Port of Entry for nearly 13,000 – and counting

Tony Shen, an alumnus of Queensborough Community College's Port of Entry program, discusses how the program helped him. He is joined by PoE Director Florence Tse. (Photo: QCC)

Over 40 years, Queensborough Community College’s flagship English language program, known as Port of Entry (PoE), has helped 12,669 students from 21 countries – who arrived with little or no English skills — establish themselves and prosper in New York City.

To celebrate its anniversary, QCC is recognizing a few notable graduates of the program, as well as honoring community members whose support of the program is critical.

Tony Shen, a 1992 graduate from Taiwan, is a Citi Group financial professional who continued his studies at Queensborough to earned an associate degree and went on to Baruch College, where he received a baccalaureate in finance and industrial psychology. He came to America two years after finishing high school and serving in the army in Taiwan.

Shen is currently studying for a master’s degree in divinity because he sees “the need for care and counselling in the Chinese community.”

During an event this month that brought together current students, parents, guests, faculty and staff and other supporters (see photo, below), Shen expressed his gratitude for Queensborough’s commitment to newly arrived immigrants.

“Whenever I reach out and help people, I always feel that it’s because of my experience with, and deep feelings for, (Port of Entry Director) Florence Tse and (Coordinator) Dolores Hopkins and all of the passionate educators here. The legacy of Port of Entry for me is that they really helped me to help others,” Shen said.

More than words

Recent graduates Jiacheng Guo and Yin Yun Zheng Li found professional pathways in graphic design and healthcare, respectively. Guo – who completed studies at Queensborough and later at Queens College – has worked on major campaigns for the likes of Volkswagen and Con Edison.

“I spoke broken English when I arrived six years ago, but I learned more than a language at Queensborough. I learned how to properly engage people, ask for help and work hard,” said the Chinese immigrant, who was just sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Li, of Chinese heritage but born and raised in Venezuela, arrived in Queens in 2014 carrying an international student visa.

“As a girl who only knew Chinese and Spanish, I failed my first essay, but that was good. It motivated me, and I pursued a health career,” explained the newly registered nurse, who was also a peer leader and mentored at Queensborough.

“To be an immigrant myself and not only teach people English, but also help them with difficult subject matter, it was very empowering to be able to pass on my skills and experience,” she said.

Community support

The tightly knit PoE community, established in 1980, has benefitted from continuous support from the college and the City University of New York system, as well as critical financial assistance from generous scholarship donors. Approximately 250 PoE students have benefitted from scholarships and other program awards since 2004.

Queensborough this month celebrated four distinguished families’ contributions at a reception, including that of Liu Tee Shu, chair of the American Chinese Culture Foundation, who spoke through an interpreter, her youngest of four sons.

PoE alumni, community supporters and college officials celebrate the 40th anniversary of Queensborough’s flagship English language program. (Photo: Leo Correa/QCC)

“My mom wants to say that she only finished middle school, but she never gave up. She came to America in 1975 because of the American Dream, but spoke no English. It has been a long journey. She says that you are very lucky, indeed, because you have an opportunity to have an education and learn English. She wants you to use what you learn to achieve success. Mom is very happy that this program was founded and is very pleased at how successful it has become,” George said on behalf of his 77-year-old mother.

Other donors acknowledged included Thomas Chen of Crystal Window and Door Systems, a national manufacturer; Jackson Lum, a Queensborough professor emeritus of engineering technology, and Muriel Lum, who founded Logic Controls; and Nathan Chao, Queensborough professor emeritus of engineering technology, and Rose Chao.

Offering encouragement

Geovanna Paola Erazo Villegas received an award for being an outstanding PoE graduate. Having a bachelor’s degree plus two master’s degrees, Villegas is chief physician assistant at the Queens Hospital Center. Directing her remarks to incoming PoE students, she implored immigrants to follow through on their aspirations.

“Don’t think it’s not possible, because it is. We have so many dreams when we come here. At the beginning, you think it is very hard to get where you want to get, but you can do it. This program will open doors for you as it has opened up doors for me,” she said.

About the Author

Michael T. Donahue
is director of communications and college relations at Queensborough Community College in New York.