- by Mount Saint Mary College
: Senior Bryanna Blanks of Yonkers, N.Y., a Criminology major, looks forward to graduation while reflecting on her time at Mount Saint Mary College.

 Nearly four years ago, first-year student Bryanna Blanks of Yonkers, N.Y., excitedly hugged her roommate as they moved into Sakac Hall at Mount Saint Mary College.

In just a few weeks, Blanks, a Criminology major, will graduate from the Mount. The time, she said, has flown by.

On that warm August Sunday in 2019, Blanks said the Mount’s culture of service goes hand in hand with her career goals: “I love working with children and I love helping people.”

Four years later, that sentiment still rings true for the dedicated student, whose ultimate goal is to become a mental health counselor or a therapist.

“Mental health is something that has a lot of stigmas,” Blanks explained. “People need to know there are advocates out there who want to get them help. I want to support those people who might not know where to go or what to say to get the help they need.”

For the last two years, Blanks has tackled internships where she works with children with disabilities, special needs, and mental health challenges.

“It’s allowed me to get a handle on working with those different populations,” she said.

Perhaps the most fulfilling has been her recent internship at Green Chimneys in New Windsor, N.Y., a nonprofit that provides residential, educational, clinical, and recreational services for young people. There, among other tasks, Blanks helped one of her students pass his English Language Arts exam.

“Helping him and seeing his excitement on that journey was very encouraging,” she said. “He’s excited for those test grades he’s getting back. It shows that my knowledge from the Mount can be put into practice. It’s something I can enact and influence people with.”

Then-freshman Bryanna Blanks of Yonkers, N.Y. (left) hugs her roommate as they moved into Mount Saint Mary College's Sakac Hall on Sunday, August 25, 2019.

But there were times when her path wasn’t as clear to her, Blanks explained. For example, COVID-19 emerged at the end of her freshman year. There were times as a sophomore, mid-pandemic, where she no longer wanted to go to class – or even outside her residence hall.

Enter Jenifer Lee-Gonyea, assistant vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Chief Diversity Officer at the Mount. At that time, Lee-Gonyea was a professor of Criminology at the college and one of Blanks’s teachers.

Lee-Gonyea “Zoomed in and said, ‘You need to go outside. You need to do this. I’m here for you and you have us as a support system,’” Blanks recalled. “She cares about me outside of the classroom. As a person, she sees me. And that’s made the biggest difference for me during my college career.”

With her friends, family, and professors at her side, Blanks would rally. As the pandemic wore on, she would become president of the Mount’s Black Student Union; vice president of the Mount's chapter of Psi Chi, the Psychology honor society; a member of the college’s DEI Committee; a Senior Resident Assistant; a Dean’s List student; and more.

As the sun sets on her Mount career, Blanks looks forward to new challenges as she seeks master’s degrees in Social Work and Criminal Justice at SUNY Albany. But it’s also a time of reflection for the scholar.

“You make a family here at the Mount,” she said. “You have a group of people who grow with you and see you develop, and they’re proud of you. I’m going to miss that atmosphere of knowing everybody around me.”

For Blanks, that sense of community is one thing that has remained a constant. As she arranged her things in her new room at Sakac Hall the day before classes began in 2019, she discussed why she decided to attend classes at the Mount in the first place: “I felt at home here the minute I came,” Blanks revealed.

And four years later, on the precipice of graduation, “I’m still at home,” she said.


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