True to the Mission
By Peter Dodenhoff
John Jay College has built and earned a reputation for educating students to go out into the world and become “fierce advocates for justice.” For a sizable number of alumni, that calling has meant staying right here, working, teaching, and “paying it forward” so that future generations of fierce advocates can reap the same benefits of a John Jay education.
Some alumni graduated, went elsewhere to study or work, and then returned to their alma mater. Others made a seamless transition from student to staff or faculty. In either case, fidelity to John Jay’s mission is a defining characteristic, and a powerful motivating principle, for these John Jay employees.
“Providing individualized attention to students has been gratifying to say the least,” said Berlyn Morales-Witten, a 2008 alumna who is now an academic advisor with John Jay’s ACE (Accelerate, Complete, Engage) program. “I was a student who worked three jobs while taking six classes at a time, and graduated with a 3.5 GPA in spite of it. I see the ‘old me’ in many of our students today and I like to use my experience to show them that it is possible to connect with the John Jay community and excel academically, even though finding the time to do it can be a barrier.”
“As an employee in the PRISM office, I am forever grateful for the opportunities that were given to me as a student in the science department, and i hope to return the favor to help future science students at John Jay.”—Derek Sokolowski (B.S. ’15) Assistant Coordinator, Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Math
John Jay alumni can be found working throughout the College: in academic departments from Sciences to Africana Studies to Security, Fire and Emergency Management, among others; in the Office of Public Safety; in Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Oἀce, and the President’s Office; in Marketing and Development; and in the Honors and Ph.D. programs, to name just a handful. [Full disclosure: This reporter is also a proud Founding Generation alumnus, Class of ’73.]
Wherever alumni can be found on campus, the John Jay mission looms large. It’s clear from even casual conversations that, for these alumni, working at John Jay is a highly desirable and fulfilling career path. “I was never here for the money. I’ve always loved John Jay; I never wanted to go anywhere else,” said Irene O’Donnell, the Director of Campus Office Services and Records Management. “I have such an affinity for this place, I can’t even describe it. I think John Jay is the best college in CUNY.”
O’Donnell would know. The native of County Donegal, Ireland, has been a John Jay fixture since 1981, when she was appointed Assistant Director of Student Activities by then-President Gerald W. Lynch. Since that time, she has earned her bachelor’s degree in Forensic Psychology—salutatorian of the Class of 1987—as well as a master’s in Industrial Labor Relations from Baruch College/Cornell University. O’Donnell has worked in Testing, Human Resources (an assignment that prompted her to pursue the master’s degree), the Department of Information Technology and, since 2001, in Campus Office Services.“I didn’t do so bad for someone who worked her way up,” she said with a smile. O’Donnell will be retiring in June, but insists that her connection to John Jay will remain strong. “I’m a dedicated alumna; my whole life is John Jay, and I’m very proud of my alma mater,” she said. “I feel as strongly about John Jay as I do about Ireland, and everyone knows how I feel about Ireland.”
“Giving back to my community is something I hold very dear, and I’m glad I get to do this with the community that helped me: John Jay.”
—Yuleisy Audain (B.A. ’16)
Marketing & Communications and Peer Advocates Assistant, Urban Male Initiative
On the other end of the seniority spectrum, Markie Bledsoe-Grant is the freshly minted House Manager of the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, a position she has held since February, just eight months after earning her bachelor’s degree in Forensic Psychology. She had worked in a variety of on-campus jobs since her freshman year, and as a theater usher since March 2014. When a transition in theater staffing occurred, she was recruited for the House Manager vacancy by Rubina Shafi, the theater’s Audience Services Manager.“
I was highly recommended due to my leadership skills and work ethic,” Bledsoe-Grant said. “I saw this as a good opportunity to gain managerial experience. I’ve fallen in love with the job completely; it’s been an important part of my life. Every event is a highlight for me. It’s definitely challenging, in a good way.”
In her role with the theater, Bledsoe-Grant deals with both internal and external constituencies, each of which gives her an opportunity to pay it forward. “The theater gives students an opportunity to present their views on stage, and it feels really good to be a part of that.” Even with outside clients—and she admits to having been “star-struck a few times” around the likes of Usher, Montel Williams, and other celebrities—she is a cool professional, confident that “it comes back home to John Jay and representing what we stand for.”
“It’s really an honor. I’m very proud to be here,” she said.
Nestled between O’Donnell and Bledsoe-Grant in seniority—although every bit their equal when it comes to John Jay loyalty and spirit—is Michael Scaduto, Associate Director of Financial Aid, who graduated in 2004 with his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and has been working at the College ever since.
“I’m a product of Dr. Pat Sinatra,” he said, referring to the late John Jay alumna (B.S. ’75) who herself enjoyed a lengthy career in student services at the College, during which she developed the First-Year Initiative programs. “As a student I worked as a peer mentor and math tutor, and when I was getting close to graduation, I had discussions with Dr. Sinatra about staying at John Jay in more of a leadership role in the freshman peer mentor office.”
Scaduto did stay on, working on freshman orientation and advisement, and in 2008 he switched to Financial Aid. His extensive student contact puts him in an ideal position to mentor, assist, and inspire new generations of John Jay students. “Everyone I’ve worked for has been a good mentor, and that’s been invaluable to me,” he said. “I try to do the same for others. The core mission of John Jay is public service, and that’s what we do: provide service.”
Forty-seven percent of current John Jay undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college, and Scaduto finds additional inspiration in that statistic. “I was a first-generation college student, so it’s important for me to help others in the same situation,” he said. “I know what they’re going through.”
The transition from student to employee has its challenges, said Scaduto. “You’re now a professional, not a student anymore,” he said. “You now have different expectations for yourself. But like any other career, you don’t become a professional overnight. It’s important to have good mentors and good colleagues, and that’s something I value highly. At the same time, you have to earn your keep and excel at what you do. And while you’re an ‘insider’ as a John Jay alumnus, you’re not treated differently or special. You simply chose to make John Jay your career.”
Not all alumni employees transitioned directly from student body to work force. Chelsea Binns earned her master’s in Criminal Justice from John Jay, then a doctorate from the CUNY Graduate Center. A Certified Fraud Examiner, Binns was a senior vice president in Citigroup’s Fraud Surveillance Unit before joining John Jay’s Department of Security, Fire and Emergency Management as an assistant professor.
“I treasure the education I received from John Jay,” she said. “The professors at John Jay are true leaders in their respective fields who fully prepared me to achieve excellence, and I have enjoyed an outstanding career as a result. My positive experience inspired me to want to continue my relationship with the school as a member of the faculty.
“John Jay attracts the best students in the world,” she continued, “and it is my privilege to continue working with them to achieve academic excellence, produce outstanding scholarship, and attain exciting careers in the public and private sectors.”
Another alumnus who made a significant mark elsewhere before returning home is Daniel Matos (B.A. ’97), John Jay’s Registrar since October 2015. The Senior Registrar at City College for three and a half years prior to coming back to John Jay, Matos came with a wealth of experience in enrollment management and student services, having previously served as University Vice President for Student Services at American University of Antigua and Registrar at the University of Medicine and Health Services in St. Kitts, among other positions. He was also Assistant Registrar at John Jay for six years.
Joseph V. Williams (M.S. ’93) enjoyed a long career as a New York State corrections official before returning to John Jay as a member of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration. He felt instantly at home. “I’ve enjoyed teaching at John Jay for 20-plus years now, and particularly since President Travis has been there, given his practice, research, and scholarship in the police and correctional fields,” said Williams, who commutes 75 miles from Poughkeepsie to teach new cadres of fierce advocates.
His colleague on the LPS faculty, Arthur Storch (M.A. ’77) is a retired NYPD inspector who likewise enjoys teaching and mentoring students. “My goal is to help them be successful in life beyond John Jay,” Storch said. “Several students have kept in touch via e-mail as they have pursued law enforcement careers. It’s been a pleasure to continue helping guide them through their professional lives.”
Teaching, mentoring, guiding, helping. That’s the bottom line for the scores of John Jay alumni who, whether old hands or new arrivals, have found satisfying careers as members of the staff or faculty. Said Scaduto, John Jay’s 2014 Employee of the Year, “Paying it forward is ultimately why we’re here.” [For an expanded list of alumni who work at the College, visit: http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/alumni-employees]