The Brooklyn College Vanguard

ISSO Gets Grant, Helps Students Digitally

Jesus Perez (second from left) cutting the ribbon for the Immigrant Student Success Office in Dec. 2019./ @BklynCollege411 on

  BC’s Immigrant Student Success Office (ISSO), having celebrated its one year anniversary in the beginning of September, continues to grow even in remote form. 

  The office, which connects immigrant and first generation students to resources like financial and legal aid, faculty mentorship, and more, now operate completely online, offering phone services, online lectures, and workshops.

  “It was a very organic plan,” ISSO Director Jesus Perez said of the weeks following the school’s shutdown due to the pandemic. “The first thing was to make sure the students were okay.”

  Perez and his staff spent most of April and May contacting students to check up on them. With many students caring for family members or out of work themselves, financial need quickly became apparent. Many immigrant students were not eligible for the CARES Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund released by the government in March. Criteria for receiving the CARES fund included U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen status.

  ISSO contacted BC’s administration with a grant request and in July the Robin Hood Foundation, an outreach organization based in NYC, donated a $150,000 grant to the office. The deadline to apply for the grant passed last Wednesday. 

  “300 students were given $500,” Perez told the Vanguard. 

  Perez and his staff regularly communicated with applicants over the summer and contacted awarded students to personally tell them the good news.

  “They were just really grateful that someone would take the time to reach out to them,” said Ana Bartolome, ISSO’s program coordinator. “It’s so much more than the $500. I said to every single student when I talked to them, after I told them they were receiving $500, ‘Pay it forward. Help someone else. Let’s make this be a community of support.’ ”

  ISSO is already drawing plans for another grant.

  “We are currently working on sending back a report to our funder, and, at the same time, working on a proposal to receive additional funds,” Perez said.

  Over the summer and into the strange fall semester, ISSO has been more active online than ever. ISSO and BC’s Personal Counseling office offer group sessions on Zoom every Wednesday from 3-4pm. The office also sends out a monthly newsletter. On Tuesday, the office’s faculty mentor, American Studies Professor Jocelyn Wills, hosted a Zoom conversation on how to navigate college. ISSO is also holding an info session this Thursday, from 12:15-1:15pm.

  The office’s social media pages, @issobc on Instagram and Twitter, are run by Bartolome and are mostly responsible for disseminating information regarding events and resources. Student volunteers recently put together a video that shared testimonies about the office’s provisions.

  “I’m very fortunate that the office came about when it did,” said Perez. “Having administration, having faculty, and students involved really facilitates the operation.”

  Perez remains optimistic about the office’s future.

  “My hope for the office is that we become a staple of the college,” he said.