Proud ACE Alumna Gabyola Rojas ’19 Graduates with Dual Degrees in Three and a Half Years

Proud ACE Alumna Gabyola Rojas ’19 Graduates with Dual Degrees in Three and a Half Years

Proud ACE Alumna Gabyola Rojas ’19 Graduates with Dual Degrees in Three and a Half Years

Juggling schoolwork, extracurricular activities, family, and a social life can be difficult for most college students, but with the help of the Accelerate, Complete, Engage (ACE) program, students find the formula to success. Gabyola Rojas ’19 credits the dedicated one-on-one advisement from her ACE advisor as the key to her academic achievements. In three and a half years, she graduated with a 3.639 GPA and earned both a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Management and a master’s degree in Criminal Justice. Now Rojas has her sights set on becoming a police officer with the New York City Police Department. We spoke with Rojas to learn more about her ACE experience, her time at John Jay, her dream of joining the NYPD, and her goals for the future.

“My parents didn’t get to finish school, so I think they see their dreams fulfilled through their kids.” —Gabyola Rojas

Tell us a little about yourself and your upbringing. What was high school like for you?

I was a regular nerdy girl. It was all about school and sports for me. I took Advanced Placement classes and was part of both the cross-country team and the indoor/outdoor track team. As for my upbringing, because my parents came here as immigrants from Guatemala—they are now citizens—they instilled a strong work ethic in my two older brothers and myself. Education is taken seriously in my household. So, I made sure I was always on point when it came to school. They would say to us, “We didn’t come here for you to give up on your dreams. We came here for you to make those dreams come true.” They pushed me to be better and supported me when I wasn’t feeling confident in myself. And, if I was ever overwhelmed or wasn’t sure about something, they quickly sat down and said, “Let’s figure it out together.” My parents didn’t get to finish school, so I think they see their dreams fulfilled through their kids. My brothers both graduated from Queens College, CUNY, and now I’m a graduate of John Jay. So you can say they hit three homes runs.

Gabyola featured the Resplendent Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, on her cap in honor of her parents
Rojas featured the Resplendent Quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, on her cap in honor of her parents.

When you first came to John Jay did you worry about being able to succeed in College? Were there any obstacles you worried about overcoming?

I am a very shy person, so coming here I was worried about not making any friends. Because of that, I took my time getting involved in sports. It actually took me two years to join the John Jay cross country team. But once I was on the team, I fell in love with it and couldn’t wait to go to practice. Being able to balance it all—the team practices, competitions, class, and schoolwork—was a big challenge and at times could be overwhelming. But luckily, I had support here at John Jay from the ACE Program.

Gabyola was part of John Jay’s cross country team
Rojas was part of John Jay’s cross country team.

“Each ACE student gets a personal advisor and that to me is the greatest benefit.” —Gabyola Rojas

Can you describe how ACE helped you not only graduate, but graduate with two degrees—a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree—in just three and a half years?

ACE opens up so many academic and career opportunities for you. The program is designed to help students get their bachelor’s degree in four years. Each ACE student gets a personal advisor and that to me is the greatest benefit. My advisor, Berlyn Morales-Witten, was there for me from day one. I’m a person that likes to plan ahead and she helped plan out my whole college experience. We looked at each semester and what classes I needed to take. And, she made herself available to me whenever I needed advice. When I was considering the BS/MA program, she was the one that guided me through the process. Once I got into the BS/MA program, ACE stepped up again. One of the things that helped me earn both degrees so quickly was the winter/summer course scholarships ACE provides. It allowed me to take an eight-week online course during the summer. ACE really sets you up to succeed. You’re guided and checked on the whole way through. And there’s also the added benefits of early class registrations, a free unlimited monthly MetroCard, and a book voucher each year. So, that takes some of the stress off, and ACE students can focus more on course work and worry less about how they’re going to pay for their commute or books.

“ACE opens up so many academic and career opportunities for you.” —Gabyola Rojas

Now that you have your degrees, what comes next for you?

I’m currently enrolled in the police academy for the next six months to become a police officer in the New York City Police Department. Once I’m done with the academy I’ll be out in the field.

When did you decide you were going to become a police officer?

I’ve always wanted to be a police officer. My mom told me that when I was little I would see people litter on the street and I would say that I wanted to give them a ticket for littering. Then when I was in high school, I got involved in the forensics program and took a forensics class each semester. That’s where I learned how these fields are all connected, and it made the idea of law enforcement even more intriguing to me. A high school teacher of mine saw how passionate I was about the field and suggested I consider John Jay.

If everything goes according to plan, where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

I see myself working my way up the chain of command in the NYPD. I’d like to be in a leadership position someday where I could affect change the most. I feel like I’ve always had this calling to help people. Being at John Jay and since graduation, I’ve come across so many people in my life that either know someone who is, or are themselves, undocumented. I’ve seen the fear and trepidation they feel when they’re interacting with law enforcement, some won’t even go to the doctor or the hospital out of fear. Knowing my parents’ history and their struggle—back when they didn’t have their citizenship—has given me a deep sense of empathy for the undocumented and immigrant community. I want to rise up in the ranks and do something about the relationship that the undocumented community has with the NYPD. I want them to know that the NYPD and its police officers are here to help them regardless of their status.

Gabyola and her family on Commencement Day
Rojas and her family on Commencement Day

“I want to rise up in the ranks and do something about the relationship that the undocumented community has with the NYPD.” —Gabyola Rojas

Do you see your father and mother in some of the people you’ve come across?

Yes. They’ve told me stories about what they went through. Luckily, they arrived in this country at a time when it was easier to get your papers. Sometimes I imagine what their experience would be like if they arrived at a different point in time, like today. How scared they would be. I know that it’s hard for people because not only are you afraid, but you also can’t really communicate because you either don’t speak the language or don’t speak it well. My parents knew no English when they got to the U.S. They had no money. It was incredibly difficult for them to make a living. They did everything they could to give their kids a better life. That’s why I take my education and the opportunities I’m given very seriously, because I know the sacrifices my parents have made for me to be able to chase my dreams. I’m very humbled by their experience and thankful for the opportunities I’ve had.