Marcia Y. Cantarella, PhD

Mar ACT, Inc. (the home of the American College Testing Program)
reports that nationally, only 53% of students who enter college graduate
in 5 years. The majority of those who do not complete are first generation.

Marcia Cantarella is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide which educators, parents and students say is a goldmine of information and strategies especially for first generation, low-income and students of color who struggle to complete college degrees.

Dr. Cantarella has been an Associate Dean at Hunter College,  a Dean at Princeton University and part of the Dean’s staff at New York University’s College of Arts and Science. In these functions she has been responsible for academic advisement, career development, preparation for postgraduate fellowships, development of diversity programs, and strategies to generally enhance students’ academic experience and outcomes. She has drawn on 15 years of corporate experience gained as a Director in Public Affairs and then in Marketing at Avon Products to apply those skills and background to communications challenges, financial and strategic planning in a higher education environment. As Vice-President of Student Affairs at Metropolitan College of NY she was responsible for web development and rebranding of the College as well as admissions and student services. In each of these roles she has also engaged in fundraising and philanthropic activities.

She is also President of Cantarella Consulting, focusing on issues of student success, access and diversity. Consulting projects and clients have included Kingsborough Community College, The One Club, and work on the educational support for the PBS films All the Difference and College Behind Bars. She is the Co-Director of the CUNY Black Male Initiative at Hunter College.

She serves on the boards of Saint Elizabeth University, READ Alliance, DEGREES NYC, Create Change Transform, and the Boy Scout Council of Greater NY.

Having a doctorate in American Studies with a focus on American business she has also taught courses relating to working and consuming in America at Princeton, Hunter College and NYU.

She has been honored by an array of organizations including the Harlem YMCA, the Links, Inc., and  the Congress of Italian American Organizations, the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Foundation, Bryn Mawr College,  and READ Alliance. She has been been published in Vital Speeches.

Dr. Cantarella graduated with Honors from Bryn Mawr College and has her Masters and Doctoral degrees from New York University in American Studies.

The think tank Education Sector reported in 2008 that
“less than half of black college students graduate within 6 years.”

Statement of Educational Philosophy | Marcia Y. Cantarella

Education has always been at the center of my life. I was raised on southern campuses where the educational attainment of African Americans was the emblem of status. My grandparents, parents, aunts and even my late husband’s parents were all college professors for some significant part of their working lives. As a child, I reveled in the library where my Aunt Eleanor was librarian and books are still among my best friends. My philosophy of education was formed by those who taught me. In high school, my American History teacher would make me stand to answer questions because, as he told me a great many years later, he knew I had good things to say but spoke too quietly to be heard. He gave me my voice. In college, my political theory professor embodied intellectual ebullience and his philosophy of participatory democracy was at the core of my doctoral dissertation.

I believe, therefore, that education—indeed lifelong learning—is essential to both personal fulfillment and as a tool for change. I often share with students the story of Pauli Murray, an African American woman born circa 1900, who had full and sequential careers as a teacher, social worker, lawyer and minister over her 80-year life span. Each career led to the next and demanded its own training. Similarly each of my careers has built on the one before, and I believe that it is important for students to understand that changing through knowledge is essential to self-fulfillment over one’s life span. Therefore, the process of education should be enlivening and enriching and even fun. It should be sought and not shunned.

I believe that through education each individual should be encouraged to find his or her own voice. Students should come to better understandings of themselves in multiple contexts. I have often said that every discipline is a different lens on our world and that each person needs to select those that allow them to understand the world better in the way that most plays to their own strengths. Then, bringing the perspectives of that person to the process of inquiry, he or she can add his/her body of understanding and awareness to our store of knowledge.

Education is a tool that in itself unlocks a toolbox. In the classroom, we can learn disciplines and methodologies that become relevant to most of the enterprises in which we will engage. Close reading and analysis, quantitative reasoning, scientific validation, critical thinking and lucid writing are “evergreen” tools. Education viewed in this way then becomes that which I believe is most important: empowering. It should foster participation in the classroom and in life. A popular political cartoon is one in which Osama bin Laden is offered the ultimatum “surrender or we will educate your women.” This speaks volumes about empowerment through education. In our own country’s history, there was a time when teaching Blacks to read was a criminal act. America’s economy is driven by information and to be deprived of access to knowledge is to be disenfranchised at every level. As educators, our job is to make learning accessible, desirable and doable, while at the same time moving students to their own highest levels of attainment.

Ideally, too, our educational institutions can help students to realize the relevance of education by giving it contextual application through real work. Well-structured and assessed internship experiences, the ability to draw on life and work experiences in the classroom, and an understanding of the application of theory to practice, are all increasingly important in an environment where education is perceived as an investment, as much for the expense as for an appreciation of the value of the learning itself. Learning through application has been understood as the key to good teaching, from Thoreau to Dewey and in the present day as Service Learning and other experiential models take hold. In this way, we make learning real and important for the length of a person’s life.