“You have achieved great things, and in the heart of the pandemic, you have managed to keep this community alive,” Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, said to the CSTEP students and staff. “This is a program that is a community. You all watch out for one another—and you inspire us.”
Fordham CSTEP is a statewide program that supports minority and economically disadvantaged students through mentorship and academic and career-oriented resources. The program prepares students for professions in areas where they are underrepresented, including STEM, health, and other licensed fields, and provides a “transformational, educational experience to future professionals and leaders,” said Renaldo D. Alba, associate director of the CSTEP and STEP programs.
This spring, 73 CSTEP students will receive their diplomas, said Alba. After graduation, they will pursue different opportunities across the country. Among them are four students heading to dental, medical, or law school; one student attending a Ph.D. psychology program; 12 students pursuing master’s degrees in various disciplines; and one student participating in the City Year program, he said.
In addition to recognizing graduating seniors, the ceremony celebrated other CSTEP scholars, including more than 100 students who achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher and about 50 students who served as tutors and peer counselors in the pre-college STEP Program for middle and high schoolers.
Rafael Zapata, chief diversity officer, special assistant to the president for diversity, and associate vice president for academic affairs, was recognized with CSTEP’s Outstanding Service Award, which is presented to faculty, administrators, and partners who have provided exceptional service to CSTEP students. In his acceptance speech, Zapata lauded Michael A. Molina, director of the CSTEP and STEP programs, for leading the program over the past 35 years. (Molina was unable to physically attend the event because he is recovering from a medical procedure, but he joined via Zoom.)
“No other office at Fordham better serves the needs of first-generation college students, low-income students, and students of color, with more dignity, understanding, love, support—and challenge—than CSTEP,” Zapata said.
Zapata, a native New Yorker who grew up in public housing and became the first in his family to graduate from college, said he wished he had a community like CSTEP when he was younger.
“I had a lot of loving and caring teachers. But I never had anyone who I could talk to about my life … I didn’t have this community. I wish I did,” Zapata said. “There’s so much pressure on you to sound differently, to act differently, to even walk differently. And for that, I’m grateful to remind you that I can be [myself], and you can be [yourself here].”
In heartfelt speeches, students described their own experiences in the program.
“CSTEP has been the best part of my undergrad experience and it has helped me grow socially, personally, and academically,” said Anusha Imran, FCLC ’22, a first-generation college student and aspiring physician who will receive CSTEP’s highest award at Fordham College at Lincoln Center’s award ceremony for graduating seniors. “I found a tight-knit community and met students who have similar stories, which only made me and them more resilient and fierce in the advocacy of our own education.”
In his keynote speech, CSTEP alumnus Braulio Carrero, FCRH ’04, senior counsel at Cityblock Health—a company that provides medical services to marginalized populations—congratulated the seniors and offered them advice for life after graduation.
“In my 20s, my purpose was trying to find my purpose,” Carrero said. “Some of you are very determined in the path that you want, and others aren’t. But at the end of the day … always remember what matters and why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
(Vincent Harris, FCRH ’22, who was scheduled to receive CSTEP’s highest award at Encaenia—Fordham College at Rose Hill’s award ceremony for graduating seniors—died suddenly on May 10. The University published an obituary and held a memorial Mass for Harris at the University Church at Rose Hill on May 13.)