Nearly 300 attendees packed the Main Campus cafeteria earlier this month for the annual Human Services Alumni Dinner held on May 1.
“It was the largest group we’ve had to date,” said Professor Michael D’Arcangelo, coordinator of the Human Services program at PCCC.
The well-attended yearly event has become a model of effective networking and outreach, as well as an occasion of heartfelt gratitude and a testament to how education can truly transform a life.
Tears and cheers were the order of the night as graduates of the program gathered to catch up with each other, report on their educational and career progress, share information about job openings, or express a need for support from what several alumni speakers called “my Human Services family.”
“How many of you received your bachelor’s degree since the last dinner?” asked Professor D’Arcangelo from the podium in an annual ritual of recognition.
Hands shot up around the room, sparking applause and cheers. The ritual continued:
How many received your master’s degree? Who got married? Had a baby? Received a promotion at work?
Enthusiasm and good will ran high, but the Human Services Alumni Dinner is more than a party. “Our mission here is to graduate,” said Professor D’Arcangelo, who opened this year’s dinner, for the first time, to new and graduating human services students, so they could gain inspiration from alumni.
“This program has led me to places I never dreamed I could go,” said Abel Jimenez (11) one of the evening’s speakers and success stories. A self-described “troublemaker” in high school, Abel became an honor student at PCCC and graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. degree from Rutgers. Now a counselor at a Paterson agency, he credited the Human Services program with “turning my life around.” (Read more about Abel)
Like Abel, many of the program’s alumni who have gone on to successful careers as social workers and counselors can identify with their clients, since they themselves were once in need of the guidance they found in the Human Services program
Professor D’Arcangelo, who is famous for his accessibility to his students, received an emotional tribute from alumnus Antonio Rivera (2000) “Some days you mentored me. Other days you fathered me,” said Antonio, now counselor in private practice and adjunct professor at PCCC.
But it wasn’t just about the nurturing. Both Abel and Antonio emphasized how hard they had to work and how well prepared they had been at PCCC for their bachelor’s degree programs.
“I was the only one in my class at Rutgers who knew about DSM” said Abel, referring to a textbook on mental disorders.
Jennifer Gasparino (07) now a full-time Human Services professor at PCCC said some of her classes at Fairleigh-Dickinson and New York University were “a piece of cake” thanks to the preparation she received here in the Human Services program. (Read more about Professor Gasparino)
Commenting on the growth of the program, Professor Gasparino recalled earlier Alumni Dinners she attended. “There were about 30 or 40 of us,” she said. “Now look at our numbers.”
Inviting new and graduating students to hear these stories and network with the alumni who shared them was part of Professor D’Arcangelo’s strategy to introduce two new Human Services initiatives: a mentoring program and a series of focus groups.
“We’ve been mentoring all along,” said Professor D’Arcangelo, “but now it will be through a structured, ongoing program.” The focus groups will aim to identify effective strategies for helping Human Services majors stay on course to graduate.
“We’re in the business of service,” said Antonio, remarking on these initiatives to the audience. “And we have to work collectively.”