Study shows disparities in college attainment in Queens, strength in LaGuardia Community College’s STEM program

Christian Brady-Alvarez works for Northrop Grumman while working on his master’s degree after earning a STEM degree at LaGuardia Community College. (Courtesy of LaGuardia Community College)

A new study revealed glaring disparities in college attainment by race and neighborhood in Queens and across New York City and called for ambitious goals to be set for closing those gaps in order to build a more inclusive economy.

The report published Tuesday by the Center for Urban Future finds that just 18.4 percent of working-age Hispanic residents, 27.5 percent of Black residents and 39.7 percent of Asian residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 50.6 percent of white residents across the borough.

The research showed that 42.4 percent of working-age residents in Queens have no college experience, the second-highest rate in the city, which translates into 553,314 individuals in the borough. The report also revealed that LaGuardia Community College graduates more students with STEM degrees than nearly all other CUNY colleges and graduate schools and that 20 percent of LaGuardia’s graduates are in the STEM field.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.

“With STEM jobs growing in New York City and throughout the U.S., the fact that we are graduating so many of tomorrow’s STEM workforce not only meets what employers need by expanding the pool of well-trained STEM graduates, but our students are able to secure financially rewarding jobs that enable them to provide for themselves and their families,” LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams said. “LaGuardia’s track record in STEM is directly attributed to the talented faculty that built programs to prepare students for jobs or transfer to a four-year college. Our success also results from strategic partnerships with industry leaders who provide critical curriculum input and internship opportunities for students.”

Among schools with more than 100 annual STEM graduates, LaGuardia has seen the fastest growth in STEM graduates, increasing 76 percent since 2016.

“Our faculty are totally devoted to our students’ success, which helps them with the sometimes bumpy adjustment to college, and provide valuable mentorship,” said Abderrazak Belkharraz, Ph.D., chair of the Math, Engineering and Computer Science Department. “With so many of our students coming from low-income families, our extensive support services help students overcome personal and financial obstacles so they can focus on school and get to graduation.”

As a result of the STEM education that they receive at LaGuardia, its graduates are working as engineers, biotech researchers, physicians and software engineers. STEM graduates include Peruvian-born Gerardo Reyes who experienced homelessness before discovering the program at LaGuardia before earning a bachelor’s degree at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

“My career goal is to become a professor at a research institution, where I can mentor and guide underrepresented students who may be going through similar situations as I did when I was an undergraduate student,” he said.

Christian Brady-Alvarez was raised by his single mother in NYCHA public housing before earning an associate degree in electrical engineering from LaGuardia. He is now an associate engineer at Northrop Grumman while pursuing a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Purdue University.

“The return-on-investment is incalculable based on how much my quality of life has improved since I walked into my first class at LaGuardia,” Brady-Alvarez said. “The college became my second home for the two years I attended. They also gave me the tools I needed to excel in a four-year school upon graduation and begin a successful engineering career.”

Medical student Katherine Lam holds an associate degree in biology she earned at LaGuardia and a bachelor’s in the field from Johns Hopkins University. As a frontline worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been vaccinating healthcare workers and her research on the effects of antihypertensive medications on clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“I am grateful for the STEM education at LaGuardia,” Lam said. “These experiences allowed me to grow well-rounded and to solidify and demonstrate my interest in clinical research and medicine, which, ultimately in many ways, helped open doors for me after graduating from LaGuardia, including transferring to Johns Hopkins, landing a neuroendocrine/neuroimaging research assistant position at Yale during gap years, and being accepted to medical school training to be a physician.”

LaGuardia’s comprehensive student support services include advising, personal librarians, financial assistance to help students with living expenses, such as MetroCards, rent, childcare and food, as well as scholarships to help students facing an unexpected, short-term hardship and more.