#NACACreads: Learn More about the Students Featured in ‘Hold Fast to Dreams’

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hold_fast_to_dreams_pb_350For many participants in last month’s #NACACreads chat, the highlight of the evening was hearing from Michael Forbes and Abigail Benavente — two of the 10 students featured in Hold Fast to Dreams.

Admitted asked author Joshua Steckel for updates about the rest of the young people profiled in his award-winning book examining college access and success.

Now in their late-20s, all the students are upwardly mobile and engaging in fulfilling work, said Steckel, who co-wrote Hold Fast to Dreams with Beth Zasloff.

“I continue to be struck…(by) how much it matters for young people to believe in their own possibility,” Steckel said. “However their stories have unfolded, whenever I talk with young people about how they have moved forward in their lives, this sense of value and possibility — almost always instilled through positive and powerful relationships with adults — is the critical thing they refer to and return to.”

Steckel provided Admitted with the following updates:

Nkese Rankine earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and women and gender studies from Bates College (ME) in 2011. She is pursuing a master’s in sociology of education at Teacher’s College of Columbia University (NY), and has worked with several youth organizations that provide educational resources to underserved students. She serves as an advisor to the board of trustees at Bates College on issues related to diversity and equity.

Dwight Martin never completed his associate degree at Guilford Technical Community College (NC). He earned Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifications in aviation maintenance as a result of his studies, and has found ample work in the field. He still lives in North Carolina, where he is active as a volunteer firefighter and continues to find fulfillment and camaraderie in the biker community.

Abigail Benavente returned to Hunter College (NY) in fall 2014 after taking a leave of absence following the birth of her son. She had to move to New Jersey during that time, and as an out-of-state student, the cost of attending Hunter increased dramatically. Benavente secured emergency scholarship funding, without which she would have been unable to afford the cost of coursework remaining in her degree. Even so, errors made by her academic advisor meant that her graduation date needed to be pushed back. Benavente participated in commencement in May 2015, and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the end of that summer. She is currently a finalist for a position as a bilingual/special education teacher with the Department of Education’s New York City Teaching Fellows program. Benavente continues to struggle with housing insecurity.

Michael Forbes earned his bachelor’s degree in business management from Skidmore College (NY) in 2012. After graduation, he worked for two years as a Teach for America corps member teaching technology at a charter school in Durham, North Carolina, while also working as an independent film contractor. He is now employed in Skidmore’s media services department, and is pursuing an MBA in technology management at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Forbes helps support his mother and two brothers, who continue to live near him.

Ashley Brown earned her associate degree in nursing from Borough of Manhattan Community College (NY) in 2013, and works as a registered nurse at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. After many years living in Park Slope, Brown and her family were recently forced to relocate to East New York when the hospital’s development plans meant that her rent-controlled apartment would be repurposed. Brown has a 2-year-old son, and runs a blog for the education and empowerment of Muslim women.

Kennetta Christian earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Muhlenberg College (PA) in 2012. Shortly after commencement, Christian and her fellow Muhlenberg graduate, Joshua Foss, were married. She worked for several years as an associate teacher at a New York City parochial school before having her first child, Jaycee, now 1. Her husband works as an advocate for homeless adults through a local non-profit, and their family is deeply involved in their church.

Angelica Moore earned her bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College (PA) in 2012, with a major in American studies. During her time at the college, she was honored by the Allentown mayor for her work with youth in the city’s juvenile justice system. Moore now works for an organization called HELP USA, providing job training and placement to formerly homeless adults.

Rafael Padilla earned his bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College (PA) in American studies in October 2013 after a year-long leave of absence. He helped the college to develop a Latin American and Caribbean studies program, and acquired the final credits required for his diploma by participating in an intensive study abroad research program in Spain and Morocco. Padilla now works in the business office of a local medical practice.

Aicha Diallo earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies and French, with concentrations in global justice and international management, from Manhattanville College (NY) in 2013. After graduation she worked for a non-profit that helps struggling urban public schools re-engage students. She recently married and moved to New Jersey, where she hopes to begin the next stage of her life and career. Her father’s application for citizenship status was recently approved.

Janet Yu earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Queens College in 2012, and is completing her master’s degree in special education for early childhood at Brooklyn College (NY). Yu is a second grade teacher in a public school in Brooklyn, and also works as a coordinator for the Brooklyn Animal Foster Network. She married Santiago Hernandez on Christmas Eve 2014.

Santiago Hernandez was only able to afford one semester of college in the seven years following his high school graduation. This was due to health care costs and his inability (as a result of his residency status) to secure affordable health insurance. Hernandez completed a certification program in construction technology at New York City College of Technology in 2013. Later that year, he was approved for Deferred Amnesty for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Though DACA enabled Hernandez to work legally, he was unable to find a job related to his certification. In late 2014, he married Janet Yu and, at almost the same time, learned that he had been named a recipient of the new Dream.US Scholarship, which would fund his entire education at The City University of New York. Hernandez was finally able to re-enroll in February 2015 as a full-time, degree-seeking student at Kingsborough Community College. He has been on the dean’s list for two consecutive semesters.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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