Seizing opportunities to succeed in academia

Seizing opportunities to succeed in academia

Communication Studies major immigrates to U.S., graduates with honors in three years, and is off to graduate school.

Marianela Nunez gave up a lot—her beloved grandmother, her large extended family, her close-knit community—when she got married and moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic four years ago.

But what she gained—a college education and opportunities to pursue her dream of becoming a professor—trumps all that she left behind, she says emphatically.

On May 11, Nunez, 24, will accept her bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Rowan University’s College of Communication. In the fall, she’ll head to graduate school at Villanova University, which has awarded her a Presidential Graduate Fellowship to fund her master’s level work in communication.

The fellowship includes full tuition remission and an annual stipend. It’s the next step in her ultimate goal of obtaining her doctorate and becoming a college professor and scholar in communication studies.

In less than four years in the United States, Nunez has been able to perfect her already strong English speaking skills, earn a four-year degree in three years by taking six classes each semester, and graduate from Rowan, summa cum laude, with a grade point average of 3.92.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” Nunez says of her journey to Commencement. “You just need to find them, to talk to the right people.”

Nunez began her quest for her degree at Rowan University at Camden, where, less than a month after she came to America as a 19-year-old newlywed, she enrolled in the Intensive English Language Program (IELP). She didn’t want to waste a single minute en route to earning her degree.

“When I married my husband, I told him, ‘I am going to school right away in America,’” says Nunez, who pursued a minor in Romance Languages and Spanish and a concentration in international studies at Rowan.

“I love the educational opportunities available in America,” she continues. “It was hard for me to leave my circle of friends in the Dominican Republic. But I love school. I want to get my doctorate and do something special with my degrees. I want to be a college professor.”


Nunez gains inspiration from the support of her grandmother, Mariana Bisono, who raised her. Bisono, now 86, had only a third-grade education, but impressed upon her granddaughter that reading was the key to success. Nunez is thrilled that Bisono has made the trek from her Caribbean homeland to attend Commencement and see her in her cap and gown adorned with honor cords.

“She made sure I was a good reader,” Nunez says, of her grandmother, whom she describes as “very spiritual, sweet, and strong. She used to make me read the Bible to her. It was very good for me.”

Not surprisingly, Nunez has grabbed an armful of Rowan awards. A dean’s list honoree throughout her academic career, she received the EOF Outstanding Achievement Award and the EOF Outstanding Academic Achievement Award, which she accepted three consecutive years.

She is a member of Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication studies honor society, and has served as a mentor and intern for Rowan at Camden’s Upward Bound for English Language Learners program, which provides support and guidance to students wishing to pursue degrees in higher education.

A gifted, thoughtful communicator, Nunez will be a natural teacher, says Rowan Communication Studies Professor Joy Cypher, who received the University’s Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award this semester.

“Marianela has made education a priority in her life. She is one of the hardest working students I’ve ever seen and she has maturity about the consequentiality of her education. She’s going to get everything she can out of it,” Cypher says.

“The graduate program at Villanova will be very good for her. It will push her intellectually. It will give her a lot of intellectual depth.”

Communication studies truly is a fascinating field, says Nunez.

“I enjoy learning about interpersonal communication, gender issues and communication, and organizational communication,” she says. “We talk a lot about culture in my field and I can draw upon my own experiences.”