Current Students and Alumni Share What Helped Them Succeed at Montgomery College
This year’s Montgomery College Spring Opening Meeting, held at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus on January 17, featured a panel discussion as part of the College’s welcoming event for faculty. The six-member panel composed of current students, a returning student, and alumni provided insights on how to succeed at MC.
Panelist Joyce Makori ’19, an alumna who earned an associate’s in biological science, arrived minutes before the session because her flight from Kenya was delayed. Determined to be there, she said, “That’s what the College taught me: perseverance and basically defying all odds to achieve what you want to achieve in life.”
College President Jermaine Williams kicked off the hour-long session by asking the current and former students what advice they would give new students at the College.
Try New Things, Enjoy the Learning Environment
After completing her associate’s degree, Maryam Iftikhar ’20 graduated from Hood College in 2022. Her best advice: “Don’t be afraid.” Iftikhar was homeschooled in high school to help with a family situation, and she credits her MC professors for helping her come out of her shell, she said, “by pushing me in the classroom and seeing my potential.”
Victor Ontiveros ’04, who holds a doctorate in reliability engineering from University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), echoed Iftikhar’s sentiments about participation. “Montgomery College is a unique place where so much is available to students,” he said. “The depth of the majors, the comparison of the financials it takes to attend Montgomery College versus larger universities, the benefit of smaller class sizes… the counseling services. … All of that underlying benefit allows you to make mistakes—at very low risk to your future—to try something different and to change your path.”
After receiving his first MC degree, then a bachelor’s from UMD, James Gekas ’05 returned to the College to study cybersecurity. He praised the College’s “welcoming environment, knowledgeable professors, informative curricula, and intelligent and diverse student body.” Gekas is getting his cybersecurity degree fully online. He believes students would be more engaged in online classes if they turned on their cameras.
Early College student Zachary Musimi, who is currently studying computer science at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, cited the College’s diversity as an important part of his academic experience. “You have people from different cultures, first-generation students like myself—and people from everywhere.”
Get Involved in Student Life
Iftikhar, also a first-generation student from an immigrant family, participated in clubs on campus. “I think those opportunities really opened doors for me.”
Musimi joined the Student Senate and the Student Activities Board this year at the behest of Kimberly Jones, student life director on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus. “I got very involved on campus. Being able to create change and being able to make the campus more lively… by setting up events makes you more a part of the College—and the community.”
Participate in Honors Programs
Ontiveros said, “As an engineering student, [Montgomery Scholars program] forced me to do far more writing and far more speaking than my peers, so when I transferred… I was far ahead,” he said, noting Montgomery Scholars complete an independent research project and presentation they can submit to conferences. “When I got to my senior project [at UMD], many of my peers were not experienced with that.” That experience provided the impetus for him to get a graduate degree.
Iftikhar, a Renaissance Scholar added, “A lot of the opportunities I found for professional development or academic development applying to conferences and presenting research were through the Renaissance Scholars program. These skills that we were able to build up at MC exceed expectations… of that community college label, ” she said.
Avail Yourself of Campus Resources
Early College student Amene Eressa’s advice: “Take advantage of MC’s wonderful resources, for example, ATPA [Achieving the Promise Academy] coaching. If you’re falling back in class … they’ll help you with whatever you’re struggling with and keep you on track and help you succeed.”
The panelists agreed on the importance of the academic support centers on campus. Musimi said, “I’d emphasize scheduling appointments with the Mathematics and Science Learning Centers. They’re pretty much always open, so you can always walk in and get help from students and faculty.”
Makori said, “We speak English in Kenya, but writing was not my stronghold, so finding the writing center [Writing, Reading, and Language Center] was crucial.” She also praised the Career Center. “With the help of the Career Center, I was able to get my resume together.”
“The Career Center is actually where I properly learned to interview,” said Nicanor Aquino ’05, who finished with an associate’s degree and a certificate in biotechnology. “They help you brush up your resume and do a mock interview, if needed.”
Regarding support, Makori encouraged Dr. Williams to bring back students and alumni on a regular basis to share their experiences—and how valuable these sessions would be for future students. She wrapped up the session by saying, “Montgomery College is the place to be and can prepare you to be the best you can be.”
More About the Panelists
Nicanor Aquino ’05 is an operations support manager at Millipore Sigma in Gaithersburg. At night, he is a faculty member at the College’s Biotechnology Boot Camp at the Germantown Campus.
Amene Eressa studies biological science at the Takoma Park/Silver Campus. The Paint Branch High School student hopes to attend UMD. His future goal is to attend medical school and get his “dream job,” which is to be an orthopedic surgeon.
James Gekas ’05 plans to graduate in spring 2023.
Maryam Iftikhar ’20 is the communications director for the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.
Joyce Makori ’19 received a full scholarship to UMD, where she earned a bachelor’s in biochemistry. This summer, she will begin a physician assistant program at Kaiser Permanente’s Tyson School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
Zachary Musimi studies computer science at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus. The Blake High School student wants to attend UMD to earn a degree in computer science and become a software engineer.
Victor Ontiveros ’04 is a consulting engineer at Jensen Hughes, a fire protection engineering firm in Baltimore.