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The last few years have been pretty tough on the family – we lost so many in so little time and unexpectedly. It almost seemed like we were cursed with all the tears and so many hearts to heal. This year was a bit different and we are all still here, and although there are those who continue to cope with different ailments, we are pretty much okay.
This year was a big one for my Nick. This year he finally “got” the whole birthday thing and he enjoyed Halloween and was the cutest Superman I have ever seen. The words started flowing and he is communicating so much better. Just the other day he said “good morning” to a neighbor who was in the elevator with us. I had to prompt him, but he looked at her and said it. I don’t think she realized what a big moment that was. He uses “I want” when he needs something and he is doing great in school. My Facebook cover page says “Words Will Come,” but I think I have to change that now.
I have met and become closer to new friends who are on the same journey as Nick and I. These women who understand what it means to raise a child with Autism. We laugh together over a meal and drinks or just talk about our children – sometimes we shed tears of sadness but mostly of joy. As an adult I can’t remember the last time I met someone who I can genuinely call a friend. I have never been the type to give anyone the title of “best friend” and I still don’t because my real friends are more like family. These new friends – and you know who you are – are a blessing to me and they are now and will always be my family.
On Thanksgiving night when we sit around the table with my family and share the amazing meal prepared by my dear mother, I cannot help but feel blessed to still have her and my father here on earth and hope that we have many more years together.
Health, Words, Family.
And for that I am grateful.
Marisol Vendrell is a life-long New York City resident and works as a legal assistant for a midsize Manhattan firm. She is the single mom to a seven-year-old boy named Nicholas who is diagnosed with Autism. She is the co-founder of the Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle, a parent support group for Bronx parents, and is a CUNY SPS student working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Disability Studies.
When it comes to women there are some misconceptions. For instance, there are those who think that women do not support one another. We are all competing with one another over a job, a friend, or a romantic interest. Women are all catty. Right? Wrong.
I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Women’s Leadership Conference hosted at Hunter College. Female students from all of the CUNY schools were invited to participate in a day that was all about girl power. Talk about your rah rah women or your girls rule and boys drool. Ok, well, maybe not the boys drool part but women certainly ruled at the WLC.
Marissa Job and Kelsey Richardson, representing CUNY School of Professional Studies, greeted me when I arrived to let me know what the day’s agenda would be. It was a nice way to begin the day. CUNY’s support system is amazing.
One thing that I couldn’t help but notice when I walked in was the diversity. I come from Long Island and Long Island is not known for diversity so it was wonderful to see African American, Muslim, Asian, and white women all there. And I will own up to one of those woman stereotypes. Those girls all knew how to dress. I resisted the urge to tell one woman to forget school and get on a runway.
There were so many remarkable speakers but let me give a glimpse of some of the highlights. Rosanna Rosado, publisher and CEO of El Diario/La Prensa brought tears to my eyes. Through her story of a five year old dancing on a table she made me go back to my five year old self on a table dancing for a room full of grown-ups who made me feel like a star. I was a star. So where did I lose that star power? What made me move from center stage to mixing in with the scenery?
We spend so much time trying not to appear vain or full of ourselves that we forget to acknowledge all that we are. What’s wrong with knowing we are strong, beautiful, smart, capable human beings who also love shoes? What’s wrong with putting on a tiara, even if it’s imaginary and knowing that we have a star power, that we are worth the glitter in our crowns? Listen to Rosanna and straighten your tiara and dance on a table, maybe not literally, but why not?
Joanna Barsh, Director of McKinsey & Company and creator of the “The McKinsey Centered Leadership Project,” gave the first presentation. She had our full-attention. She used exercises that enabled us to get to know the people sitting around us in a way that didn’t feel forced. By the end of the presentation I had learned some interesting things about the woman sitting next to me. I also felt invested in her and wanted to see her succeed.
More important was Joanna’s message to us about all of the self-talk that we do and the way that some of our negative thinking becomes obstacles, obstacles of our own making. No. She didn’t give some power of positive thinking talk that inspired us only to be forgotten later on. Through examples and demonstrations she showed us the small ways that we psyche ourselves out, small ways that can become paralyzing.
I especially loved her tip on thinking of a few good things that happened during the day and one bad thing. It was, according to Joanna, a way of retraining your brain to sort through the bad and recognize the good. It is a way of building confidence and through that building, you become your best self, a leader.
There were other inspiring women. Whether it was City Council Member Gale Brewer talking about the importance of community building and having a voice, or listening to Joyce Moy, Executive Director of the Asian/American Research Institute as she talked about overcoming shyness after witnessing her parents eviction being the catalyst that made her realize how important her voice was; there were women, strong women there throughout the day to provide guidance and support.
It was a day about women. It didn’t matter what ethnicity, religion, or age. We were all women there with one common goal–supporting one another and forming an unbreakable bond. We were colleagues, peers, mentors, and sisters.
I’ve never been a fan of the stereotype that women cannot be friends. My closest friends and supports are women. It is something my own daughter has grown up knowing. Women rock!
The 2013 Women’s Leadership Conference was a day that was all about us. I looked around the room and thought about the United States being so far behind other countries when it coms to women as CEOs, holding political office, being President. I looked around that room and felt such a sense of hope. Maybe somewhere sitting in that room was the future first female President. I just hope at her inauguration she will dance on a table or two and be sure to wear the most blinged out tiara.
Kristen is a single mom of 3 kids and studying at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. She is blogging while she still figures out what she wants to be when she grows up.
As I write this I am sitting under a hooded dryer, 10 minutes into a 40 minute process involving 2 steps and 3 chemical mixtures to achieve one result: hide my gray hair. To be a successful magician I have to do this every 4 weeks and I am not alone; I am a hairstylist and all but a handful of the color clients where I work come in to get rid of their grays. In fact according to Professional Consultants and Resources’ 2012 research Americans spend $756 million to color annually—as a beauty professional, I can’t say I mind.
I started coloring my hair when I was 13 and have never thought much of it. In my mid-twenties, my want became a need due to the little crop of silver that had sprouted on the top of my head. Again I didn’t think much of it and went about coloring with the same fun and creativity as I had for over a decade, until about two months ago.
My life started getting pretty hectic at the end of August 2013. Classes started and the summer lull at work came to an end. My mom’s 60th birthday was coming up and my 33rd was 5 days later. I held off coloring my hair until the end of the month because I wanted the color to be fresh for our birthdays. But things got hectic and it never happened. Then I pushed it a little further because I was going on vacation and wanted it to be fresh for that, but things were crazy and I never got a chance. Before I knew it, 2 months had gone by! Looking at the top of my head, I had so much more gray than I realized. And then it hit me: I don’t know what my hair looks like; I don’t know how I look—naturally. That really messed with my head. I toyed with the idea of letting my hair grow out to see what I look like in my natural state. In a way it was kind of exciting. But could I do it? No, obviously not or else I would be sitting somewhere else right now. I thought and thought, constantly checking out other woman’s hair color. I had thoughts like, “She colors, and she doesn’t look too high maintenance,” and “She doesn’t color and she looks really good.” But ultimately, it came down to looking at gray haired people and asking, do I want to look like them. The answer, for me, was no.
Recently, many women have decided to give up coloring their hair—this emboldened my hemming and hawing about my own color. Less chemicals on your skin, less maintenance and an “I’m beautiful, accept me for who I really am” attitude that seems empowering. People have been coloring their hair for millennia; the cult of youth is nothing new. Ancient Egyptians used henna, and American woman began to color their hair late in the first half of the 20th century when hairdressers started working with caustic chemicals. A quick Internet search shows two distinct points of view: tips on how to be a silver fox and tips on the best ways to hide the ugly, wiry truth. It’s great that we have so many choices, but what are the consequences of this choice?
Apart from social pressure, there is professional pressure to look young. Even in my own hair debate I wondered if a hair stylist should have gray hair. Could it be done? In a world where our personal brand is increasingly more important, and people are staying in the workforce longer, both men and woman feel added pressure to artificially turn back the clock. This is an especially important thing to think about for people returning to school as many of us are entering our second careers and will be competing for jobs against traditional students that are a decade or more younger than we are. We need to look hip and contemporary without looking like we raided a Millenial’s closet—a tricky balance.
What I learned from my great hair crisis of 2013, as I now call it, is that what’s truly important is my ability to be confident and comfortable in my own skin. And right now, part that confidence comes in a bottle, and that’s okay.
While NYC wilted in the sticky, sweltering weeks of early July, twelve fortunate members of the SPS Master of Arts in Applied Theatre program (eight students, three faculty members, and Linda Key, a MAAT alumna who returned to Rwanda as a Fulbright Specialist) spent seventeen dry and temperate days and nights in Kigali, Rwanda. This was the fourth such annual venture, a partnership between SPS/MAAT and the Kigali Institute of Education through which K IE undergraduate drama majors receive practical training in such areas as play-building, teaching through theater, and Theater of the Oppressed, and CUNY graduate students hone their skills as teachers and facilitators and absorb the transformative culture, beauty, and contradictions that are present-day Rwanda.
In 2010 Rwanda was still digging out from under the psychic, social, and political rubble of the 1994 genocide that killed up to a million citizens and catapulted this tiny, lush, and previously obscure nation onto the world stage. With unprecedented candor, Rwandans remember the slaughter and pay tribute to the dead with local and national memorials, in village churches and roadside monuments, and at the Genocide Memorial Museum in the capital. Many of these sites include underground crypts and display skeletal remains, clothing, ID cards, rosary beads, and other personal belongings of the victims so that history cannot be denied. Pledges of “Never Again” appear on signage. Alongside remembrance and mourning, Rwandans pursue justice and reconciliation, a 21st Century economy, and universal education.
In 2010, the Rwandan Education Board added drama to the national curriculum, believing that it could be a vehicle for national dialogue. KIE, the central teacher-training institution, initiated a drama major. But Rwandan performance tradition consists mainly of music and dance. There is no national theater or body of dramatic literature, and few Rwandans were trained in acting, directing, or playwriting. The KIE curriculum was based in the theoretical study of other theater traditions, primarily European, until a fortuitous connection brought KIE and CUNY together in the summer of 2010.
This summer, KIE students who were in their first year of study in 2010 are graduating. They worked consistently with MAAT founding faculty Chris Vine (Academic Program Director) and Helen White (Director of the CAT Youth Theatre) every summer and credit them with revolutionizing their ideas about the power of theater and helping them acquire the skills and confidence to create meaningful performances with and for a wide variety of school and community participants. They are the first cohort of Rwandan students to have served their teaching internships as drama specialists, and they will be the first professional drama teachers. My role this summer was to observe the program and begin to assess its impact now that the first KIE-CUNY cohort is ready to move on to professional careers.
What I saw and heard was nothing short of remarkable. In ten intense days, the KIE-CUNY collaborators performed Forum Theater about sexual harassment in the workplace, corruption and gender discrimination in hiring, alcoholism, and domestic abuse; and the plight of orphans and stepchildren (hundreds of thousands of children lost parents in the genocide); analyzed and dramatized Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred”; created scenes with props and fabric and their bodies; and rehearsed and performed two plays for a public audience of approximately two hundred. Creating together fused the KIE and CUNY groups, enabling us to share artistic, academic, and personal stories and concerns.
Rwanda is re-creating itself. As Professor Vine said, on behalf of SPS and CUNY at our closing celebration with KIE students, faculty, and administration, “We are honored to have played a very small part in this remarkable transformation.”
Check out the Project Rwanda Blog for a daily recap and reflection.
Piper Anderson is a 2011 graduate of the CUNY SPS M.A. in Applied Theatre program. She is currently the Director of Education & Artist Development at Young Audiences New York. She is also a performance artist, writer, educator, and life coach. Below is her reflection on the question “Where are you from?” based on time spent in Rwanda working at the Kigali Institute of Education.
The busy stretch of road from the Kigali Institute of Education to Hotel Civitas is about a 20-minute walk on a narrow sidewalk. J’nelle and I slowed our pace and fell into step together similarly feeling reflective and inspired by all that we were seeing and experiencing in our brief time in Rwanda. Sharing our growing expertise in Applied Theatre was exciting. Learning about a new country and the ways Rwandans were finding creative solutions to the call for reconciliation and healing was powerful and confirmed the deep resonate value of our work. But there was another layer to this trip that I wasn’t quite expecting: “Where are you from?”
It’s a question that I get on Brooklyn streets or the Walmart in small town USA. But when an African asks me this question while standing in a school yard surrounded by the lush hills of the Rwandan country side, I’m not quite sure where to begin. “I’m from the U.S.,” but of course that’s not useful. Africans move to the U.S. all the time seeking opportunities, an escape, a new beginning. The question is not where you ended up. No, where are you from? Where do you begin? So I began with what I knew of my history. I began with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Which for many Rwandans sounded like some legend, some Grimms tale used to trick naïve children into obedience; it couldn’t possibly be true. But I told the story again and again with the certainty that hours spent in my small public library after school reading every volume on that one bookcase devoted to African American literature. That history finally came in handy on the streets and in the schoolyards where I met people in Rwanda. But my facts seemed to leave more questions than answers and each conversation left me feeling more and more displaced.
Where do I begin? I may never know. Dr. John Henrik Clark says, “History is not everything, but it is a starting point… It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.” So as J’nelle and I walked along that Kigali road we began to hatch a plan to explore our being, our being a part of the African Diaspora. Our thesis project took the shape of one amazingly simple, complex question: “What does it mean to be part of a Diaspora?” We returned to the states and to our final year in the M.A. in Applied Theatre program and began structuring a creative gathering for a diverse group of Black women artists to explore this question. Our exploration took the shape of a devised theatre piece called “The Offering.” In April of 2011, The Diaspora Project performed “The Offering” at The Brecht Forum in New York City.
When we reconvened the women who participated in the project for a final reflection, there was an urgent desire to continue creating. What we had created together had become a vital means of generating radical material that challenged perceptions of Black women and revealed the complexity of our identities. We wanted to do more. We wanted to create a theatre company and so we did. On September 18, 2011 Re-writes of Passage Ensemble Theatre was born in my Harlem apartment. This is where we get to define our existence. This is the re-writing of our passage. Where we get to decide who we must BE. To learn more about our company visit www.rewritesensemble.com.
In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd [D-WV] introduced legislation that lead to the passage of a bill establishing Constitution Day.
Here are five fun facts about the Constitution of the United States that you might not know:
Thomas Jefferson didn’t have a chance to place his “John Hancock” on the Constitution. He was in France and missed the signing altogether.
There are several spelling errors in the Constitution, but the most egregious might be “Pensylvania.”
Benjamin Franklin, “Sage of the Constitutional Convention” was the oldest signer at 81 and needed help because of ailing health.
Vermont ratified the Constitution before it even became a state on January 10, 1791.
Amendment XXVII, ratified May 7, 1992, was the last to be adopted and declares: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”
The complete text of the Constitution of the United States can be found on the The Charters of Freedom website of the National Archives.
The City University of New York offers several initiatives aimed at providing assistance to the community on constitutional rights. Citizenship Now!, perhaps the largest and most diverse program, offers individuals and families law services to help them navigate their path to U.S. citizenship. CUNY SPS has proudly supported the efforts of Citizenship Now! through technical support of webinars featuring top immigration attorneys and advocates.
The CUNY SPS’s Graduate Certificate in Immigration Law program is planning a webinar on the immigration implications of two recent Supreme Court decisions: DOMA/United States v. Windsor, in which the court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional; and the striking down of Prop. 8, California’s ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. More information will be posted on our Facebook “Events” page so check back often.
*Fun facts above can be found on the Oak Hill Publishing Company’s website ConsitutionFacts.com.
Now that the fall semester has begun, some students have reported issues accessing content in their Blackboard course site and have reached out to the Help Desk to ask which browser is best for use with Blackboard. Firefox is SPS’s preferred browser; however, the most recent release of Firefox may impact your viewing of YouTube videos and other media from within Blackboard and Digication.
If you have trouble viewing embedded media from within Blackboard or Digication, look for a small shield icon to the left of the web address in Firefox or to the right in Chrome. Click on the shield and follow the prompts to unblock the missing media. View videos for detailed instructions for allowing blocked content in Firefox or Chrome.
To access all of SPS’s Help Desk videos click here.
Idalia Reyes is a current student here at The CUNY School of Professional Studies, studying in the Online Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Media. Academic Advisor, Johanna Rodriguez recently had the chance to ask Idalia a few questions about her goals and motivation for pursuing higher education, and here is what she shared with us:
Johanna: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next five years?
Idalia: In the next five years I hope to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Media. It is not only one of my biggest goals; it is also the most important and challenging one that I have to accomplish.
Johanna: What or who inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Idalia: The person who inspires me and keeps me motivated is “me.” I push myself very hard.
Johanna: What challenges do you face as an online student? And how have you overcome those obstacles?
Idalia: Being an online student is very difficult on many levels. One of the biggest challenges that I face as an online student is always getting to know the curriculum in the beginning of the semester. I get so nervous. I overcome my obstacles by printing out the syllabus and the assignments, and then start a schedule for myself. There is not a day that goes by that I do not check my discussion board in Blackboard several times a day. Whether I am on vacation or working, I am constantly checking in.
The online program has made it possible for me to achieve my goal due to the industry I work in, as my schedule can be very unpredictable. The flexibility of going online anywhere and anytime has made it possible for me to complete assignments and keep up with my classes. It is an interesting program, but it requires dedication and discipline.
I will be very honest. I didn’t think that I was going to make it this far. I am still here, in my fifth semester and I enjoy it. What I found to be helpful is to always keep an open line of communication with your advisor. The School of Professional Studies cares about their students and their opinions. If it becomes difficult, the communication lines are open.
Johanna Rodriguez is an Admissions and Academic Advisor for The CUNY School of Professional Studies Online Baccalaureate Program. When asked to reflect on her work here at SPS, she said:
How do I define advising? It’s funny because I had to explain myself to my older brother when he asked, “What is it that you do again?” I told him I advise students and teach them to become self-sufficient. I got the response “ohhh” and then he told me he was considering going back to school. His question did force me to think about my definition of academic advising.
The Greeks define learning as the process of bringing about self, and as an advisor I am here to help my students develop active leaning skills. I am here to guide students through their academic career and teach them to become independent and successful. Yes, I do make sure my students take on a balanced work load and make sure they contact financial aid on time, but along with those responsibilities I am teaching my students to become more self-sufficient.
To me the best part of my job is helping my students make choices that will in turn guide them on a new career path, and if it wasn’t for their education they would have not taken that step. I must agree with the Greeks because they were on to something, education isn’t just getting A’s but it is the process of developing yourself.
The CUNY SPS Academic Advisement Center for Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs is dedicated to furthering the educational mission of SPS by assisting the academic pursuits of students. The Academic Advisement Center helps students with educational planning, improving study skills, accessing learning support services, and adjusting to the demands facing adult learners.
Claire Yang is a 2011 graduate of the CUNY School of Professional Studies MA in Applied Theatre program. She recently took a moment to send us this update:
In September 2012, I moved back to Singapore after three years in New York City. I was sad to leave a wonderful community of theatre practitioners, community workers and educators and yet excited to see what was in store for me in the place and cultural context I had grown up in.
A week after I arrived, I had the privilege of attending the Community Cultural Development Symposium with fellow artists, community workers, and policy makers. I sat amongst students and pioneers of Singapore theatre, in the midst of dialogue about new initiatives and old issues. It hit me right away that the community I was about to be a part of had a truly rich history. It is a history not without struggle (performance art and forum theatre were banned in the early 1990s and several theatre practitioners were accused of Marxism), yet the present seems hopeful (government/ quasi-government organisations now commission forum theatre pieces, some by those same theatre practitioners). That was the start of my on-going journey of speaking to, learning from and collaborating with this extraordinary arts community.
I now work for the Singapore Repertory Theatre as Education Manager. I am constantly filled with an exhilarating mixture of fear and excitement in this role and department that is new to the company and new to me. In CUNY’s MA in Applied Theatre program, we spoke a lot about the idea of “praxis” and how one can only make discoveries upon taking action. I think now is the time for some of that!
The Master’s Degree in Applied Theatre, the first program of its kind in the United States, is a sequential, ensemble-based program for students interested in the use of theatre to address social and educational issues in a wide range of settings. The program stresses the unity of theory and practice, and is linked to the professional applied theatre work of the renowned CUNY Creative Arts Team.
The SPS Scholarship Committee has identified six scholarship recipients for the 2013-14 academic year. After careful deliberation, the Committee selected these students from an impressive pool of approximately 70 submissions—the most SPS has received to date.
Vearlane Edge and Velma Felix have been selected as 2013-14 Bob Martin Scholars. Vearlane is a student in the Online B.A. in Communication and Media program, and she anticipates graduating in 2014. For the past 20 years, she has organized and hosted Girl Scout troops of all ages, and has been especially active in an event providing children in need with backpacks and school supplies. With her help, this event has grown from 150 to over 300 participants in just three years. Velma, a student in our Online B.S. in Business program, is on track to graduate in December 2013. Velma returned to SPS after discontinuing her college education because of financial hardship. The Bob Martin Scholarship will allow Velma to finish her degree with SPS.
Tiffany Garcia is our inaugural Timothy Meade Scholar. A student in our Online B.A. in Disability Studies program with a Spring 2014 anticipated graduation date, Tiffany was led to the degree through her work as a special education teacher’s assistant in New Jersey. Tiffany has always worked hard for her education. Following an associate’s degree at LaGuardia Community College, she chose to finish her undergraduate education at SPS. She is on her way to becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college, which has inspired her older sister to return to higher education as well.
Nooria Nodrat and Merrilee Robinson have been awarded Founding Dean’s Scholarships for the 2013-2014 academic year. Nooria is an in-person student in the M.A. in Disability Studies program, and anticipates graduating in May 2014. Nooria, who is blind, decided to come to SPS to pursue Disability Studies in order to give back to her community. Merrilee is currently pursuing a B.S. in Health Information Management with an anticipated graduation date in Spring 2014. Born in a “third-world country,” Merrilee has overcome hardship and prioritizes her education. Her goal is to enter the workforce, earn certification in RHIA and RHIT, and find employment as a compliance officer
Elmo Paige will be receiving the 2013-14 Stephen M. Rossen Memorial Scholarship. Elmo, a single father of four teenagers, is guiding them through their educational journeys as he embarks on his own. With the full encouragement of his employer, this scholarship will allow him to reduce his work hours and focus more closely on his studies: he anticipates graduating from SPS in 2015 or 2016 with the M.S. in Data Analytics.