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Welcome to a regular series at Northern Essex Community College called “The Stories of Us,” highlighting the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work of Northern Essex Community College students, faculty, and staff.

Recent Stories

The Stories of Us: Liberal Arts Major Helping Others Achieve Their Goals

The Stories of Us: Liberal Arts Major Helping Others Achieve Their Goals

This article is part of a regular series called “The Stories of Us,” highlighting the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work of Northern Essex Community College students, faculty, and staff. 

Northern Essex Community College liberal arts major Nayeli Almanzar-Lizardo is just 18 years old, but she already knows the importance of giving back to her community. She’s lived in Lawrence since her family emigrated there from the Dominican Republic when she was five years old. Though life was very different from what they were used to in the Dominican Republic, they quickly felt at home in their new city.

“It’s like a mini–Dominican Republic – it’s very sentimental,” says Almanzar-Lizardo. “This is a city of loving people who are working hard each day.”

Almanzar-Lizardo took that spirit of hard work to heart, becoming a standout student and a participant in the Adelante Program at the Lawrence YMCA. The program provides educational and scholarship support to middle school students interested in developing into stronger students and helps students who wish to apply to a private high school.

Liberal Arts major Nayeli Almanzar Lizardo at her high school graduation

Through this program, Almanzar-Lizardo attended Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen, which was acquired by Notre Dame Cristo Rey the following year. Almanzar-Lizardo continued to excel in the classroom and started working with Groundwork Lawrence as a junior counselor, educating youth about access to healthy food and agriculture. When junior year rolled around, like her classmates, Almanzar-Lizardo also devoted much of her time to applying to college. And like many of her classmates, she was accepted to many four-year institutions. However, those acceptance letters came with a sobering realization.

“When I finally got my letters, I was emotionally distraught because I knew I would have to pay thousands and thousands to attend university. I was in a state of panic. So many of my classmates were getting offers, and I struggled deeply. I realized I would need to borrow at least $100,000 [to afford the schools], a burdening amount of money I could not surmount,” remembers Almanzar-Lizardo. “I have many goals. I aspire to earn my PhD, and I thought, ‘How am I going to get there?’”

Almanzar-Lizardo had heard of Northern Essex and knew it was an affordable option for college. She started doing some more research and decided to apply. She was already sold on the savings but says her decision to enroll was solidified by her experience taking a dual enrollment English Composition class at NECC during her senior year of high school.

“The exposure was just what I needed. Being in the small class made me realize the support that’s available to students at NECC. And because it’s located in my hometown of Lawrence, I recognized this is where I belong.”

Almanzar-Lizardo enrolled at NECC in the fall of 2023 as a Liberal Arts major and participates in NECC’s Pathways to Academic & Career Excellence Program (PACE), which provides wrap-around services to first-generation and low-income students. She is on track to graduate in 2025 with her associate degree. She plans to transfer to a four-year school and eventually get her PhD in psychology.

“I realized the school was offering just as many opportunities as other colleges. I recognized this is a place where I can grow and succeed,” she says.

Outside of the classroom, Almanzar-Lizardo continues to help her community. She now works for the Lawrence YMCA as an Adelante program advisor, mentoring middle school students and presenting and speaking to various groups about educational opportunities.

“I see a version of myself in each of my students; they inspire me every day. I remind them that everything works itself out in the end. I can’t imagine where else I’d be.”

The Stories of Us: Creating Community Through Student Leadership

The Stories of Us: Creating Community Through Student Leadership

This article is part of a regular series called “The Stories of Us,” highlighting the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work of Northern Essex Community College students, faculty, and staff.  

Northern Essex Community College student Elijah Antunes is the kind of person who sets a goal and sees it through. In the months leading up to graduation from Methuen High School, his goal was to go to Salem State University and graduate with a degree in economics. That was until the tuition bill arrived.

Elijah Antunes, SGA President 2023-2024

“It was almost $20,000. That was just impossible for me to pay, and I didn’t want to take out loans,” he remembers. “I was devastated. I had to backtrack and tell everyone I wasn’t going.”

Antunes soon realized that he could still reach his goal of attending a four-year college, but he would need to take a different path to get there. At the suggestion of his mother, an NECC Nursing alumna, he enrolled at Northern Essex Community College for the fall 2022 semester as a Business Transfer major.

“I saved up from working over the summer and paid my bill in full and that was such a relief,” he says, reflecting on how, when he was a toddler, his family struggled financially, even experiencing homelessness for a time. “It’s hard to raise yourself out of poverty, and it was almost surreal to think I wouldn’t have [student loan] debt tearing me down.”

Antunes was all in on NECC and immediately got to work to get the most out of his student experience. In his first semester, he campaigned and won a seat as the Vice President of the Student Government Association (SGA). This year, he is serving as the group’s president. He says his main objective is to help other students find their place at NECC.

“We did a lot of tabling events to speak to students. It’s one thing to plan behind closed doors; it’s another to get their voices. I also worked with President Lane Glenn and Chief Officer of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Francellis Quinones to learn how to get students involved and feeling at home.”

One way to boost inclusion, says Atunes, is planning more events for students. In addition to weekly events and clubs, the SGA is hoping to host a cultural festival this spring. Atunes envisions students bringing food, music, and traditions from their cultures to share with the whole NECC community. The SGA is exploring fundraising opportunities to support the festival and has started outreach to grow its membership.

“Student government is an organization where you can get your voice heard. Students should be motivated and inspired. If they are interested in making a change, I encourage them to get involved and be disciplined. That’s what’s going to make the world a better place.”

The SGA meets twice a month on both the Haverhill and Lawrence Campuses and via Zoom. To learn more about the SGA and how to get involved, visit the webpage.

The Stories of Us: A New Perspective Inside the Classroom

The Stories of Us: A New Perspective Inside the Classroom

This article is part of a new, regular series called “The Stories of Us,” highlighting the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work of Northern Essex Community College students, faculty, and staff.  

Brian MacKenna-Rice and Lisa Fabbri-Lopez have helped people from all walks of life in their work with individuals in crises and recovery. As they’ve developed Human Services courses at Northern Essex Community College, they’ve been mindful of ensuring different perspectives are represented.

“We work in a field where this is an underpinning of what we do,” says the Human Services Program Coordinator MacKenna-Rice.

Brian MacKenna-Rice and Lisa Fabbri-Lopez

Both recognize there’s always more work to be done regarding justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) in the classroom. Recently, they attended a workshop hosted at Salem State University called Principles for Anti-Racist Community-Engaged Pedagogy. Over two days, they explored topics about developing more inclusive course materials, reflecting on individual and systemic racism, and creating compassionate and reflective classrooms.

“I loved meeting them,” MacKenna-Rice says of the other workshop attendees. ‘They were a lot younger than me and a lot smarter than me. And I enjoyed that. It was a nice two days.”

“He represents a generation that is not always deemed as being open to this,” adds Fabbri-Lopez, a Human Services faculty member and co-lead of the NECC Center for Professional Studies.

“I’m old enough that I remember Selma. And I remember the Birmingham bombings, and I remember the Civil Rights March. People being struck down with Billie clubs just because of their skin color,” recalls MacKenna-Rice from his teenage years. “For me, you can’t do enough to help people understand how unjust that is.”

MacKenna-Rice and Fabbri-Lopez say the workshop helped them build upon their personal and professional experiences to ensure that courses are accessible and equitable. One example of this work, says MacKenna-Rice, is using course materials representing the student population. “I added a unit on BIPOC contributions and influence on what we do. We’re trying to get people involved in a field that’s about helping people. And we can’t do that if we can’t represent all people.”

This fall semester, they hope a change in class location will also increase accessibility and equity. All 100-level Human Services courses will be taught on the Lawrence Campus, and 200-level classes will be held on the Haverhill Campus. “Then next year, we’ll switch that around. So philosophically, a student could do all the core courses entirely in Lawrence or Haverhill. This is equity. Everyone has the same opportunity because they have the same starting point,” says MacKenna-Rice.

More changes are in the works, such as utilizing Spanish-language resources and developing a new certificate program. In the meantime, the pair plans to work closely with NECC Chief Officer of JEDI Francellis Quiñones and the NECC Center for Equity and Social Justice to identify more professional development opportunities in the JEDI space.

“We work out in the field. And we learn that anybody can talk about this, but this is about behavior and what are you doing about it?” reflects MacKenna-Rice. “Let’s not just pretend it’s a philosophy book. Let’s understand it’s about life and human beings.”

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