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Graduate Speaks with Current Students about Success after ASA College

Erica Bettencourt is currently pursuing her passion as a Special Education Teacher for NYC’s Department of Education and earning her master’s degree at City College. Her master’s is fully paid by the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Before this, she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida with a GPA of 3.9. Her success began at ASA College in 2010 when she started her associate’s degree in Criminal Justice ten years after she graduated from high school. She came back to visit ASA because three current students in the Legal Studies Division, Marie Jean Baptiste, Hind El Azizi and Yaritza Bourdier, wanted to ask her about her journey and success. Ms. Bettencourt was happy to speak with our current students because, as she said to Ms. El Azizi, she feels grateful for the start that ASA College provided, “(In 2010) I just thought, there’s no way. I’m not going to be able to do this. I really needed someone there to walk me through it. And this is what ASA did for me.”


When Ms. Bourdier asked Ms. Bettencourt to describe how ASA College walked her through the process of entering the world of higher education after having taken ten years away from school to raise three children, Ms. Bettencourt cited Legal Studies professor Donna Dwyer as a major influence and role model. To this day she stays in touch with professor Dwyer because, as she says, “I was going through hard time and she pushed me, she motivated me and she was just there for me.” 


Ms. Bettencourt surprised the current students when she said that a large part of her respect and affection for professor Dwyer stems from the fact that Ms. Dwyer gives very voluminous feedback on written assignments. Ms. Baptiste asked, “Didn’t it make you feel some type of way (when she marked up your papers)?” Ms. Bettencourt responded that she looked at the feedback as a kind of challenge, and pointed out that it is much better and rarer to find a teacher willing to explain a grade than to have a teacher that just hands a paper back with a “C” on it and no justification. Professor Dwyer sits with her students and goes over their work with them, which is a practice that Ms. Bettencourt describes as a major influence on her as both a student and teacher, “…just taking that time. It’s great. That’s what I do with my students now.” 


Ms. El Azizi asked Ms. Bettencourt to speak more on her current job as a Special Education teacher and the standards that she uses to define success. Ms. Bettencourt noted the difficulties she faced during her own educational journey – at the University of Central Florida she had classes where there were 400 students to every 1 teacher, and she was given no personal attention: “They’ll just, here’s the syllabus. That’s it. You have no other help.” In contrast, she tries to provide her students with the help they need to succeed because professor Dwyer did the same for her: “So I found that, funnily, I love the teaching. I love the kids. I want to make that difference. I want to be there for them like they were for me.” That is to say, she feels successful when her students succeed. Her motivation, as she said to Ms. Bourdier, is the pursuit of the moment when one of her students understands something on their own. That independent realization, those “aha moments. Like, Oh my God, yes this is happening,” motivate her.


Ms. Baptiste asked Ms. Bettencourt if she had advice for current and potential ASA College students. For those current students who wish to go on to bachelor’s degree programs, she advised that they take as many classes with professor Dwyer as possible. Ms. Baptiste joked that professor Dwyer could be very difficult because she asks so much of her students. By way of example, she said that Ms. Dwyer has students create their own Midterm and Final study guides. Ms. Bettencourt noted that this is exactly why students should take classes with Ms. Dwyer: “What did I tell you? Those are the skills you’re going to need because when you go to do your undergrad, who is going to give you a guide? You have to create your own study guide.” The transferable skills that ASA professors provide allow their students to be prepared and succeed at the undergraduate and masters level. Satisfied, Ms. Baptiste acknowledged, “You’re saying, ASA is a foundation first.” To which Ms. Bettencourt agreed, “If you’re looking for a small school setting that is going to be there for you, with great professors that kind of guide you through, I think that this would be the place for you to start.”


The essence of Ms. Bettencourt’s message to current and future students is that they need to be prepared for the challenges of undergraduate education and the workforce, but that the professors at ASA College give students the transferable skills they need to succeed. Now that Ms. Bettencourt is a teacher, she wants to give this opportunity to her own students as well, “I want to prepare my students. I want them to not only just graduate high school, but I want those skills to go with them.”



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