Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Senior’s Path to Public Service Influenced by Life Experiences 

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 13, 2016) – Following Sunday’s commencement, University at Albany senior Michele Andre will have officially earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She’s also lined up a full-time position in the New York State Senate.

It was not long ago, however, that college was the last thing on her mind.

Michele Andre
Michele Andre’s passion for public service is fueled by her own personal challenges. (Photo by Carlo de Jesus)

A native of Brooklyn and daughter of Haitian immigrants, Andre tragically lost both her parents at an early age. Her father when she was 12, and her mother at 15. In 2010, she dropped out of high school, and at just 19, was living on her own in Queens.

Though she was making ends meet by working multiple odd-end jobs, Andre aspired for more. She had always envisioned a career in law, or some other type of public service. She knew going back to school was her best option.

“After dropping out of high school, I needed to take some time off to decide what the best decision was for me,” Andre said. “Ultimately, I realized I deserved to be able to follow my dreams, and college was the next step. My parents had raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I was told to never limit myself, no matter what obstacles were in the way.”

Sticking to that mindset, Andre earned her GED, and with the help of financial aid and working two jobs, paid out of pocket to attend Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in 2012. She transferred to UAlbany in Fall 2014.

It was a perfect fit.

Over the last two years, Andre has been working towards her degree at UAlbany, while also earning a paycheck as a student assistant for Project Excel. Through the program, she’s been able to motivate first generation and/or low income students (like herself) to complete their college education. Project Excel offers students a variety of University-wide support services including academic advising, peer mentoring, and career workshops.

Andre is also a member of UAlbany’s College Democrats, and credits the group’s networking opportunities for helping her land an internship, and ultimately a job, in Albany’s New York State Capitol.

This past semester, she was one of 28 students to complete the Senate Session Assistants program, interning under NYS Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. In April, the senator asked her to remain on the staff. Andre is serving as her press secretary.

The journey to success has been long, but rewarding for the 25-year-old. She said attending UAlbany was one of the best decisions of her life.

“There’s no way I would have been given all of these incredible opportunities without the support of my UAlbany family. From advisors, to professors, to my classmates, they’ve all made this an incredible experience.” Andre said. “My advice to other students in similar positions as me is not to be scared. There’s so many people out there who are willing to help you, and guide you in different ways. You have just have to take that first step. Realize you deserve to be happy, and follow your dreams.”

Andre is one of approximately 2,197 students who will be receiving a degree at UAlbany’s undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 15. Learn more about this year’s graduating class here.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany-SUNY offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, businesseducation, public health,health sciences, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare and sociology, taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.