This feature first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Gotham. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. Whatever you call it, New York City is an experience everyone should have. There is always something going on or something to see in New York. Since its founding in 1625 as New Amsterdam, tens of millions of immigrants from all countries have passed through its environs, forever changing themselves and our country.
The city itself consists of five distinct boroughs each contributing its own unique and diverse vibe to the hustle and bustle of big-city-living.” But of the five, no borough more exemplifies that diversity and energy than Queens.
In 2015, Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide book publisher in the world, named Queens the top destination in the United States for its cultural and culinary diversity, stating that “nowhere is the image of New York as the global melting pot more true than in Queens.”
Roadside marquees proudly proclaim Queens as “The World’s Borough,” and they aren’t overstating it. Queens is the most ethnically-diverse urban area in the world. More than 138 languages are spoken within its cozy confines, and almost half of its 2.3 million residents are foreign born.
As further proof of its cosmopolitan nature, Queens has hosted two World Fairs, 1939 and 1964, and is home to two of the busiest airports in the world, JFK International and LaGuardia Airport.
This diverse population makes Queens the place to sample some of the best ethnic cuisine in the world. Residents of the other four boroughs, as well as surrounding states, regularly make the trek to dine on tasty Greek, Italian, and Latino dishes as well as Indian food that is second to none.
The borough has also given the world its share of celebrities and athletes including recording artists Simon and Garfunkel, and Tony Bennett, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and tennis star John McEnroe.
Several denizens of the White House also lay claim to the borough. Former First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Barbra Bush hail from Queens. So too the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Even Marvel Comics’ web-slinging superhero, Spider-Man, calls Queens home.
A Big Apple-cheeked youth
One of Queens’ newest progenies is 22-year-old Amanda Deebrah. Brimming with energy, ambition, and friendliness, Deebrah seems the embodiment of the borough’s fervor. “I’m a product of the Big Apple,” she said. “I like to stay busy and I’m always doing something.”
Evidence of her energy and drive is the busy schedule she keeps. Deebrah works full-time as a technician for ASI System Integration (ASI) in midtown Manhattan, and carries a full-schedule of classes at the New York City College of Technology (NYCCT) in Brooklyn. Her major is Career Technical Teacher Education, and she has currently completed 91 credits with a 4.0/4.0 GPA.
Curious and very intelligent, Deebrah got into IT at an early age. As a 4-year old, she inherited an old laptop from a cousin and soon realized she had a gift for tech. “Everything seemed to come naturally to me,” she said with a laugh. “It just seems like technology has always been part of my life.”
Her interest in technology grew by constantly playing on the internet. By the third grade, Deebrah was participating in competitions to construct websites. In the fourth grade, she was part of a four-person team that made it to the City Finals for Oracle’s ThinkQuest Competition.
Deebrah attended Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School (“Edison”) in Jamaica, New York, where she would further develop her IT skills under the instruction and guidance of CTE instructor Alexander Bell.
Tech mentoring and MOUSE
Bell had a tremendous influence on Deebrah. He was the faculty advisor of Edison’s technology support group, “MOUSE Squad,” a student development organization that gives students the opportunity to earn internship credits and gain hands-on experience troubleshooting computer-related problems for the school. MOUSE Squad students are selected according to their outstanding classroom character while taking the CompTIA A+ Certification Computer Technology course.
It was common for MOUSE Squad members to work between 20 and 30 hours per week resolving computer issues. Deebrah herself would usually come to school at 6 a.m., work during her free periods, and stay after school until 7 p.m. or later. “We were paid for our hours and I just really liked what I was doing,” she said.
As Deebrah’s skills increased she began taking on more responsibilities, including acting as the executive secretary for MOUSE Squad, helping with documentation, and assisting other members. “She became an outstanding, assertive and intense PC technician,” said Bell.
During her time at Edison, Deebrah was a member of the National Honor Society; earned a CompTIA A+ certification; was one of 50 candidates selected for SCIP, a special six-week summer program that exposes students to real-world business experiences and professionals; served as secretary for the school’s chapter of the National Technical Honor Society; and helped Edison’s team win second place in Computer Repair at the New York City SkillsUSA competition.
She also squeezed in a part-time job at the local library shelving books and tutoring students. “I like to work and, since I was 15, I’ve always had a job,” said Deebrah. “My mother wanted me to focus on my studies and not work, but I kept high grades so there was no problem.”
All in the family
Deebrah’s love for education is in large part a result her parent’s sacrifices to give her opportunities. Her mother works as a home health aid and her father as a delivery man. “My dad constantly stressed education as the key to success and always reminded me that, ‘The one thing no one can take away from you is the knowledge in your head,’ ” she said.
Deebrah has a close relationship with her parents. “My mom was always so supportive and my dad is like the most perfect person in the world. I knew how hard he worked, and admired him for doing so.”
Her dad did work hard, often putting in overtime to buy books and clothes for Deebrah. “He never told me I couldn’t have something,” she said. “If I wanted something he would figure out a way to get it.”
During middle school, her dad would drop her off and pick her up every day. During high school, he even went so far as to change his work schedule to be able to drive her to school each day. “We lived 30-40 minutes away from school and my dad drove me every morning,” she said.
While school has always been easy for Deebrah, she admits that there have been other challenges. “I was severely bullied during the last two years of high school,” she said. “Some students would make faces, say mean things to me, and snicker when I said something in class. It hurt and I had a really difficult time keeping my cool.”
Fortunately, when the bullying felt like too much to endure, Deebrah had a sounding board to help her shrug it off. “There were days when I was just done with everyone, and talking to Mr. Bell really helped me maintain my cool,” she said. “He would always listen to me rant about how unfair things were and would tell me to, ‘Just Relax. Take a deep breath and keep moving forward.’ It helped. I graduated and didn’t get in any trouble.”
Teaching as a career
After graduating from Edison in 2013, Deebrah enrolled in Queens College in nearby Flushing, majoring in corporate finance. In the midst of an accounting class, however, which she admits she “hated,” Deebrah made the decision to follow her passion — teaching.
Deebrah soon applied for and was admitted to the Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA) Program, a collaborative project of the New York City Department of Education, the teacher’s union, and the City University of New York (CUNY).
The SVA program trains individuals who have a passion for teaching and learning and prepares them to become CTE teachers. Competition for admittance to the program is severe. In addition to an outstanding academic record, applicants must be recent graduates of a New York City CTE or comprehensive high school, be recommended and nominated by their trade teacher, and pass a selection committee of the school headed by the assistant principal for CTE.
The SVA program consists of three components:
- Teaching Internship
- Industrial Work Experience
- Post-Secondary Academic Study
Participants gain valuable work and educational experience as well as preparation to becoming CTE teachers by spending two years teaching in a classroom setting and an additional three years working full-time in various job positions.
Deebrah is in her third year, and having a fun, if somewhat demanding experience. “I have really enjoyed being in SVA,” she said. “It’s preparing me for the career I want and I get paid to do what I love.”
In addition to her skill in IT, Deebrah has also had the opportunity to develop her administrative abilities as well, with her full-time job at ASI. ASI services equipment for large organizations like HP, Deloitte, and the NYC Department of Education.
When a co-worker left ASI, Deebrah found herself entirely in charge of HP’s account. “At first I didn’t realize how much work it was,” she said. “From the time I came in the door till the time I finally left, I was responsible to for everything HP. I’ve really learned a lot.”
Deebrah’s eventual goal is to combine her IT skills and administrative experience and work in New York City’s department of education. “I want to influence policies and bring CTE into education like it has never been before. I would love the satisfaction of knowing that the work I do is positively affecting students.”
Although she is Big Apple-bornand-bred, Deebrah presently lives upstate in Fairview, New York. “I visited it a couple of years ago and just fell in love with the area,” she said. Unfortunately, this necessitates a commute of two-and-a-half hours each way to school and work. “My commute doesn’t leave me a lot of time to relax,” she said. “Commuting on the train lets me get my homework done, watch a lot of Netflix, and play a lot of games and do crossword puzzles on my phone.”
Deebrah’s future certification plans include completing CompTIA’s Network+ and Security+ certifications, after finishing her formal education. And she knows the type of professional she wants to be. “In my personal and professional life I want to be like Mr. Bell. He seems to have every answer and when he says he is going to do something, you best believe he will do it.”
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring IT students, her response is positive and hopeful: “Never stop trying! Even if you fail an exam once, it doesn’t mean you’ll never pass it. Take the time to go back and review everything that you have learned. Try to remember the topics of the questions on the test, sit down, and focus. And do like Mr. Bell said, ‘Just keep moving forward.’ “