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NewsJun 3, 2021

Looking to Lesley for a bright future

Lesley University and Urban College of Boston partnership celebrates first graduates

compilation of first Urban College cohort to graduate from Lesley
Michelle Wilson (left), Yoselin Taveras Garcia (center), Yenny Castillo (top right) and Chrislene Francois (bottom right) are the first cohort of graduates through Lesley's Urban College of Boston partnership. 

The 2021 Commencement season marked a milestone for our bachelor’s degree completion partnership with Urban College of Boston as the education alliance graduated its first cohort of students.

Four students who came to Lesley from Urban College — Yenny Castillo, Chrislene Francois, Yoselin Taveras Garcia and Michelle Wilson — earned their bachelor’s degrees from Lesley this spring, having begun their studies at the private community college on Boston’s Boylston Street and taking Lesley classes there.

The partnership ensures that courses taken at Urban College fully apply toward completion of a Lesley bachelor's degree in two specific pathways — Early Childhood Studies and Liberal Studies. Students also have the option of completing a Certificate in Child Homelessness.

Michelle Wilson in graduation gown
Having worked in daycare centers and schools for 17 years, Michelle Wilson is applying to Boston schools for a first-grade teacher's job.

Wilson, a lifelong resident of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was one such student, though she had worked in early childhood education in some form for 17 years.

“Being a teacher is my passion. The joy I have when I see the children learn and move to the next grade, oh boy, what a great feeling,” Wilson says, adding that the Lesley-Urban College partnership has made it possible for her to pursue her professional goal of becoming a first-grade teacher.

“I always wanted to go back to school for my bachelor’s,” says Wilson, who majored in Early Childhood Studies and earned a certificate in Child Homelessness. “I was just at the right place at the right time, and I am so grateful for Lesley to bring their professors to Urban College of Boston.”

Yenny Castillo standing
Yenny Castillo credits her peers and Associate Professor Amy Gooden with helping her on her education journey, which she hopes to continue while working directly with children and families.

That “home campus” comfort was part of the appeal for Castillo, who hails from the Dominican Republic and now lives in Dedham, Massachusetts.

“I am a native Spanish speaker and I had never attended school in America before,” Castillo says, adding that, as an adult student, she felt supported by the Urban College staff as she decided to complete her bachelor’s degree at Lesley.

“I wanted to continue my education, and Lesley was a great fit for me because of the program they offered, and also I was taking classes at the Urban College location. That was super convenient for me,” says Castillo, whose degree is in Early Childhood Studies and Child Homelessness.

Like Castillo, Garcia found out about Lesley via a college fair at Urban College. A New York City transplant, she chose the school partly because of its convenient, centrally located site.

“I wanted to continue studying in Urban College with Lesley University because I felt comfortable and confident with people that helped and supported me through my college journey,” Garcia says, singling out Jennine Tambio, director of community college partnerships and advising, for praise and gratitude.

“Jennine Tambio helped in everything. For example, class schedule, counseling, etc.,” says Garcia, also an Early Childhood/Child Homelessness major.

Graduation image of Yoselin Taveras Garcia
Yoselin Taveras Garcia is preparing for the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) and plans to become a special needs educator.

Tambio gives the credit to the students, themselves.

“The students taking advantage of this pathway are highly skilled and dedicated educators and change-makers,” Tambio says. “They care deeply about anti-bias education and ensuring all students are included and celebrated in their classrooms. Our Lesley @ Urban students, especially with their earned bachelor's degrees in hand, will make a lasting and transformational impact on the lives of so many young children and families.”

Garcia also had another chief source of support, however.

“A student named Chrislene Francois, who gave me advice and the strength to not give up on my dream to become a teacher.”

Chrislene Francois in mortarboard
Chrislene Francois is the 2021 Luke Baldwin Award winner for her leadership. She works with children with disabilities at the William E. Carter School in Boston.

Francois, whose degree is in Liberal Studies but minored in Child Homelessness, and who won the university’s Luke Baldwin Award for leadership, acknowledged that she was a motivator for the other students. Born and raised in Boston, now a resident of Mattapan, Francois attended Catholic schools as a child and thought she might want to study theology. However, after enrolling in a Christian college outside of Boston, she became disenchanted at what she perceived as a lack of support from their faculty and staff.

She left there and enrolled briefly in the state university system and tried culinary school, but nothing seemed to click until she began taking human development classes at Urban College, a nurturing environment that eventually directed her to Lesley.

“I always wanted to go to Lesley, but I thought it was far-fetched,” Francois says, since she didn’t have the resources. But then a chance encounter with Urban College President Michael Taylor opened her eyes to the possibilities. It happened to be the day Lesley was on the Urban College campus.

“He said, ‘Chrislene, you’re the perfect person for Lesley,’” Francois says, adding that Tambio and advisor Farrah Bruny Brown, assistant director of community college partnerships, confirmed her best hopes.

“Is it possible to have more than one fairy godmother?” Francois says with a laugh. Their support convinced her that she should spread the word to her Urban College peers. “Jennine didn’t even ask me to recruit — I told each person, ‘You’re going to Lesley!’”

The four came and, on May 22, they graduated.