Westchester Community College has an opening date next month for its Gateway Center — an environmentally friendly building geared toward the growing immigrant population, with an emphasis on business entrepreneurship.
The college has 4,000 ESL students and a volunteer program that matches native speakers with learners. The new center will house those activities along with business programs and an Institution for Entrepreneurial Studies. More info here.
The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC is discussing demographic changes in Westchester County this hour as part of its “anecdotal census” series. Scheduled guests are County Exec Rob Astorino, SUNY Purchase Prof Lisa Keller and Teresita Wisell of WCC’s Gateway project.
Tune in or see the online conversation here.
The holidays tend to be a wrenching time for international students at Westchester Community College, many of whom cannot travel home because of the risk of being denied admission back into the United States.
Foreign-born students attended an open-ended discussion last week with an immigration attorney, and such travel questions kept coming up. Many students came to the United States as nannies or tourists, then obtained a new status as visiting students. That technicality causes a big problem when it comes to travel, even though the students are perfectly legal.
A spokesman at U.S. Customs and Border Protection explained it to me this way: Because U.S. visas are not issued to people who are already in this country, these students (who came as nannies or tourists) are not given a traditional visa that allows them to come and go from the United States. Instead, their student status lasts only until they leave the country. So if they leave, they are taking a big chance. They would have to visit a U.S. consulate and hope to be granted a student visa from the State Department. Since 9/11, that has become more difficult, according to Ruben Barato, the college’s coordinator of international and immigrant student affairs.
Students have to be prepared, then, to stay put in the United States for years. Inevitably, family emergencies happen back home and cause some excruciating decisions.
Below is the story I wrote last week.
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Earlier this month I met Yuri Vargas, a 25-year-old student at Westchester Community College. She’s an immigrant from Costa Rica who won’t be a citizen in time to vote this November. Still, her level of civic engagement puts the average citizen to shame.
Yuri (that’s her above) has been to debate parties, made donations, read up on the issues, and called other Latino students to urge them to vote. She’s written stories about the election for the college newspaper, The Viking News, and found in her reporting that international students were often better informed about the election than other students.
“I think that democracy is based on the voices of the people, and itâ€™s a government by the people, for the people,” she says. “Even if Iâ€™m not a citizen, I am living here. I have been living here legally for four years. I pay my taxes, I come to school. … I certainly understand why I canâ€™t vote, but at the same time I do feel voiceless, because I do feel part of this country, and it is my home.
â€œI still have my voice and my actions. I guess that is my little contribution and that doesnâ€™t make me feel so frustrated.â€
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Westchester Community College will use a $125,000 grant to drum up expertise about immigrant education and share the results with fellow colleges.
The funds were awarded by the J.M. Kaplan Fund for the creation of a national Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education. This new project ties in with another immigrant-related initiative, the construction of a new Gateway Center on the Westchester campus. The building will house English-language and business courses, along with other programs.
“This grant will help us, and many other community colleges across the country, adapt to changing demographics,” college President Joseph Hankin said in a statement.
Heading the effort will be Teresita Bango Wisell, who lives in White Plains and has been director of admissions since 1996. Plans call for a new speakers’ bureau and a conference at the Valhalla campus in spring 2009.
Behold a drawing of the Gateway Center, now under construction at Westchester Community College. It’s envisioned as a major magnet for the county’s immigrants. Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday and reiterated the larger mission of bringing various services and programs for immigrant students under one roof. In particular, English language programs will be combined with business studies and a generally international atmosphere.
This big-ticket investment ($40.5 million, including state and county funds) is based on the notion that such programs can help immigrant students reach their potential as entrepreneurs Ã¢â‚¬â€ and fill gaps in the area’s workforce.
The building will be among the first in the county to be certified as “green.”
(Rendering by Polshek Partnership, Architects)