“Applying was easy – my counselor worked one-on-one with me to transfer previous college credits from Liberia.”
Growing up in Liberia, a country on the West African coast, Gardea Caphart enjoyed sharing meals with lots of meat, chicken, and rice. And when he was a student at Monroe, he was delighted that the food on campus wasn’t much different from home, full of familiar spicy flavors.
“I thought when I came to Monroe, I would be eating a lot of pasta and burgers, but here I am in New Rochelle eating plantains, yams, and jerk pork. It made me feel at home."
Monroe also gave him a taste of American culture through an internship he had through Monroe’s office of Career Services. During his last semester, he was a research assistant for Spike TV and MTV Networks, which has an office in Times Square. “I was so excited for this! I got to see celebrities up close, like Samuel Jackson and Jimmy Walker, who I would watch on TV in Liberia."
Gardea migrated to New York in 2003 in search of a better life. A family friend recommended Monroe because of its commitment to immigrants and first-generation college students from diverse backgrounds. “When I applied, the whole process was easy – my counselor worked one-on-one with me to transfer previous college credits from Liberia.”
Admittedly, it was challenging to settle in and get used to the new American culture, but living in the dorms with a lot of international students helped him to find shared experiences. “Moving into the dorms was a great decision as it helped me establish friendships.”
Always a diligent and exceptional student, Gardea credits Monroe for providing him with a solid foundation for his new life here in America. “I was so conscious about fitting in and being accepted, but everyone was so helpful and understanding that I was able to relax and focus on my studies.” He singles out Professor Michael Altamirano, who came from an immigrant family, as a champion for students from diverse backgrounds.
Gardea earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in business management, graduating in 2005. He then went on to earn his Master of Business Administration cum laude in 2008 from St. John’s University.
Even after college, Gardea felt he was able to turn to Monroe for support. "The transition to the real world was frustrating at first because I wasn’t being called in to interview, and I questioned my abilities. My professors and career counselor boosted my confidence, encouraging me to keep looking and never give up."
And he persevered, eventually becoming the Deputy Director of Administration at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Today, he proudly holds the position of Director of Financial Management for the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.