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Turning Obstacles into Opportunity

Raquell CarpenterGrowing up in a low-income community in the Bronx, Raquell Carpenter ’23 says she experienced a mixed bag of educational experiences at her local public schools. “Many educators only taught what was needed to pass the state exams,” she says. “But the teachers who seemed to love what they did often taught the classes that students did phenomenal in.”

Wishing for better, Carpenter realized that she could be the change, one impetus for her double major in mathematics and mathematics education. Although she is considering career fields including accounting, banking and finance, she is clear about one thing: “If I pursue teaching as a career, I will be going back to my community to be a high school math teacher, hoping my passion for what I do helps my students to become the best learners,” she says.

Despite her spotty education, Carpenter excelled. In eighth grade she applied and was accepted into the competitive Jeter Leaders Program, a college-readiness program started by former professional baseball player Derek Jeter that promotes a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle and leadership development throughout the high school years. She had mentors in the program who were Syracuse University students or alumni, which sparked Carpenter’s interest in applying to Syracuse. She was grateful to be accepted into the Student Support Services (SSS) program and receive a financial aid package covering the full cost of tuition.

Carpenter never could have predicted that a pandemic would upend her Syracuse University experience after only one semester, but she encourages her fellow students to “turn unexpected obstacles into steppingstones for achievement.

“Virtual learning is difficult for many of us,” she says. “But it’s our new norm so we have to do whatever we can to adapt. It’s important to do everything you would normally do to get extra help, even if it’s virtual—go to office hours, ask questions, get tutoring.”

Carpenter stays connected to her classmates through “virtual” extracurriculars—she serves as an SSS ambassador, is public relations chair for the Black Reign step team and is the sophomore representative for Many2Come, an organization that supports first-generation students such as herself. This fall, she was accepted into the Our Time Has Come (OTHC) Scholarship Program, receiving the Class of ’74 Endowed Scholarship.

The financial support has made a major difference in her academic success. “Last year, I worked three campus jobs to pay for books and incidental expenses,” Carpenter says. “This year, because of the scholarship, I was able to say no to working and just focus on school.”

She also appreciated becoming part of the community of OTHC scholars and receiving mentorship from alumni. “OTHC has helped me to network with alumni and given me an opportunity to meet more of my peers on campus, helping me to have a family away from home with similar goals and aspirations,” she says.

Despite her make-the-best-of-it attitude, Carpenter looks forward to experiencing “normal” campus life again. What she misses most? Orange After Dark events and evenings at Bird Library with her study group. “Right now, everything is limited due to social distancing,” she says. “But even with the pandemic, I’m still happy to be at Syracuse University.” 

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