A cohort of our outstanding alumni
We caught up with 30 alumni under 30 who are already making their mark on the world. Selecting only 30 fabulous recent grads wasn’t easy. The pool of illustrious alumni is deep. Today, we are pleased to share with you the social justice warriors, cancer researchers, TV producers, bank executives, and many Brooklyn College alumni shaping the future.
Nasim Almuntaser ’21
B.A., History; B.A., Secondary Education; Master’s Degree Candidate, Special Education Generalist Grades 7–12
Teacher, Department of Education, New York, New York
Nasim Almuntaser pursued a career in education and public service because of a childhood experience. “My father was a teacher in Yemen, and when he came to the United States, he didn’t have access to the credentials to continue his career,” says Almuntaser. “As a child of immigrants who did not speak English, I was tasked at a young age with translating important documents. This made a deep impression on me.”
By the time he graduated from Brooklyn College he had already dedicated much of his undergraduate career to working on and off campus for organizations that focused on education and public policy. Almuntaser worked in the school’s Center for Student Disability Services, note-taking for fellow students. “As someone with a disability myself, I found working there rewarding. It was a way to provide access to education to a more inclusive student body.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Almuntaser volunteered with the Yemeni American Merchants Association to help provide PPE equipment to first responders and essential workers. For his service, he received a Community Empowerment Award from New York State Senator Roxanne Persaud.
As a teacher in New York City, his top goal is to make a difference in the lives of the next generation and create an inclusive classroom where all voices are accepted.
Hambardzum David Asatryan ’22
B.B.A., International Business
Account Executive, Cognito, PR, Marketing, and Communications, New York, New York
A recent emigrant from Armenia, Hambardzum David Asatryan was a sophomore at Brooklyn College, interning for New York State Senator Kevin S. Parker, when the pandemic hit. He was suddenly tasked with helping local residents and small businesses in the neighborhoods surrounding campus get through the crisis by providing information, medicine, and anything else they needed.
At Brooklyn College, he was also president of the Brooklyn College chapter of the International Business Association, a peer mentor, and held internships at Amazon, the landscaping and architecture company EKLA at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and digital financial media outlet Blockworks. After graduating, the internship at the senator’s office stuck with Astryan. Which is why he was thrilled when two months into his new role as an account executive at Cognito—a public relations and marketing agency specializing in finance, investment, and technology—he had the chance to work with clients on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) campaigns, in which socially conscious financial firms screen potential investments.
As for Brooklyn College, Asatryan says that having the chance to take classes with professors from different cultural backgrounds made it special. “Apart from hearing their stories and learning about their cultures, I was able to share my background,” he says. “After every one of my Italian literature classes, my professor and I would discuss topics surrounding the history of Italy, my homeland, Armenia, and current events in those regions. I created long-lasting relationships with many of my professors and am still in touch with them.”
Daniel Alvarez ’17
B.S., Computer Science
Enterprise Solutions Architect, Amazon Web Services, New York, New York
It was a few years into a rewarding career as a software engineer for JP Morgan Chase when Daniel Alvarez realized there was one facet of his job he liked best: system designs and architecture. It was a step above the intricacies of developing code, says Alvarez, and for him, a logical next step in his career.
“I did a lot of reflection, careful planning, and extensive research to make sure that I was making the most informed and strategic career decision possible,” says Alvarez. “That included soliciting feedback and insights from people on LinkedIn who were working in the role I was interested in.” Alvarez is now a few months into his dream job as a solutions architect at Amazon Web Services.
“Something that stuck out to me through this process was not only the importance of planning and research, but also defining specific, actionable steps,” says Alvarez. “We spend 40 years of our lives working—there’s no reward for being complacent in your career. Go get what you’re after and make it count.”
Kelly Alvarez ’18
Corporate Banking Associate, CIBC Capital Markets, New York, New York
In 2019, after weeks of indecision and ignoring the advice of some of her most trusted friends, Kelly Alvarez decided to shift gears and made the leap from the global finance and business management team at JPMorgan Chase to a smaller company and a completely different role at CIBC Capital Markets. When transitioning into her new position, she made it her mission to get smart and get connected fast. “I read industry primers, joined a junior advisory council focused on engaging juniors across the bank, and stayed in touch with my Brooklyn College friends and advisers for advice and much-needed late-night chats,” says Alvarez, who works on the bank’s Corporate Banking Power & Utilities team.
“Corporate banking felt like a whole new world when I started at CIBC,” says Alvarez, who works in partnership with different groups across capital markets and risk to provide bank debt financing solutions to the bank’s electric, gas, and water portfolio companies.
Outside of work, Alvarez studies climate technology and is completing an apprenticeship at the Climatebase Fellowship, a career accelerator and professional community of founders, researchers, investors, and climate experts who teach what and how technology is applied to address climate change. “My goal is to gain a clearer understanding of climate science and real-world solutions to climate change."
Morena Basteiro ’16
B.S., Broadcast Journalism
Assignment Editor, WABC-TV, New York, New York
Those who bring us the news aren’t often listed as essential workers, but their presence is crucial, especially during a crisis. Morena Basteiro learned this in 2020 when COVID-19 began killing people at an alarming rate, and she and her colleagues worked tirelessly to get out the news.
“The assignment desk is usually referred to as the nucleus of the newsroom,” says Basteiro. “We monitor everything that's happening across the tri-state area and are first to get the breaking news. My job is to confirm what I find worthy of coverage and sound the alarm in the newsroom."
“We worked day in and day out during the height of the pandemic,” says Basteiro. Then in May, two months after much of the world went into lockdown, a Black Minneapolis man named George Floyd was choked to death by White policeman Derek Chauvin. “Our focus shifted to covering the massive protests demanding police reform that swept through the city,” says Basteiro. The coverage WABC-TV News provided during the first wave of the pandemic and at the height of the George Floyd uprisings earned the station’s 11 p.m. newscast a National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in a large television market.
Basteiro says her success as a journalist owes much to what she learned about the real, day-to-day broadcast world in a Television, Radio & Emerging Media class. “A huge thanks to [Lecturer] Brian Dunphy,” she says. “His class and an internship at NY1 got me in the door that led to my career.”
Shanna Benammar ’21
B.S., Computer Science
Software Engineer, Electronic Arts, Full Circle Studio, Vancouver, British Columbia
Shanna Benammar never had doubts about her career. At Brooklyn College she immersed herself in computer science, organizing and participating in the school’s first hack-a-thon, part of Hack Brooklyn, a CUNY-wide initiative that gathers students studying software development, design, marketing, and entrepreneurship to build solutions for problems unique to businesses and organizations in New York City. In 2019, she became president of the Brooklyn College Women in Computer Science Club. Benammar was also a member of the Koppelman Student Leadership Council at the college’s school of business.
Knowing that she wanted to work in game development, specifically for the popular video game company Electronic Arts (EA), Benammar bypassed applying for any other jobs and reached out to recruiters who worked for the company. She was hired within four months. Today, she works at EA on their game Skate. “When I first started, there was an overwhelming amount of on-the-job learning,” she says. “But I was able to stay the course, become proficient, and now I help bring the designers’ concepts to life.”
Renee Blumenfrucht ’15
B.S., Financial Mathematics and Actuarial Science
Vice President of Business Intelligence, Goldman Sachs, New York, New York
“Evolving my career from operations to data analytics and business intelligence—something that was completely new to me—is what I’m most proud of right now,” says Renee Blumenfrucht. Starting out doing traditional operations work, she grew interested in business intelligence and automation, providing individuals the tools to analyze data and trends in finance as well as insight into the “stories” data tell. “Once I got my feet wet,” says Blumenfrucht, “I realized that this was where I wanted my career to go, so I took on a full-time role in the business intelligence space.”
Blumenfrucht credits Natalia Guarin-Klein, director of the Magner Career Center at Brooklyn College, with being “a critical part of [her] academic and professional success.” Blumenfrucht had almost given up on interning at Goldman after applying twice and not being called for an interview. But then Guarin-Klein arranged a meeting between her and Leonardo Rizzi ’93, who was vice president and head of operations and division vendor, risk management at Goldman. Blumenfrucht says the advice she received from him helped her land not an internship, but a full-time job at Goldman that began right after graduation.
Jenna Carter-Johnson ’18
B.A., Sociology; B.A., Women’s and Gender Studies
Urban Beekeeper, Alvéole, Atlanta, Georgia
About a year ago, while handling deep grief, Jenna Carter-Johnson decided to put her belongings in storage, pack up her cat, and move from her native New York City to work on an organic vegetable farm in rural Georgia. What she calls “navigating” her feelings led her to the happiest and most successful chapter of her life so far: beekeeping.
She used her love of education and history by workings as a sixth-grade social studies teacher in the Bronx. And for some time, this was enough. But Carter-Johnson wanted to use her hands and better embrace the natural world around her. For this she moved south. Once in Georgia, she apprenticed at Serenbe Farms in Chattahoochee Hills, where she learned harvesting, irrigation, farm maintenance, and CSA (community supported agriculture) management, among other things. Then she got a job doing something else she feels is vitally important: working to keep the state’s honeybee population thriving.
“I spend my days working with hives and educating people on the importance of honeybees to the sustainability of the planet,” says Carter-Johnson of her job at Alvéole, an urban beekeeping company that provides education to schools, businesses, and other organizations.
“I’m here to demystify the world of bees,” she says. “Knowing that what I do is making a positive lasting impact on our world brings me joy. That moment when someone who is terrified of bees holds their first frame is priceless.”
Roby Daniel ’20
B.A., Chemistry; B.A., Psychology; B.B.A., Business for Health Professions Macaulay Honors College
Second-Year Medical Student, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Volunteering was Roby Daniel’s watchword from the time he entered Brooklyn College. Upon arriving on campus in fall 2016, he joined the Macaulay Service Initiative, which promotes a spirit of service within the Macaulay Honors College community through events and fundraisers. Soon after, he was accepted to the Brooklyn College chapter of the Global Medical Brigades, an international movement of students and medical professionals who work with local communities to create sustainable health systems.
With his record of volunteering, mentoring, and perfect GPA, the triple major was named the valedictorian for the Class of 2020. “As clichéd as it sounds, I have wanted to become a doctor since I was a child,” says Daniel. While applying to medical school, he took a gap year, interning at the Institute for Bladder and Prostate Research in New York City. Ultimately, he was accepted into his dream school, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Now a second-year medical student, who loves hiking, biking, lifting weights, and “watching a good Tarantino film” in his spare time, Daniel wants to pick up where he left off with his urology internship. “The work with the Global Medical Brigades inspired me to one day help improve access to urologic care worldwide,” says Daniel.
Jamar Ffrench ’16
B.S., Business Management; B.B.A., Finance
Account Executive, NBCUniversal Media, New York, New York
After graduating, Jamar Ffrench found himself working full time at Luna Park in Coney Island. It wasn’t exactly the job he dreamed of (“I had my heart set on an associate’s position at a major bank,” he says). He found the silver lining, though, as he developed the soft skills necessary for success at any job: multitasking, problem-solving, and leadership.
After a year at the amusement park, Ffrench moved to Streetwise Partners, an organization that offers mentoring and job skills training for adults from under-resourced communities. There, he met a senior executive from Google who introduced him to his network, and pretty soon Ffrench became an account executive at NBCUniversal Media selling advertising space for Bravo, E!, Peacock, and NBC Sports.
Moving into an executive role by age 27 is something Ffrench is understandably proud of. He emphasizes that building strong relationships in college was essential to his future success. “Sabine Saint-Cyr at the Magner Career Center was first my English tutor in the SEEK [Search for Elevation, Education, and Knowledge] program,” he says. “She helped me with all of the things—résumé, cover letter, interview prep, and networking tips—I needed to succeed when I graduated.”
Ffrench became a financial coach himself this year, teaching young adults in about budgeting, savings strategies, and planning for the future. “I love helping my community and filling in the gaps when it comes to financial literacy,” he says.
Naomi Grey ’16
B.S., Broadcast Journalism
Sports Producer at NBC Sports Chicago, Illinois
Although she is the lead producer for the Chicago Bulls pre- and post-game shows, Naomi Grey is quick to share credit. “The show cannot go on without the collaborative effort between myself and my co-workers,” she says. “It’s true teamwork.” As a sports producer, she makes sure all the right highlights, statistics, and talent come together to tell a great story.
After graduating from Brooklyn College, Grey earned a master’s degree in sports journalism from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. During her academic career she worked in sports broadcasting, as an intern at WTNH-TV in Connecticut. At the digital media outlet and production company Backpack Broadcasting, she worked as a sports anchor and reporter for an NBC/Fox affiliate in Rochester, Minnesota, and a reporter and anchor for FOX Television Network.
“I have had to adapt to diverse environments, moving quite a bit and living in four different states for my career,” says Grey. “I’m making the most of what I learned at Brooklyn College. My education helped prepare me to take on roles both in front and behind the camera.”
Atifa Hoque ’20
B.A., Earth and Environmental Sciences
Physical Scientist, Programs Coordinator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York, New York
Atifa Hoque was only four months into her job as a physical scientist and program coordinator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when she received a regional award from the agency for her teamwork in helping to coordinate two public meetings on climate change. When the EPA wanted feedback from residents of New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands on their concerns about the consequences of global warming, Hoque volunteered to set up and publicize the virtual meetings. They were a success.
As a freshman at Brooklyn College, she could not have imagined that she’d become a scientist for a federal agency. It took what she calls “the right support” for her to believe in herself. When she had thoughts of leaving because of stress from the academic workload, Earth and Environmental Sciences Lecturer Matthew Garb helped her remain in the major. When her pandemic job search was eroding her confidence in a career in science, Professor David Seidemann, also in the department, encouraged Hoque to apply for the job she has now.
While earning her degree, she also completed a two-year internship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, again working on social media content and ultimately managing more than 45 other interns as an executive leadership team manager. After she graduated, Hoque interned for the North American Youth Parliament for Water, working on social media content to promote the organization’s goal of developing sustainable solutions for water issues.
Hoque hopes her achievements will inspire others, especially in the Muslim community. “I am proud to be a Muslim representative for a federal agency who has the ability to help make positive changes in this world.”
Khadjiah Johnson ’18
Script Production Assistant, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO), New York, New York
“During spring break of my sophomore year, I made the most impulsive decision in my life,” says Khadjiah Johnson. “I sat down with a bowl of cereal in front of a TV and watched The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and decided at that exact moment I wanted to be a late-night writer.” That same day, Johnson began a tour of every late-night show in New York City. She sat in the back of every audience and took notes and created diagrams and writing packets, “to see where my voice fit best,” she says. Now she’s on HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (which recently won an Emmy for Best Variety Talk Series), where she pitched and coproduced segments like “And Now: Zaddies” and a montage for the show’s episode focusing on the crime drama Law & Order.
Johnson says that working with English Professor and poet Rosamond King helped her stay diligent about deadlines. “I remember meeting up with her every week while building my first chapbook of poems. It helped me see my art as something worth investing in,” adds Johnson. "It helped me make late-night packets and pitches I use similar techniques and prompts from class to create content in a short period of time.”
Eli Joseph ’16
M.S., Business Administration
Associate Professor, Professional Studies, Columbia University; Adjunct Instructor, Management and IT, New York University School of Professional Studies, New York, York; Instructor, UCLA Extension, Los Angeles, California
Eli Joseph tackled his academics with cyclonic force. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Queens College, then gained a master’s degree in business administration at Brooklyn College—all within four short years. Graduate school was an easy choice for Joseph.
“The Koppelman School of Business has excellent programs,” he says. Taking night classes, Joseph earned his degree in one year. At 24, he became the youngest graduate to earn a Doctor of Business Administration from Felician University in Rutherford, New Jersey.
For Joseph, success is measured by how much a person evolves in his or her field, and in life. He has worked as a statistician for Fortune 500 companies and contributed to The Harvard Business Review, AdWeek, Inc., and Entrepreneur, among other publications. He is also a partner at ExamOne, a Quest Diagnostics company where he works with insurance firms such as AIG, Prudential, New York Life, and State Farm. Joseph serves as a member of TED and the Recording Academy. This fall, Joseph delivered 2 TEDx talks entitled “Time Is Your Biggest Competition” at TEDxQueensVillage and “No Trace, No Case” at TEDxCSULB.
Today, he is on the Professional Studies faculty of New York University and Columbia University. Additionally, he is slated to teach at UCLA Extension in January 2023. It’s his mission to stoke enthusiasm for subjects like statistics and math.
“There’s a cool factor to analytics that I use to reach young people. I want to get more students immersed in and excited about STEM careers.”
Angella Katherine ’20
Actor, Brooklyn, New York
You might recognize Angella Katherine from her role as Amaya in the Showtime series Flatbush Misdemeanors, the story of two friends trying to make it in the iconic Brooklyn neighborhood. Or you caught her in off-Broadway productions at the Public Theater or the Brooklyn Lyceum. Maybe you saw her on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Perhaps you’ll see her in the upcoming Apple TV series Lady in the Lake.
Describing her time at Brooklyn College as “amazing” and “unforgettable,” the theater major appeared in college productions (notably The Wolves, by Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah DeLappe ’17). She also was the captain of the women’s swim team her freshman year, and she fondly remembers being a lifeguard at the pool, a dancer on the Blaze dance team, and a mentor for younger acting students. “I took the opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life on our incredibly diverse campus,” she says.
The Flatbush Brooklyn-born Grenadian actor credits Dale Byam, associate professor of African Studies, with being a big influence. “She is a brilliant woman who helped shape me in more ways than she’ll ever know,” says Katherine. “I learned so much from her classes and her African diaspora discourse. She also took our class to see A Soldier’s Play on Broadway, where I met Blair Underwood—who I will work with one day!
Sebastian Komuda ’18
B.B.A., Finance; B.S., Business Management
Vice President and Wealth Manager, First Republic Bank, New York City
In spring 2021, just three years after graduating from Brooklyn College, Sebastian Komuda became vice president and wealth manager at First Republic, a leading fiduciary bank. He is quick to say that moving from college student to analyst to working front and center with high-net-worth clients was accomplished with the help of mentors and teamwork.
Komuda excelled at the Murray Koppelman School of Business, winning a Financial Careers Academy Scholarship and participating in the M.D. Sass Investment Institute, a student-involved hedge fund program, founded by Martin Sass ’63, an industry leader in investment management and Brooklyn College Foundation trustee.
“The institute was the single most important experience for me,” says Komuda, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in finance at Harvard. “It amplified my career development, work ethic, and knowledge in the financial services industry. This would not have been possible without the guidance of professors Hyuna Park and Sunil Mohanty as well as Martin Sass, for whom I have the deepest respect.”
After completing an internship with Morgan Stanley, Komuda was offered a full-time position as an associate, guiding clients through comprehensive financial planning, overall portfolio analysis, and investment research.
“It felt incredible knowing that my colleagues trusted me to fulfill such a big role,” says Komuda. “My team, the Wentzheimer team, has taught me more than I can possibly imagine and helped fuel my immense desire to grow in the field.”
Hunter W. Korsmo ’22
Ph.D. in Biochemistry, CUNY Graduate Center/Brooklyn College
Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Oncological Sciences, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, New York
“I’m proud to be an outspoken and queer scientist,” says Korsmo. The biochemist earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in biochemistry in 2022 at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2020.
Under the advisement of Health and Nutrition Sciences Associate Professor Xinyin Jiang, Korsmo researched the effects of maternal obesity on prenatal health and how to offset them through nutrient supplementation. He credits his professor’s mentorship and support for his success. “Dr. Jiang worked with me to prepare for my first academic conference,” says Korsmo when asked for a favorite memory of the college. “She always went out of her way to see that I succeeded.”
Now pursuing postdoctoral work in the Puleston Lab at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Korsmo is investigating why psychedelic metabolites, made naturally in human immune cells and the liver, are dysregulated in liver cancer and fatty liver disease. “Because psychedelics have been shown to improve an array of ailments,” he says, “I believe it could be essential to cancer research.”
Katherine Miranda ’20
B.F.A., Fine Arts; Macaulay Honors College
Artist, Bronx, New York
Drawing from Mexican, Puerto Rican, and American heritage, Katherine Miranda uses discarded everyday objects—Café Bustelo coffee packaging, old hoop earrings, letters from their grandfather—to create work that acts as “a reflection, an investigation, and an homage to my history and ancestry.
“So far, I am the most proud of my first solo exhibition, I Answer Back, which was created as the culmination of my New York Community Trust Van Lier Fellowship with Wave Hill,” says Miranda. The mixed-media installation draws from and pays homage to Miranda’s familial and ancestral histories.
While working toward a B.F.A., they received encouragement from several professors and faculty members who took time out to offer support. “Professors Patricia Cronin, Eto Otitigbe, Steven Keltner, and Derrick Adams—each contributed to my final thesis project and the direction I am pursuing now as an artist,” Miranda says. “I am grateful to them and Professor Tamara Kostianovsky for doing their best to adjust their curriculum and be supportive of our projects even through quarantine.”
The Bronx native is now an Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) Fellow with the Bronx Museum, which, among other things, gives fellows the opportunity to show their work in the museum’s AIM Biennial exhibition.
Adina Eden Kamkhatchi Mizrahi ’17
B.S in Psychology
Founder, Co-Owner, & Creative Director at Adina Eden Jewels, Garden City, New York
Nothing gives Adina Mizrahi greater joy than the fact she transformed her jewelry-designing side hustle into a multimillion-dollar business. “Adina Eden, named in honor of my grandmother, was completely bootstrapped by my brother (who is CEO) and me,” she says.
Mizrahi entered Brooklyn College keen on becoming a psychologist. But during her second semester, she took an art history class. “It completely transformed how I viewed the world,” she says. She still decided to get her degree in psychology, but things had changed.
“That class opened my eyes to so many subtle, mundane things that I paid little attention to.” Mizrahi felt more and more that beautiful things [like fine art and jewelry] shouldn’t be only for the wealthy. She decided to create jewelry that would instill confidence in the wearer. “I wanted it to be accessible,” she says.
Once she and her brother went into business, her dreams of becoming a psychologist faded. Mizrahi has no regrets about starting Adina Eden, a company that gives a percentage of its sales to nonprofits. “Switching careers has opened so many doors for my family and me.”
Shani Nakhid-Schuster ’18
B.A., Sociology; B.A., Film Production
Social Studies Teacher, The Brooklyn Green School, Brooklyn, New York
Shani Nakhid-Schuster openly leads a “double life”: She has been working as a full-time teacher at a Brooklyn middle school while joining, this year, the Trinidad and Tobago National Women’s Soccer Team, one of the top Caribbean teams. She is proud of carrying off the role of teacher-athlete in her first year as well as coach of the Wingate High School girls’ varsity soccer team.
A New Zealand native of a Samoan father and mother from Trinidad and Tobago, Nakhid-Schuster had all the inspiration she needed to make it to New York City and Brooklyn College. Her mother, Camille Nakhid ’84, had fond memories of her alma mater; her stories about her days on campus greatly influenced her daughter.
Nakhid-Schuster brought her soccer skills 9,000 miles from New Zealand to Brooklyn (“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says) and helped lead the fledgling Brooklyn College women’s team, just started the year she joined, to victory. She continued to excel, both as an athlete and a student.
With a master’s degree in sociology and education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a teaching certificate in social studies from Queens College (CUNY), Nakhid-Schuster’s career goal was to combine her passion for sociology with education.
“I found that understanding the development and social structure of human society was closely connected to social studies, and being able to teach in middle school gave me the opportunity to make those connections,” she says. “I became a teacher with the hopes of teaching and further developing civic youth engagement and social justice learning.” She adds.
Alyssa Paolicelli ’16
B.S., Broadcast Journalism
General Assignment Reporter, NY1, New York, New York
As the breaking news reporter on NY1’s Mornings on 1, Alyssa Paolicelli knows how to hustle. “I have covered everything from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, the fatal Bronx fire that claimed 17 lives, and countless slice-of-life pieces featuring the inspiring lives of everyday New Yorkers,” she says.
While pursuing her degree in broadcast journalism at Brooklyn College, Paolicelli began in radio, not television, hosting her own sports show at the college’s WBCR radio station. “It was called Throw Like A Girl Radio and was CUNY’s first all-female sports talk show.”
Paolicelli has fond memories of working at the college radio station but says that her capstone television class gave her the experience she would find most helpful in her future career. “It’s a real shift from telling a story in sound to adding visuals,” she says. “I learned how to use gear, find and set up stories, and put them together on deadline; all skills I use today.”
Reubén Pérez Lama ’16
B.A., Sociology; B.A., Puerto Rican and Latino Studies
Ph.D. Candidate, Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, San Francisco, California
Reubén Pérez Lama feels privileged: He was the first in his family to pursue higher education despite nearly dropping out of high school in the ninth grade. Higher education, let alone graduate school and a Ph.D., seemed at first like an unattainable goal. “I was trying to survive as a low-income, second-generation Dominican immigrant,” says Pérez Lama. It was a math teacher who encouraged him to stay in school. When he entered Brooklyn College, he considered accounting or health and nutrition sciences, degrees that in his family’s eyes were practical. Instead, he chose Puerto Rican and Latino studies and sociology.
Now in a Ph.D. program in sociology at UC Berkeley, Pérez Lama acknowledges that although he worked hard to get there, he wouldn’t have made it without the unfailing support of friends, family, and teachers. Many Brooklyn College faculty were crucial to his academic journey—Assistant Professor Carla Santamaria (whose teaching style he admired) and Professor Carolina Bank Muñoz (whose mentorship greatly shaped his sociology studies), among many others, influenced him greatly. Pérez Lama also participated in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, thanks to help from Professor Maria Pérez y González.
For Pérez Lama, it all comes down to building and tapping into the care and support of community networks. “I was even motivated to do my Ph.D. research on the role of social capital in cultivating a sense of community responsibility,” he says. “I believe in the power of community, and I believe that we can accomplish so much more together than alone. In the words of political scientist Naomi Murakawa: ‘Why be a star when you can make a constellation?’”
Sasha Roopchand ’16
B.S., Kinesiology (Physical Education)
Physical and Health Education Teacher, The Brooklyn Green School, Brooklyn, New York
Physical and health education teacher Sasha Roopchand believes that “students do not care about how much a teacher knows until they have learned how much a teacher cares.”
This care is more than evident in Roopchand’s work to ensure that her students learn to practice healthy habits and fitness, along with math and literacy. “I want my students to have all the opportunities they can before they go to high school and into the world.”
In 2021, Roopchand received the Big Apple Teacher Award for Physical Education, one of 20 exceptional teachers to receive the honor out of thousands nominated across New York City.
Roopchand’s passion for physical education began in high school when she thought she might want to become an architect and realized it wasn’t for her. She chose Brooklyn College for its diversity (“as a Trinidadian, the college made me feel very at home”) and its physical education program. A member of the volleyball team, the student-athlete was also a volunteer in the Peer Health Exchange club, a health-education program where participants work at different high schools throughout the city.
“Being a student-athlete taught me transferable skills, such as the importance of being reliable, resilient, and a team player,” says Roopchand. “These are all things that have helped me with my teaching career.”
Victoria St. Clair ’17
Maternal, Child, Sexual, and Reproductive Health Specialist, Full-Spectrum Doula, and Social Justice Advocate, New York, New York
Increased access to higher education and combating the maternal health crisis in New York City are very much on Victoria St. Clair’s mind as she builds a career with social justice at its core.
In 2020, the U.S. maternal mortality rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, well above the number of deaths in other industrialized countries. She became a full spectrum doula and began involving herself actively in initiatives to combat the crisis. Says St. Clair, “I felt that it was the best way, at the time, to do my part in helping to mitigate the maternal health crisis.”
She has since taken on an advocacy role where she collaborates with New York City Department of Health officials, and maternal health department leadership at various hospitals throughout New York. Her mission is to advance the availability of access to no-cost doula services through doula programs. “I am particularly proud of having contributed to NYC Standards for Respectful Care at Birth, a campaign supported by the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.”
Believing that increased access to education is the key to upward mobility, St. Clair—who is working on a master’s degree in public health at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Policy—volunteered as much as possible at open houses, first-year events, and new student orientations while at Brooklyn College. She also worked in the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, helping students navigate the intimidating process of paying for school, and works closely with academic institutions on learning initiatives.
“I’m most proud of being featured in this article,” she says. “It warms my heart to see that I have had an impact on my peers, professors, and colleagues.”
Yura Sapi ’18
M.F.A., Performance Management
Founder, Advancing Arts Forward, Nuquí, Chocó, Colombia
Social justice advocate Yura Sapi founded Advancing Arts Forward to hold space for marginalized people to start businesses, create art, and reconnect to their ancestral cultures. “Going back to ancestral practices, connecting to nature, rituals, being a part of a community, and accessing traditional knowledge like that held in our Indigenous languages—this heals.”
The organization offers an array of multi-disciplinary experiences, including residencies for artists where they can learn about medicinal plants, traditional music, and farming to podcasts with BIPOC arts theater professionals who are changing the game. “It’s medicine for us who build and create our own spaces,” says Sapi. “It’s a way to heal from colonization, capitalization, white supremacy, and their side effects.”
Sapi says the training they received in the M.F.A. program in Performing Arts Management at Brooklyn College gave them the tools to create Advancing Arts Forward. “Lessons in venue management, marketing and fundraising, law, externships at small to large arts nonprofits in New York City—all helped me understand how arts organizations ran and to find my place in it all,” they say. “In the program, I gained the skills, confidence, and the key to open doors to a wonderful network of visionaries that helped lead me to where I am today.”
Joseph Valerio ’15
B.A., Political Science; B.A., Psychology
Attorney, Federal Government, New York, New York
Joseph Valerio knew that whatever he did, he wanted to affect positive change. His first thought was to teach, and he had heard Brooklyn College had a robust education program, but once here, it was political science that captured his heart.
“I felt that a career in public sector law was more in line with my interests and would allow me to truly make a difference,” he says. Things took off from there. Through CUNY’s Edward T. Rogowsky Internship Program [in Government and Public Affairs], he worked on Capitol Hill for New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. He later interned at the Office of the New York State Attorney General’s Internet Bureau.
The internships, along with his work as a research assistant with Associate Professor Anna Law, allowed Valerio to explore different legal subjects. “With her guidance, I was able to get hands-on, unparalleled experience researching the legal history of U.S. immigration policy, from which I gained skills that I use in my day-to-day as a lawyer,” says Valerio.
While in law school at Georgetown University, Valerio landed a position as an attorney at a New York City corporate law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, and later worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he gained experience working on unique legal matters with the firm’s attorneys.
Still, he kept his eyes open for positions available that would align with his passion—public sector law. In 2021, he accepted a position in the federal government, providing legal and policy analysis and advice on federal securities and administrative law—usually dealing with specific rulemakings or regulatory recommendations. “While I was in the private sector, I realized my heart was still set on the public sector,” Valerio says. “Now I am able to work in government to help make impactful change.”
Daniel J. Vásquez Sanabria ’21
B.A., Puerto Rican and Latino Studies; B.A., Art History
Ph.D. Candidate in Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at The University of Texas, Austin, Texas
One year into his doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin, Daniel Vásquez Sanabria’s experience at Brooklyn College is still fresh.
“My entire life changed when I got accepted into the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program in 2019,” he says. “It made working a job less of a priority and gave me time for research.” The fellowship also gave him the time to help found the Anti-Racist Coalition with students, professors, and staff members across the campus.
Vásquez Sanabria, who is interested in how Deaf communities in Puerto Rico negotiate their identities through Sign Language and activism, stepped into the role of disability justice advocate as a research assistant intern for the Puerto Rico Syllabus, a program for the CUNY Graduate Center for the Humanities, where he organized to ensure that events included Puerto Rican sign language interpreters.
At the University of Texas, Vásquez Sanabria’s work centers on how daily “discourses of deficiency” serve to produce disability in implicit ways. “I find myself clinging to my experiences at Brooklyn College—it keeps me going in a field that is still trying to find itself, and in which I’m trying to find my way,” he says. “I must admit that I’m a bit spoiled—Puerto Rican and Latino Studies had a generous open-door policy. It reminds me that we learn best through hands-on work with a community that also claims us.”
Sarah West ’16
Senior Children’s Librarian, St. Agnes Branch, New York Public Library, New York,
Sarah West says every one of her professors in the History Department changed her life in some way, but perhaps the most helpful class to her career was an archiving course taught by Associate Professor (and now department chair) Philip Napoli. “I definitely learned much in terms of archiving practices that is still relevant in public libraries,” says West.
As a children’s librarian working during the pandemic, West was involved in a range of activities designed to engage young people in new ways, including the ability to pivot to digital services. “With my team, we provided various programs such as story time, homework help, and reference help,” says West, who earned a master’s degree in library and information science from St. John's University.
One program that had the most impact was “book hypes,” lightning book talks—30-second summaries of books and why you should read them—for children and their caregivers. West says the more popular books were the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland, Pokémon manga by Hidenori Kusaka, and anything written by Mo Willems, the award-winning author of Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale.
“Two years have passed,” says West, “and these book talks are still being watched and talked about!”
Michael Wilkinson ’16
B.A., Television and Radio; B.A., Political Science
Content Producer, Bloomberg LP, New York, New York
Less than a year after graduating, Michael Wilkinson started working full time at NY1. He was responsible for editing daily video segments and special interviews for “Mornings on 1.” One day, his colleague and veteran reporter Josh Robin came to Wilkinson with a script.
Robin had been out all evening gathering video and notes on a story about undocumented children being separated from their families at the U.S.–Mexican border and brought to New York City to live in foster care. Together, the two created a two-minute video that aired on Mornings on 1. The story, called “Border Children in New York,” was nominated for a New York Emmy Award.
Wilkinson, who now works for Bloomberg LP, spent the next five years at NY1 News, covering the 2020 presidential election, the Black Lives Matter protests, the coronavirus pandemic, Hurricane Ida’s impact on the New York City subway system, and the surprise resignations of several key state and city employees, most notably Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“I keep in regular touch with Associate Professor Young Cheong. Fellow TV and radio alumni and I spoke on a panel coordinated by him at the college this past spring to give current students in the field an insider perspective on the business,” says Wilkinson. “It’s actually Cheong’s single-camera class that paved the way for my career success. It’s where I learned video editing for the first time, using Final Cut Pro X. From there, and with the help of the Magner Career Center, things aligned and I found my way into editing videos for local news and now financial and world news.”
Meroua Zouai ’17
B.A. Political Science, B.A., Psychology
International Human Rights Lawyer, Brooklyn, New York
Meroua Zouai knows how to stay the course. As a student in the Scholars Program, she jumped at every opportunity to achieve her goal, completing internships at government and international institutions, all the while charting her career as an international human rights lawyer and advocate for vulnerable populations. She is grateful to her Brooklyn College professors who “believed in my vision of striving for justice with intentionality, empathy, and by leveraging the power of the law.”
After graduating, she went to law school at University of Pennsylvania and served as a policy and research director for the school’s three global human rights pro bono projects. She was a 2018–2019 global research fellow for Penn Law’s Global Women’s Leadership Project, and an editor for the school’s Journal of International Law, and received the school’s Dean Jefferson B. Fordham Human Rights Award for her comittment to advancing human rights.
As a law student attorney at the Penn Law Transnational Legal Clinic and legal intern at Brooklyn Defender Services in New York City, she represented asylum seekers in affirmative and defensive proceedings in immigration court in New York City and Philadelphia. Zoaui also participated in non-ligation advocacy by co-authoring amicus briefs on international law filed in two federal circuit courts.
After earning her J.D., and M.A. in International Studies, she built a career working with survivor communities pursuing justice for human rights before U.S. federal court and international mechanisms. She has worked on atrocity crimes litigation for the Center for Justice & Accountability in San Francisco and is a legal associate at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in D.C. There she pursues accountability with in-country partners investigating human rights abuses committed by state and non-state actors across the Middle East/North Africa region.
“Seeking accountability for atrocities and other grave human rights violations while trying to enforce international law has been a steep learning curve in my postgraduate career,” says Zouai. “I remain humbled by the intellectual creativity, independence, dedication, and resilience I gained while at Brooklyn College.”