Teresita Wisell, associate dean and director of Westchester Community College’s Gateway Center, works to make education accessible to everyone on the Valhalla campus, including immigrants.“
Efforts at the Gateway Center revolve around education and training that will help immigrants contribute to the advancement of the county and to the social fabric of the county,” Wisell said. “It seems only fitting at this point when there are over 25 percent in Westchester County who are foreign born.”
This new 70,000 square foot structure was designed by Ennead Architects, a nationally renowned firm. It is the first county-owned “green” building and it includes state-of-the-art labs and classrooms.
Wisell said creating the Gateway Center was an extension of the college’s mission. “Since the college opened in 1946, it has been very much focused on access to higher education for everybody who is motivated and driven to advance themselves,” she said.
According to Wisell, the Gateway Center understands the special needs immigrant students have. The college’s English Language Institute provides English as a second language (ESL) programs for more than 4,000 students each year. Classes are provided at the Center, as well as public libraries and community-based organizations throughout Westchester County. Some of the ESL programs are specialized to work on language for health care or entrepreneurship.“
The Gateway Center now offers citizenship and civics preparation resources,” said Wisell. “The program was started in the summer in response to community-based leaders expressing their needs. In addition, the Gateway houses the Professional Development Center which offers programs that help employers train their workforce.”
An immigrant from Cuba, Wisell said her family came to the United States in the early 1960s. “My Dad often tells us as children that they came here with nothing but their education,” she said. “It was really education that enabled my parents to integrate.”
Wisell lives in White Plains with her husband, John, and three children. She served as director of admissions at Westchester Community College for 14 years before becoming head of The Gateway Center.
The college is also the home of a national consortium for immigrant education (CCCIE). “We house that organization because Dr. Joseph Hankin, our president, is committed to leading nationally,” she said. “It allows us to reflect outward some of the work we are doing locally.”