Distinguished Honorees Exemplify The Meaning Of Giving Back At Queensborough Community College’s 2017 Partners For Progress Gala

Published: May 01, 2017

Press Contact:
Alice Doyle

Queensborough student speakers Nuria Laroussi, Razieh Arabi and Haris Khan were among many outstanding students present at Queensborough's 2017 Partners for Progress Gala, which was held last week at Terrace-on-the Park in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. Approximately 500 guests, including nearly 150 faculty and staff, convened for the event, including corporate, community and business leaders, alumni, faculty, staff, students, retirees, friends and legislators. The event is sponsored by the Queensborough Community College Fund Inc., to honor this year's Partners for Progress Honorees.

Dr. Call with honored students at Partners for Progress 2017

Student Razieh Arabi, a first generation immigrant from Iran, made the opening remarks at the Gala by noting, “I have traveled a long way to be with you this evening.” Razieh described being sent by her family as a very young woman to the U.S. to marry an Iranian-American medical school student. It was clear to Razieh that her husband's career would come first and he did not support her plans to continue her education. Eventually Razieh realized she could not place her life on hold any longer. She left her husband and moved to New York with her one-year old son. She had no money, no family and no college degree, but she was determined to succeed.

Upon enrolling at Queensborough, Razieh's life began to change. During her academic career at the College she has served as Treasurer of Student Government and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the world's largest and most prestigious honor society for two-year colleges. Razieh also joined the Fed Challenge team, an intercollegiate competition designed to promote understanding of the Federal Reserve System and the economy. Currently, she is a semi-finalist in the CUNY & Capital One Community College Innovation Challenge, a year-long program that provides community college students the opportunity to explore, engage and develop their business hypotheses.

Razieh also submitted a painting for the upcoming student exhibit at the QCC Art Gallery, which will focus on students' thoughts and artistic expressions about the controversial travel ban. The student works will be on display over the summer.

Razieh, a Business Administration major, will graduate this spring with an A.S. degree in Liberal Arts. She will move on to Baruch College where she will pursue a Bachelor's degree in Accounting and Finance.

Haris Khan shared his story which began in Uzbekistan where he was born. For years he ‘country-hopped' throughout Southeast Asia before his father, a Pakistani embassy staffer, was posted in the U.S. Not long after, his family arrived in New York.

Khan noted how he discovered “a passion for public service while at Queensborough,” and he has a long list of accomplishments in this area. Most recently he interned for Congresswoman Grace Meng, who appointed Khan as a fellow to her political action committee known as At the Table which empowers individuals from traditionally under-served communities to run for public office.

He is the Programming Vice-President of the Student Government Association at Queensborough and a Delegate of the CUNY University Student Senate. This past fall, he spearheaded an effort to register hundreds of Queensborough students to vote in the November elections. Khan is very grateful to the entire campus community for inspiring him to follow his passion for community service and public interest law.

This spring Khan was one of fifteen Queensborough students selected to attend the Salzburg Global Citizenship Alliance, a weeklong study abroad program in Austria that included a tour of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany.

Queensborough student Nuria Laroussi spoke movingly about her ordeals as a child who grew up in Spain facing neglect by her parents. When her father brought her to New York Nuria struggled with English, and because of her strained relationship with her father, was forced to leave home at age 18, becoming homeless. Yet, in the face of this extreme hardship Nuria was able to find a job, support herself, and complete high school at the age of 19 with a 4.0 G.P.A.

It took her five years to save enough money to pay her own way through college. Now she is thriving at Queensborough as a STEM major and aspires to become an electronic engineer, a field she strongly believes “will encourage women to achieve great success.”

“Students telling their own stories are the best examples of how Queensborough makes a difference in the lives of our students,” said Dr. Diane B. Call, President of Queensborough Community College. “Our faculty and staff provide our students with opportunities to engage with their studies through our high impact practices, academic competitions, and experiential learning opportunities to keep them in school and earn their college degrees. Our students come from many communities as well as 139 countries speaking 87 different languages, but they all share one commonality—they all believe a college degree will help them achieve a better life for themselves and their families.”

The Honorees are:

Art Gallery Partner of the Year

Mr. Thomas Chen
Founder, President and CEO
Crystal Window and Door Systems, Ltd.

Thomas Chen is a long-time champion of not-for-profit organizations that focus on a wide variety of issues including the arts, culture, and educational outreach. Over the years, his active engagement in the community, and with Queensborough, led him to the QCC Art Gallery. He has been a staunch supporter ever since.

“I am proud to support the establishment of a new permanent collection in Asian art by Professor Wenzhi Zhang, an internationally recognized artist, scholar and author.” In addition to amassing an Asian art collection, the QCC Art Gallery houses an African Art collection, and a Pre-Columbian collection—all of which reflect the diversity of Queensborough's student body.

In 2015 the QCC Art Gallery acquired more than 40 of Professor Wenzhi Zhang's sculptures at the opening of the Metaphysical Thinking on Romantic New Mankind series. Mostly life-sized works, they are an amalgam of human, animal and vegetable forms and are dispersed throughout the QCC Art Gallery's outdoor space. Prior New York exhibits of Professor Zhang include The New Mankind—My Family: Contemporary Ceramics Work in 2005 at Crystal Windows Art Gallery in Flushing, Queens.

“This permanent exhibit is dear to my heart because Asian students make up a full quarter of the student population and the College is close to the Asian community. I too am a resident of this community in Queens and come from Taiwan, so, I feel strongly about the value of learning more about Asian art. I never cease to learn from artists, many of whom continue to inspire many of my business ideas.”

Mr. Thomas Chen is the Founder and President of Crystal Window and Door Systems, Ltd., one of the largest window companies in North America. Crystal Windows features state-of-the-art replacement windows, construction vinyl and aluminum window and door products, as well as high-end fenestration systems. The company, through subsidiaries, has expanded beyond window production into aluminum extrusion and finishing.

The company was started a quarter century ago by the Chen family with a small operation fabricating aluminum windows for the local neighborhood in the borough of Queens. Through hard work and perseverance, Crystal Windows grew dramatically and now is one of the top 40 manufacturers in North America with operations in Queens, NY; Chicago, IL; St. Louis, MO; and Riverside, CA. Today the company does nearly $100 million in sales and employs 350 people.

As with so many immigrants, Mr. Chen did not speak any English when he first came to New York from Taiwan in 1982. He studied English at night and worked hard at several jobs, which allowed him to eventually bring his wife and son, Steve, to the United States.

"Steve and I have worked hard to build a business that has been successful beyond our dreams. Our success has provided us with a way to give back to the community through the cultural and educational foundations we support. I remain committed to the borough that has been my home for so long."

He feels particularly connected to the Queensborough campus community because of its diverse student body. Reflecting the diversity of Queens, the most diverse county in the United States, more than 40% of students are foreign born, representing over 128 countries, and more than 50% speak a language other than English at home.

Mr. Chen noted he has been honored that many Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants looking to launch their own businesses in the community consider him a mentor. In addition to offering professional advice he is often able to provide seed money as an investment for their future.

Mr. Chen has also emerged as a strong supporter for immigrant education. Several years ago, he committed $250,000 to Queensborough Community College to establish a scholarship endowment fund for the Port of Entry program to provide international students and new immigrants with the language skills, knowledge and experience necessary to succeed in higher education and professional careers in the United States. The gift was the largest donation for scholarships in the 43-year history of the college.

Thomas Chen's long-time philosophy of philanthropy and giving back has been demonstrated to his community.

The Chen Family and Crystal Windows employees have donated to charitable and humanitarian causes such as The American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, South Asian Tsunami Relief, and organizations involved with the relief efforts for victims and families of the September 11th World Trade Center attack.

Kupferberg Holocaust Center Partner of the Year

Benjamin L. Schwartz
President and CEO
Metropolitan Property Services, Inc.

Benjamin L. Schwartz is President and CEO of Metropolitan Property Services Inc. (MPS), a full service, multi-family property management firm that spans four generations of real estate experience. MPS' goal is to provide exceptional service so that the property is managed to the owner's expectations with respect to profitability, appearance, and efficient cost/expense. Based in Briarwood, Queens, MPS services multi-family properties in Queens and Long Island.

In 1994, Mr. Schwartz founded MPS. Over the years his job has evolved into overseeing the physicality of the business as well as financial analyses. Prior to launching his own company, Mr. Schwartz served for four years as Director of Building Management at Milbrook Properties Ltd. Prior to that he was Property Manager at A.B.M. Management Corporation from 1988 to 1990.

Mr. Schwartz grew up in Rockland County, New York, and he was first introduced to Queensborough some 20 years ago when he attended a Continuing Education course. During a recent visit to the campus he was struck by the “spectacular architecture” of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) and “felt drawn to it before even entering its doors.” The attraction led to a profound appreciation for what the KHC has provided for the college and the community: “I admire the Center for its powerful way of educating others about the Holocaust and for creating awareness of other genocides around the world.”

Mr. Schwartz was particularly moved by the Centers' historic exhibition, The Jacket from Dachau: One Survivor's Search for Justice, Identity and Home, a major retrospective centered on an intact, authentic Holocaust jacket, discovered at an estate sale in Long Island. “I was amazed to learn that the owner of the jacket once lived in my town of Bellmore.”

Mr. Schwarz's empathy for others was also displayed in 2010 when he helped raise funds for the devastation caused by the massive earthquake in Haiti. He partnered with Jerry Pindus, CEO of U.S. Energy Group and held a fundraiser in support of Habitat for Humanity International's efforts to rebuild homes in Haiti. “Habitat's mission and response in Haiti [was] so crucial,” stated Mr. Schwartz, adding, “The country needs to rebuild and many residents [in New York City] wanted to make a tangible difference.”

Mr. Schwartz is on the Advisory Board of Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a private non-profit 501 (c) that constructs affordable multi-family apartment housing. Mr. Schwartz is also on the Advisory Board of Flushing Bank. He is a member of Project to Cure, Lambda Alpha International (Honorary Society of Land Economics), Registered Apartment Manager – Associated Builders & Owners, Rent Stabilization Association, National Association of Realtors, and Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors.

Mr. Schwartz is a New York State Licensed Real Estate Broker. He graduated from Pace University with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Real Estate and Insurance. He received his Master of Science degree in Real Estate Investment and Development from New York University.

Mr. Schwartz resides with his family in Bellmore, New York. His wife is a graphic designer and their son attends Bellmore High School. Their daughter is a freshman at Tulane University.

Community Partners of the Year

Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Muriel Lum
Professor Emeritus
Queensborough Community College

Mr. Jackson Lum is Professor Emeritus in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology department at Queensborough Community College where he taught for nearly two decades. His wife, Muriel Lum, is a graduate of The City College of New York (CUNY) where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics.

Mrs. Lum immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong with her parents in 1956, under the immigration program, Save Chinese Intellectual Refugees. She explained, “At that time students pursuing an undergraduate degree were required to complete two years of a foreign language, either German or Russian. That requirement was difficult for me because English was already my second language. I carried with me two dictionaries, one for German-English and the other for English-Chinese.In addition, I was a full-time student and had to work in order to afford my books, transportation and other college expenses.”

Muriel and Jackson met through a mutual friend and married in 1964. Mr. Lum began teaching at Queensborough in 1970 and he and Muriel lived across the street from the College. During his tenure, he did consulting work during summer vacation months. In 1982, at the request of Fairchild Industries, he designed a microprocessor-based controller for plastic molding machines. Fairchild Industries asked him to manufacture the controllers which resulted in Logic Controls, founded in 1982 by Mr. Lum and his wife, who worked together to build the company.

Logic Controls was renowned as a leading provider of Point of Sale (POS) system products and PC-based peripherals. Mr. Lum holds 44 patents in display systems and products. They sold the Long Island-based company to Bematech in 2008.

Because Mr. Lum was still teaching full-time at Queensborough Community College, his wife managed the manufacturing of the controller he designed from 1982 until they both retired in 2009.

Mr. and Mrs. Lum have donated a major gift to the Port of Entry Program at Queensborough in honor of Professor Lum's parents. They identify with the struggles that immigrants encounter in terms of learning the language, American culture, and obtaining skills to gain meaningful employment. They strongly believe in the power of education to advance in life and to successfully compete in the workforce.

Mr. and Mrs. Lum have also established the Harry Lum Memorial Endowment at Queensborough, in memory of Jackson's father so that his father's legacy will continue to be remembered by the students of Queensborough. Harry Lum was a chef who specialized in western pastries. He worked in the cafeteria at Queensborough and took special pleasure in preparing and serving desserts to the delight of all who tasted them.

Mr. Lum was appointed Assistant Professor in 1971, and in 1976 earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor. He was promoted to full Professor in 1983, and in 1991 was designated Professor Emeritus.

Mr. Lum holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn. He is also licensed as a Professional Engineer.

Mr. and Mrs. Lum reside in Roslyn, New York. They have four children and seven grandchildren. Their daughter Eva is a graduate of Harvard University; their daughter Elaine has an MBA from Harvard University; their son Jackson Lum, Jr. is a graduate of MIT; and their youngest, Evonne, is a graduate of the University of Michigan. Muriel and Jackson divide their time between San Francisco and Hong Kong as Eva and Elaine both reside in San Francisco, and Jackson Lum, Jr. and Evonne are settled in Hong Kong.

Other distinguished guests included Dr. Felix Matos Rodriguez, President of Queens College; Jay Hershenson, Vice President for Communications and Marketing, Queens College; Dr. Thomas A. Isekenegbe, President of Bronx Community College; Dr. Antonio Perez, President of Borough of Manhattan Community College; and Rita Di Martino, a member of The Board of Trustees, CUNY.

Special recognition was also given to current and former elected officials, including New York State Assembly members David Weprin and Nily Rozic; Councilmember Barry Grodenchik, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and former New York State Senator, the Honorable Frank Padavan.

The annual Partners for Progress Gala is hosted by the Queensborough Community College (QCC) Fund, Inc. The officers of the QCC Fund, Inc., are Chairman Mark Kupferberg, Kepco, Inc.; Vice Chair Charlene Prounis, ʼ76, Flashpoint Medica, who also serves as Chair of the foundation's Edge for Success Campaign; Treasurer Charlotte Biblow, Esq., Farrell Fritz, P.C.; and Secretary Patricia Tiffany, Flushing Bank, who also served as Chair of this year's Gala.

Queensborough Community College, CUNY, is one of the most diverse campuses nationwide, with students coming from 129 different countries, speaking 78 different languages. More than 30 percent speak a language other than English at home.

Queensborough is committed to open-admission access for all learners and to academic excellence. Its academic programs are renowned as are the credentials and research activities of its faculty, of whom nearly 63 percent hold doctoral degrees. Another 17 percent have terminal degrees in such fields as nursing, engineering, and the visual and performing arts.

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