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Sum Of Helping Hands: Paying It Forward From Virginia To MC’s Math And Science Students

Eduardo Cedillos Reyes has loved mathematics ever since he was a child. Growing up in San Miguel, El Salvador, he was a conscientious student who earned many academic achievements. Now 19, Eduardo is attending Montgomery College with plans of pursuing a B.A. in mathematics from the University of Maryland, and then a Ph.D. in discrete mathematics. The only problem? Money. His parents have helped him with tuition, but they cannot afford to cover all the necessities including the textbooks and technology he needs.

Enter Marcia Koski Finnerty ’73 and Mike Finnerty.

Marcia Koski Finnerty ’73 and Mike Finnerty with their student

“We just want the letters,” Marcia said, referring to the letters that scholarship recipients write to their donors.

Mike could not agree more. “Their letters¾full of their personal struggles, hopes for their future, and gratitude provide the absolute best encouragement for us to continue supporting Montgomery College,” he said.

I am the first in my family to attend college… This scholarship is a gift that will forever change my life… Since becoming a student at MC, I have finally achieved my dream…

Excerpts like these are all the Finnertys need to know they are making, what they consider to be, a “small” difference in these students’ lives.

But small hardly seems the right word when you take into account the story of Keissy Alfaro, recipient of the newly established Marcia Koski Sullivan-Finnerty ACES Pathway Champions Scholarship, worth $50,000.

“Basically, without the scholarship they have given me, college would not be a possibility,” said Alfaro. A first-generation DACA student, Alfaro says she has always been passionate about her studies and knew from a young age that she wanted to become a teacher.

“With this scholarship, I have been able to live out my dreams,” she says. “It has always been just me and mom, so being able to go to school without having to worry her about expenses is truly a blessing. I am forever grateful.”

You hope that once these kids are in a position to give back, that they’ll do that. All you can do is hope they’ll pay it forward

What Alfaro and other donor recipients might not know is that their benefactor relates to their financial struggles. Marcia recalls the difficulty of studying and worrying about finances:

“I had no money, and I didn’t have a lot of options available to me,” she said. Marcia received no financial assistance from her family or outside loans. “I always had in the back of my mind that if I ever was in a position where I could financially assist other students and help relieve them of the burden of perhaps not having to work a few extra shifts around final exam time, perhaps that small effort might save a student’s sanity and health.”

MC student Keissy Alfaro

The Finnertys are both Virginia residents. Marcia attended MC in the 1970s, then earned a B.S. from the University of Maryland, and an M.S. from Johns Hopkins. She served as an adjunct professor for 12 years at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Her husband, Mike, earned his B.S. from Notre Dame and his M.S. from Rutgers. For 10 years, the couple has supported more than 24 students like Eduardo through their current and endowed Koski-Finnerty Math/Science Scholarships.

Both Marcia and Mike are staunch proponents of community colleges (both of their sons attended community college in Virginia). They believe those two years can be critical determinants of the future, especially for those students whose high school experiences were less than ideal.

“I chose to study math and science [at Montgomery College], but my math skills were lacking…big time!” laughed Marcia. She credits her professor, Carla Oviatt, for her academic successes at MC and later as she continued to earn credentials. “She was the best teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life—in any area of study!”

Later in life, when Marcia taught Environmental Studies and Marine Biology at Marymount University, she tried to mirror Oviatt’s teaching methods.

The Finnertys are also motivated to support community college students because they know endowments are not as readily available at community colleges as they are at private institutions; they believe students shift loyalty from their community college when they go off to these larger universities that are able to offer more financial support.

“Don’t forget Montgomery College!” Marcia urges. “You hope that once these kids are in a position to give back, that they’ll do that. All you can do is hope they’ll pay it forward.”

It seems hopeful that they will based on this excerpt from one scholarship recipient’s letter: “I promise to work hard so that I can give back to the community one day…

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