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24 April 2008

Lebanon Campus student one of six students chosen as Bucknell Scholars
Prestigious award pays for a bachelor’s degree

Yenis Bestard-Torres of Lebanon is among six HACC students chosen as 2008 Bucknell Community College Scholars, a prestigious award administered at the university through the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

In addition to Bestard-Torres, 23, a criminal justice major at the Lebanon Campus, HACC students also named scholars and their majors are:

  • Erick Huotari, 27, Harrisburg and York campuses, architecture;
  • Kristin Phillips-Thomas, 38, York Campus, social sciences;
  • Harrisburg Campus students Kojo Karikari, 20, biology; Perry Schneck, 26, mechanical engineering and Alpay Yener, 20, business.

The six students were recognized at a dinner tonight at the C. Ted Lick Wildwood Conference Center on the Harrisburg Campus of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College. They will participate in a six-week summer program on the university’s Lewisburg campus, then return to HACC to finish their associate degree, and can transfer to Bucknell for a bachelor’s degree if they so choose.

“This partnership gives our students the chance to explore some options for continuing their college education and to experience a residential school first hand,” said HACC President Edna V. Baehre, Ph.D. “And, it has given Bucknell the chance to experience some of the fantastic students who attend HACC and the other four participating community colleges.”

Noting that Bucknell is the only Pennsylvania university among the eight colleges throughout the nation in this initiative, Baehre told the students, “This puts each of you in an elite group of high achievers who are helping blaze a new path into some of the nation’s most selective four-year schools.”

The Bucknell Scholars program gives these students an opportunity that would not have been financially possible for them, said Dory Leahey, HACC Dean of Retention Services. “These students are change agents with a desire to make a difference in their own lives and lives of others.”

The program provides up to $52,000 a year, depending on financial needs, including two years of tuition for full-time enrollment at Bucknell and additional support for room and board, books and other expenses.

“I look forward to this opportunity after all that I have been through,” says Bestard-Torres, a native of Cuba, who came to Lebanon in February 2001 at age 16 when her father, Rolando Bestard-Torres, a dissident, was allowed in the United States as a political refugee.

When Bestard-Torres and her family came to Lebanon, the first thing her father did was to take away all of the Spanish channels on TV but one - “And I didn’t like that one,” she says. “I was always a good student, and my father wanted to help me” assimilate quickly. “If you don’t take drastic steps, it holds you back from learning other things,” she says. She began watching English-language channels “and that helped me feel learn the language and feel comfortable” with it. Her favorite? “The History Channel.”

“I tell ESL students that TV can be a good thing. Watching English channels helps them adjust to a daily lifestyle in this country, as well as learn the language. Even watching kids’ channels can be helpful for a beginning ESL student.”

Total immersion in the English language paid off. A month after arriving in Lebanon, Bestard-Torres enrolled at Lebanon High School as a sophomore. “I was excited, a little scared” but eager to get started.

She was tested and enrolled in basic ESL class. Yenis credits her teachers with helping her make the transition to an American high school. She particularly remembers her first teacher, Stephanie Warlow, “who spoke only in English to make me feel comfortable with the language. She gave me a good push.”

Bestard-Torres, an overachiever, set her sights on learning English and getting on a par with her English-speaking classmates - “I made it by the 12th grade.”

“I started with the very basics,” attending classes without translators - something that Bestard-Torres says forced her to learn what she needed to know. “I kept a dictionary with me all the time.” “At first, I used an English/Spanish dictionary, then switched to just an English dictionary. My teachers said I needed to learn the meaning of the words.”

Although Bestard-Torres could have graduated in 2003, she opted to spend another year in high school. “I didn’t feel ready even though I had the hours.” The community project had to be presented to an audience. “I strived not to have an accent and to be able to stand (in front of a crowd) with no fear.”

She took some ESL and developmental classes to prepare her for college coursework when she enrolled in HACC-Lebanon. She was a member of the Student Government Association, and still is involved in SGA activities. She has volunteered for Pennsylvania German Heritage Festival and other events at the college. In addition, she is a student worker in the library. In addition her volunteer activities include serving as a Student Ambassador, joining her peers in fundraisers, blood drives and other activities and helping with student orientation. She also volunteers at ESL orientation regularly, and often speaks to community groups about ESL. She shares her story as an inspiration to others.

When Bestard-Torres came to HACC, besides a degree, what was she looking for? “I wanted to have friends - not just Hispanic friends, but friends from all over the world and I am able to accomplish that here.”

She has friends from China, Russia and Pakistan as well as American friends. “We all became friends.” “Even though lifestyles, language, clothing may be different, we are all one.” “I have learned so much from my friends.”

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