CCNY opens resources and research center for immigrant students

Eight years in the making, The City College of New York’s Immigrant Student Center for Resources and Research officially opened on April 15, making it the third CUNY campus, after Brooklyn and John Jay Colleges, to have a dedicated immigrant student center.

Located in NAC 6/204, where it shares space with the CUNY Initiative on Immigration and Education and the CCNY Dream Team, the Center supports and guides immigrant students by providing them with the necessary resources to enroll in and to navigate college, and to complete their degrees. It serves students who are undocumented, have precarious immigration status, and are first-generation immigrants.

For example, many immigrant students have issues accessing higher education, said the Center’s interim director, Daniela Alulema. They may get intimidated by the process of applying for New York state residency and qualifying for in-state tuition and financial assistance.

“We need to make sure that undocumented students understand that higher education is a possibility for them,” she said.

Alulema is an embodiment of the immigrant experience. A native of Ecuador, her father graduated at the top of his engineering school class in Quito but had to forsake his dream of attending The City College because he had to go to work to support his young family. Coming to New York as an undocumented immigrant, she subsequently earned a degree from Baruch College and remained in the U.S. on a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals work permit. She served as director of programs at the think tank Center for Migration Studies for eight years before coming to CCNY.

 “An education at CUNY can be a life-changing experience,” she told the attendees at the official opening.

 In his introductory remarks, CCNY School of Education Dean Edwin M. Lamboy pointed out that, while this may be the third such center in the CUNY system, it is the first with a research component.

"The work to be done in this center aligns perfectly with the School of Ed's mission and the emphasis we place on preparing educators who are qualified and committed to teaching and leading diverse communities,” he said.

Professor of Bilingual Education & TESOL Tatayna Kleyn, the co-founder of the Center, said that its impetus began in 2012 with an email from undergraduate student Yatziri Tovar, a co-founder of the new Dream Team student club. She asked Kleyn to be the club’s faculty advisor.

The group “had the support of the New York state Youth Leadership Council and [they] began building the Dream Team from the ground up a dozen years ago,” said Kleyn. “They created a flyer and a presence on social media, and they were on a mission. And here we are, 12 years later, because of them.”

Tovar, a member of CCNY’s Class of 2017 who is now the senior manager of media relations at Make The Road New York, remembered “being a freshman, undocumented and the first in my family to attend college. It was exciting but also scary because I felt like I was the only undocumented student on campus.” From the beginnings of what she called “a safe space where undocumented students like us could talk, hang out and share anything from struggles to scholarship opportunities” came “a new place [that] will allow people to be connected and informed.”

CCNY President Vincent G. Boudreau noted the tenacity of those who advocated for the Center to become a reality.

"When the students and faculty presented the idea of this center to me, it was clearly a passion project for them, and great projects need impassioned, dedicated architects and advocates. They connected our core mission ⸺ social mobility and economic impact ⸺ to the work of supporting immigrant students," he said. "You don't get social mobility without providing a path forward for new Americans. You don't get the kind of economic impact we achieve without opening doors to new Americans."

The data provided by Cynthia Carvajal, CUNY’s director of Undocumented and Immigrant Student Programs, allowed for the administration to see the need for undocumented students at CCNY to receive targeted support to access financial aid, scholarships, in-state tuition rate, and internships available to them, said Kleyn.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided a high-quality and affordable education to generations of New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. CCNY embraces its position at the forefront of social change. It is ranked #1 by the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights out of 369 selective public colleges in the United States on the overall mobility index. This measure reflects both access and outcomes, representing the likelihood that a student at CCNY can move up two or more income quintiles. Education research organization Degree Choices ranks CCNY #1 nationally among universities for economic return on investment. In addition, the Center for World University Rankings places CCNY in the top 1.8% of universities worldwide in terms of academic excellence. Labor analytics firm Emsi (now Lightcast) puts at $1.9 billion CCNY’s annual economic impact on the regional economy (5 boroughs and 5 adjacent counties) and quantifies the “for dollar” return on investment to students, taxpayers and society. At City College, more than 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in eight schools and divisions, driven by significant funded research, creativity and scholarship. This year, CCNY launched its most expansive fundraising campaign, ever. The campaign, titled “Doing Remarkable Things Together” seeks to bring the College’s Foundation to more than $1 billion in total assets in support of the College mission. CCNY is as diverse, dynamic and visionary as New York City itself. View CCNY Media Kit.

Syd Steinhardt