CUNY Office of Special Programs staff

At The City University of New York, we cherish the freedom of students to express their views, consistent with the protections provided by the First Amendment. Student freedom in this regard is an essential attribute of a great University where the independent search for truth is held in the highest esteem.  With such freedom, however, comes an abiding responsibility. This responsibility includes respect for the rights of other‎s inside and out of CUNY and for the University’s obligation to maintain a safe environment for all members of its community.

Students should also be cognizant of the efforts of a few to distract attention from important issues in higher education like learning, access and quality by invoking discriminatory language reeking of thinly veiled bigotry, prejudice, anti-semitism or other behavior inconsistent with our educational mission. We can help assure such recognition by the high premium we place on dialogue and discussion at CUNY and by the expression of our own views while respecting the rights of those we may disagree with. At the end of the day, CUNY will retain its status as a great institution of higher education where valuable knowledge is both transmitted  and created and our sense of community is affirmed and strengthened.

— Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

OSP Staff Biographies

A long time social justice and diversity advocate, Mavis Hall works as University Director of the Office of Special Programs here at the City University of New York (CUNY) after serving as the Chief Diversity Officer for Queensborough Community College.   Previously a Student Affairs professional in CUNY Central Office, she assisted with the management of the University Disability Services Programs designed to empower and support students with disabilities as they worked towards achieving their academic goals.  Her commitment and dedication to serving students is reflected in how she assists the scholars and leaders in the Percy Ellis Sutton Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK) and College Discovery (CD) Programs and United Leaders of CUNY (ULC) with their development as leaders, and supports the services provided by the programs.

By developing and maintaining external partnerships, Mavis has helped establish and leverage available opportunities for students to transition into the workforce.  She served as a co-chair of the Disability Mentoring Day Recruitment Committees with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and assisted with the coordination of the participation of students with disabilities in the Federal Workforce Recruitment Program.  Her efforts connected students to opportunities to help build awareness of the contributions people with disabilities can make to assist businesses in achieving their goals.  She is intentional in being a part of the supportive community (“village”) that it takes to assist students in achieving their success.

A founding member and former chair of the NYC Business Leadership Network, Mavis has also worked in Corporate Compliance and Diversity, E-recruitment, Affirmative Action, and Equal Employment Opportunity.  She has served on the Business Advisory Council of Abilities Inc. / National Business and Disability Council (NBDC), the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA), the International Center for the Disabled and the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded MIND Alliance Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program at Hunter College.

Mavis has earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Economics from SUNY College at Oneonta; an M.B.A. in Computer Information Systems from Baruch College; and an ILR Certificate in Human Resources from Cornell University.  She has demonstrated her commitment to education and student development through her various roles including more than 14 years in higher education, 12 in human resources and 8 in student support services.  Mavis has been commended for her community service by community organizations, including being conferred the woman of the year award by the National Association of University Women for her work mentoring youth and providing resources and events to inform and promote education.   Mavis continues working with community groups to address some of the current social justice concerns of our time.

Contact Mavis:


Phone: (646) 664-8765

Office of Special Programs staffmember Frances Kingston

Frances Kingston is the Finance Specialist for the Office of Special Programs at the City University of New York. She strategically plan and implement practices, policies, and initiatives to recruit students in alignment with the SEEK/CD mission and objectives.  Prior to assuming this role, she worked as the Assistant to the University Dean of Special Programs. As the Dean’s assistant, she   provided support to all programs within the Dean’s portfolio. These programs included TRIO, Single Stop, and SEEK/ CD (Search for Education Elevation and Knowledge & College Discovery).

Before joining CUNY, Ms. Kingston worked in various administrative roles, which provided support for executive positions in non-profit and private sectors.  She is a community organizer and youth advocate in the Liberian Community of Staten Island.   She serves on the Board of Trustees for the Play for Peace Foundation, CDC Kids N Teens, and the Garnett Foundation Inc.  Through these platforms, she has been able to support the development of several projects.

During the 2010 U.S. Census, Ms. Kingston led the Census 2010 effort in the Staten Island Liberian Community through the PUSH for Partnership grant. Ms. Kingston organized the Liberian community leaders in Staten Island to address the common misperceptions, myths and questions about census and to assist immigrants fill up the survey.  The Black Entertainment Television (BET) featured her in the TV special Be Counted: Black America and the 2010 Census” for her efforts.

Ms. Kingston is a proud New Yorker who understands the cultural complexities of New York City.  She brings knowledge and understanding to the Office of Special Programs because of her extensive back in administering its many programs over the years. She received her Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Contact Frances:


Phone: (646) 664-8761

Office of Special Programs staffmember Shirley de Peña

Shirley de Peña, LCSW, joined the City University of New York (CUNY) in November 2015 as the Director of Youth Matter, a new foster youth college success initiative within CUNY. Youth Matter is a program designed to support foster youth in the opportunity programs at CUNY to succeed by providing targeted services that increase retention and graduation rates. As the Youth Matter Director, Ms. de Peña works with students individually and in small group settings to ensure they are receiving the appropriate support they need to be successful in college and in life. Prior to working at CUNY, Ms. de Peña spent 14 years at the Jewish Board, working first as a social worker and then as an administrative supervisor in the Preventive Services Division for 9 years and ending her tenure as the Internship Coordinator and Master Trainer in the Martha K. Selig Educational Institute at the Jewish Board. As the Internship Coordinator, she was passionate in her approach to holistically develop students and provide support in negotiating their professional development. Ms. de Peña managed JBFCS’ Bicultural Institute, an educational support program for the agency’s social work interns of color. Ms. de Peña has dedicated herself to a life of voluntary professional service both within the Jewish Board and within the community at large.  Ms. de Peña was one of the Jewish Board’s most visible leaders in its mission of Anti-Racist Policy and Practice. Ms. de Peña combines her passion for anti-racist activism with her commitment to child welfare in her ongoing work to examine and end racial disproportionality in New York’s child welfare system. Ms. de Peña has provided consultation and training to the NYC Administration for Children Services (ACS) and other large social service agencies on matters of race and the Latino experience. She also provides training and consultation on the following topics; Social work licensure prep, understanding the impact of race and culture on clinical & case work practice, and race relations in the work place. Ms. de Peña is a member of the Women of Color collective, an affiliate of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Ms. de Peña is also an organizational consultant and holds teaching posts as an adjunct professor at Silver School of Social Work and Silberman School of Social Work. Ms. de Peña is a Doctoral Candidate in Social Welfare at Yeshiva University.

Contact Shirley:


Phone: (646) 664-8786

Office of Special Programs staffmember Shawn Best

Shawn Best is the Associate Director of the Black Male Initiative at the City University of New York. Best previously served as the Project Coordinator for the Black Male Initiative at Hunter College from January 2012 until September 2014. He comes to the Central Office with experience working in Residence Life, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Athletics and Admissions.

Best received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Vermont in May, 2000. He received his Master of Arts degree in Higher Education Administration from New York University in May, 2004. Best’s passions lie in helping college students experience holistic success and receive mentorship. In particular, Best’s journey to his current career was paved with mentorship from some of the top African American male college administrators in the country including Douglas Samuels and Allen McFarlane. At New York University, Best worked with Allen McFarlane to co-found ‘Brothers For Success’, a student affairs support program for primarily black male students, that was funded by the New York Times. Read Less

Best also enjoys performing as a musician in and around New York City as well as personal training, writing and speaking at colleges around the country to inspire staff, faculty and students to ‘Be Your Best’ through his company, Best Solutions NYC. With over 14 years of higher education experience, Shawn is an excellent communicator and creative problem solver with a unique skill of finding the best solutions to organizational problems. Once deployed, Best has an assertive commitment to follow through on implementation and accountability. With nationally recognized leadership skills by the Association of College Personnel Administrators (ACPA) as the Northeast Regional Chair of the Housing Committee, he works well within diverse communities that embrace positive change. Best began his doctoral degree in Organization Leadership at Northeastern University with plans to graduate in 2018. You can reach Best at:

Contact Shawn:


Phone: (646) 664-8851

Office of Special Programs staffmember Arlenis Perez

Arlenis Perez is the Program Assistant for Youth Matter, a Foster Care Success Initiative within the CUNY Office of Special Programs.  As the Youth Matter Program Assistant, Ms. Perez handles administrative duties to ensure that students receive the services that Youth Matter offers. Ms. Perez is a CUNY Baruch College SEEK Alumn and graduated with a B.A in psychology. She was involved in many different organizations on campus, including President of ASEDOM (Dominican Student Association) where she hosted several different events on the culture and current issues. Ms. Perez was also co-chair for the 10th Annual National Dominican Student Conference hosted in CUNY, a three day conference where students from around the nation and different backgrounds come together to speak upon issues in the Dominican Republic as well as getting in touch with the Dominican culture.

Contact Arlenis:


Phone: (646) 664-8823

Office of Special Programs staffmember Akilah Bryan

Akilah Bryan is the Program Assistant for the Office of Special Programs.  As the program assistant, Ms. Bryan supports with the day-to-day program activities and provides administrative aid to the University Associate Dean of the Office of Special Programs.

Akilah graduated from the University of North Florida in 2014 with Bachelors of Science in Communication and is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Studies in Branding and Integrated Communications at the City College of New York.

Contact Akilah:


Phone: 646-664-8767

Office of Special Projects staffmember Staff Ramon Garcia

Ramon Garcia graduated from Baruch College with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and is an alumnus of the SEEK opportunity program as well as the Urban Male Leadership Academy (UMLA) Scholars program. Ramon serves as the Research Assistant for the Office of Special Programs (OSP) in CUNY Student Affairs. He is responsible for acquiring quantitative and qualitative data via surveys and focus groups that serves to inform SEEK and College Discovery Directors on student’s program satisfaction and various learning outcomes. Among his tasks at OSP is chairing the Assessment Committee, where he leads monthly discussions on universal assessment procedures across SEEK/CD programs at 17 CUNY campuses. Occasionally, he facilitates workshops for the Student Leadership Academy (SLA), hosted by OSP, on topics such as, racism, sexism and microaggressions, giving students a safe platform to share their stories.
Additionally, Ramon volunteers as co-facilitator for UMLA’s monthly Saturday workshops. Topics include institutional racism, masculinity, and managing healthy relationships. He also works as a research assistant in the Lab of Perception at Baruch College under Dr. Tatiana Emmanouil’s supervision. His research focuses on the visual system’s ability to acquire a statistical summary of a group of similar objects, particularly facial trustworthiness and dominance. He aims to attend graduate school to study counseling psychology with a focus on race and health disparities.

Contact Ramon:


Phone: 646-664-8762

Office of Special Programs staffmember Julio Rodriguez

A proud SEEK and Urban Male Leadership Academy (UMLA) alumnus, Julio Rodriguez graduated from Baruch College earning his Bachelor’s in Marketing Management and joined the Office of Special Programs team in 2017. Julio comes to OSP from HCM financial services and brings his experience and learnings to the field of higher education. At OSP, Julio creates, designs, and edits the Office of Special Programs’ SOAR Newsletter and manages the CUNY Office of Special Program’s website. The SOAR Newsletter showcases events that inform faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders on SEEK & CD news while highlighting students’ success and achievements across CUNY SEEK/CD programs and post-graduation.

With a background in marketing and HR, Julio previously facilitated summer courses in marketing management and financial literacy for college freshmen and high school seniors at Baruch College. While at OSP, Julio facilitated several workshops on intersectionality, privilege, and the power of words to QCC CD students. He also delivered a talk titled The Interview Process during the 2017 Student Leadership Academy Post conference, giving students a philosophical perspective on the process of landing a job and sharing insight for variant stages of applying and obtaining an onsite interview.

Contact Julio:


Phone: 646-664-8758

Office of Special Programs staffmember Adriana Bertram

Adriana Bertram is a Research Specialist with the Office of Special Programs. In this role, she supports analytical and institutional planning efforts by conducting studies of post-secondary educational outcomes focusing on OSP programs.   Prior to CUNY, Adriana worked at the New York City Housing Authority as a Senior FP&A developing financial models and analyzing trends in expenses. During her time at NYCHA, she assisted in the implementation of several initiatives, including a $15M pilot program that created cleaner outdoor space for residents.


Adriana received her Master of Science degree in Statistics from CUNY Baruch College.

Contact Adriana:


Phone: 646-664-8114

Office of Special Programs staffmember Starla Braswell

Starla Braswell is currently the Coordinator of Student Leadership and Development. Serving CUNY in various positions for over 10 years, Starla transitioned into this function from the CD Scholars Project Director role. Starla is teamwork-oriented, performs well under pressure, and continues to welcome new challenges. She also has a consistent record of achievement in establishing and cultivating productive relationships with staff and students.

Starla has designed and managed a student database, curated project data, and analyzed results while monitoring a project budget of over 1 million dollars. She actively supports the achievements of the program learning objectives as identified by the Office of Special programs. Starla also established working relationships with SEEK/CD directors and campus liaisons to provide administrative support and to assist with the planning for the Student Leadership Academy.

Starla Braswell graduated from New York City College of Technology In 2012 with a B.A in Human Services.

Contact Starla:


Phone: 646-664-8766