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 VOL. 23, NO. 9NOVEMBER 14, 1997 


Mentor Allowed Liberty Scholar to Pursue Dream at Barnard


Sugeni Perez. Photo by Herb Katz.
Don't tell Sugeni Perez, BC '01, one person can't make a difference. She knows otherwise.

  Alicia Hurtado, BC '96, made the difference for Perez as her tutor in Barnard's Liberty Partnership Program.

  Hurtado is why Perez became the first of 450 Liberty students to attend Barnard since the program began in 1989. Liberty is a New York State-funded cooperative effort by 58 colleges and universities to help junior high and high school pupils at risk. Barnard was among the first to establish a Liberty program along with other New York City institutions such as St. John's, Fordham and N.Y.U. Barnard's involvement is almost exclusively with public schools on Morningside Heights, including the Dual Language Middle School on W.92nd St., which Perez attended.

  "Alicia was more than my Liberty tutor," Perez says with affection. "She was my friend, someone who became essential in my life." Although it is hard to imagine that Perez, a vibrant 18-year-old who exudes optimism, ever lacked confidence, she remembers Hurtado as the person who gave her the confidence to believe in herself.

  "Alicia became my role model, telling me not to limit myself, but to go for the best," she says. Perhaps more than anything else, seeing Hurtado succeed at Barnard convinced Perez that she could also do it. Hurtado—who majored in Latin American studies with a minor in chemistry—is currently doing research in developmental biopsychology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

  Perez and Hurtado are a perfect example of the bond between student and tutor that Liberty seeks to create, and what can be achieved when it is successful. "Because our students don't get enough positive reinforcement, the hardest problem we face is getting them to believe in themselves," says Barnard's Liberty Program Director Alexandra Nestoras, BC '89, who has been involved with the program since its inception. "It's so easy for students to get lost in the public schools," adds Hurtado, who grew up in the Bronx and attended public high school at the Manhattan Center for Science and Math.

  Perez joined the Liberty program when she entered seventh grade. She learned many lessons about academics and life from Liberty and Hurtado: good study skills, not be to intimidated by a course, setting realistic goals and an understanding that no one is perfect. Perhaps the most important lesson she took away is that success is possible only through hard work.

  Perez saw her hard work pay off when she was accepted at Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the three rigorous New York City public schools that admits students solely on the basis of a city-wide test, and again when she was admitted to Barnard. Her transition to Barnard from Brooklyn Tech was made easier because in a real way "Barnard was my second home for six years," she says, referring to the time she was in the program. During those years, Perez, along with other Liberty students, spent two hours, twice a week, being tutored mostly by Barnard and Columbia students in Milbank Hall. Hurtado tutored Perez for two years.

  Attending Barnard provides Perez with the best of both worlds in one telling respect. She can live on campus and yet is just a handful of blocks from the apartment in which she grew up with her mother—who immigrated from the Dominican Republic nearly two decades ago—and her four younger siblings. The desire to remain near her close-knit family was one reason Perez applied to Barnard.

  She also sees her success as helping to break down some of the negative stereotypes of immigrants. People in the Dominican community in which she grew up are "happy for me because one of us made it," she says. And she has become a role model for her sisters and brother, two of whom are now Liberty students. But most of all, says Perez, "I'll fulfill my mother's dream by fulfilling mine."