Marybeth Melendez Performs at Unidad Latina Conference: a Center for Student Accessibility Spotlight

CSI alumna Marybeth Melendez continues her academic success as she pursues her graduate degree at the College.

Marybeth Melendez is a woman of many accomplishments and talents. She is a College of Staten Island (CSI) graduate student, a mother of three, and, as hundreds of people witnessed at the Unidad Latina Conference this past October, also a singer. However, what the audience members at the first annual Conference may not have known is that Melendez is an individual who is blind.

Melendez suffers from a retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative genetic disorder, which caused her to begin to lose her vision at a young age. Yet, that did not hinder her academic and personal dreams. She applied to the College, earned an Associate’s and a dual Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology, and is now pursuing graduate coursework.

“The only way I could provide for my kids was to go back to school. I knew it was a decision I was making for me and for them.  I needed to make sure I was planning for a successful future for us,” commented Melendez.

Her recent rise to stardom at the Conference in New York City certainly solidified that sentiment. Melendez was honored when she was asked to sing both the opening and closing songs of the night. Melendez began the event with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and brought the evening to a close with “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”

The graduate student, who is pursuing a master’s degree at CSI in Mental Health Counseling, also spoke to attendees briefly to share her gratitude to CUNY for the opportunities she has been given in higher education.

“I thank CUNY for giving me the best education possible, and we, as students, give back in terms of advocacy as we stay in the New York workforce. We are students, workers, advocates, public servants, and professionals. We are the best of CUNY,” said Melendez.

The Conference, which was organized by the New York State Senate and the Hispanic Federation, brought together hundreds of people from the Hispanic community in New York, including leaders from business, education, health care, and government to discuss ways to promote economic growth and job creation.  At the event, the Unidad Latina Award for Excellence in Education was presented to CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales.

Melendez is the former President of the ALPHA (Academics, Leadership, Professionalism, Honor, and Acceptance) Club and both a tutor and registered student at the CSA. She has worked on special projects and events with the CSA since 2009  and was a speaker at the 2010 “My Story” event.

“The Center for Student Accessibility leveled the playing field for me. They gave me the tools I needed to be the best student I could be. Without the Center, I would not be where I am today,” said Melendez, who graduated summa and magna Cum Laude and is the recipient of multiple scholarships.

The Center for Student Accessibility is a part of the Division of Student Affairs.

As part of the Center for Student Accessibility’s (CSA) “My Story” campaign, the Center will regularly highlight high-achieving students who have overcome challenges and exhibit student success, including academic advancement, co-curricular commitment, and pre-professional training. 

Center for Student Accessibility Spotlights Student’s Internship

CSI student Joe Scarpulla is currently an intern at the MTA.

CSI senior Joe Scarpulla already has an impressive résumé, and the 22-year old Engineering Science major hasn’t even graduated yet. In the past couple of years, Scarpulla has worked for such large agencies as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and most recently the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York (MTA).

The MTA internship, a paid opportunity, began in July 2011, and Scarpulla continues to work at the agency on a part-time basis while he attends CSI as a full-time student. The student was first introduced to the internship through Mind Alliance, a special CUNY program for underserved students.

“It’s pretty interesting, and it’s definitely a valuable experience,” confirmed Scarpulla, adding that it is challenging to balance attending college in Staten Island and working in Manhattan.

At the MTA, Scarpulla works in Capital Program Management (CPM) in the Environmental Division where he has been involved with several large projects including a presentation on waste management and site visits to several subway stations. The stations were being studied for possible elevator installment to make them ADA compliant.

With all of this hands-on experience as well as guidance from several mentors, Scarpulla has learned a great deal about how the MTA operates. “I get to see how things are designed and built and really specifically about drafting and designing phases,” commented the student, who is considering pursuing a full-time job at the MTA.

Scarpulla’s first internship through the Mayor’s Disability Mentoring Day in 2009 led him to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Manhattan where he learned about design projects and day-to-day operations. In 2010, he was matched with The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, also in Manhattan, where he learned about recent Port Authority plans and met several staff members who “showed me the ropes.” During that same year, Scarpulla was also able to do a second day of interning back at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“These internships are great because they will help you decide if this is what you want do,” he said. “It gives you an idea of the kind of work involved in different fields and also gets your foot in the door.”

Scarpulla is also an active ALPHA Club member with a 3.0 grade point average.

The Center for Student Accessibility is a part of the Division of Student Affairs.

As part of the Center for Student Accessibility’s (CSA) “My Story” campaign, the Center will regularly highlight high-achieving students who have overcome challenges and exhibit student success, including academic advancement, co-curricular commitment, and pre-professional training. 

Office of Disability Services Announces Name Change

Students and interns at the new Center for Student Accessibility

The Office of Disability Services announced recently that it is now the Center for Student Accessibility. Director Chris Cruz Cullari is pleased to share with the College community the new name change, which went into effect on August 26, 2011, the first day of the fall 2011 semester. Although the Center for Student Accessibility title replaces the Office of Disability Services name, the Center’s staff and support services will remain the same. Cruz Cullari explains, “Reflecting on national trends in colleges and universities across the country as well as discussions on our campus with students, faculty, and administration, we are proud and excited to stay current as we move forward with this change.”

Over the past year, the Center’s staff has been working with students, their families, and the College community, and engaging with the national literature on disability service provision in higher education and best practices. Consulting with such organizations as the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), Cruz Cullari and his staff found this change to be a necessary and progressive step here at CSI. This process also included examining the names of offices across the country. In addition, the Center’s staff conducted focus groups with students with disabilities and facilitated a collaborative process where any students who are registered for services with the Center could suggest a possible new name. 

Sara Paul, Assistant Director of the Center, further explained, “We have found that shifting the name of the Center to emphasize the notion of ‘access’ and ‘accessibility’ is more in line with the preferences of our students and the future of the field.  The term ‘Center’ also more accurately suggests the larger scope of our work.” 

The Center remains a resource for students and faculty alike. Staff members welcome the opportunity to work with the College community and look forward to building on the Center’s recent accomplishments, such as presenting at the AHEAD Conference this past summer, the recent national recognition of the Center’s services for students who are hard-of-hearing, and its collaboration with the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program, which produced a mini-guide for faculty interested in creating accessible writing assignments and a writing handbook for students with invisible disabilities such as ADHD and learning disabilities.

This fall, the Center for Student Accessibility will be installing new digital cameras that will assist with proctoring exam rooms for students with disabilities. The cameras should be up and running just in time for mid-terms and will assist in the delivery and integrity of testing accommodations. More than 2,300 testing sessions were facilitated in the Center during the 2010-2011 academic year, and with a continued increase in enrollment, this number is expected to go up in the upcoming semesters.  

The Center for Student Accessibility is a part of the Division of Student Affairs.