By Shanice Punnett
An international LaGuardia Community College student and a 40-year-old single mother of two, Cristina Mihailescu defeated all the odds when she was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, the most prestigious available for community college students.
She graduated last week with the intention of transferring to a four-year institution and no longer has to worry about tuition expenses.
Her current tuition is high, almost double that of an undergraduate resident, and financial constraints made her future college career seem impossible. The scholarship will provide her with as much as $30,000 a year for up to three years to complete her bachelor’s.
“It was an amazing feeling,” she said. “I was in shock for a week.”
“One year ago I was struggling to make it from semester to semester and was wondering if graduating from LaGuardia was possible,” she said in a statement. “Now I feel like I was reborn. I can start dreaming big because the scholarship has not only eased my financial burden — it has opened the doors to so many opportunities.”
The business administration major has applied to Baruch College and New York University’s Stern School of Business, where she wants to pursue a degree in economics. Her dream is to work at the United Nations, where she hopes to help find solutions to global issues and help developing countries find solutions to their economic problems.
Mihailescu was involved in the U.N. student club at LaGuardia, which gave her more exposure to what the United Nations is all about.
Her desire to help developing countries arose years ago when she was growing up in communist Romania.
“It was a time where human freedom was denied, people lived in poverty, basic food products were scarce and electricity was rationed,” she said.
She recalled studying by candlelight because the electricity was shut off in the evenings.
“Looking back, I don’t know how people survived,” she said.
Mihailescu has not returned to her home country in 11 years, but would like to visit again.
“It’s still tough economically and it’s hard to find jobs,” she said.
She has been an accounting tutor and is currently completing a paid internship with MetLife’s Legal Affairs Department, which ends in June. This helps her pay tuition along with help from her sister.
“I am not sure I would have been able to pursue a degree at LaGuardia if not for the support of the institution, its professors and staff,” she said. “To me, LaGuardia is my second home, a secure environment where I knew I could get encouragement and guidance.”
But how does she manage raising two daughters while attending school?
“It’s been challenging,” she said. “I couldn’t even afford day-care fees, but I have my sister and really good friends who help me with my kids.”
After being out of school for 17 years, she began her college experience with a host of insecurities.
“During my first semester, I said to myself, ‘Do I belong here? How am I going to manage?’”
But she managed to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA. She was able to achieve this by focusing on her studies and taking advantage of her college’s resources such as tutoring and department review sessions.
“Cristina is a fighter with the determination of a champion,” Accounting Professor Rajendra Bhika. said “She sees difficult periods of her life as opportunities for great learning and triumph, and believes that education is the only way she will be able to face the difficulties that are still to come.”