Introducing Mariah Rajah – A Story of Survival

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Photograph by Mariah Rajah

Our Stories: An Intimate Connections Series by Pamela Drake

Surviving college can be quite challenging, even more so when you’re all on your own. Mariah Rajah, a senior at City Tech in the Professional & Technical Writing Program and editor of the New Tech Times student newspaper, has proven herself to be an asset to City Tech. She has has accomplished many amazing things, but it hasn’t been easy for her. Because of her family circumstances, she was on her own at a very young age.  Having to financially provide and take care of herself has been difficult, but it has also given her a high level of maturity and personal growth.

1.     Where did you grow up and what is your background?

I was born in Guyana and moved to Barbados until I was about 10 years old. After that, I moved to New York. I come from a Muslim household, both of my parents are of West Indian decent but my mother is mixed with African.

2.     Describe yourself in one word? How does this word represent you?

I believe myself to be resilient. My life hasn’t been an easy one and many times I’ve had to be my own breadwinner and caretaker. Yet despite all the obstacles thrown at me, I have never once deterred from my hopes and dreams.

3.     What is still your biggest challenge or stumbling block(s) and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

For me, my biggest challenge has been to believe in who I am and my abilities. The lack of confidence and my low self-esteem kept me at my lowest, but once I realized what I could do there was nothing or no one that could stop me.

4. How do you balance school, work, and family demands?

Balancing this has been no easy task. In my freshman year I completely isolated myself and focused just on school. Although the decision brought me good grades, I found myself caged in. So I decided to start scheduling hours for school and relaxation. I realized that once I stuck to the schedule, I got more work done and had more time for being young.

5.     What’s the best advice you ever received?

I believe the best advice I ever received was from a friend who told me nothing lasts forever. Whether it’s pain or success, life comes in tides and it’s best to enjoy the highs and learn from the lows.

6.     Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

I’ve found influence in so many people but I would have to say that my biggest influence would have to be Ms. Oprah Winfrey. Her work ethic and captivating speech have mesmerized me from a young age. She has been a driving force in my writing since I first read her story in the 6th grade. Her go-getter attitude and perseverance inspire me to this day.

7.     What tools or personality traits do you think is indispensable for accomplishing your goals?

I think out of all the traits, being thick skinned and reluctant are two things that are needed for achieving any goal. They will be many naysayers but if you believe in who you are and what you are doing there is nothing you cannot accomplish. Being reluctant means that you won’t take no for an answer and all it takes is for one person to say yes in order for you to accomplish a goal.

8. What’s next for you?

Over the past 4 years, I have been heavily affiliated with City Tech and various offices within the college and it has been a wonderful and fruitful experience. I have learned many things and had the opportunity to meet many people but now it’s time for me to take this experience outside. I’m ready to gain industry experience and find myself a place in a work-force which I believe I am ready to be a part of and learn from.

9. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

I’d like to be remembered for my willingness and perseverance if anything. College is no easy task and life took a sudden turn in the years since I began this journey but I never once gave up no matter how many times I said I would. I’d like to be remembered for this and maybe also for being valedictorian!

There will always be moments when you feel desperate in college. Perhaps you’re in a similar situation like Mariah and find yourself trying to cope on your own. Trying to achieve that perfect life at college is one that does not exist and while college is great, it is also exhausting. But there is no shame in asking for help. The first thing to do is to take advantage of the resources that are on campus. Most colleges have counseling services and you don’t have to face these issues alone. For example, you can get to know your professors and your academic advisor, join a club or school organization, get a mentor or make new friends who are genuine and authentic. The main thing is to connect with people who can provide moral support and encourage you through the tough times.  

Finally, as Mariah advised, make time for yourself. Its unrealistic to expect that you can study, go to class, work all day, and study without taking a break. Yes,it’s important to strive for good grades but college life is a mixture of social and academic. Finding the right balance is also important so be sure to set aside some time for activities that will help you relax and take away some of the stress.

Introducing Marisol Velazquez: College – Going Back to Get Ahead

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Photo supplied by Marisol Velazquez

 Our Stories: An Intimate Connections Series by Pamela Drake

Marisol Velazquez, Director of the Auxiliary Enterprise Board Administrative Office at City Tech, recently returned back to school after 25 years to complete her bachelor’s degree, a decision a growing number of adults are facing. Marisol is a full-time mother, worker, and part-time student. With the love and support of her family, friends, and colleagues, she was able to continue her journey in pursuing her degrees. Currently, she is wrapping up her second semester towards finishing her bachelor’s degree. Her favorite quote is “Don’t ever give up on your dream. It is never too late to accomplish them”. Her children are her biggest fans.

  1. As a full-time working professional, why did you decide to return to school?

I returned to school to make a better life for my family; to complete my goal of having a bachelor’s degree; to make my family, especially my children proud, and most importantly, to be proud of myself.

  1. Did you have any fears about returning to school? What were they?

Yes. I was afraid because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do well (goes back to my insecurity of second-guessing myself) and I wasn’t sure if I could accomplish it.

  1. Describe yourself in one word? How does this word represent you?

Determined. I am determined to complete/accomplish any task or goals no matter how long it takes me.

  1. Now that you have returned to school, are you experiencing any obstacles?

Yes. One of my main obstacles is finding time to study while juggling a household and a full-time job. I see plenty of people doing it and make it look so easy but it’s not easy.

  1. What is still your biggest challenge or stumbling block(s) and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

My biggest challenge has been second guessing myself. The best way to overcome it is to trust my instincts.

  1. What’s the best advice you ever received?

Be thankful for what you have. Never take life for granted.

  1. What advice would you give others who want to return to school but are afraid?

It’s ok to be afraid, but do not let the fear stop you from what you want in life. There will always be obstacles to stop you from doing what you want but don’t let that overcome you. If you really want to do it, then fight those obstacles because, in the long run, it will be worth it.

  1. What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?

The best way to learn is to fail. Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them.

  1. How do you balance school, work, and family demands?

With the love and support of my family, friends, and colleagues, it has enabled me to continue my studies.

  1. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as someone who was caring, kind, funny, but most importantly, for my personality.

  1. What’s next for you?

Going for my Master’s degree once I finish my bachelor’s degree.

The thought of going back to school after a long absence can be quite a challenge. Often, adults who are returning to school after years of not being in a classroom are apprehensive about not fitting in, taking good notes, studying, and doing well on a test. Many wonder whether it’s really worth it or whether they can afford it. There is no hard definitive answer to this question. It’s different for each person. Marisol, like many others, had concerns about the time and commitment involved. But figuring out what works for you means asking yourself a few key questions before making a decision: Why do you want to go back to school? Is your goal to change careers, grow professionally, or finish a degree program started years ago? By focusing on your motivation, you can best define educational goals. Marisol went back to demonstrate to her children the importance of education and so that they could be proud of her.

If going back to school is the right option for you, don’t let fear hold you back. It may be scary, but it could turn out to be the best decision of your life.

Introducing Ryan Letts: Skills for a Civilian

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Introducing Ryan Letts: Skills for a Civilian

By Pamela Drake

Our Stories: An Intimate Connections Series

Have you ever wondered what to do with your life or how to achieve the things you want? The single most important thing to know is that you do have options. The military, for example, is a place where you can learn some very useful life skills. Of course, you can learn these skills elsewhere, but the military provides an option as a fast way to get them quickly and establish your goals.

Ryan Letts, an army veteran, took the skills he learned and successfully transitioned to become a business advisor at the Brooklyn Small Business Development Center at City Tech’s Chapel Street location.  Even though his primary duty is to provide business assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs, Ryan faithfully serves the veteran population in New York City and New Jersey by providing much-needed information and services to transitioning service members veterans and their families.

1. What is your biggest challenge or stumbling block(s) and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

My biggest challenge was attaining a proper education and finding the resources to pay for it. I went to the military to get assistance with paying for college.

2. Is this something you would recommend to others?

Overcoming our inner demons can be the greatest challenge we will face in our      lives. The military was helpful with challenging me to face my inner self. In the end, I was the better for having had such an experience.

3. What tools or personality traits do you think is indispensable for accomplishing your goals?

Having soft skills or emotional intelligence (that is the ability to empathize or understand someone’s emotions) is probably one of the most important tools you can have.

4. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?

I would have sought more mentorship because I could have achieved a lot more.

5. What do you mean by more mentorship? How can someone find more             mentorship and how can mentorship help?

Mentorship is applicable for a wide range of uses such as finding the career, starting a business, building relationships etc.  Having someone with experience to help navigate a desired goal is helpful and often times not quantifiable.

6. What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?

That I shouldn’t take anything for granted and show appreciation to the people who help and support you.

Although Ryan is in the stage of completing his academic journey, he continues to use what he has learned to help others. Having learned how to challenge strength in adversity, he wants to be remembered for empowering the underprivileged.

Maybe you’ve been considering the army (or any other branch of the military) as an option. Whatever path you choose, just know that you do have choices, and the skills and education gained will last a lifetime.

Introducing Samantha Pezzolanti: Virtues From Motherhood

By Pamela Drake

Our Stories: An Intimate Connections Series

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Photograph by Samantha Pezzolanti

No matter what you’re going through in life, know that you are not alone. There are other people just like you. Samantha Pezzolanti, for example, a student and a passionate writer in the Professional & Technical Writing program at City Tech. Her life hasn’t exactly been easy.

For a person who went through some hardships—once a single teen mom herself—Samantha has endured quite a lot in her life. Yet it’s those very hardships that allow her to speak from a place of experience. Inspired by her 7-year-old daughter, she inspires other parents with her own blog, Virtues From Motherhood.

1. Describe yourself in one word? How does this word represent you?

Resilient. I chose this word because, in a nutshell, it means being able to bounce back and overcome odds and in my life I’ve had every reason not to succeed. Albeit a result of my own choices, I found myself in some rough patches in life. But, I’ve managed to navigate them to get to this point in my life.

2. Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

My biggest influence would be my mom. She’s been my cheerleader, bad cop, and more. Through my whole life, no matter what it is I’m dealing with, she reminds me I can just do it. I admire my mom for being out of the workforce for a decade to raise kids, then jumping right back in and building a career. I also admire every young mom like myself who has taken the somewhat impossible lifestyle and silenced all naysayers. My daughter has influenced me to do what I’m doing now because I don’t ever want her to doubt her abilities like I’ve doubted mine. I want to show her the sky really is the limit.

3. What tools or personality traits do you think is indispensable for accomplishing your goals?

Firstly, confidence. You can’t get others to see your worth and abilities if you yourself don’t see and advocate for them. Secondly, perseverance because you will strike out sometimes but if you don’t lick your wounds and keep going you’ll never rise above it. Lastly, be personable. You have to know how to talk to people and more importantly, listen to them.

4. What is still your biggest challenge or stumbling block(s) and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

My biggest challenge would probably be becoming a mother as a teenager. I love my daughter and I love being a mom but having to grow up, learn to be a mom, navigate college and make enough money to live on is a huge challenge. In fact, I’ve had professors and advisors tell me to give up and get into a trade and for a while, I listened. However, the best way I’ve found to overcome them is to ask for help, use my resources, and trust the people that love me. I’ve also learned to manage my time and trust in my abilities, and when I need to, work a little harder.

5. What’s the best advice you ever received?

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible.” This quote is what the speaker at my graduation said and it’s always stuck with me.

6. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?

I wouldn’t have dropped out of college. If I had recognized my own potential, I would have been able to recognize and reach my goals a lot sooner.

7. What’s your best advice for handling criticism?

Realize early on that not everyone will like you or want to be your friend, even more so when you become more successful or have a position or skill they want. So sometimes people who secretly envy you will be harsh and a little mean but try and sift through that and find some valid points. If you can’t, don’t let them get under your skin. When getting criticism from superiors or professors, however, remember again not to take it personally. Remember they have deadlines and people to answer to as well. Take what they’ve said and make a bulleted list on what you need to work on. Then look back through your work and see what you can feasibly do on your own and don’t feel shy about asking for help.

8. What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?

That it is possible! I had let go of the image of myself walking across the stage for a degree for years but as I get closer and closer to my second college degree, I realize it isn’t out of reach. I’ve also learned that nobody is perfect, in fact, most people are just as messy as I am and the trick is to making messy look easy.

9. What’s next for you?

Well, first on the list is get my bachelor’s degree. After that, I want to dive into a career in technical communication or content management. After that, I might consider a graduate degree. Who knows?

10. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered for being human. This sounds peculiar but I want to be remembered for making a difference with my words, helping other people and blazing a path I was told I would never walk.

As you can see, it’s Samantha’s positive attitude that has taken her this far. She could have given up but she believed that there were more opportunities for success ahead of her. This interview was important because too many people feel that they are alone and that no one knows what the’re going through. Like Samantha, maybe you’ve had a similar challenge. Was there ever a time that you wanted to give up but didn’t? What was it that kept you going? Or maybe you’re out of school and want to return. Just believe in yourself and know that success awaits you.

Introducing Jodieann – A Self-proclaimed Black Attire Aficionado

By Pamela Drake

Our Stories: An Intimate Connection Series

I am excited to start this series of interviews with Jodieann Stephenson, a City Tech student in the Professional & Technical Writing program. Jodieann is an NYC based writer, an avid wearer of black, a lover of life, and all its madness. She enjoys wandering around NYC searching for new coffee shops and boutiques to check out. As a fellow classmate, her passion for writing has led her to have her own personal blog, https://blackattireaficionado.wordpress.com/, where she writes poems of personal struggles including beauty standards or love. Writing gives her a chance to create, which is her next passion and which constantly inspires her craft.

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Image by Heloise Bymhee

  1. Describe yourself in one word? How does this word represent you?

Fabulous is the only word that comes close to who I am. Growing up, I had little to no confidence and I struggled with not being beautiful or smart. It took many years for me to become who I am now and that’s Fabulous.

  1. How do you balance school, work, and family demands?

I balance school, work, and family demands by doing it. Everything is doable and if you think it’s not, find another way.

  1. Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

Influencers, start at home. I’d have to say my mother has been my biggest support system and influencer by always pushing me to believe in myself and go after my dreams. There are two books that I read that have made me fall in love with writing and fiction which are “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

  1. What tools or personality traits do you think is indispensable for accomplishing your goals?

I think it’s great to be a good student, smart and participate in extracurricular activities, it’s very great. But I think in order to accomplish your goals above anything else, you need to be humble. Humility is one trait that every successful person I’ve seen have.

  1. What is still your biggest challenge or stumbling block(s) and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

My biggest challenge to this day is stuttering and my pronunciation of certain words. I would really like to overcome my speech problems.

  1. What’s the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I’ve received is to “Always believe in yourself!”

  1. What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?

I would have followed my heart sooner rather than later. I spent several years trying to become a dentist when deep down I had a burning desire to write. I wish I had taken the creative path a lot sooner but life always leads you to what you love.

  1. What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?

The most surprising lesson I have learned along the way is that if you ask people out to coffee they are willing to share their stories and networks with you.

  1. What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to graduating in June 2017, traveling to Europe in the summer, starting my career as a copywriter and blogging more often wherever in the world I am.

  1. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

I would like my legacy to be known as the first Jamaican woman to write about the Jamaican Diaspora.

Jodieann strives to overcome her stuttering. For many, public speaking can be a nightmare but that hasn’t stopped her from taking the mic and conducting her own interviews. Her approach is to practice constantly. Developing confidence in one’s own ability to speak correctly is probably the only real solution to cure stammering and although it can’t be cured overnight, time and patience rewards in the end. Personally, I have no doubt that she will achieve all her goals. Thanks to Jodieann for being so generous in giving this interview.

What are some of your strategies for overcoming your challenges?

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If you liked this interview, or if you want to be interviewed, or even to suggest someone for an interview, please feel free to contact me at pelsada36@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Introducing “Our Stories – An Intimate Connection”

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Greetings! My name is Pamela and I am a working mother, a full-time student, and a writer. My passion for reading and writing has led me to a career path in Professional & Technical Writing. I believe that we all have something to share and capturing it in words and images is a powerful way to do so. Life struggles have led me to persevere and motivate and that’s a motto I live by today.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that I believe success comes from education and that we can learn from each other.  People love connecting with people who have interesting stories and something to talk about. That’s why this semester; I will be interviewing fellow students and staff of the College, capturing their voice, attitudes, and passions. Our Stories: An Intimate Connect, will be refreshing and new and bring a different perspective each week. So join me on this journey as we share what keeps us going and makes us more determined than ever.