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CCNY President Awards Scholarships to Five Harlem Students

CCNY President Dr. Lisa Staiano-Coico (third from left) with beneficiaries of her new President's Community Scholars Program. From left: Catherine Hernandez, Oscar Camacho, Daoud Nsangou, Liz Marie Peralta and Mohammed Sabha.

Five high-achieving students from Harlem are getting a free education at The City College of New York thanks to a scholarship program launched by CCNY’s new president, Dr. Lisa Staiano-Coico, who began her tenure August 2. 

Freshmen Oscar Camacho, Catherine Hernandez, Daoud Nsangou, Liz Marie Peralta and Mohammed Sabha, all graduates of neighborhood high schools, are the first recipients of the President’s Community Scholarships at City College. 

“One of my priorities is to sustain and expand City College’s myriad partnerships with this vibrant and diverse community,” said President Staiano-Coico in announcing the scholarships. “We draw great strength from our presence in Harlem, and what better way to build upon that strength and, at the same time, say ‘thank you’ to Harlem than by supporting the community’s most promising students when they come here.” 

“This is one of several planned presidential initiatives to bring City College closer to Harlem and other surrounding communities,” noted Karen Mackey Witherspoon, Vice President, Government and Community Affairs at CCNY. “A critical part of our mission is to inspire young people in our neighborhood with the promise a college education offers and to show them that it is within their grasp.”

The scholarship recipients were selected strictly on academic merit and will each receive $5,000 support renewable for up to five years, according to Joseph Fantozzi, CCNY’s Director of Admissions. They will be required to perform community service and maintain good academic standing as a condition for renewal. 

“City College has a long-standing commitment to providing access to an excellent education for all its students, but in particular to those from our Greater Harlem community,” he noted. “The President’s Community Scholars program seeks to continue and expand this legacy by offering financial support and intellectual opportunity to promising local students.”

For the newly chosen Scholars, the awards are timely and a massive financial boost.

“If not for this scholarship it would have been very difficult for me to attend college,” said Mr. Nsangou, a sentiment shared by his co-recipients. The son of Cameroonian immigrants, he graduated from Frederick Douglass Academy and plans to major in computer science. 

Ms. Hernandez, who graduated from the High School for Math, Science and Engineering, on CCNY’s campus, and now attends the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, said the scholarship came as a surprise. 

“I had just taken out two college loans when I got the call,” said the 18-year-old, a scholar-athlete who played basketball in high school. “I had to decline the loans.” Born in Washington Heights to a Colombian father and a Dominican mother, Ms. Hernandez, like her fellow President’s Scholars, is the first in her family to attend a four-year college. 

The President's Community Scholars Program is made possible by generous support from the following: Bernell K. Grier, Arthur J. Levin, Shade Key Little, Martin Schwartz, the Estate of Else S. Rohmer and the Sy and Ginny Levy Family Fund. 

Brief bios of the five President’s Community Scholars follow:

Oscar Camacho:
Mr. Camacho, 18, is a graduate of the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics (MCSM) in East Harlem and plans to major in chemical engineering. He was on the honor roll at MCSM and worked most of his high school years to help his father, a taxi driver, support their family of four. He still found time to volunteer at a community day care center, helping first and second graders with simple math. “Without this scholarship it would have been hard for me to attend college,” said Mr. Camacho, whose mother is a homemaker. Both parents are from the Dominican Republic and he is the first in his family to attend college.    
Catherine Hernandez:
As a junior at The High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, Ms. Hernandez applied and was accepted to a molecular biology and genetics summer course at Columbia University. Now a first-year student in the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, she plans to pursue a medical career and would like to practice in a primary care specialty, which is the Sophie Davis School’s focus. Her career choice was made more poignant this year by the death of her grandmother from cancer. In high school, Ms. Hernandez excelled in basketball and studied German, earning honorable mention in a national test in the language. She also volunteered in an ophthalmologist’s office and at Mount Sinai Hospital.  
Daoud Nsangou:
The oldest of five children, Mr. Nsangou arrived in the United States in 2005. It was the 17-year-old’s third home after residing in Egypt, where he was born, and Cameroon, his parents’ homeland. He took four Advanced Placement classes at Frederick Douglass Academy, participated in the Reach (Rewarding Achievement) program, which uses financial incentives to raise student achievement, and was elected to the National Honor Society. He also wrote for the school paper and volunteered for Build On, a Harlem community service initiative in Harlem. Besides English, he speaks French, Arabic and Bamoun, his parents’ native language.

Liz Marie Peralta:
A graduate of Frederick Douglass Academy like Mr. Nsangou, Ms. Peralta describes herself as an “overachiever.” She says that was the result of growing up in a Dominican household where she was taught to work hard at everything. She made the honor roll at Frederick Douglass and received an athletic award for her aptitude in tennis. A teacher’s assistant in her junior and senior years, Ms. Peralta, 18, will major in the sciences at CCNY. In 2009, she volunteered for UNICEF’s Tap Water Project, whose mission is to inform people of the strenuous effort people in the Third World put in to obtain potable water. 

Mohammed Sabha:
For Mr. Sabha, a graduate of the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics (MCSM), the CCNY President’s Community Scholarship is a dream come true. During his junior and senior years, he participated in the Macaulay Honors College Summer Scholars Academy in Mathematics and Science programs at CCNY. Since then, attending CCNY has been his goal. The Summer Scholars Academy provides highly motivated high school students an opportunity to enroll in challenging college courses. “It was a wonderful experience that allowed me to prove myself,” Mr. Sabha says. “I found City College amazing and knew that this was the college for me.” At MCSM, he was a math peer tutor, a member of the math and chess teams and the National Honor Society.

Dr. Lisa Staiano-Coico:
Previously provost at Temple University, Dr. Lisa Staiano-Coico was appointed CCNY’s 12th President by the CUNY Board of Trustees. She began her tenure August 2. A researcher in microbiology and immunology, as well as a published author on preventing alcohol abuse among college freshmen, she’s the second woman and the alumna of the City University of New York to head CCNY on a permanent basis in its 163-year history. President Staiano-Coico is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences where she earned a PhD in microbiology and immunology. The provost’s job at Temple University is just one of several high profile academic positions she’s held. Others include dean of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and executive director of the Tri-Institutional Research Program, a consortium of Cornell, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Rockefeller University.     



Jay Mwamba
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