First ‘Macaulay Bridge’ Graduates Affirm Success of Initiative to Open Honors College to Community College Transfer Students

First ‘Macaulay Bridge’ Graduates Affirm Success of Initiative to Open Honors College to Community College Transfer Students

 Program Offers Access to Students who Took Nontraditional Paths, Overcame Financial and Personal Hardship

 Second Cohort to Begin at Macaulay-College of Staten Island this Summer


Their journey to a four-year college degree finally ended in January. Carlos Pérez Valle broke down as he recounted the sacrifices his parents made. His classmate, Rohan Sharma reflected on his father, who died unexpectedly seven years ago, and the pride he knew he would have felt. And, observing the tears of his grandmother and mom upon hearing that he completed his studies, Romario Ricketts began crying himself. The three classmates are among the first graduates of the Macaulay Honors Bridge Scholars program — a pilot initiative that increases diversity, equity, and inclusion at the City University of New York by opening the highly-selective Macaulay Honors College to the community college transfer students.

The Bridge program’s first cohort was composed of 18 high-achieving graduates of Bronx Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College, who enrolled at Macaulay-Lehman College in Fall 2019. They were the first-ever transfer students admitted. Until then, Macaulay Honors College restricted admission to exceptional students who enrolled directly from high school. The two-year-old initiative is scheduled to begin a second cohort this summer. The 20 newest students will be culled from the associate degree program at College of Staten Island and continue their studies at their campus and Macaulay.

“In expanding the Macaulay Honors Bridge Scholars program, CUNY is strengthening and reinforcing its mission of providing opportunity and access to all New Yorkers, in the process demonstrating there is more than one path to becoming an honors student at CUNY,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “Bridge Scholars enrich the educational atmosphere at Macaulay through the diversity and texture of their backgrounds and experiences. We congratulate the graduates of the first cohort as we welcome the newest group from CSI.”

All Macaulay students receive free tuition (if they are New York residents), laptops, personalized mentoring, priority course registration, financial support for unpaid internships, and a stipend for the summer curriculum. CUNY hopes to expand the Bridge Scholars initiative to all eight CUNY colleges where Macaulay is at — besides Lehman and CSI, those are Baruch, Brooklyn College, City College, Hunter College, John Jay, and Queens College. And with the University’s seven CUNY community colleges operating as talent pipelines. Pérez ValleRicketts, and Sharma graduated on January 1 and a fourth Macaulay Bridge Scholar graduated on February 1. The remaining students from the first cohort are on track to receive their degrees at the end of this semester.

Embraced Opportunity 

Ricketts, who earned a BA in political science, says the inclusion of students from community colleges elevated the classroom experience for all Macaulay students. The 25-year-old grew up in Westmoreland, Jamaica, where he worked for a non-profit that advocated for the rights of sugar cane farmers and lobbied the Jamaican government to designate geographical sites as national landmarks. He wants to study public-interest law so he can help poor and marginalized communities effect change in their lives.

“My high school was located on a former slave plantation in Jamaica,” said Ricketts, who has held internships at the ACLU, Fresh Air Fund, Brennan Center for Justice, and at the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President since starting at CUNY in 2017. “I was able to share my perspective in discussions on racial and social justice-based issues from my experiences that I think really contributed to the quality of the discussions.”

Because of their status as newcomers to Macaulay, Bridge students said they were motivated to work especially hard and prove themselves. What emerged, they said, was a tight-knit group of go-getters who understood that if they made good on their promise, the Bridge program would be viewed as a success, opening up opportunities for another cadre of transfer students.

“I’m grateful for the enthusiastic collaboration of our CUNY sister institutions in helping their top scholars participate,” said Macaulay Honors College Dean Mary C. Pearl. “I also want to thank GS Humane Corp and the Petrie and Mellon foundations for underwriting Macaulay’s transfer programs. Our supporters recognize how important it is for New York that the hardest working and most talented students from every community have access to a transformational honors education as they prepare to become leaders in every field.”


Driven to Succeed

India-born Sharma was inspired by his father’s wish for him to find a sense of direction in his life after he dropped out of high school following the 10th grade. Convinced that education is the principal driver of social mobility, he was selected for a ClassiCorps Teaching Fellowship and currently teaches at the Classical Charter Schools network in the South Bronx.

“There was a chip on our shoulder because of where we came from,” said Sharma, 32, who graduated with an applied Sociology BA and a minor in Human Resource Management. “When I got here, I had to prove to myself that I belonged. And I did, graduating with honors with a 3.98 GPA, and that’s with a child and family at home. I know how some people feel about community college students, but at the end of the day, I think we proved ourselves.”

Pérez Valle was also able to apply his remarkable personal experiences to his class discussions, which in turn helped him manage challenges inside and outside the classroom. In the fall of 2019, as Pérez Valle was adjusting to the rigors of the Macaulay Bridge program, he lost partial sense of hearing in his right ear. A speech pathology and audiology major, Pérez Valle took classes that explored the ways in which marginalized groups can be tripped up by bureaucratic red tape in their pursuit of equitable healthcare, issues he faced as he tried to obtain a hearing aid. He now wants to pursue graduate studies in communication sciences so he can help improve medical service delivery for underrepresented groups and multilingual populations.

“I know how hard it is for some folks who don’t speak English, for immigrants and people of color and minority groups to receive health services,” said Pérez Valle, who spoke at a December virtual ceremony for his major and broke down in tears as he recounted the sacrifices his parents made emigrating from Mexico to the U.S. when he was two. “My professors at Macaulay were always there for me,” he went on, “giving me guidance and helping me through tough situations, and I want to eventually do the same for others who may not have the same opportunities.”

The inaugural cohort of the Macaulay Honors Bridge Scholars program was supported with funding from the Carroll and Milton Petrie and Andrew W. Mellon foundations.  The program’s second cohort will begin this summer supported by a $200,000 grant from GS Humane Corp., a private charitable foundation.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving 500,000 students of all ages and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.