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Bergen Community College News

Bergen, PepsiCo and Million Women Mentors Partner

PepsiCo Commercialization Director Gwen Darling helped kick-off the next mentorship cohort at Bergen.

PARAMUS, N.J. – Research has shown that young women who receive mentorship not only have a higher percentage of college success and completion, but become 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions at their employers. To propel its students to these outcomes, Bergen Community College has developed a partnership with PepsiCo’s Women-in-STEM mentoring program – coordinated through the Million Women Mentors initiative – that provides students enrolled at the institution with mentors from the multinational food, snack and beverage corporation.

“Bergen Community College is the only educational institution in New Jersey to partner with PepsiCo’s Women-in-STEM mentoring program,” Barbara Abolafia, Bergen’s career explorations coordinator of the Pathway Scholars Program, a federally funded grant program, said. “This program provides incalculable opportunities for our female science majors to meet role models, broaden their horizons and envision how their majors are utilized in the real world.”

The initiative began at Bergen in February 2018 and has since helped provide mentorship for 15 students, who shadow their mentors at PepsiCo’s research and development facility in Westchester, New York. Students also meet with their mentor via phone, email, text, FaceTime and Skype twice per month for one year. Trained through Million Women Mentors, an initiative to spur female empowerment in business, mentors offer counsel, reinforcement, constructive feedback and encouragement to students by covering topics such as confidence building, goal setting and networking.

The latest group of student mentees features Danbee (Sarah) Chae, of Old Tappan; Alexandra Cortez, of Hasbrouck Heights; Hadeel Darweesh, of Hasbrouck Heights; Mina Echreshzadeh, of Wood Ridge; Sara Hernandez, of Passaic; Melissa Jara, of Elmwood Park; Haidy Mohamed, of Hasbrouck Heights; Caitlin Mooney, of Ordaell; and Lea So, of Garfield. Students met their PepsiCo mentors for the first time at a kickoff event at the College this month.

According to Gwen Darling, a PepsiCo commercialization director, the mentors themselves gain fulfillment from the program as well; many have returned as participants for consecutive years.

“We have positive testimonials about the impact on both the lives of students and mentors,” she said. “We hope to continue the partnership with Bergen into the future.”

The first cohort of mentees – Adelajda Turku, of Elmwood Park; Lindsey Njanja, of Lodi; Ramya El-Saleh, of Dumont; Riya Caudhary, of Upper Saddle River; Erin Moran, of Kearny; and Doreta Biba, of Leonia – has already found significant success. Four of the six mentees became Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship semifinalists and one, Njanja, earned the prestigious $40,000 per year scholarship. Other notable accomplishments a National Institute of Health internship, a NJ Governor’s STEM Scholarship and a Hackensack Meridian Summer Physician Shadow Internship.

“Being part of the PepsiCo mentorship program was an amazing experience,” Moran, who took part in the first cohort, said. “I was the first person in my family to attend college, so I didn’t have someone to go to when I had questions about college or being a woman in STEM. If it wasn’t for my mentor, Ana, I would not only have dropped out of STEM, but I would have dropped out of college.” Moran has since completed the PepsiCo mentorship program, graduated from Bergen and transferred to the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

STEM remains a focus area for the College, as it has secured numerous grants to enhance its offerings. More than 2,000 students take advantage of programs such as engineering science, computer science and biology while completing research projects in- and outside the classroom. Projects have included converting a softball field house into a workshop, high-altitude balloon launches, retrofitting a gas combustion truck and motorcycle into electric vehicles and conducting experimental testing with wind turbines and solar panels. The College opened the $1 million STEM Student Research Center last year.

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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