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Helping Under-Represented And Economically Challenged Students Succeed in Higher Education


       -- Professors and Scientists Got Their Boost from Special Programs at Queens College --

FLUSHING, NY, April 23, 2012 – Jamar Whaley, 35, had dropped out of Stuyvesant High School before graduation and later earned an alternative NYC high school diploma. Despite these early difficulties, he gained admission to Queens College, where he went on to receive a Goldwater scholarship, an honor reserved for the nation’s top science students.  During the summers of 2009 and 2010 Whaley conducted laboratory research in drug addiction at Yale and Boston universities. He is currently awaiting notification on his PhD applications.

“I never felt I had the tools or the capabilities to do well in school,” says Whaley. “But then I took all the freshmen skills-building workshops offered [at QC]. There was a fear I had to get over. I faced it head-on, with the help of counselors, and I found out that I could excel.” 

Whaley, who graduated QC in 2010 with a double major in Psychology and Neuroscience, was a member of both Project ExCEL and MARC U-STAR, two programs the college offers that support under-represented minorities.

Last year QC was cited in a report published by the Education Trust, a research and advocacy group that examined data from nearly 1,200 four-year colleges. Its report identified QC as one of only five colleges in the U.S. that does a good job serving low-income students. This was based on the college’s graduation rate, low tuition and the amount of need-based financial aid it awards to students.


Other QC initiatives for under-represented and economically challenged students include the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK program, all of which, says QC Assistant Provost June Bobb, “focus on fostering achievement, excellence and personal growth. . . . We’re very proud of our students’ successes.”

The aim of Project ExCEL is to promote the retention of under-represented groups—particularly African-American males who historically have high college dropout rates. Part of the CUNY Black Male Initiative, Project ExCEL combines academic advisement, career development, life coaching and other kinds of support. Peer mentors—high-performing juniors and seniors—play an important role in encouraging and guiding new students to services and support available on campus that will help them succeed.

MARC U-STAR (Minority Access to Research Careers/Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research), supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is designed to guide juniors and seniors toward admission to graduate biomedical research programs. It provides 60% of the total tuition plus close to a $11,000 stipend each year for two years, $3,000 in research support, compensation to attend scientific meetings, seminars, faculty advice, GRE preparation and aid with grad school applications. The college also offers a Pre-MARC program to prepare freshmen and sophomores for entrance into MARC U-STAR.

Biology major Johnny Groeling, who has received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from Boston University, is the latest QC MARC U-STAR success story.  Groeling is one of fewer than 20 undergraduates nationwide who will participate in this 10-week program, working this summer with a faculty researcher in a BU lab.

“I’m hoping that when I go to Boston I get to work on something similar to what I’m doing now, but different enough so that I have a more diverse experience,” says Groeling, who is currently doing research on the Dengue mouse virus in the lab of Biology Professor Zahra Zakeri, who founded and directs QC’s MARC U-STAR.

“This makes the third or fourth of our students to be accepted to the Boston program,” says Zakeri. “They are really happy with our students because they’re very good; two of our students have been accepted to their PhD program.” MARC U-STAR members have also won places in summer research programs at Yale Medical School, Tufts University, Rockefeller University, and Columbia University.

Mellon Mays is a nationwide program intended to increase diversity among college faculties by encouraging highly qualified minority students to pursue doctorates in the arts and sciences.  Mellon fellows receive up to $10,000 for repayment of undergraduate loans once they’ve enrolled in a PhD program.  In addition, the Mellon Foundation provides each fellow with a yearly stipend of $4,000 and up to $3,000 for summer research. According to QC Political Science Professor François Pierre-Louis, who directs the college’s Mellon program, since 1999 373 fellows have earned PhDs, including 23 from QC.

O. Hugo Benavides is one of many QC Mellon success stories.  An associate professor of Anthropology, Latin American and Latino Studies, and, International Political Economy and Development, and Director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Institute (LALSI) at Fordham University, Benavides was one of the first QC students to receive a Mellon fellowship.  According to Benavides, whose family was from Ecuador, the fellowship helped him clarify and fulfill his career goals by opening up new opportunities he never dreamed of when growing up.

“There’s really no way to explain how important the Mellon fellowship—and my faculty mentors—were in shaping my future career as a scholar, academic and professor,” says Benavides.  “My father didn’t finish grade school and my mother just missed graduating from high school. Like many immigrants, they worked 40-60 hours a week to support us.  They saw higher education as a way to make life easier for me and them, and believed that the only reason to attend college was to get a better job . . . not to live the life of the mind, which was a foreign concept to them.  My faculty mentors, who were caring, nurturing and loved their work, helped me to see my future in a different light . . . they were incredible role models who gave me the insight and motivation to fulfill my true aspirations.”

A unique educational opportunity, the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK program is for successful, academically motivated high school students who need substantial financial assistance to attend college.  In addition to financial aid, SEEK helps students achieve success through individualized academic, personal and career counseling and support.  The pre-freshman summer program includes intensive workshops to help students develop skills to pass the CUNY/ACT certification tests.  For students who have passed or are exempt from the CUNY/ACT tests, a summer bridge program prepares them for making critical intellectual, social and academic transitions into college life. 

Queens College boasts a student body from over 170 different countries who speak more than 90 languages. Located on a beautiful 77-acre campus in Flushing, New York, QC opened its doors in 1937 with the goal of offering a first-rate education to talented people of all

backgrounds and financial means. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY) since its founding in 1961, Queens College is one of CUNY’s largest senior colleges. It enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs, and was cited in the 2012 edition of The Princeton Review’s The Best 376 Colleges for its academic excellence and generous financial aid packages. Over 120,000 students have graduated since the college’s first class of 1941. Our alumni include such household names as Paul Simon and Jerry Seinfeld, as well as such elected officials as Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and NYS Senator Jose Peralta, the CEOs of major companies, and leaders in the fields of medicine, education, media, and the law.                                        


 Office Information

Deputy Director of News Services
(Position vacant)

(718) 997- 5597

Maria Matteo
Assistant Director of News Services
Queens Hall, Room 270B
(718) 997-5593

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