CRANFORD – Union County College graduate Maria Botinelly, a Union resident, came to the United States from Brazil in 2006 on what was initially a short vacation for a change of pace. After a visit to New York City, and spending some time with friends during that short trip, she changed her plans and started taking English classes. Now, six years later she is going to be a college graduate and will be continuing her education at Columbia University.
Botinelly initially enrolled at Union for ESL classes since she spoke very little English when she arrived. She found herself doing volunteer work at the United Nations, translating letters using her native language of Portuguese. Through this experience she learned of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and determined that her dream job would be to work for this organization. The commission does work that reminds her of an experience she had in Brazil while she was in high school. There she worked to help relocate people to other communities when a water damn was being built in their community. Working with the people and helping them to re-establish themselves brought her great satisfaction and her hope is to build a career working in the same capacity.
At Union, Botinelly’s major is liberal arts. However, at Columbia University she will be majoring in political science and plans to minor in business. She plans to get involved in college life at Columbia, just as she was at Union. Botinelly was an active member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges, and served as a distinguished member, secretary, and in the past academic year, was the regional vice president. She was also a member of the Business Club, History Club, and her ultimate passion was writing for the College’s student newspaper, The Scroll.
Botinelly has no family in the U.S., except for one uncle who lives in Philadelphia. For Botinelly, her “family” has become the friends she has made at Union, and a group of professors who have guided her through the years. She specifically notes Prof. Phil Martin, advisor to The Scroll, along with Dr. Valerie Hurley, Dr. Mandana Ahsani, Prof. Karen Schmidt, and Prof. Sherry Heidary. She is hopeful that at Columbia she will also be able to establish mentor relationships with professors as well.
In addition to being a full-time student, Botinelly works as a full-time babysitter for two boys, ages 13 and 10. She has been working for the same family for 6 years and has enjoyed watching them grow. She admits it can be difficult some days to balance work and school, but having achieved her dream of attending Columbia, she knows it is worth all the sacrifices she has made to achieve this dream.