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Harriet Oomen W'06Harriet Oomen W'06

In 2008, undeterred by the shaky economy at home or the danger of civil war in a developing country, Harriet Oomen W'06, spent four months as a volunteer for microfinance organizations in Sri Lanka. Armed with an M.B.A. from LIU Hudson at Westchester, the Ossining, N.Y., native was determined to make a difference for the people of this struggling country.

"It was incredible to see the small businesses that the local inhabitants were able to start with the help of microfinancing - a home-based sewing enterprise, a fruit and vegetable stand, a small farm and a wood-working venture," Ms. Oomen exclaimed after returning from the tropical island nation. She described how a loan of 15,000 rupees ($140), allowed one family to install a cement tank that captures enough water to see them through the dry season, and how another family with an even smaller sum, expanded its income by purchasing additional papaya plants to cultivate.

Microfinance, the brainchild of Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, provides services that include access to small low-interest loans, with little or no collateral requirements. This revolutionary economic development approach, has grown increasingly popular among the poor in developing countries, especially women, who use the funds to gain self-sufficiency, by launching and managing their own, or collective enterprises. In 2006, Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank, which he founded, received the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing world economic development and stability.

Ms. Oomen, 40, became fascinated with microfinance last year while working as an analyst for MBIA, the Armonk, N.Y.-based international financial services firm. After attending a conference that her employer hosted with Morgan Stanley and the Women's World Banking Organization (WWBO), she decided that this was a chance to use her professional expertise and her education to help other people. She obtained a leave of absence to volunteer for the WWBO, which posted her to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is sorely in need of new business development. Some 20 percent of its nearly 20 million residents are afflicted by poverty and civil conflict rages in its northern and eastern regions. Even in the more peaceful south, where Ms. Oomen worked, bombs exploded several times near her residence in the resort town of Mount Lavinia. "Thankfully, nobody was killed," she noted. Focusing on the opportunities that Sri Lanka provided her, Ms. Oomen described how she spent her time helping to improve management systems and skills at both large and small nonprofit microfinance groups.

"Those four months were incredible. I flexed my professional wings, and at the same time, I gained knowledge from the people who were my clients." Laid off from MBIA at the beginning of 2009, Ms. Oomen's enthusiasm has not been dampened. "I am happy to say that I have several interviews lined up in the microfinance industry, and I am glad that I pursued my dreams," she declared.

"Harriet represents the kind of graduate our program seeks to produce," said Lynn Johnson, director of the fast-track M.B.A. program at LIU Hudson at Westchester which is located in Purchase, N.Y. Confident about Ms. Oomen's future, he added, "She is a dynamic business professional whose skills and vision are valuable anywhere in the world."

Loretta Sinopoli W'04Loretta Sinopoli W'04

For the first six months after graduating from LIU Hudson at Westchester in January 2004 with a master's degree in education, alumna Loretta Sinopoli worked as a leave replacement teacher in Westchester, N.Y. Currently she teaches English at Westhill High School in Stamford, Conn.

"Westhill High School is a great school and working in a large school has its advantages," said Ms. Sinopoli. Initially she had doubts about teaching at Westhill. It took her almost a year to get acclimated to the large community of 2,400 students and 198 faculty members.

Ms. Sinopoli considers herself lucky to be part of an initial co-teaching inclusion model at Westhill because it offers her the opportunity to work with reluctant students as well as those with learning disabilities. The model utilizes the skills of two teachers in one classroom, one who specializes in education and the other who offers expertise in special education.

In her 10th-grade English class, comprised of both special education and regular education students, Ms. Sinopoli and a co-teacher partner to instruct the students in English and provide the support necessary to address each student's individual needs. "In theory, our roles, knowledge and output are interchangeable. I had one student who really struggled with reading and writing. While I instructed the whole class on identifying the main ideas of a story that was being read, the student worked individually with the co-teacher, who wrote down his responses. He was then able to utilize the strategies learned in the classroom to complete his homework assignment," she said.

This past summer, Ms. Sinopoli taught a six-week enrichment class at Westhill to prepare her students, including those in ESL, for the Connecticut Assessment and Proficiency Tests. During the school year, she serves as the 10th-grade book chair, tutors students pro bono, volunteers in the media center each day after school and has started a reading club for a nearby senior center.

Ms. Sinopoli had very positive things to say about her education at LIU Hudson at Westchester, which she considers instrumental in preparing her for the "real world" of teaching. "I believe the professors at the Westchester Graduate Center are the very finest. I have an undergraduate degree from Pace University and a graduate degree in writing from Manhattanville College, but I feel that the quality and value of my education at Westchester soared above all of these. My professors clearly demonstrated the techniques and strategies that I needed to learn and enabled me to effectively teach and reach all learners."

Ms. Sinopoli credits her English professor at LIU Hudson, George Pietarinen, for imparting within her the confidence needed to lead and facilitate a class. "It was his encouragement, expertise and guidance that assured me that being an educator was what I was meant to be. It's because of him that I am proud to say, 'I am a high school English teacher.'"