“John Jay exposed me to the idea that there is injustice in the world and that we’re the
ones who can help fix it.” – Rosie Orengo
Recognized as an Outstanding
New York City Teacher
When Rosario Orengo enrolled in John Jay in the fall of 1995, she was sure she would graduate with a degree in Forensic Psychology and become an FBI investigator—just like the fictional character “Clarice Starling” in the thriller Silence of the Lambs. But soon after starting the program, she realized it wasn’t like what she’d seen in the movies. She went back to her high school to meet with her social studies teacher, who encouraged her to study government instead and to eventually pursue her Master of Education.
Today, Orengo is a social studies teacher just like her mentor, and she’s proven to be an exemplary one. This year she received the prestigious and highly selective Big Apple Award, which is presented to the city’s best teachers. After being nominated by her principal and a colleague at the Urban Assembly Unison School, Orengo went through an intensive process that included interviews and classroom visits, and eventually narrowed down a group of 7,200 nominated teachers to 19 winners.
The Big Apple Award recognizes the unique enthusiasm and dedication that Orengo brings to her work every day. “As hard as teaching can be, I love what I do,” she said. “I like being responsible for young minds. I ask myself: How am I going to make my students civically minded? How do I help them become responsible adults?” Over a 10-month period, recipients of the Big Apple Award are provided with various leadership and professional development opportunities. They are also appointed to Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s Advisory Board, where they give recommendations on how to improve school climate and parent engagement, two of the Chancellor’s areas of interest. Orengo, who is passionate about improving student success, says she’s excited to have the opportunity to influence the Department of Education (DOE). “There’s so much in education that’s broken and I have ideas on how to fix it,” Orengo said. “I’m hoping that what I bring to the table will be seen.”
Though John Jay didn’t take her on the path she initially expected it would, Orengo credits the institution for developing her civic-mindedness. “John Jay exposed me to the idea that there is injustice in the world and that we’re the ones who can help fix it. What I walked away with was a sense of responsibility for our society and the world, and I want to spread that,” she said.
As a Big Apple Award winner, Orengo has the ability to influence not only her students, but the city’s current educational policies. But inspiring others begins at home, with her 16-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. When Orengo was awarded the Big Apple Award, her daughter was awed when she saw that her mother’s achievement was on the news. “She wouldn’t stop talking about it,” Orengo said. “She says she wants to be a teacher just like her mom.”
Chief Nilda Hofmann‚ 02
The Highest Ranking Hispanic Female in the NYPD
On January 18th Nilda Irizarry Hofmann made history by being named the New York City Police Department’s Chief of Community Affairs, making her the highest ranking Hispanic female in the NYPD. Throughout her career Hofmann has been a trailblazer for Hispanic women in the police force, with recent figures citing Hispanic women as one of the department’s fastest-growing demographics. Looking back on her historic rise—both the challenges and triumphs—she’s proud of the education, mentors and the community that helped her succeed. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for John Jay, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Hofmann.
In the beginning of her career, Hofmann took a civilian position as an administrative aide in the NYPD. She was a shy 19-year-old with two years of college from Iona College, but once Hofmann started working in the police department, surrounded by seasoned cops, she came out of her shell and realized she genuinely liked the work that they did. “It was impressive the way they helped victims and worked hard to solve crimes. I wanted to be a part of that,” says Hofmann.
After her mentors encouraged her to join the police force, Hofmann was faced with a sobering fact, there weren’t many
female police officers in the department to confide in or look up to as role models. “At my first precinct, there were 40 rookies going into the 43rd precinct. Only four of them were women. That’s just the way it was as I went up my career,” says Hofmann. But the lack of female role models didn’t stop her aspirations. Hofmann was determined to move up as high as she could in the NYPD, but in order to move up the ranks, she needed a college degree. “At this point I was working in the police department and I had a child. John Jay was the answer for me because of the convenient hours. That flexibility was very accommodating for me and many other police officers.”
Hofmann attributes her career success to many things—her education, family support, mentors and cultural upbringing. “When I was the commanding officer of the 25th precinct, which is in Spanish Harlem, I realized that serving in a community that looks like you can be very comforting for the people you encounter,” says Hofmann. During her tenure at the 25th precinct, she eased a difficult situation simply by speaking Spanish. Along 116th Street there was a huge number of street vendors operating illegally. The group felt they were being unfairly harassed by the police department, so they joined together, hired a spokesperson and came into the precinct at Hofmann’s invitation. The room was tense and the spokesperson tried to communicate for the group. “I said, ‘No, I want to speak directly to the people. I want to hear their complaints.’ Then, when I addressed the group in Spanish, you could feel the tension lift. I let them know that I understood where they were coming from, and I understood that they were immigrants working hard for their families. And we were able to really communicate,” says Hofmann.
It’s that “talk directly to the people” spirit that’s making Hofmann such a success as the Chief of Community Affairs. She’s made a point of attending events and celebrations across all communities in New York City. “I went to my first Purim and Holi events recently, and that pushed me out of my comfort zone because I’ve never celebrated those holidays. But you know what, they were unbelievable experiences. It really shows how diverse and beautiful this city is,” says Hofmann. For her, having police officers reach out to the community and create positive interactions—like playing sports with teens, reading books to school children or setting up educational outreaches—makes all the difference in the world. “It shows people that we’re not just there during the bad times, like when you’ve been robbed, someone dies or your car is stolen,” says Hofmann. “We can be there during the good times too. These experiences build trust and entire communities see cops in a completely different light.”