Still frame from a Zoom meeting showing a lot of smiling faces

Event Recap – Life after CUNY: 5-Minute Lessons

– by TLH Faculty Fellows Nina Hien, James K. Harris, Anna D’Souza, Meghan Gilbert-Hickey, and Elizabeth Alsop

This virtual event featured four CUNY alumni who responded to current CUNY students’ questions about life and career after college. The presentations were showcased at a Zoom event, hosted and framed by CUNY students.

Celia Au, a recent alumnus of Berlinale Talents 2023, is well known for playing a variety of characters across Netflix’s Wu Assassins, Comedy Central’s Nora from Queens, and AMC’s Lodge 49. Au believes the power of storytelling is to change perception and her producorial slate is centered around uplifting AAPI voices. Her current projects include an untitled cooking show in co-production with Hearst Media Productions, a TV show and 3 feature films in development. She recently produced a Music Video Don’t Give Up by artist Calistar and directed by Ron Yuan. Her films were nominated at the SoHo International film, Asian on Films and her VR project premiered at Cucalorus film festival. In addition to acting and producing, Au has been an outspoken activist in the AAPI community and has spoken at engagements with Goldman Sachs, IPG group, AEG Studios, Wash the Hate, Act to Change, and others. In 2020-2022 Celia was named the “Ambassador of Hope” at the Rise Above the Storm Gala. Celia is a graduate of CUNY Baruch.

Celia advised students to make their own experiences at CUNY. There wasn’t a major at Baruch that matched her career so she used both her courses and Baruch’s location in Manhattan to create her own learning experiences. Using a combination of coursework, internships, jobs, and other opportunities in the city, Celia created not only her own major at Baruch, but mapped out a future focused on telling stories as a way to bring people together.

Jaleel Thomas hails originally from Chicago and is a current resident of the Bronx. Professionally, he currently works on Wall Street and as an entrepreneur, as CEO of the designer fashion retailer, BELAUDED. Jaleel has earned several awards including the Streetwise Partners-Barclays Leadership Award, Dream Builders Foundation Scholarship Award, and the prestigious Baruch’s Class of 1984 Student Activities Award.

Remarkably, Thomas is a founder of his own award, the Kalief Browder Memorial Scholarship, given to ex-convicts for their achievement of higher education. Throughout his collegiate experience, he has advocated in office and on the streets for Black rights, student rights, teacher rights, and social justice. Starting as a member of the Black Male Initiative, Jaleel has served as President of the Student Government Association, President of the Entrepreneurship Club, and a delegate of the University Student Senate steering committee at Bronx Community College. At Baruch College, where he is an alumnus, he served two years as the President of the Black Student Union. Finally, he is a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

Jaleel advised students to get involved in their campus communities. The organizations he was a part of at CUNY became not only a family but a way to learn about the world and its diverse lives and perspectives. He underscored the importance of advocating for oneself but also listening to others and learning from them. He talked about seeking supports after transfer and spoke passionately about how important it was for students to get to know people who could help them navigate campus and academic spaces.

Ousman Dukuray is a CUNY Guttman graduate with a degree in Information Technology. A combat sports enthusiast with a deep passion for storytelling. Currently works as an Associate Producer for WEBTOONS, managing series like Not Even Bones, Red Hood, Outlaws, The Last Bloodline, and several more in pre-production.

Ousman advised students that passion is the most important thing. He reminded them that the energy and passion they put into school and life will be legible to those around them. He recommended that students be open to careers outside of their major–Ousman thought cartoons was too risky a field, but IT was a reliable major. However, his passion and openness to a variety of options led to his position as a WEBTOONS producer.

Saira Johnson-Qureshi joined the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012 through the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) program. She graduated in 2012 from CUNY-Baruch with her Masters in Public Administration through the National Urban Fellowship. National Urban Fellows are mid-career professionals who apply their expertise and contribute their leadership skills for the betterment of their communities and the nation. Prior to joining CDC, Saira was a Lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies at Arizona State University for more than 10 years and worked as a coordinator with Donor Network of Arizona, coordinating organ/eye/tissue recovery for transplant for the State of Arizona.

In 2013, Saira began working in CDC’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS and TB (DGHT) as a Regional Desk Officer covering West Africa and the Americas. DGHT is the CDC implementing arm of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which provides HIV/AIDS relief services to 20 countries around the world on behalf of the U.S. Government as of 2022. Since joining DGHT, Saira has traveled to more than 15 countries to conduct programmatic assessments, provide technical assistance, lead management and operations, facilitate training and so on. Saira has been detailed to the Department of State multiple times and has worked in multiple U.S. Embassies around the world. She is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya serving as the Associate Director for Partner Management, managing approximately $130 million dollars and a portfolio of over 30 implementing partners.

Sarai advised students not to doubt themselves, especially in new spaces. They’ve done new things before, often with great success, and need to remember and focus on their why. She recommended that students be open to changes in major and, more broadly, to meandering, non-linear routes through life and career. Once students have their degrees, they can use it to go in so many varied directions. She noted that students will likely change jobs and even careers over the course of their lives. We each own your experience and the choices we make.

In addition to providing five-minute life lesson talks, the alumni speakers answered questions from current CUNY students. They spoke about how school schedules may or may not align to work life and availability, whether or not one should change majors, what CUNY-learned skills or experiences were the most useful in their careers, and, significantly, how to define success in life. It was a night of rich conversation, and we celebrated the current and future success of CUNY graduates.

This entry was posted in Professional Development, Student-Centered Pedagogy on by .

About Jessica Murray

Jessica Murray received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY in 2020. She is the Director of Digital Communications for Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH), a three-year initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is also working on a web project with teaching materials about civil rights struggles in New York City, including disability rights history. She advocates for improving public transit accessibility in New York City for people with disabilities and chairs the Advisory Committee for Transit Accessibility for New York City Transit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *