St. Francis College conferred degrees to 121 students this February, the first cohort of graduates to complete a full semester under the College's new course instruction model created to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"What a thrill to award such an outstanding group of students their richly deserved degrees," said Miguel Martinez-Saenz, Ph.D., president of St. Francis College. "COVID meant we taught most classes remotely this fall, and our Terrier family wasn't on campus as much as it would be normally. Despite these challenging circumstances, students completing their final semester in fall 2020 did so with perseverance, dedication and grace. It's a privilege to welcome them into our alumni community."
The winter 2021 graduating cohort earned degrees across 29 disciplines. The College awarded 11 Master of Science in management degrees, 11 Bachelor of Science in professional studies degrees, and 10 Bachelor of Science in biology degrees, making those the three most popular bachelor's and master's degrees.
Professional studies is a degree completion program designed for working adult learners. Students earn the degree through credits from SFC coursework and demonstration of learning in other ways, including from their military training and professional certifications.
"[Graduating with my bachelor's degree] would put a smile on my face more than anything. It's...a personal achievement, like a bucket list type of thing," said Danny Bolobanic, who earned an associate degree in liberal arts this winter and is now continuing work toward his bachelor's degree. Bolobanic was a student at SFC in the mid-1990s and returned in 2020 as part of Terriers Come Home, a program that invites students who left SFC before graduating to re-enroll, even decades later.
"It bothered me that I never completed [my degree]...I felt a void," said Bolobanic, who is a vice president of business banking area manager at JP Morgan Chase & Co. in downtown Brooklyn. "I thought it could potentially hold me back, careerwise...And I was just ready to learn again."
St. Francis College recognized 11 winter 2021 graduates with summa cum laude honors, the highest academic distinction possible. Among them, Amela Redzepagic and Valentina Papeo both earned a combined B.S./M.S. in accounting degree and accepted full-time job offers before finishing SFC.
"The accounting professors at St. Francis [played a big role]. I can't speak highly enough of them," said Papeo about the source of her academic success. Papeo served as the president of the Accounting Society in her final year. She will start working full-time at KPMG, a major accounting firm, in October 2021. "They really taught in a way that was very easy to understand. Not that the classes were easy, but because they were just great at what they do, that they could communicate [the material] so well."
Redzepagic agrees that the accounting faculty was crucial to her stellar achievements.
"What really pushed me was my intermediate accounting class," said Redzepagic, who completed the five-year accounting program in 4 1/2 years. She began a full-time job with Geller Associates LLC in January 2021. "Any accounting student will tell you, that's the one that will allow you to go forward or will break you and you'll choose something else [to study]. My professor there, Professor [Louis] D'Elia, really kept pushing us to keep studying and not give up. That class was pivotal."
The winter 2021 graduates also include 10 earning magna cum laude honors and another eight with cum laude honors, the next two levels of academic distinction.
"That 24% of winter 2021 graduates completed their SFC career with some level of academic distinction underscores the academic strength of this cohort," said Jennifer Lancaster, Ph.D., vice president of academic affairs. "Students clearly applied themselves seriously to the rigors of their coursework, even as those courses were taught in an online/hybrid format, previously unfamiliar to many."
Among the winter 2021 graduates is Steuben Vega, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology as part of the Post-Prison Program, an initiative at St. Francis College that enrolls and supports formerly incarcerated women and men and helps them earn college degrees.
"One thing I knew for sure was that I always wanted to get my master's degree, so I had to make a decision," said Vega, about choosing to enroll at SFC after serving 17 years in prison. While an SFC student, he also worked full-time at The Osbourne Association – an organization that provides services to people with criminal justice involvement – and currently serves as the deputy director of the organization's workforce unit. "Emily [Horowitz, Ph.D., professor of sociology and director of the Post-Prison Program] said, 'I would love to have you in our program. You're the perfect person to have come through this process. But we would have to start from scratch [as an undergraduate].' That was the challenge. I was 45 at the time. I said, I have to do this for myself."
St. Francis College enrolled 2,735 students in the fall 2020 semester, including 747 first-year students, the largest first-year class in its history. The College awards most of its degrees each year in the spring. SFC confirmed its winter 2021 graduates on Feb. 1, 2021, based on students' successful fulfillment of all degree requirements as of that date.