Her father told her not to go after her dreams, but she did not listen. Today, Johana Bajana is on top of the world as she embarks on another semester of studies as a master’s student. In late March, she returned to her alma mater, Hostos Community College, to reflect on her path to success, challenges, and future goals.
“My father never believed in education for women, and I studied thanks to my mother, who worked washing clothes to cover the expenses of my books and uniforms, and who constantly went against my father’s wishes,” said Johana. 
Johana arrived in New York on June 24, 2011, and focused on acquiring an education, which she believes is the key to transforming lives. However, the Hostos alumna had to endure several obstacles.
The Journey
Johana first came to Hostos via the no-cost programs offered by the Continuing Education and Workforce Development (CEWD) division, where she took her General Education Development (GED) preparation class. Due to her math difficulty, Johana had to take the test twice before moving on to the next step: apply for college. Unfortunately, she did not pass her Hostos admission exam due to language barriers. CEWD helped her again by recommending Johana to participate in the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP), which offers an intensive pre-matriculation course for ESL students to improve their academic English skills before taking college classes. 
At this point, a special person, John Bajana, her 2-year-old son, joined her. She enrolled him in the Hostos Children’s Center, a much-needed help while she pursued her language studies. “I cannot recommend the Children’s Center enough. They are top-notch professionals who work hard to educate your kids. My son had never enjoyed such a well-rounded education ever since.” 

Johana’s youngest son graduated from Hostos Children’s Center in 2018. / Photo by Johana Bajana.
Having finished CLIP, Johana passed her admissions exam and began her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts thanks to the support of CUNY Start. This innovative CUNY program helps students prepare for college-level coursework and proficiency milestones needed for credit-bearing courses. After Start’s guidance, she needed financial aid to pay for her studies. CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) came to the rescue with its comprehensive program to support associate-degree students by offering financial resources, personal advisement, and tutoring, among other tools. 
Despite everything, Johana graduated with honors from Hostos with a 3.9 GPA, made the Dean’s list, and received the Scholastic Achievement and Academic Excellence awards. 
She is the perfect example of a student that maximizes the opportunities that Hostos and CUNY offer. In addition to benefitting from CLIP, Start, and ASAP, during her time at the College, she was also part of the Phi Theta Kapa Honor Society and actively participated in the Student Leadership Academy. She transferred to Lehman College and graduated with a Bachelor's in Business Administration in Spring 2022. Now Johana is in her second semester as a graduate student at Baruch, pursuing a Master's in Business Administration at one of the most prestigious and affordable business schools in the nation. 
“This has not been an easy path, but education is a perfect way to make your dreams come true. Just like toning your body at the gym, working toward a degree is about acquiring the intellectual strength and stamina to be whoever you want to be, even beyond your expectations,” added Johana while walking across the bridge to pose for photos with her well-earned diplomas under her arm.
Johana poses with her Hostos diploma on the iconic bridge. / Photo by Office of Communications

The Future
Education is a family duty for her, making sure that none of her kids have to endure the difficulties she did. Currently, Johana is a mother of three and attends Baruch with her eldest son, Jefferson Veliz, who is completing a Master's in Business Analytics. They plan to graduate together. Then, Johana will go after a Ph.D. in Leadership and continue serving as a consultant for students who wish to pursue an education in the United States, with a special focus on immigrants. She does all of this while working full-time as a Project Executive at a real estate agency and supporting her husband in beginning a business from their family house in Throggs Neck, where they care for their dog.
With a sigh of relief, after discussing 12 years of her life in this country, Johana grabs her bag, diploma folders, and phone and starts slowly walking away. “It’s been so good to be back home at Hostos,” she exhales, most possibly brimming with more ideas and ways to materialize them against any odds. 
Her father, still living in Ecuador, changed his mind and has become supportive of her journey and proud of her achievements, proof that education can indeed change an individual and even transform the beliefs of those around them.