Mercy College Honors Five Graduates at Annual Alumni of Distinction Awards Event

Mercy College honored five exemplary alumni for their accomplishments at the virtual 2022 Alumni of Distinction Awards Event on Friday, February 11, 2022 at 6 p.m.

The annual event celebrates Mercy alumni for their contributions to the community and their dedication to strengthening the College’s programs. The event supported the Alumni Legacy Scholarship Fund, established by the Mercy College Alumni Advisory Council to support the children, grandchildren and/or legal dependents of Mercy College alumni. The Scholarship Fund is the only fund designed specifically to provide educational support to second-generation Mercy students.

Mercy College’s 2022 Alumni of Distinction Awards honorees and Class of 2022 inductees into the Mercy College Alumni Hall of Fame are Curtis L. Archer ’79; Nneka Bell ’17, M.B.A. ’19; Jacqueline Cassagnol ’09, M.S. ’10, P.M.C ’11; Justin Gerrish ’06, and Melissa Meza Melkonian, M.S. ’05.

Curtis L. Archer ’79
President, Harlem Community Development Corporation

Curtis L. Archer has devoted his career to public service in the field of community and economic development. Since 2006 he has served as president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, performing an essential role in enhancing the economic climate for businesses and residents in the greater Harlem community. Archer began his career in the New York City Office of Business Development under Mayor David Dinkins, serving as a development manager in the Neighborhood Development and Commercial Revitalization program. Subsequent positions included working for the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the City Business Assistance Program and later in the office of Borough President Claire Shulman as director of economic development and liaison to the African American community. Subsequently he was director of small business development for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and executive director of Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation. Archer is the recipient of numerous awards and citations, most recently the Distinguished Leadership and Service Award from the New York Professional Advisors for Community Entrepreneurs. He is a 1979 graduate of Mercy College, where he received a B.S. in sociology and criminal justice. He later attended Columbia University as a Ph.D. candidate in political science.

Nneka Bell ’17, M.B.A. ’19
Small Business Owner, Celebrities Fashion Group, Inc. and Celebrities Quality Painting, Inc.

Nneka Bell M.B.A. ’17, M.S. ’19, is a military veteran, entrepreneur and educator. After an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager forced her to drop out of high school, Bell joined the U.S. Navy where she was stationed on the U.S.S. Nimitz out of Norfolk, Virginia. Following her honorable discharge, she worked for the New York City Transit Authority for more than a decade. In 2012 Bell turned her attention to entrepreneurial pursuits, transforming a food truck into a mobile fashion and accessories store, Celebrities Mobile Boutique, which garnered national media attention. Partnering with a fellow veteran and Mercy alumna, Bell transformed an unused office space in Mount Vernon City Hall into Kristyn’s Closet, providing clothing and personal items to veterans in need. In 2018, Bell launched a construction and design company and in 2019 opened a brick-and-mortar location for Celebrities Boutique in Teaneck, New Jersey. During a temporary pandemic-related pause of her business operations, Bell became a federal sub-contractor for veterans’ hospitals, where she was responsible for 40 employees that ensure frontline operations medical care. She currently teaches business classes as an adjunct professor at Metropolitan College of New York. Bell is a member of the National Association of Minority Contractors and a recipient of the 2021 Volunteer New York Spirit Award. Currently pursuing her doctorate at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, Bell is focusing her research project on mentorship, an element she finds crucial to the success of women of color in the business world.

Jacqueline Cassagnol ’09, M.S. ’10, P.M.C ’11
Founder and President, Worldwide Community First Responder

Jacqueline Cassagnol is the founder and president of Worldwide Community First Responder (WCFR), Inc., a non-profit organization that has trained more than 400,000 community members to provide health education, first aid and disaster-preparedness training. She has presented locally, nationally and internationally at nursing conferences about WCFR’s collaborative efforts to improve global health outcomes. In addition, she has presented at International Research Congress Conferences in China, South Africa, and Ireland regarding health education and disaster preparedness projects that she initiated through WCFR in the United States and Haiti. Cassagnol is a founding member and past vice-president of the Greater Nanuet Chamber of Commerce. She is a member of the Rockland Community Emergency Responsive Team, Leadership Rockland, the Haitian American Nurses Association, and the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. She was named a “rising star” by the Rockland Economic Development Corporation; a “safe community” award winner by Volunteer New York; Nurse of the Year by the March of Dimes, and Nurse of the Year and President’s Choice award winner by HANA of Rockland County, Inc. In 2018 she was inducted into the New York Academy of Medicine, and in 2020 she received a National Jefferson Award, known as the “Nobel Prize for Public Service.” Cassagnol earned a B.S. in Nursing, an M.S. in Nursing Administration, and a Post-Master’s Degree Certificate in Nursing Education, all from Mercy College. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Nursing at Pace University.

Justin Gerrish ’06
Audio Lead, Equinox Media

Justin Gerrish is a sound mixer, producer, engineer and audiophile with more than 15 years’ experience in the music industry. Currently Gerrish serves as Audio Lead for Equinox Media’s Digital App, Equinox+, where he develops and oversees all audio recording, mixing and production processes. He began his career at Avatar Studios (now Power Station) where he worked alongside many of the industry’s most-renowned producers and engineers. After leaving Avatar he opened his own studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., geared toward helping indie bands stay within their budgets while achieving the best sonic quality possible. Some of his notable credits include the Grammy-winning Vampire Weekend album Modern Vampires of the City. His discography includes recording, mixing, producer and engineer credits on works by The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Weezer, Mark Ronson, Ra Ra Riot, Taking Back Sunday, Muse, Brand New, Motion City Soundtrack, Fallout Boy, John Mayer, Kid Cudi, Best Coast, Harry Connick Jr., Glasvegas, Daniel Merriweather, Katie Herzig, Rubblebucket, The Subways, Dap Kings, D’Angelo, Walter Becker, Herbie Hancock, Steve Lillywhite, Dr. Dog, Bon Jovi and more. He has been interviewed by several industry publications including Universal Audio, Sound on Sound, Sonic Scoop and Stereogum. Gerrish received his B.S. in Music Production and Recording Arts from Mercy College in 2006.

Melissa Meza Melkonian, M.S. ’05
Founder and Head of School, American Dream Charter School

Melissa Meza Melkonian is Founder and Head of School of the American Dream Charter School (ADS) in the south Bronx, a school for English language learners and immigrant students. As the child of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States from Mexico, Melkonian grew up struggling to learn English in a family that spoke only Spanish. She ultimately mastered English and continued her education, becoming a teacher and school leader as well as starting a family. Since founding the American Dream School in 2014, Melkonian has guided the institution in helping students succeed in two languages through a dual-language model and balanced educational practices. In June 2021, ADS graduated its first senior class, nearly all of whom were first-generation American and first in their families to attend college, and two of whom currently attend Mercy College. Melkonian earned a B.S. in Political Science and Public Policy from Trinity College, a Master's in Bilingual and Special Education from Mercy College, and an Ed.M. in Educational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.