When high school senior Katie Castrianni interned in 2019 at a community health outreach program at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, she had no idea how timely the experience would be.
“We surveyed community members about their access to housing, food and medical services,” said Castrianni, an Albert Shanker Scholarship Award recipient who is graduating from Fort Hamilton HS in Brooklyn.
Well ahead of the coronavirus crisis, the survey revealed how education and a good job have immense implications for health care and susceptibility to disease.
“It’s important to recognize income disparity is a large factor in our lives and health care,” she said. “It relates to everything.”
Castrianni is one of more than 180 city public high school students and graduate students to win Shanker scholarships from the UFT this year. She will use the $5,000 award when she studies nursing at the College for Health Professions at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York.
“The Shanker scholarships are another demonstration of our members’ deep commitment to their students,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
The union-funded awards each year provide almost $1 million to academically excellent and financially eligible city public high school seniors and graduate students. Since 1969, the program has awarded more than $50 million in scholarships.
Although the annual celebration at UFT headquarters was canceled because of the pandemic, scholars, counselors and teachers shared their classroom experiences — and the inspiration they found in each other.
Castrianni credited Niki Maratos, her junior year Advanced Placement English teacher, with helping her hone her writing skills, apply for the internship and more. “Everything in class was not just about academics, but building us up as people,” she said.
Castrianni always focused “on learning and interacting with her peers and the teacher,” Maratos said. “And she always wanted to interact with the materials with an eye toward making the world a better place.”
Honoree Sameh Abdellal will study civil engineering at the City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering. He said his physics teacher at Curtis HS on Staten Island, Alia Jackson, “helped me understand civil engineering and I got interested in it as a career.” She also helped him brush up his writing skills.
“Anytime I presented an opportunity for an internship or program, he was interested in every one, even after school and on weekends, sacrificing his personal time,” Jackson said. “That speaks to his character.”
Nigel Hector is considering a major in English or economics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island. “My long-term goal is to study law,” he said. John Parkinson, Hector’s counselor at Grover Cleveland HS in Ridgewood, Queens, helped him with the college application process and “pushed me to go for something greater. I think he saw in me a spirit of determination, and he helped me to do more,” Hector said.
“Nigel is highly intelligent, with a tremendous thirst for knowledge,” Parkinson said. “He’s so beloved by fellow students. Everyone is rooting for him.”
Gabriella Fernando plans to study ethnicity, race and migration at Yale University in Connecticut. “I really like this major,” she said. “You can examine the issues from a policy, history and education perspective.”
Jessica Arkin, her counselor at the HS for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, encouraged Gabriella to reach for the Ivy League. “She always had high expectations for me, even in my junior year,” Fernando said.
“Sometimes students don’t see how amazing they are,” said Arkin. “Gabriella has an excellent intellect and writing skills. She needs to be in a thought-provoking environment.”
Zulnorain Ahmed is looking forward to studying computer science and neuroscience, including artificial intelligence, at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
Jessica Cordero, his school counselor at the HS of Computers and Technology in the Bronx, said Ahmed, who built his own computer and keyboard, is “a go-getter who is interested in many things.”
“I’ve been at my school for 13 years, and he’s one of the best students I’ve worked with,” she said. “He’s extremely mature, an all-around great kid and a leader.”
Ahmed said Cordero made the process of applying for colleges and scholarships easy, proofing his essays and much more. “She was always encouraging me and my friends,” he said. But he also cherishes the easy-going moments.
“We had a lot of laughs in the counselor’s office,” he said. “She was such a blast to be around. She lightened the mood.”