual in-person event. Why stop there? Accepted Students Day can follow suit. Until then, cue the music, come on and Zoom, come one and Zoom. I'm SUNY Maritime, ZOOM ZOOM!

News and notes from NYSACAC’s School College CBO Relations

Shameek Robinson and Beverly Santos, School-College-CBO Relations Committee

NYSACAC's School College CBO Relations Committee has been hard at work this spring! Our efforts have continued to increase opportunities for collaboration, dialogue, and relationship building with professionals from the High School, College, and Community Based Organization (CBO) sides of the desk. For a mighty (and growing) crew of professionals volunteering and working hard on behalf of the association, the committee is putting its best foot forward yet! 

Our committee kicked off 2021 with a professional learning session in February on "Supporting Students After College Applications During COVID 19". That session featured a diverse panel of practitioners from across not only the High School and CBO perspective but from across the State of New York. Shout out and super thanks to On Point for College, College Bound Initiative, and Syracuse City Schools.

Following February's workshop, our committee met and developed a survey to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our work. Thank you to all who completed the survey in March. We are currently endeavoring to clean and analyze the data. Once complete the data will be shared with NYSACAC leadership and membership.

As our committee continued to engage for programming and events this spring, we welcomed several new members! Leticia Vasquez with Columbia's Double Discovery Center, Lisa LoFaso with Friends of Wheels, and Latiqua Washington with CUNY Central all joined the committee. We welcome them and are grateful for the experience and perspective they bring to our work.

Our final event for the spring aligned with May's Mental Health Awareness Month. In collaboration and partnership with St. Francis College, the School College CBO Relations Committee kicked off "Mental Health Mondays", a series of workshops designed to engage and support the professional counselors, advisers, and admission professionals who constantly pour into the 'cups' of our students without sometimes considering how we refill our own 'cups'. Programmed to run from noon to 1 p.m. each Monday in May (but not Memorial Day), numerous professionals gathered during our kickoff session (which completed just in time for publishing). We are confident the remaining sessions will be just as engaging and impactful.

Again, we are thankful for all those on the committee for their hard work engaging in planning and implementing these events; our partners for helping us with expertise and professional perspective; and of course - YOU - for showing up, participating, and benefiting from these programs and opportunities. If you are interested in learning more about our committee or joining, feel free to send us an email at [email protected]. Till next time, have a great summer! 

An open letter to my colleagues and friends…

Luis Barceló, Pelham Memorial High School

As far back as I can remember my connections to NYSACAC and the friendships I formed have overlapped with events in the lives of my children. Back when my oldest daughter, Leah, was a baby I participated in Camp College. I was thankful that her mother was patient with my desire to help the students in the program, but immediately left at the end of the weekend rather than spend time at the social event so I could get home to my daughter. This is when I first realized that it would be quite a balancing act to be both the father and counselor I had committed to being. 

As Leah grew older, she was able to accompany me on numerous college tours that allowed family participation. We spent entire weekends at Endicott College and PennState at University Park. Some of my fondest memories include watching Leah and her sister, Rebecca, play on the beaches of Endicott’s campus, take pictures on top of the Nittany Lion and take pictures with the mascot as he walked around campus (I still have that pic. in my office). In addition to these formal trips there were occasional visits to my alma mater, Columbia. I often parked in that area of the city (take note of this for the next time you come into Manhattan) to take the train to watch an occasional dance performance at Joyce Theatre. On these visits there were many walks through the Barnard campus as I told my daughters about the memories I had of taking courses there, and we occasionally walked into Barnard Hall to use the restrooms (don’t try to do this unless you can pull off being an alum.) before getting onto the 1/9 train. In the midst of all of these experiences, I frequently thought about how my children would one day be applying to college, and I wondered how we would handle that situation. 

As Leah grew older, I believed that a smaller college would be a great fit for her, but continued to expose her to different campuses. When I attended a NYSACAC board meeting in Syracuse in the spring of 2019, I decided to take my girls with me. I learned a number of things on that trip. First of all, it’s important to always bring layers of clothing to Western New York. All the forecasts called for sunny days and temperatures in the 60s but things quickly shifted as a warm morning became a frosty afternoon. I was also reminded that sometimes board meetings take longer than anticipated, and leaving two sisters in a hotel room for longer than the allotted amount of time can lead to some pretty angry daughters (sorry, girls). Finally, I came to once again appreciate the friendships I formed via NYSACAC as I had dinner with Jo Anne Phang and Jonathan Hoster at Dinosaur BBQ with my daughters. We had a great time with them, and Jo Anne brought a current student with her to address Leah’s questions about campus. I was surprised we were even engaging in this conversation because I thought Leah would consider Syracuse too big, but as we toured the campus I could feel her energy grow and see the excitement she felt on that walk. Then we entered the Carrier Dome and I started to envision Leah (and myself on parents’ weekends) in the crowds of students watching a basketball game, and I could tell that she also began to see something similar. I learned that sometimes you think you know what your kids want, but their desires are not as narrow as you may have believed (this is something I constantly remind myself of as a school counselor). 

As Leah entered her senior year we had a lot of conversations about how to complete her applications in a timely manner. I cannot begin to say how much pool time we spent in July and August talking about college essay topics. Leah does not like speaking about herself, and I had a feeling that this would make writing her personal statement difficult. When November 1st rolled around I was somewhat disappointed, but I understood Leah’s decision to forgo Early Action application deadlines. She was not ready, and I had to learn to extend the same counsel to my daughter that I offer my students when I encourage them to do what serves them best.  As the December holiday break came over the horizon, I decided that we would have to really get down to business as Leah still seemed to be dragging her feet. She completed her Common Application, but was still having trouble with her personal statement. Her first drafts focused on a story she thought admissions counselors would want to read, but they were falling flat. I encouraged my daughter to do a rewrite about something she was passionate about. She elected to use her experiences as a dancer as the main theme, and I could see her energy shift again. That was the essay she went with. It felt good to enter 2021 done with this part of the application process.

As February and March rolled in, so did Leah’s decisions. It started with a trickle of acceptances, and then Jonathan Hoster made my daughter so happy by calling her to personally congratulate her on being accepted to Syracuse’s Engineering School. That was one of the last acceptances Leah would receive until April 1st as she began to experience the disappointment of denials from some of her reach schools. We had already spent time discussing how this process is not an indication of who she is as a person, but nevertheless it is always tough to see kids go through denial especially when that child is yours. At that point Leah had decided to attend Syracuse as she had received all of her decisions, with the exception of one. Our family was really happy for her as we knew she would have the opportunity to really shine at Syracuse. We were in Florida on April 1st visiting my grandmother when Leah told me she would not be checking her email for that final decision. I understood and we jumped into a pool afterwards to enjoy our time with family. No one stressed her over the decision and we all supported her as much as we could.  

A few days after we returned, we were all thrilled when Leah received her final decision. She was accepted into Barnard’s class of 2025. While we were overjoyed by her accomplishment, the acceptance created its own set of concerns. Leah had already decided that she would be spending her undergraduate years at Syracuse, but the Barnard acceptance complicated that.  After some soul searching and an admission that she really wanted to stay close to home, Leah decided to attend Barnard College. She had to postpone the dream of going right into an engineering program, but could still pursue it in a different manner at Barnard. Leah also told me that she felt better about attending a smaller school that promoted women’s education. That’s when I realized that my little girl was a woman who was coming into her own.  

Over the years, I’ve really appreciated the value of the connections I made by way of my experiences with NYSACAC. The countless hours meeting other counselors at Camp College, debates we had at conference workshops, the energy we all put into the organization as committee and board members, and the professional development opportunities all benefit my students and keep me energized in the profession. However, this year I really came to appreciate the human side of this field as I moved through the process with my daughter. There are so many wonderful professionals who give their time and heart to help kids find the right home for their undergraduate experience, and who want to see them grow as much as their parents do. I am so thankful to everyone who played a role in getting my daughter to where she is now.  

For me, that is the main takeaway from all of this. We entered this profession to change the lives of our students, and I hope you will remember that each interaction you have with a student can be life affirming. Hold on to that, and thank you for all you have done for me, Leah, and all the wonderful young people whose lives you change! 

Introducing University at Albany’s Collegiate Recovery Program

Evan Ozmat, University at Albany

The Collegiate Recovery Program at University at Albany is an initiative to empower students seeking and living a recovery-lifestyle to author their own success, pursue possibilities, and create connections. Students can connect through weekly virtual recovery support meetings, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), our peer support hotline, and our student led recovery organization, Danes For Recovery. Contact us at [email protected] to get more information about services available.

Movers and Shakers

Joe Latimer, Assistant Dean for Enrollment Diversity and Outreach at the University of Rochester, to Director of College Counseling, Northfield Mount Hermon, effective July 1. Joe will miss his friends at NYSACAC, but is looking forward to staying in touch through continued membership in regional and national organizations. 

A New Tool for Reducing College Admissions Stress

Steve Becker, Less High School Stress LLC

One of the bigger challenges some of us face is convincing high-achieving students and their parents that the range of colleges that can meet their needs is significantly broader than they believe. Now there’s a free-access website for that! Recently featured in the Washington Post, has loads of data that will support your efforts to help clients destress and move beyond thinking there’s a small group of ‘right colleges’ one has to attend to have a happy and successful future.

In an easy read, you could finish on your lunch break, this website summarizes how harmful college admissions stress can be, makes a detailed argument for why that stress is unnecessary and offers an alternative approach that is accessible to everyone. It includes a close look at how small some of the quantifiable differences are between colleges that admit fewer than 10% of applicants and others that are less selective; lists of were employees in highly desirable positions in 11 professions did their undergraduate studies; summaries of relevant research on the topic; and much more. Take a look!


Afro-Latino Connection: A Celebration of Culture, History, and Expression

African Diaspora and Latinx SIGs

On April 15th, 2021, several dozen NYSACAC members gathered to learn, acknowledge, and celebrate the shared history and culture of people from African and Latinx descent. Coordinated by the African Diaspora and Latinx SIGs, “Afro-Latino Connection” featured a multimedia session engaging participants in an interactive journey through Afro-Latino shared history and culture. After opening with an acknowledgement of the current and continued racial injustice taking place in our country evidenced by the recent murder of Daunte White, attendees witnessed a unique performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by the Stanford Talisman Alumni Virtual Choir. 

Immersive learning took place through the lived-in and authentic academic experience shared by Rafael Gomez, a professor within the Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY Lehman College. The interactive journey continued via an online Kahoot game, where the winner received a special prize – a family recipe for Coquito, a coconut based beverage popular during the holidays. Attendees were then treated to a Bomba dance by Jannira Roman, who is a dance instructor, therapist, and college professor in Puerto Rico. Following the dance, Jannira led participants through a detailed analysis of many aspects of the dance, describing the purpose of the clothes, beats, rhythms, and movements. Bomba is more than just dance - it is communication, protest, and passion. The formal event came to a conclusion with a Latin beverage demonstration and a Cuban Afro-Jazz version of the song “Feeling Good.”

While several of the goals of the event were met – including a festive celebration of shared culture through an interactive multimedia presentation – more importantly, much needed dialogue and sharing of perspective took place. The session was scheduled to run for 90 minutes, but stretched out three hours, with powerful perspectives being surfaced, shared, questioned, and challenged. Critical questions such as “what racial/ethnicity box(es) should our students check when applying to college or for scholarships if they are not sure/aware of their status?” surfaced. Other powerful questions and considerations raised include:

  • How do we have authentic conversations with students about their identity, whether real or perceived, by themselves or those around them?

  • How can we, as a field, do better to acknowledge and authenticate the lived in experience of students from bi-racial and/or multi-ethnic backgrounds as they navigate the college admissions process – and the process of becoming adults in an increasingly diverse society?

  • What can our role be as agents of change in the college admissions process, a process that is “reckoning with its history as an institution originally designed by, and for, America’s white male elite” according to Jenny Rickard, CEO of the Common Application?

These and other powerful questions were discussed and considered. Strong interest was expressed to have this session either repeated in the fall or featured as an upcoming professional development forum or conference session.

NYSACAC African Diaspora and Latinx SIGs expresses sincere gratitude for the talent and perspective of professor Rafael Gomez and dance instructor/therapist/college professor Jannira Roman for joining us and sharing their authentic selves, as well as their informed perspective. We are also grateful for all that attended, engaged, celebrated, and learned together!

Doorstep Deliveries for Scholarship Day: Lessons from COVID-19 

Leah Schmerl, St. Francis College

Since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to re-examine nearly every tactic we had relied upon to connect with our prospective students, my colleagues and I have been continually developing new strategies to keep our prospective students engaged.  

Early on, we introduced a slate of virtual events and, over time, found ways to safely interact with students in the real world, too. There is simply no substitute for the personal connection when we’re face-to-face with a student contemplating her or his collegiate future. 

Last spring, our counselors began hand delivering acceptance letters and welcome signs to newly admitted students at their homes, giving us a chance to see real faces, not displays on a computer screen. As a bonus, we earned strong media coverage and social media engagement when we shared videos of the deliveries. 

This spring, we decided this year to take the approach further. We turned our April 1, 2021 Scholarship Day into a home delivery too—our version of a “Publishers Clearing House” moment. We knocked on doors to let students know personally about the financial support they had been awarded.   

We focused on two cohorts of students: those receiving McGuire scholarships, our “last dollar” funding for academically-promising students that closes the gap between other aid and total tuition, and those receiving Presidential Scholarships, full-tuition commitments for students’ entire St. Francis College career. Traditionally, we alerted students in writing, or sometimes via phone calls. The idea that these awards provided a real-world, individual moment for each student was a new strategy. 

When we witnessed these hand-offs delighting the recipients, many of whom had had limited opportunities to be with people outside their own households, we knew that feel-good visual fodder would work in social and traditional media.   

Brooklyn Paper and News 12, a local Brooklyn TV news channel, both covered the deliveries in news stories. Even better, social media content posted for Scholarship Day deliveries reached 18,000 impressions with an incredible 10% active engagement, significantly above the industry benchmark of 1-2%. 

The metrics only enrich the personal fulfillment these visits have afforded us during this stressful time, a true highlight of our year. It’s a welcome reminder that the simplest of human gestures, a literal “pat on the back,” can mean more than any flashy digital initiative.

Now that we’re easing back into our “old normal” lives, our doorstep delivery lessons stick with us. Our “new normal” will certainly integrate all we now know about the importance of meeting students where they are.