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Atlantic Cape Celebrates and Recognizes Academic Courage and Determination of First-Generation Students and Faculty

11/15/2022 | Media Contact: David Zuba, Public Relations Manager and Copywriter | (609) 343-4933
Students and faculty during First-Gen celebration

MAYS LANDING — It takes courage to blaze your own trail, to single-handedly open doors for yourself and to succeed when history says that it couldn’t be done. Despite various hurdles standing in their way, many current students and faculty are living examples of perseverance in the pursuit of being the first in their family to attend college and achieve academic excellence in higher education.

In recognition of these accomplishments, Atlantic Cape Community College’s Student Support Services (SSS) and Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) applauded the college’s first-generation students and faculty during the First-Gen College Week Celebration from November 8-10 on the Mays Landing campus.

“National First-Generation College Celebration Day is a day to celebrate the success of our first-generation college students, faculty and staff on our campus, and Atlantic Cape is celebrating all week to recognize and highlight those individuals that are the first in their family to work toward a college degree.” Student Support Services Director, Rashawn Martin said.

Students getting food  People talking and dancing  Two people posing for picture holding decorative t-shirts

The event, which was started in 2017 by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, featured a First-Gen celebrity photo op, 360 photo booth, open mic/karaoke, air-brushed t-shirts, food and beverages, allowed students to interact with fellow First-Gen peers and faculty members who wrote a new chapter in their respective family stories by attending or graduating from college. The Center for Student Success (CSS) sponsored the Student Government Association (SGA) Homecoming Tailgate Party on November 10 with an inflatable football toss game in the Quad, entertainment and the chance to show your spirit by wearing school colors. The week-long festivities concluded with a trip to iFly Indoor Skydiving in King of Prussia, PA.

“This celebration is personally important to me because, like other First-Gen students, we are breaking barriers and accomplishing something that our parents were unable to,” Martin added.

Receiving strong encouragement to continue their education in college from parents who were unable to attend college themselves, and from spouses and children was a strong motivator for many Atlantic Cape faculty.

“My mother never allowed us to believe that we were impoverished, to feel less than others and she believed we would all go to college (and we did). My family was so proud of me,” Assistant Dean, Nursing and Health Sciences, Myrna Morales Keklak, who earned an M.S.N. in Nursing Practitioning from Seton Hall University said. “I can still picture my father standing in the back of the audience. Everyone deserves to achieve academically so persevere and never give up.”

Stacey Zacharoff, senior CSS director, received similar support on her path towards earning a B.S. in Business Administration and an M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of PA. “Getting a higher education was instilled in me by my parents, who were both so proud to see me walk across that stage as a college graduate.”

Director of Worthington Atlantic City campus Student Affairs and One Stop Services Cynthia Correa, who earned a B.A. in Political Science from Stockton University, received similar encouragement as well. “My mother was a single parent and didn't have the opportunity to complete her education. She encouraged me to continue my studies and get a college education.”

Myrna Morales Keklak     Stacey Zacharoff     Cynthia Correa

Other faculty members, meanwhile, knew that higher education was the necessary path towards achieving personal enrichment and professional fulfillment.

“I was a teen parent who lost everything during Superstorm Sandy and wanted to put myself and my children in a better situation. There were hard days where I wanted to give up,” said Adjunct Professor Crystal Hutchinson, who earned a B.A. in Psychology from American Public University in 2017 and an M.A. in Reading from Grand Canyon University in 2020. “I worked full-time and raised my family while getting my education. My family is incredibly proud and I became a teacher and now an adjunct professor to fulfill my obligation to give back.”

For many current students the family stories and desire to succeed in higher education are similar.

“My parents gave me what they didn’t have. They encouraged me to go to college because they didn't get the opportunity since their parents didn’t have enough money so they focused more on work,” said Tanya Shukovsky, a sophomore Business major from Estell Manor said. “I feel grateful more than anything. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t go to school because I want to be a lawyer.”

Kayla Megronigly, a freshman Environmental Science major from Egg Harbor Township said, “I am the first in my family to go to college. My mom was a single mother and she always pushed me to do the things she couldn’t.” Megronigly continued, “my older sister didn’t go to college and none of my living relatives went to college and I am excited to be the first to do that.”

Maurice Williams, a freshman Psychology major and Men’s Basketball team member from Trenton, confirmed that it means a lot to him since he is the first one in his family to try and pursue college. He agrees that getting a higher education will help him achieve further successes in life.

“I am breaking the mould of generations of my family (by going to college),” said Aryanna Khan, a freshman Fine Arts major from Mays Landing.

Student smiling  Student wearing blue shirt and smiling  Aryanna Khan

Another recurring theme among faculty and students is that Atlantic Cape provides tremendous opportunities, close to home, for students, young and old alike, in pursuit of their academic goals.

“Take advantage of what Atlantic Cape has to offer. Be willing to try new things. Get out of your comfort zone. Study hard and don't give up,” Zacharoff said.

Meanwhile, Shukovsky added, “I love this school. I have found all of the outlets I need to succeed, the advisors are great, they are all so understanding and they help you through it;” Megronigly said, “I am working towards a Ph.D., big goals. I love it here! I love all of my professors and this is the perfect place to do it” and Khan concluded, “I am planning on becoming an art teacher because I enjoy painting and drawing. Atlantic Cape is close and it is teaching me a lot of the foundations of drawing needed to improve my skills.”

Whether having to work multiple jobs or raising a family, a clear and concise message for anyone wishing to pursue their dreams in higher education resonated from several faculty members.

“Follow your dreams and see yourself as a success story,” said Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Chemistry Dr. Hana Bajes, who earned her degree in Biochemistry and Phytochemistry from the University of Jordan.

“Coming from poverty, I knew that education was my tool to gaining a better life. Do not let anything or anyone limit the potential that you have within,” Martin concluded.

Professor of Social Science Donna Marie McElroy, who earned her B.A. in Psychology and M.A. in Social Work from Temple University, stated that “my family encouraged me to pursue my education and are proud of my accomplishments. I am deeply committed to helping others achieve an education.”

Many Atlantic Cape students are proud to be First-Gen, just like those who are teaching and guiding them along the way.

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About Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape is a comprehensive two-year community college serving the residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. The college offers over 40 career, transfer and workforce development programs to more than 8,000 students annually at three campuses in New Jersey: Atlantic City, Cape May Court House and Mays Landing.