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Family Affair: Essex County College Offers Opportunity for Ecuadorian Natives

Sofia Medina on Friday became the third member of her family to recently earn an associate's degree at ECC.

The Medina family at Essex County College's graduation on Friday. From left, Father Jose Sr., mother Sonia, Sofia, a 2014 grad, Jose Jr. who graduated in 2006, Sebastian, a 2009 grad, and Pedro, a current student. (Contributed photo)
The Medina family at Essex County College's graduation on Friday. From left, Father Jose Sr., mother Sonia, Sofia, a 2014 grad, Jose Jr. who graduated in 2006, Sebastian, a 2009 grad, and Pedro, a current student. (Contributed photo)
The following was submitted by Essex County College:

Every member of the Medina family has an Essex County College story to tell. Their stories with Essex began a few years after they arrived in this country from Ecuador and they continue to this day.

The graduation of Sofia Medina from Essex County College on Friday at Newark’s Prudential Center, with an Associate in Science in Biology, marks the third family member (along with her brothers Jose Jr. and Sebastian) to earn an Associate degree from the Newark-based school. Headed to Johns Hopkins University this fall, she is also the second in the family to earn the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Transfer Scholarship  that awards $90,000 for three years.  Jose Jr., who graduated from Essex in 2006, was the College’s first Cooke Foundation scholar.

Brother Sebastian followed the Essex trend, graduating in 2009 with an Associate degree in Architectural Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Pratt Institute and is headed to Columbia University for his master’s. Another brother, Pedro is a current student majoring in music. Father Jose Sr. has taken English as a Second Language classes and mom, Sonia, is enrolled this fall to major in Business Administration.

The College awarded 1,502 Associate degrees and specialized certificates at its 45th annual Commencement, its largest class in school history.  Designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, Essex County College’s Latino population makes up about 27 percent of the College’s total enrollment.  

“I learned about Essex when my brother started classes back in 2004 and our entire family has just felt so comfortable here,” said Sofia, 21. “By the time I started here, we knew about the College’s support system, as well as the academics. You can definitely say we’re a complete Essex County College family. My brothers also served as my mentors and introduced me to a lot of people.”

The Medina legacy at Essex had a quiet beginning back in the fall of 2003 at Bayonne High School where Jose Jr. was a senior. He was at a college fair and was inquiring about four year schools. He was advised by Carlo Ontaneda, then a recruiter at neighboring NJIT, that if he attended the more affordable Essex for two years, he could transfer to NJIT with full junior status.

“Due to our family’s financial situation, Essex provided a wonderful educational alternative for me,” recalled Jose Jr. He ran with his Essex degree and Cooke Foundation scholarship to Georgia Tech, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. He now is an environmental engineer at Black & Veatch Corp., New York.

During her time at Essex, Sofia followed her brothers as a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.  She received the $2,000 New Century Scholarship from the Coca-Cola Foundation as New Jersey’s top community college student. During the summer of 2012, she spent six weeks at the Duke University Summer Medical & Dental Education Program.

Sofia also followed Sebastian into the College’s rigorous Honors Program, which provides valuable scholarship dollars in addition to strenuous academics. “I saw all the assistance Sebastian received through the Honors Program and that also definitely influenced my decision to come to Essex.”

The path for Sofia at Johns Hopkins University is the public health pre-medicine program, leading both her medical degree and a master’s in public health.  She eventually wants to treat residents of medically underserved countries.

Jose Sr. promises the Medinas will never forget Essex County College, which has been a part of their lives for a decade. “Essex provided us very important steps for our introduction into the United States. We will always be a part of Essex County College and we will provide whatever support we can.”

Also at Commencement, the Rev. Dr. Floyd H. Flake, senior pastor of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens, and a former U.S. Congressman, delivered the commencement address entitled Paradigm Shift. He told the graduates, “Your job is to fix what is broken. Today is just the beginning for you; you will be shocked at the talent you will see you didn’t even know you had in you.”

Dr. Clement A. Price, Rutgers-Newark Distinguished Service Professor of History, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Essex County College President Dr. Gale E. Gibson.

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