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“The Power of Reading and Writing: How English Courses Paved Career Paths,” a TLH Alumni Talk event

This blog was written by Contributing Authors Ilse Schrynemakers and Beth Counihan, collaborating professors at Queensborough Community College.

An alumni talk, “The Power of Reading and Writing: How English Courses Paved Career Paths” was hosted by Drs. Ilse Schrynemakers and Beth Counihan (English department, Queensborough Community College).  Over 30 attendees listened to the stories of courage, determination, and success from the QCC alumni panelists. A general overview of the challenges faced by current undergraduates during this pandemic, and the need for connection with those “who have been in their shoes,” began the talk. This was followed by the host conveying various panelists’ anecdotes about life and work. These anecdotes—such as once working as an au pair in France–were a way to break the ice as well as underscore that not all career paths go in a straight line.  In fact, sources of inspiration are all around us.

The first panelist Jully Vanegas, who is now pursuing in a bachelor’s program (in Health Sciences) at Stony Brook, graduated during the pandemic. Jully emphasized the gradual steps towards her goals. Jully explained how each English course made her more empowered to tackle another academic challenge. As an adult learner, who is raising a family far from her native country, Jully credits success to seeking assistance, whether by talking with professors or using the tutoring services. Jully lost family members from COVID, and attendees were inspired by her courage, candor, and accomplishments.

The next panelist, Nadir Durrani, studying for his MA in English at Queen’s College, also works at Queensborough as a writing tutor for CUNY Start. He painted a picture of how his life has taken many turns and emphasized the power to reinvent ourselves with hard work and focus. Nadir coached students on “working smart” and encouraged them to seek out tutoring and other supports.

Our third panelist, Jessica Schuler, shared stories via video, since she started working as a bookkeeper on the same day as the talk. Like Jully, she credited the nurturing environment at QCC with making possible her present-day success. Jessica implored students to seek out campus opportunities, such as the QCC Fed Challenge Team, of which she was a part, while herself an evening student.

Our final alumni panelist, Christina E. Davis, spoke about the transformative powers of critical thinking, reading books, and sharing our ideas in writing. Christina is working towards a bachelor’s degree in Speech Therapy at Queens College, while being a full-time Mom. Christina’s staunch, enthusiastic devotion to her own education, and the possibilities available as a result, were important messages for our current students.

While the panelists shared their stories, attendees could read more about the alumni’s individual journeys:

Presentation slide: Meet Christina Davis along with some personal details. Presentation slide: Meet Jessica Schuler along with some personal details. Presentation slide: Meet Nadir Durrani along with some personal details. Presentation slide: Meet Jully Vanegas along with some personal details.

Lastly, QCC’s College Transfer Resource Center team, Renee Rhodd and Susan Madera (herself a Queensborough graduate) then shared the basics of the transfer process for current Queensborough students. The event concluded with their timely practical steps for realizing dreams, and the panelists all attested to their helpful guidance.

Even though we were all separated from each other, in our little Zoom tiles, the panelists lifted everyone’s pandemic-weary spirits.  Their persistence, resourcefulness and love of learning shine a bright light on the whole purpose of higher education: to develop the skills and tools to choose one’s life path, and as panelist Christina Davis said, to reveal the “true interconnections with humanity.”


Drs. Ilse Schrynemakers, an assistant professor, and Beth Counihan, an associate professor, both teach in the English department at Queensborough Community College.

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