Galway City native Seamus Scanlon is the librarian at the Center for Worker Education.
By Irish Echo Staff
City College Downtown is located in the landmark Cunard Building in Lower Manhattan at the Center for Worker Education (CWE). CWE was founded in 1981 as a partnership of labor unions and City College to provide college degree programs to working adults who were unable to attend traditional daytime college classes. Thirty-eight years later CWE still holds classes in the evenings and Saturdays to accommodate students of all stripes who cannot attend day time classes. Other innovations include 4-credit classes; one-on-one advising; a 12 credit (cost free) Life Experience Program; an 8-credit (cost free) Autobiography Program; a library; writing center; computer laboratory; student counsellor; office of student affairs and many other advantages that makes the Center for Worker Education one of the best performing colleges across the City University of New York network. The Center is also rated #1 in Early Childhood Education in New York state (and # 13 in the USA).
The Center was established by, among others, two forceful and far sighted Irish Americans, Ed Quinn of City College (father of the comedian Colin Quinn) and Joe McDermott of the Teamsters Union. Both were strong advocates for organized labor and knew that a college education was a means for their largely blue collar members to progress economically, intellectually and culturally. Most colleges offered classes during the day which excluded workers (and others) because they were not free. Quinn and McDermott launched a campaign to rectify this major obstacle.
There was a strong ethos in each wave of Irish immigrant communities (and others) that education was an essential means to prosper in a harsh economic and social environment. The Irish have an additional affiliation with education because of the history of repression of their culture and language. They fought back by establishing hedge schools – the flying column equivalent of education classes. The Island of Saints and Scholars label for Ireland also has a strong resonance in the folk memory, although dates back a while.
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The first ad hoc classes took place in the Teamsters Union Hall on 14th Street taught by professors from the uptown campus of City College. Shortly afterwards a Center for Worker Education was established at 99 Hudson St. and came under the academic and administrative wing of City College. Its current location is in the Cunard Building where many Irish bought transatlantic tickets for family members to emigrate from Ireland to join them. The building’s facade has the emblems for all the major ports of the world including Queenstown (now Cobh) from where most Irish emigrants sailed.
At the Center for Worker Education the average student age is 30 years (and range from 23 to 75), so this learning environment appeals to adult learners. Like many of the Center’s faculty, students are first-generation college goers and/or recent immigrants. Some are returning to education after their college attendance was disrupted for various reasons. Then there are those who never attended college. Because of the makeup of this student population, CWE has a unique one-on-one advising service that guides students in detail through the application process and continues as they pursue their degrees.
Apart from City College degree programs, CWE hosts a variety of significant cultural and academic conferences. This week, for example the Americas Film Festival of New York is in full swing (www.TAFFNY.com). The annual Human Rights Conference is in March organized by Patai Fellow, Dr. Danielle Zach, whose research is focused on post-conflict reconciliation especially in Northern Ireland. This summer she is traveling to Belfast to conduct more research.
Each year, students at the Center for Worker Education compete for $20,000 in awards and scholarships. An Irish student, Leonie Bonner from Derry, won this year’s Patai Award and also graduated in May. She commented “The list of colleges in New York seemed endless and it was difficult to find one that worked for me – one that offered my program and that worked with my weekly schedule. Then I found CWE with its evening classes. It is perfect for the working adult. The professors understand that most of us have full-time jobs, some with young families and busy lives and they offer us additional support or advice. I would definitely recommend CWE to a future student!”
The librarian at CWE is Galway-born Seamus Scanlon whose creative work is focused on Northern Ireland (“The McGowan Trilogy”). “I am the first person in my family to attend college so I feel a great kinship with CWE students,” Scanlon said. “Our adult students make a lot of sacrifices to make their degree goals a reality. It is impressive what they overcome to do this.”
“Finish Your Degree at CWE” is not just a slogan. It is a reality. In May 2019, 175 students graduated from the Center for Worker Education, 91 with Latin honors. The next admissions workshop is this Thursday, June 27, at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Visit www.ccny.cuny/cwe for more details about the Center and its degree programs.