April 2024 Winners

Connecting the Right Parts Leads to Student Growth and Success

Photo of Dr. Belle Birchfield

Dr. Belle Birchfield

Engineering Technology

Dr. Belle Birchfield has always been curious about how things work.

As a teenager she would spend time after school with friends experimenting with electronic and mechanical parts, doing STEM homework, and solving mathematics equations. Once, as a prank she and her classmates poured dry ice into a huge fountain at a mall and watched with glee as the dry ice sent plumes of vapor cascading down from multiple stories.

Aside from a few pranks here and there Belle was intent on pursuing her studies and career in engineering and thanks to strong encouragement from her physics mentor decided to do just that.

After graduating from Evanston Township High School in her hometown of Evanston, Illinois, Dr. Birchfield attended Columbia University where she earned her BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering.

Fast-forward to her academic career at Queensborough where she is currently a Professor and Deputy Chair in the Department of Engineering and Technology.

“I have known since I started here as an adjunct more than 20 years ago that teaching and mentorship at Queensborough is a priority. It all emanates from being student centered. Our students are the reason we are here.”

David Mannes, CTE Career Success Specialist at Queensborough who nominated Dr. Birchfield for the C.A.R.E.S. Award, praised her stellar work in support of both the students and the Engineering Technology Department. He said, “I have worked closely with Belle since I joined Queensborough last summer and have observed how she utilizes discussion-based learning, which allows her students to engage more fully and gives them the opportunity to interweave their academic learning with their personal experiences.”

Every student has a story. One, who did not speak English when she enrolled at Queensborough, is now a remarkable professor in the department. As a student she was hardworking and skilled in hands-on work and ultimately graduated from SUNY Stonybrook. She was a key role model for other female students in the program; and now for other women wanting to teach and work in the department. Dr. Birchfield added that, “We have a tremendous group of adjuncts in our department who want to give back to the department that gave them a leg up into the field. It is incredibly rewarding to see our former students coming back to teach here.”

Dr. Birchfield teaches ET-560 Microprocessors, ET-110 Electric Circuits and TECH-931 – Coop Education for the CEO Jobs Council Apprenticeship Program.

And that is just the teaching side. As deputy chairperson, Dr. Birchfield coordinates the scheduling for over 60 full-time and part-time faculty and nine-degree programs. “It is a bit of a Rubics Cube but eventually the puzzle manages to come together.”

Just like building the right course schedule, engineering and electronics students need the right building blocks to connect them with job opportunities.

That is where the New York CEO Jobs Council, CUNY Apprenticeship Program comes in. This non-profit organization brings together major employers across NYC allowing students in Internet and Information Technology A.A.S. majors to apply to work for one of the Job Council partner companies for three to five days a week during their final semester.

Dr. Birchfield said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to be introduced to corporate America.”

Apprentices accepted into this program receive about $30 an hour while also earning eight credits toward completing their degree, with the intention of being offered a full-time position at the partner company once they graduate. This work overlaps with the AWS Technical Alliance Skills Map Initiative in terms of curriculum revisions and workforce alignment.

David Mannes provides the student-facing career services support for the apprenticeship program, and Dr. Birchfield teaches the support course that apprentices participate in while working at the partner companies. He said, “Dr. Birchfield also handles much of the scheduling and course mapping for students interested in the apprenticeship program, and along with me, Professor Steve Trowbridge and Dean Artie Corradetti is part of our core internal team overseeing the Job Council partnership overall.”

Dr. Birchfield’s career began at IBM Kingston where she worked for four years and for IBM Yorktown for several summers. She is passionate about teaching and is a proponent of writing to learn, having taught writing intensive courses since 2002. She has been using Student Response System (SRS) technology in her classes since spring 2006 and has worked collaboratively with other disciplines on “clicker” projects across CUNY. She has taught Microprocessors since 1998 and written multiple editions of the lab manual used in this course and the laboratory manual for the Introduction to Computer Networking course.

“The connections between industry and academia can be a challenge and I help bridge some of that as the facilitator and the coach.”

“This is an opportunity, yes, but also a challenge. Students are courageous to make these changes in their classes and lifestyle. Our students are exceptional, and I am in awe of them. Covid has expanded and deepened this feeling in me. They are so gracious under adversity, and so tenacious not to give up. Their continued persistence in the face of challenge is a lesson for all of us to learn from.”

A Safety-Net and Welcome Mat, All in One

Photo of Laura Ulloa

Laura Ulloa

Enrollment Bursar Specialist
Bursar / Account Services

Laura Ulloa wants to debunk the myth that bursars' offices are just about unresolved balances. “We are here to provide students and family members with a safe space to talk about everything related to college expenses including student loans, scholarships, and special programs. I was once a student and understand how potentially confusing the process can be.”

Christine Francavilla, Enrollment Bursar Director who nominated Laura for the C.A.R.E.S. Award said, “It was Laura’s idea to reach out to admissions to partner with them on new student workshops around the basics of billing, financial aid, and payment arrangements. I consider her a valuable member of the team.”

These workshops extend to New Student Engagement and the steps students need to take before they come to the bursar’s office such as speaking with their advisors and setting up their email accounts. Additional workshops are conducted with ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), College Discovery, and many more. “I think all the time about how I can help President Mangino and the College retain students so they can earn their degree.”

And Laura looks to Christine Francavilla for guidance to reach that goal. “She is an incredibly supportive manager and encourages us to approach her with any issues so we can solve them together.”

Laura earned her associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees all within CUNY. She worked at LaGuardia Community College for 10 years and in 2016 she was hired by Queensborough as an enrollment bursar coordinator and then in 2022 she was promoted to enrollment bursar specialist.

“My experience here has deepened my sense that I understand what students are looking for and as a team we reach out to them as soon as they are admitted.”

Veteran student Christen Williams attended Queensborough ten years ago. She withdrew to follow her passion for flying and joined the U.S. Airforce in 2015. After an injury she received a medical discharge and after a time of recuperation, decided to return to Queensborough and finish her degree through the program Fresh Start.

Currently Christen is a full-time student in her second semester majoring in Psychology. She has her sights set on a spring 2025 graduation.

“Laura has helped me so much,” said Christen. “She is patient, supportive, and welcoming. Now, between my Veterans Benefits and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), I will make ends meet.”

Christen says she likes to drop in and say “hi” to Laura when she can but that may change over the summer. Christen laughed, “My dad has owned a Mr. Softee truck for 40 years and my family pitches in to help him with customers. I promised Laura I would bring her a cone!”

Campus Cultural Centers

Kupferberg Holocaust Center exterior lit up at nightOpens in a new window
Kupferberg Holocaust Center Opens in a new window

The KHC uses the lessons of the Holocaust to educate current and future generations about the ramifications of unbridled prejudice, racism and stereotyping.

Russian Ballet performing at the Queensborough Performing Arts CenterOpens in a new window
QPAC: Performing Arts CenterOpens in a new window

QPAC is an invaluable entertainment company in this region with a growing national reputation. The arts at QPAC continues to play a vital role in transforming lives and building stronger communities.

Queensborough Art Gallery exterior in the afternoonOpens in a new window
QCC Art Gallery

The QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York is a vital educational and cultural resource for Queensborough Community College, the Borough of Queens and the surrounding communities.