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March 2020

Staying on Track and Finishing Strong

The first year of college is always one of challenges, exploration and adjustments. For Rebecca, a freshman at New York Institute of Technology’s Columbus Circle campus, there have been special challenges and opportunities, both of which caused her to turn to the staff at Scholarship Plus for advice. Before her freshman year was over, she learned that she had won a coveted summer internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Her first year, she says, has been, “Interesting.” In the first semester she met a lot of new people, and got along with her professors. “Course work was in the middle of light and challenging,” she said, noting that “this semester it’s moving up toward challenging.” She adds, “It’s mostly a management thing,” while noting that “I’m fighting against procrastination.” Biology class was especially challenging. She has decided to be a computer science major, and has found that with those classes she has “a love-hate relationship.”

One class that she especially likes is called Speech and Communications, taught by a stage, screen and television actor named Richard Licea, most recently seen in the role of a police officer on “Law and Order.” In the course each student has to give speeches, leading up to a big eight-minute presentation. A tough part of the process is coming up with the topic; Mr. Licea is clear in his subject preferences: “I’ve heard a lot about video games – give me something else.”  Rebecca’s first big speech was about wrestling, a subject to which she brought her experience of being on her high school’s wrestling team, which was ranked eighth in the city. (She was also her school’s valedictorian.) Her second big speech – the assignment was that it should be persuasive – was titled “Why Every College Student Should Have a $700 Emergency Fund.” 

N.Y.I.T. is mostly a commuter school, in part because of that Columbus Circle location, with its excellent transit links, and draws students from all over the metropolitan area. Rebecca likes the fact that the school is small, which makes it easy to make connections with other students. Its location brings both advantages and temptations. “It’s New York,” Rebecca says, “and if you want to go to the movies because you have a five-hour gap in class you can – though money is always a consideration. Do I really want to spend $8 on a sandwich, or do I want to go to a place that will not kill my wallet? When you’re not swimming in money, that’s a struggle.”  

Fortunately, N.Y.I.T. has its own cafeteria and, directly above it, a Student Activities Center that is something of a refuge. “When I’ve just come out of a three-hour class and my brain is fried,” she says, “I can just go up there.” One of her pastimes there is playing video games; about one of them she says, “I’m terrible at it, but it’s still fun and funny. You know sometimes you’re not good at something, but you just laugh and keep at it.” Card games are another attraction, and also the ability to “just talk about crazy stuff and entertain ourselves.”

One of the N.Y.I.T. offerings that Rebecca has taken advantage of is a program that regularly brings in outside speakers, some of them discussing things that are not part of the formal curriculum. Some of the NYIT Ventures offerings cover business-specific subjects such as New York City’s zoning programs, which guide what can be built where. Others are directed at individuals or small businesses, such as how to build a resume and how to raise funds for a business or nonprofit. One of her favorites, she said, was on “advocating for yourself – that will definitely come in handy in these four years, and afterwards.”

Rebecca has been in regular contact with Scholarship Plus this year, both about an unexpected challenge and about an opportunity. In both cases, she said, Anna Antoniak has been especially helpful. The challenge was the unexpected word that some of the N.Y.I.T. programs might be moving to Long Island City. This brought up several complications, among them the possibility of transferring into a different program. Anna, Rebecca said, “Helped me think it through. That really helped me, because I didn’t want to make a reckless decision.”

Anna again helped with the search for a summer internship, and it was she who mentioned the possibility at Sloan Kettering. The project, which involves testing an app that would lead to practical help for patients coping with the day-to-day effects of living with cancer, spoke directly to two of Rebecca’s interests. It involves hands-on research involving computers, and because Rebecca knows someone who has cancer, she brings a special familiarity and motivation to the program. 

Reflecting on her first months in college, Rebecca knows that there are challenges and decisions to come, but she is certain of her direction. “Right now, I’m looking for long-range goals; I’m still uncertain,” she says. But she quickly adds: “My basic goal is to stay on track and finish strong.”   

Next: A Winter Reunion