Berkeley Today Stories
Higher Education Opens Door Out of Poverty for Berkeley College Alumnus
When Richard Jean-Baptiste spoke about the power of a college education to high school students and their families during a Scholarship reception at Berkeley College in White Plains, he was speaking from personal experience. For Mr. Jean-Baptiste, a college degree provided a way out of poverty.
As a child growing up in New York City, Mr. Jean-Baptiste shared a one-bedroom apartment with extended family members in a high crime neighborhood.
“My mother had undergone several brain surgeries and was raising her family on disability income with the help of my grandmother. We had just enough to eat and it was difficult to do extra things,” Mr. Jean-Baptiste said. “I didn’t want my future to be like this, and I knew at a young age that the key to my success would be a college education.”
As the Berkeley College alumnus congratulated the scholarship recipients, he reflected on how lucky they were to have the support of their families in the pursuit of a college degree. His own experience was very different. During and after his high school years, Mr. Jean-Baptiste had to put his dream of attending college on hold while he worked to help support his family.
“I had no choice – my mother needed my help. I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find a way to go to college while working full-time,” said Mr. Jean-Baptiste, whose long-term goal is to found an organization dedicated to helping people rise above poverty.
Eventually, he did find his way to Berkeley College and enrolled in weekend and evening courses at the Midtown Manhattan location. He was eager to take on a full course load, but listened to the counselors who advised him to slowly ease into the college experience. Mr. Jean-Baptiste graduated from Berkeley College with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration – Management in 2006. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration with honors from Long Island University in 2011.
Mr. Jean-Baptiste told the scholarship recipients that a college education allowed him to apply for challenging positions. He has gained valuable work experience in a variety of roles including an intake manager at DB Grant Associates Inc., in New York City, a data coordinator at New York Legal Assistance Group and in his current role as an analyst for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Mr. Jean-Baptiste’s advice to new college students is to seek out mentors who can offer support and encouragement when studying becomes overwhelming. This is especially important, he said, for first-generation students and for those balancing work and college.
“Despite my passion for an education, deep down inside I was still the kid from a poor neighborhood, and part of me felt that I didn’t deserve a college education,” Mr. Jean-Baptiste said of his undergraduate experience. “I didn’t know my true potential until I got to Berkeley College and my advisers and professors told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. They believed in me and that was very motivating.”