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Berkeley College students – including two recent NJBIA Rising Star Award winners – shared the challenges and triumphs of their academic journeys with New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges, Ph.D., during his recent visit to the Woodland Park campus.

“The event was an amazing opportunity to tell my college story,” said Gabrielle Peralta, a Marine Corps veteran and Berkeley College graduate who is now pursuing an MBA at the college. “The Secretary was very interested in all of our stories and asked us great questions.”

Peralta was honored by NJBIA in 2020 with a Rising Star Award, which recognizes future business leaders who are standouts at New Jersey colleges and universities because of their academic work, leadership and community involvement.

Once Peralta graduates with her MBA, she plans to be a small business owner, operating her own line of bakery trucks.  Berkeley College will honor Peralta as Student of the Year at the College’s commencement.

Angeline Gill, a 2021 NJBIA Rising Star Award winner, was also among the small group of students who spoke with Bridges about how Berkeley College is supporting their academic and career goals. The group included military veterans, first-generation college students and non-traditional adult learners.

“It’s always great to interact with students and see the promise of college play out,” Bridges said. “The Berkeley College students I met today reminded me that it’s so important to meet students where they are, regardless of life circumstances. Thank you … for being contributors to the New Jersey higher ed ecosystem.”

Nancy Crucita Villanueva, a Berkeley College student pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Legal Studies, said Berkeley College’s online courses gave her the flexibility to balance her work in the community, her career, and her responsibilities to her family of seven.

“I discussed the challenges I faced and how I overcame them to continue to pursue my college education, such as balancing my home life, career and challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Villanueva. After she completes her degree later this year, Villanueva plans to attend law school and fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming an attorney.

Student Nallely Inoa, who will complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design later this year, said the conversation with Bridges was enlightening because it included a discussion of the future of higher education in a post-COVID world.

“I felt heard, and I was extremely grateful and honored to be a part of this opportunity,” said Inoa, who will serve as Student Speaker at the College’s Commencement ceremony on May 13.

Katherine Fernandez, who will graduate in the fall with a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies, said Bridges’ story of his own graduation day made a profound impact on her.

“His story resonated so much with me because as an adult student returning to school after 10 years, I am looking forward to graduation so much,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez, who returned to college after a decade working in the tech industry, will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Legal Studies this fall and plans to attend law school afterward.

Berkeley College, founded in 1931, is a career-focused institution accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that offers students master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees and certificate programs in more than 20 career fields.  U.S. News & World Report has named Berkeley College among the Best Colleges for Online Bachelor’s Programs and among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans, for nine consecutive years.