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Second Acts

Joella Glaude-Sawyer has steadily climbed the corporate ladder as a marketing and fundraising professional over the years. The Riverdale resident and married mother of three children aged three to 16 years held the estimable titles of director of development and public affairs and assistant manager of institutional foundation support for non-profits including the Wildlife Conservation Society during the course of her career.

When the philanthropy and marketing department of Bon Secours New York Health in Riverdale was downsized in 2009, she found herself a victim of the economic downturn. She also noticed a pattern. Although Ms. Glaude-Sawyer had studied at New York Technical College after high school, she never finished her degree. Her lack of academic credentials, she believes, is what was holding her back. “At a certain point, I hit a ceiling,” she says. “It’s essentially, ‘Are you bright?’‘Can you pick things up?’The higher I got in the food chain, that’s when the lack of credentials compared to my peers became more glaring. It’s something that I couldn’t afford to do.”

Ms.Glaude-Sawyer enrolled in the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2009, and expects to receive her bachelor’s degree  in communication and media studies this May. She found the SPCS community at the Mount very nurturing. “The faculty have been very supportive, and I appreciate that (the College is beginning to offer) some courses that are a hybrid of online and traditional,” she says. “Being a mother of a special-needs child, if I walk into class late, I don’t get an eye-roll. I’ve found a certain level of support. (The faculty) walk you through and make themselves available.”

Founded in 2005, the School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as certificate programs and non-credit professional training and professional development programs for non-traditional students and working adults, says Dean of SPCS Edward Meyer. “The overall character, or theme for this (program) was career building—whether it be entering a new career, advancing in one’s chosen field, or improving skill sets essential to a successful professional life,” he says. According to Dean Meyer, nearly half of recent enrollees in SPCS programs are either seeking to change careers or change jobs within their existing profession, or are attempting to safeguard their current position by completing additional training or an additional academic credential.Given the ongoing recession, having a college degree is more essential to landing and keeping a job.

Above: Joella Glaude-Sawyer with Dean Edward Meyer

“At this point in time, the job market is extremely competitive,” Dean Meyer says. “The number of openings is small; the number of applicants is very high. Employers increasingly seek workers with advanced degrees, specialized skills, and, as a minimum, a bachelor’s degree.” In 2005, SPCS offered four degree programs, which allowed nontraditional and adult students to obtain a bachelor degree in business administration, communication and media studies, organizational leadership and criminology. The College has since added eight noncredit professional training programs,which include tracks allowing students to become a pharmacy technician, human resource specialist or medical office administrator.On the graduate level, SPCS offers an M.B.A. program, as well as master’s degrees in nursing and education. “In each case, the new programs have been selected with employment opportunities in mind,” says Dean Meyer.

Elke and Christian Alvarado are a married couple and parents of twin 20-month-old girls,Victoria and Lana, who decided to enroll in the bachelor’s of business administration program offered through SPCS. They expect to graduate in 2012. Mr. Alvarado, principal and founder of T3-Technologies, an IT company, attended Iona College after high school, but transferred to the Mount to study finance in 1999. The Bronx native says, “(The Mount) was closer, and I didn’t feel that I was getting the education that I was looking for at Iona. I had several friends who spoke highly of (the Mount).”

Ms. Alvarado originally attended Lehman College in 1997 to study psychology. She is currently an insurance broker on Wall Street, and says that she is obtaining her degree for her own personal fulfillment, and to set an example for her girls. “We were working, we were successful at what we were doing, and we decided to put it on hold for a bit, and come back later,” she says. She was drawn to SPCS’s flexible schedule, and the reputation of the College. “I absolutely love it,” Ms. Alvarado says. “I feel that I’ve grown and learned so much from the program. It’s reassuring to be in a program with adults, rather than 18-year-old kids.” Her husband says,“They cater to adults, both in terms of the schedules and the classes. The entrepreneurship class is based on real world examples, and it’s perfect for me as a small-business owner.”

Above: Elke and Christian Alvarado with their twins, Victoria and Lana

After graduation, Ms.Glaude-Sawyer hopes that the combination of her degree and her work experience will help her to land a marketing or public relations job in the Bronx. “My hope is to work for one of the local hospitals,” she says. “I’m open to pursuing a variety of opportunities, but I would like to stay local. I am a mom, and after 9/11, that changed my worldview.”