Obtaining an education is indeed important to me. I want my future children to have someone to look up to.
Visitors to the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, home of Sefora Alcindor, ’18, can tell immediately what’s most important to her. First and foremost, there are wall-to-wall photos of her husband, immediate family members and friends. Happy, loving faces and good times dominate. Adjacent to the photos is a section of the wall devoted to her collection of diplomas. “I look at them every time I enter this room,” Ms. Alcindor said.
As she should. These framed documents represent the long, winding road she’s taken to get to where she is today – a successful mental health counselor.
Indeed, Ms. Alcindor has come a long way from her native Haiti. And, she’s come an even longer way from her days living in Brockton, to where her family immigrated when she was 12 years old. It was in the City of Champions where she lived for a time in a family shelter with her father and younger sister that she began attending Massasoit Community College. After a couple years there, she learned about a program at Bridgewater State University for students struggling with homelessness. She applied and was accepted.
Today, Ms. Alcindor not only is a mental health therapist for Northeast Health Services in Fall River and a first-time homeowner, but also has set her sights on obtaining a PhD in human behavior. An important link between her old life and current life is the Bridgewater Scholars program, which for the past dozen years has been giving select students who have experienced homelessness a four-year, full scholarship to Bridgewater State University.
While both her parents had college degrees, the idea of visiting a university at first made Ms. Alcindor nervous. “When I came to campus for the interview, I was completely in shock,” she said. “I’d never been to a four-year university. And then I went into a room with a bunch of faculty members, and I thought they would see me as a homeless girl. I didn’t want to feel like that.”
Ultimately, members of the BSU community put her at ease. “They didn’t make me feel different from the other students at BSU,” she recalled. “I think that’s one of the things I appreciate. You don’t feel like a statistic. I have felt like that elsewhere, and it’s not pleasant.”
The Bridgewater Scholars program has a growing list of more than a dozen graduates, each of whom has gone on to a successful career.
What started as an initiative of BSU’s Task Force to End Homelessness has become an important component of the institution’s commitment to social and racial justice. The program works with a coalition of regional high schools, homeless shelters and youth service providers to identify potential Bridgewater Scholars.
Each academic year, two students are generally accepted into the program. Those chosen have the cost of their tuition and room and board covered, and in addition to classes and educational opportunities such as study abroad, undergraduate research and internships, they participate in work study and community service projects.
Dr. Michele Wakin, professor of sociology, founded this program in 2011 while working in the Office of the President. “Creating the Bridgewater Scholars program will always be one of the highlights of my career at BSU,” she said. Dr. Wakin has written three books on the subject of homelessness and enjoys putting research into practice to assist BSU students.
“Since the program began, it has successfully recruited, retained and graduated 13 scholars, who remain actively engaged as mentors for incoming students,” Dr. Wakin said. “This program demonstrates the transformative power of academic mentorship and the importance of building generational wealth as keys to a successful future.”
Looking over her assortment of diplomas – one each from Brockton High School, BSU and the University of Southern New Hampshire, where she earned a master’s degree – Ms. Alcindor talks of her plans to obtain a PhD.
“It’s a goal of mine,” she said. “My mother was a math professor in Haiti, and my father was a lawyer. I think I need to clear that bar in order to feel better about myself. Obtaining an education is indeed important to me,” she added. “I want my future children to have someone to look up to.”
They certainly will.