Higher Learning: STNYC’s Hunter College Talk and Tour

CUNY Service Corp student Michelle Tibois and Sound Thinking NYC Project Director Ah-Keisha McCants sat down via phone-chat to speak with ‘sound thinker’ Sharon A. about her thoughts on the Hunter College talk and tour experience. The special event took place on Monday, October 15th and was hosted by Hunter College’s Deputy Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment, Joseph Fantozzi Jr.

A number of our Sound Thinking cohort-members and CAT Youth Theatre members toured Hunter’s campus and experienced a curated information session on the nuts and bolts of applying to the prestigious yet affordable undergraduate program. The students learned about Hunter’s music and arts programs and more. Student Ambassadors and current college juniors, Becky and Brooke, shared the ins and outs of applying for scholarships, internships, and lunch plans. They shared advice on making friends on campus (hint, it’s really easy), the amazing music courses available (they’re super hands-on and include special music concerts) as well as the perks of Hunter’s state-of-the-art library (students not only can borrow books, but iPads and laptops!). All in all, it was a great night of higher learning!

Michelle, who is a current senior at John Jay College kicked off the conversation. Read the interview below:

Michelle: Hi Sharon. It’s nice to meet you over the phone. My name is Michelle Tibois, […] I am working alongside Ah-Keisha and Paola for Sound Thinking. I’m a CUNY Service Corps member. I just kind of want to interview you in regards to the Hunter College experience that you had, would you mind answering some questions for me, if you have time?

Sharon: Yeah, I have time.

M: Awesome! I wanna know about you Sharon. Tell me about you. Your grade, what you do?

S: Well, I’m Sharon. I’m 17, I’m a junior. I play instruments. I like soccer. There isn’t much to that after that.

M: What do you play? What instruments?

S: Guitar, piano, ukulele.

M: Oh my goodness, that’s amazing.

Ah-Keisha McCants: She plays all these instruments, wait say them again, Sharon!

S: Guitar, piano, ukulele and a little bit of the banjo.

M: Awesome, thank you. That’s great. What did you learn about Hunter College while you were there?

S: I learned that they were a liberal arts college and I didn’t know that it was a public college and that it was part of CUNY. I learned that they had programs for music and that the tuition was under 7 thousand dollars.

M: Where on the campus did you visit?

S: We visited all of the buildings, the north, west and east buildings. We were able to see the big auditorium that I think, seats about 2,000 people.

M: What did you think about the campus? what was your impression when you got there?

S: It’s big, I mean, it’s just 3 buildings but it’s big and each building has it’s own environment. I know that there’s like different types of people in each building and everyone’s there for something different.

M: Anything that you picked up on or saw on the campus, like the life of the students or even anything that was visually appealing or the setting around you?

S: All the buildings are connected by bridges so you can just go to one building by like crossing the bridges instead of going outside in the street and crossing the street to get to the other side.

M: I like that about their school, so what are your thoughts on their music program? Especially for someone as talented as you are! What do you think?

S: I think they have music education and they have classes for history of music, like rock n roll and things like that…

M: Did you learn anything about the college admissions process that surprised you?

S: Not really.

M: So you kind of knew what the process was like?

S: Yes, in my school we talk about it so much. We’ve been talking about it since middle school.

M: What are your thoughts about going to school in NY?

S: Well, I want to.

M: What is it about NYC? Is it the environment? Are the schools good, to you?

S: Yes and I love the city and I want to study in the city. But I feel like if I was able to get an opportunity to study outside of NY, I think I would take it.

M: What did you think about the student Ambassadors, Becky and Brooke?

S: I think they were nice, I can relate to them. They talked about things I think would be important to teenagers, like me. Maybe if the ambassadors were older they wouldn’t understand what I would be asking. Like when it comes to like a food plan or jibs or internships nearby.

M: What other programs did you learn about?

S: I know they have programs for Pre-Med and Pre-Law as well.

M: What do you think you want to major in while in college?

S: I know it’s gonna be in Music Technology, most likely sound engineering or audio engineering. But it would definitely be music related. Just not music education.

M: Why were you interested in visiting Hunter?

S: I’ve been to one other college in the city, visiting, but I wanted to see my options. I knew that if I looked online I would be able to find information but I wanted to actually see the school and see how the student life is.

M: Are there any other colleges or universities you’d like to visit? Has there been any on your mind?

S: NYU. I have to do more research.

AM- I have one … question, what advice would you give to other young people who are considering whether they should go to college or not?

S: I think college is always a good option, it’s not for everybody but you should always have some kind of education in college because it can always back you up no matter what you do. At least in any job that you choose it may be easier for you to find something than just having a high-school diploma. College education is important and it will actually take you places.

AM: Any other schools in NY you’d like to visit?

S: Maybe Julliard, but I don’t know about that one.

AM: Michelle, did you ever have a situation where you had to realize, let me just take a chance?

M: Oh yeah. 100 percent. When I first I got into to John Jay I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for school because even though I had my parent’s financial support, they weren’t able to support me fully, with all my tuition. I remember senior year of high school, a company had offered this opportunity for us to create a creative portfolio and also a creative writing piece. I remember having all these creative people around me and I was feeling very discouraged but when I applied I got support from my teachers. They reminded me of the worst that could happen, but at least I would put my best foot forward and I got both scholarships. I got through two years of college without having to need support from my parents. Then the next two years, it worked out and because I took that chance and I didn’t let that discouragement be my reality, it actually propelled me forward. It’s all about putting your foot in the door and taking that step because you never know what’s behind it..

AM: That’s what Sound Thinking is all about, promoting positive risk-taking. Well, thank you so much Sharon.

M: Thank you!

S: Thank you for calling.

Thank you to Joseph Fantozzi and Hunter College student ambassadors, Becky and Brooke, for making our visit to Hunter a memorable one! We cannot wait for our next tour and talk!

 

STNYC Tours: Hunter College

by Uma R.

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It was very surreal to walk into the doors of Hunter College. Growing up in the city, I always thought that I would be leaving home to go to college, saying goodbye to the concrete jungle. However, taking the tour gave me a weird perspective on what college life in New York City would be like. In the West building, where we started our tour of the over a century year old institution, there was not one corner of the floors that was not occupied by students either studying, working, or hanging out with friends. It was strange to think that this student body population of 23,000 leaks out into the city that I live in. College life to me has never been acquainted with New York or Manhattan, because I’ve never imagined one of the biggest cities in the world being used as a college town; seeing how huge the student body population is made me realize how many opportunities there are for college students in New York City.

Our tour guides took us through different parts of the West building. We got to walk through multiple floors of the huge library that the college houses, similar to the libraries that I’ve seen in other colleges outside of the city, but what was different about Hunter to me, were the huge bridges that connected its different buildings together. Via the bridges, you could see amazing views of the city as the sun set. As we crossed the bridge that went from the West building into the library, we could see the different buildings where Hunter classes were held. Even though the campus is extremely spread out, the college still felt like a community because the student life is literally connected by bridges.

Speaking more about the community, it genuinely felt like home because there were kids from all over the country studying in the halls. It was like a small version of New York City. The diversity was comforting, especially when we walked into the music department and saw that nothing about the variety of the student body changed. Walking through an older building to get to the practice rooms of the music department was really cool, because you could see kids walking in and out of the doors carrying their instruments, while in the actual practice rooms, we could see students collaborating and playing music together. It was inspiring and uplifting to see what it looks like first hand to study and create music in higher education.

All in all, I was very grateful to have been able to tour Hunter College, because it showed me an opportunity for college that I was reluctant to take at first. Staying in the city to study for some reason seems daunting, but seeing Hunter helped me to recognize the potential that studying in a city rich with the arts could hold in my college career.

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The Unexpected Path

Yes that’s right. It’s been 10 years. I can’t even believe it. Ten years working at the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. I think six of those years as the Senior Actor-Teacher for the College and Adult Program. Who would have known? I surely didn’t. And not even during my senior year at Hunter College. See what’s funny about my story is that all of the life-changing paths I’ve come across seem to have come up unexpectedly. And then again, I also feel that these paths and turns have been divinely inspired by a much higher power than human circumstances.

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Doing a scene with Keith Johnston, CAP Director

Theatre was never a field I’d ever imagined myself doing. I was actually going for Pre-Med under the Pre-Professional Programs at Hunter College. But, during my junior year at Hunter, I had to take Intro to Theatre as a pre-requisite. This wasn’t your typical Intro to Theatre class, the Professor for this course was extremely interactive and always encouraged her students to participate by reading out scenes to get a feel for how actors work; to see plays; do improvisational activities, and so on. I remember getting annoyed when she would push us to do activities that required us moving around or working with others. I was a big introvert back then, and still am a bit, in certain moments. I preferred to keep myself behind the scenes. Well, in one of those evening sessions, the professor wanted us to play with Shakespeare. I don’t remember which play we were doing, but I do remember her asking for volunteers, and once again the students were silent, either because they were scared to participate or just didn’t care. Our Professor looked rather sad and I couldn’t bear the awkwardness in the room, so I got up and did the scene with another student. After the mini-performance, I realized how much fun I actually had. And my Professor was so impressed with my work that she suggested I take a Basic Acting class, to which I responded that I was not interested in Acting. My motivational Professor insisted, saying that it would help continue to enhance my presentational skills. I took that Basic Acting class.

Ever heard someone say, “He got the Acting Bug”? Well, I thought that was fake—until I took my first class of basic

With Actor/Teacher partner, Temesgen

With Actor/Teacher partner, Temesgen

acting and noticed how my way of thinking and my expressiveness was evolving. Growing up, being in touch with your emotions was not something I learned as a sign of strength; instead, I saw it as weakness. I learned to walk around with a poker face, to hide my thoughts, and keep my guard up, in order to not get hurt. I considered this coping mechanism a sign of power. What I failed to realize was that I was actually getting sick. I was creating an unhealthy form of dealing with my family, personal, and school problems. Since I learned to keep myself guarded, closed, and emotionless, I developed an explosive personality that would burst out at the wrong time, and became voiceless when I needed my voice the most. In the end, I created a wall that seemed impenetrable. As the acting classes progressed, my wall and guard was coming down. I learned the importance of being in touch with your feelings, but also to have control of them and your body. I learned the power of taking effective risks, voicing your concerns, and being vulnerable when needed. I also listened when the theatre Professors at Hunter would tell me that I was a natural—why not pursue Theatre? I wondered if I could take such a leap from Pre-Med to Theatre. What would my grandmother say? How can I justify such a change? And then it hit me: THE ACTING BUG! That’s what I have! And not like the one you think that needs the spotlight all the time. I mean the acting bug that sees how acting—performance, theatre—can be a great tool for healing! It healed me! I’m a walking testimony to it! And so I changed my major to Theatre and Psychology (two fields I love, that happen to go hand in hand).

P-conflictBut my journey did not end there; on the contrary, my journey was just beginning. Now that I was studying Theatre, the world began opening doors and networks that helped me exceed in my craft in various ways. And one of those open doors and networks is the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. The first time I heard of CAT was straight from my undergraduate advisor’s mouth. At the time, I was unemployed, doing odd jobs here and there, but I always prayed to God that He could help me find a job that would allow me to grow, be flexible, be surrounded by other talented artists who I could work with and learn from, and help people using theatre. At first I asked my undergraduate advisor if the company did drama therapy, to which she clarified: “no, they are more like an education-based theatre company. They are hiring, I spoke with the Executive Director who is a good friend of mine. I can put the word out for you so they can schedule an interview with you.” I have to confess I was scared. There was a part of me that did not want to call CAT. But I also learned in Theatre the importance of taking risks, of taking advantage of opportunities when you see them, so I called CAT and spoke to Rachel Castillo, who was then the Operations Manager, now the Director of Operations and Administration. We spoke, had an interview a week later—which I remember being very warm and inviting with much laughter. And, to this day, Rachel is that way. Although I did not get hired for an acting role which is what I originally thought (good thing I brought my Acting resume and my Administrative Resume), I was hired as CAT’s new scheduling assistant. A position I envisioned as not only the key to helping me get into one of the programs as an Actor-Teacher, but also taught me valuable lessons and skills in the logistical and operational structures of the CUNY/Creative Arts Team. It may not have been drama therapy, but it is education, and if there is one thing I value greatly it is knowledge and knowing how to use that knowledge to help or guide others in life’s struggles.

P-handsOver the last ten years, I have worked and continue to work with this awesome company. I have grown so much and have had the pleasure to work with diverse programs (Elem/JHS-Afterschool, Special Projects, Early Learning, High School, and College & Adult Program). Each one has shaped my craft and character differently, making me a stronger and more versatile performing artist and educator. I see it every day when I’m out in the field, visiting a new site (whether school, shelter, or correctional facility), meeting a new face, working with different people… I see their engaged eyes, the connection the participants make with the characters my fellow Actor-Teachers and I portray, or the issues we’re presenting at any given moment. Each curriculum we have devised for the needs of the population… the audience gets it, they understand, they see their struggles in the lives of these characters. And then we freeze the scene at its most heightened moment to open the floor to them—allowing ideas to be shared in a safe space, where our participants can speak their minds about the issues they saw and their relation to their own world, and how we as a collective can come up with practical solutions to every day challenges. I hear the testimonies when I’m stopped by strangers who seem to know me, and feel the need to thank me because of the work I did with their group. I hear it when a student says: “I thought college wasn’t for me, until I saw what your character went through. I’m now in my second year at Hostos Community College,” or when a parent says: “Thank you, I wasn’t aware of how even my smallest actions can affect my child,” or, “I didn’t know bullying can also start at home.”

Yes, these ten years at the CUNY/Creative Arts Team have had their ups and downs, and yet contained great blessings. CAT is my second home, an unexpected home away from my immediate family. It is where I have realized the many potentials God has given me in crafting my career and affecting lives in such an impactful way. It is here where I have devised my motto in life—my purpose while I have breath on this earth—to Create, Inspire, and Motivate people through the power of Theatre!

Priscilla FloresPriscilla-Flores
Senior Actor-Teacher
College & Adult Program