Our Student Leaders
Students are at the heart of the Center for Diversity and Social Justice. They are the peer mentors, Hitchner Fellows, Theresa Palmer inductees and culturally diverse faces and voices that bring our organization to life. Take a minute to get to know a few of them and you’ll understand the role that CDSJ plays at Susquehanna.
- Dontrell Cornelius
- Whitney Frederic
- Victor Hardges
- Chibueze Onwunaka
- Carmen Ortez
- Christopher Rodriquez
Jesika Bethea ‘14
Bayonne, N.J. | Saint Anthony High School
Major: Public Relations
Minor: Business Administration
Clubs/activities: Black Student Union, Sigma Gamma Rho, CDSJ peer mentor, CDSJ Student Employee, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Order of Omega, Lambda Pi Eta, Carl Hitchner Fellowship Recipient
Post graduation plans: Attend graduate school to study public administration or non-profit management
Main reason for choosing Susquehanna: There’s a one-on-one connection with faculty that you just can’t find at other universities.
Most influential staff or faculty connection: During my freshman year, Ms. Armenta Hinton from the Center for Diversity and Social Justice (CDSJ) saw I was having trouble adjusting to all the challenges of college life. She helped me get organized and connected me to a peer mentor. Over the years she has been a tremendous resource! Also, my advisor and Communications professor, Beverly Romberger, has been amazing. Her door is always open, and I just love talking with her. She and Professor Randall Hines have really helped me focus on my career goals.
Why peer mentoring is important: New students don’t always know where to go for help, or how to reach out to professors. My mentor helped me learn how to navigate campus and now I’m passing on my experiences to my mentees. We’re constantly in touch – texting, emailing or meeting in person – and that connection makes students comfortable so they’re able to succeed, both academically and socially. It must work because people who are in the mentoring program tend to stick with it!
How CDSJ helped me get involved with something new: I had the opportunity to help coordinate events for our annual Activist in Residence program. There were four different events spread over a week. I helped to build awareness among students and faculty and arrange the schedule for our guest Activist, Irene Monroe. Along the way we all were inspired by her view of social justice!
What people might not know about CDSJ: This office is all about building community! It’s a great place to hang out because a lot of different students from different backgrounds and different majors come together and find common interests. It’s a great fit for me because some day I’d like to work in community development and make improvements in urban areas.
Words to live by: Time management is really important. I live by a planner!
Dontrell Cornelius '16
Chicago, Il. | Holy Trinity High School
Major: Neuroscience and Spanish (self-designed)
Minor: Public Relations
Clubs/activities: Student Conduct Board, Student Alumni Board, Phi Beta Sigma, Student Advisor for Department of Biology, CDSJ peer mentor
Post graduation plans: Medical school
What CDSJ offered me: At first I was looking for diversity on campus so I started hanging out in the CDSJ office. Then I realized that there was so much more going on here. Ms. Armenta and Ms. Salerno worked hard to cultivate my interests and helped me get involved with things that mattered to me.
How peer mentoring is helping me become a leader: When you’re a peer mentor you learn to look at things from different perspectives. You’ve got to make a good connection right from the start and be willing to listen. Sometimes you know what’s right for your mentee, but you have to help them arrive at the same conclusion.
Faculty members who gave me new opportunities: There are so many! My faculty advisor from the Department of Biology, Dr. Erin Keen Rhinehart, was instrumental in helping me design my unique major and has been supportive of my choices. Ms. Scott, the University’s Chief Diversity Officer, promoted my understanding of the importance of diversity in our world by giving me the opportunity to attend a national Diversity Conference in Ohio. And Olajiwon McCadney from Residence Life inspired me to be more outgoing and get involved in fraternity life. He’s been like a big brother to me!
What does CDSJ offer international students: CDSJ plays a huge role in helping international students assimilate into American life in general and college life at Susquehanna in particular. They offer a weeklong orientation for international students during the summer and provide peer mentors to help with the transition throughout the year.
Who should connect with CDSJ: There’s something for everyone here. You don’t have to be a minority student. Anyone can come in to this office and talk and find a welcoming environment.
What’s unique about Susquehanna: You can find a family here! I never got homesick because I quickly learned that there are people here who care, and they show it every day.
Whitney Frederic '16
Coatsville, Pa. | Coatsville Area Senior High School
Clubs/activities: Colleges Against Cancer, Theresa Palmer Society, SU Gospel Choir, SU Fashion Club, CDSJ peer mentor
Post graduation plans: Medical school
How I connected with CDSJ: I was accepted to Susquehanna as a Bio-STEM scholar, and attended a summer program before my freshman year. I signed up for peer mentoring at that time because I wanted someone to help me make the transition to college life. I had no idea my mentor would become such a valuable friend and resource! I’m not one to sign up for every club or organization that comes along, but I am now committed to CDSJ because it is an organization that does a lot of good.
Why did I become a peer mentor: I wanted to help someone like my mentor helped me. My mentor was always checking in on me, asking me about my classes or if I was getting enough sleep! He gave me a lot of support but also helped me solve problems. When I was taking two tough courses at the same time – Biology and Chemistry – he helped me find a Chemistry tutor. As a result, I was able to do well in both courses.
What do you learn from mentoring others: You learn to interact with other people, to hear different perspectives and understand people better. It makes you put yourself out there and you grow as a person.
Why am I proud of being inducted into the Theresa Palmer Society: This organization fosters my personal growth and self-esteem. I’m learning how to be a role model and how to be a leader in other aspects of my life.
What’s your favorite thing about Susquehanna: You really can take on leadership roles if you want to. During my freshman year, I became involved with the Colleges Against Cancer club’s Relay for Life. A friend and I thought of an additional way to raise money. We suggested selling cupcakes before Valentine’s Day. We had to get permission from the University’s food service vendor, arrange to buy the cupcakes and sell them for a profit. It was a big success!
What’s so great about CDSJ: You can talk to someone if you want to, about anything that’s on your mind. There’s always someone there to listen and to help.
Victor Hardges '16
Chicago, Il. | Gordon Technical High School
Clubs/activities: Black Student Union, Phi Beta Sigma, CDSJ peer mentor
Post graduation plans: Work in radio or television
Why CDSJ is right for me: I like interacting with all kinds of people and CDSJ is the place where you can do that. It’s like a family. You can go into the office and just talk about your day. We all keep in touch and take care of each other.
Why I wanted to be a peer mentor: I know what it felt like to be hours from home and not know anyone. My mentor helped me get off to a great start my freshman year, and that made a huge difference for me. It was nice to get to know someone that I might not have met otherwise.
The best advise my mentor gave me: Stay focused and continue doing good work!
What is the most satisfying part of mentoring international students: It’s tough enough for American students to get used to college life. The international students have even more challenges. As an international mentor, I help students get used to doing things our way, adjust to our schedule, get over language barriers and learn how to handle social situations. You quickly discover how much you have in common. It’s a lot of fun!
One cool thing about Susquehanna: It gives you a reality check. I came out of my environment, which was a big city, and was a little nervous at first. Now I love having my world revolve around my studies and my activities – and the fact that I can see the stars at night!
What faculty or staff member has influenced me the most: I was lucky to have Dean Phil Winger as my Perspectives teacher my freshman year. He said his door was always open, and I’ve taken advantage of that many times. I go to him when I’m stuck. Also Ms. Armenta from CDSJ has been like a mom to me! She is always there when I need someone to listen.
What CDSJ offers all students: It’s more than just a center for resources. It’s like home – a place where you can relax and be yourself, or ask for help if you need it.
Chibueze Onwunaka '15
Union, N.J. | Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory High School, Kingston, Pa.
Major: Environmental Marketing (self-designed)
Clubs/activities: Presidential Fellow, Support U, Phi Beta Sigma, Homecoming Committee, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, CDSJ peer mentor
Post graduation plans: Graduate school first, then eventually start a carbon-neutral energy business
The most satisfying thing about being a peer mentor: I like watching my mentees grow. I’m a pretty competitive person, so I push my mentees hard. I want them to make the Dean’s list and get the highest grades possible. I have seen their communications and networking skills improve, and I’ve watched them step out of their comfort zones and try new things. It’s cool because they seem happier when they have the confidence to succeed.
How does peer mentoring enhance my leadership skills: Being a peer mentor makes me a role model. Younger students look up to me now. I have to lead, but I also have to listen. When I’m talking to my mentee, it’s important for me to take a step back and not be judgmental. I had to learn how to adjust to different people and different situations and to be more patient.
What have I done at Susquehanna that makes me proud: I’m the president and founder of Support U, a new organization that creates a stronger community by supporting each other in all of our activities. We try to build support for everything from athletic events to theatrical performances, service projects and campus issues. Our motto is “Disregard the Differences and Accept the Unique!” Not surprisingly, Support U has a philosophy much like CDSJ.
The best thing about CDSJ: Mrs. Hinton and Ms. Salerno are like family! When you have good news, they’re ecstatic. When you have news that’s not so good, they care enough to listen and help you figure out what you can do to make it better.
Advice to future peer mentors: Ask your mentee what you can do to help make them a better student.
Carmen Ortez '14
Elizabeth, N.J. | Linden High School
Clubs/activities: Black Student Union, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Sustained Dialogue, SU Charity: Water, Hearts for Homeless, SupportU, peer mentor at the Global Opportunities Office, CDSJ peer mentor
Post graduation plans: Mentor, advise or counsel underprivileged kids.
How I got interested in CDSJ: I ventured into the office during my junior year because my friends were hanging out there. Mrs. Hinton talked to me about the different services, and how CDSJ was there to help everyone adapt to their unique situations. I really liked that idea, and started to get involved.
What most people don’t know about CDSJ: There’s a misconception that CDSJ is just for minority students. The fact is, CDSJ is open to anyone who wants to connect with other students, and anyone who wants to talk to someone who really cares.
How does CDSJ build leadership skills: I participated in ROTC in high school, so I believe I had a good foundation for leadership. But CDSJ is helping me to round out my leadership skills through the peer mentoring program. I have to reach out to mentees if I want to help them be more successful. I have to be open and thoughtful to their needs. I’m learning that what’s right for one might not be right for someone else.
Was I trained to be a peer mentor: Absolutely! We learn about different aspects of mentoring, like how to engage our mentees and how help them follow the path that’s best for them. We also discuss cultural and gender sensitivities so we can understand different perspectives.
How did my GO experience change me: I spent a semester in Costa Rica, where I tutored and helped kids learn English. It was so inspiring! Study abroad not only gives you opportunities to expand your networks, but it helps you see where you fit in this big wide world.
What’s the best thing about Susquehanna: You have options! For a school our size, that’s very unusual. Here you design your own major if you want. You have opportunities to participate in a variety of clubs and activities and everyone is really involved. All of these things help you become the best version of yourself.
Christopher Rodriquez '15
Englewood, N.J. | Dwight-Englewood School
Major: Creative Writing
Clubs/activities: SU Slam Poetry Club, RiverCraft Literary Magazine, CDSJ peer mentor
Post graduation plans: Graduate school before pursuing a career as a novelist or short-story writer
Why I connected with CDSJ: I wanted a job on campus that meant something. Mrs. Richards from the Admissions office introduced me to Ms. Hinton at the beginning of my sophomore year. They were literally standing in front of my house! Mrs. Hinton was so welcoming. I connected with her right away.
The most rewarding part of being a peer mentor: It’s amazing to see students change over time and start to come into their own. I feel I learn something from each of them as well. As I share my experiences – and hopefully give them a little advice – I affirm my own choices and what I’ve learned.
What I want my mentees to know: They can trust me. It’s natural for new students to be skeptical of peer mentors, but we’re not here to talk down to them. We’re here to share what we know and offer support. I’ve found that eventually we become friends, and then my job is just to be a guidepost.
What does it mean to be a leader: As a leader, you don’t need to have complete control. There’s a lot of give and take.
What all students should know about CDSJ: This office will point you towards the opportunities that will make you a better student, whether it’s developing stronger study habits or using the resources of places like the Center for Academic Achievement or the Writing Center. It will also help you better enjoy your time here.
What surprised me most about Susquehanna: This place is so people-driven! The aspect of community makes it easy for you to feel at home and develop into your own person, both academically and socially.