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Maverick Magazine Fall 2021: Overcoming Obstacles: Critical for First-Generation Students' Success

First-generation subjects featured in story

Victor Petenkemani
Assistant Professor and Associate Dean Mercy College School of Business

Victor Petenkemani, assistant professor and associate dean for Mercy College’s School of Business, feels kinship with a student when he learns they are the first in their family to attend college, recalling the trajectory of his own dreams. “I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, but my father did not finish high school,” said Petenkemani, who grew up in Cameroon in Central Africa. His father started as a peanut vendor and then branched out as a tailor before building a successful import/export business with the help of his mother. “My parents built their success through hard work,” said Petenkemani, a value they imparted strongly on him. 

Patricia Anderson ’05, M.S.’09
Mercy College Alumna Member of the Mercy Alumni Advisory Council

For many first-generation college students, the desire of their parents who were unable to obtain college degrees loomed large. “My mother’s dream was for all five of her daughters to go to college,” said Patricia Anderson ’05, M.S.’09. Anderson’s parents were both successful in trades. Her mother was a Madam C.J. Walker Beauty School-trained beautician, and her father was a World War II veteran with trades in mechanics and engineering. They both deeply embedded the importance of higher education goals on their daughters.

“My ancestors were brought to America as slaves and endured the endless legacy of enslavement through the Emancipation Proclamation and the Jim Crow South.” Her parents migrated north to New York and started their family. “We were all taught to not put limits on our lives.” Patricia obtained her associate degree in applied science from Bronx Community College in 1974 and became a registered nurse. Over the years she continually worked towards attaining a bachelor’s degree but would stop because of challenging life circumstances and raising a family. It would take nearly two decades at Mercy College Critical for First-Generation Students’ Success MERCY COMMUNITY Victor Petenkemani Assistant Professor and Associate Dean Mercy College School of Business Patricia Anderson ’05, M.S.’09 Mercy College Alumna Member of the Mercy Alumni Advisory Council Overcoming Obstacles: MAVERICK MAGAZINE Fall 2021 | 7 of starting and abandoning the goal before she ultimately persevered with a four-year-degree in Nursing. “I credit Mercy. They always welcomed me back when I returned to try again. There was no judgment, only support,” added Anderson.

Bruce Haber
Vice Chairman Mercy College Board of Trustees

For Bruce Haber, vice chairman of the Mercy College Board of Trustees, the time constraints he felt as a firstgeneration college student remain clear in his memory. “Like most Mercy students, I worked the entire time I was in college,” said Haber. Haber recalls the long days and hours he spent trying to do homework on the jostling rides of subways and buses on his return home from classes at City College (CCNY). Though his father had earned his associate degree, Haber taking a place as the first in his family to earn a four-year degree was more than a goal, it was a necessary part of his whole family’s plan. “The path was pretty clear for me to go to college. That’s something my parents both instilled in me.” He later earned his Master’s of Business Administration degree at Baruch College, a stepping stone that propelled him to success as CEO of two public companies and his many other business ventures.

Amy Estrada ’24
Mercy College Student

For sophomore Amy Estrada, college was a dream out of reach for her single mother, who emigrated from Honduras as a teenager. Estrada was determined to go to college and carry both her and her mother’s dreams together. The Communication Disorders major, who is legally blind, was granted a full tuition scholarship through the Mercy Scholars program and felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. “I don’t let my disability limit or discourage me in any way but this made it easier,” said Estrada, who found her PACT mentor was helpful in leading her through her initial uncertainties. Additionally, she found Mercy’s Office of ACCESSibility a huge resource in ensuring her academic success. “All of these things made me feel comfortable that I could do this. I felt like I was understood and would be helped through any obstacles.” 

To read the more of this article in the fall 2021 issue of Maverick Magazine, please click here. 

To read the latest issue of Maverick Magazine, please click here.