The Harvey Lincoln Student Scholarship recognizes students attending ATD Network colleges who are committed to furthering their education despite facing significant educational, personal, and financial challenges. This year’s winners have shown perseverance and integrity, committing wholeheartedly to their own education while uplifting other students along the way.
Congratulations to the two award winners for 2023: Birva Carla Jose Pinto of Hudson Community College and Renee Eileen Rivera Restivo of Northwestern Connecticut Community College. Birva and Renee will each receive $3,000 in recognition of their persistence and commitment to their communities.
Birva Jose Pinto
Hudson County Community College
When Birva enrolled at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) in 2019, she could only understand a few words of English. Five months into her education, the pandemic struck, and she was almost forced to leave the college due to financial barriers. She persevered, and thanks to tuition extensions and pauses offered by the college, she was able to overcome her financial difficulties and focus on her educational goals.
“Since that time, I have never considered abandoning my goals again … I now realize that discomfort is vital for growth and that challenges will always stand in the way of our accomplishment.”
As she grew more comfortable speaking English, Birva began taking advantage of more opportunities at school, joining the National Society of Leadership and Success and actively seeking extracurriculars and volunteering. She later joined Phi Theta Kappa, another honors society, where she has been able to hone her communication and leadership skills. One of her most meaningful achievements was being chosen for the Goldman Sachs Local College Collaborative Program, a six-month program for 40 students from four colleges and universities. Juggling her full-time course load, part-time work, and extracurriculars was a challenge, but Birva developed the skills she needed to succeed.
“I had to learn how to organize my time well, develop positive habits, and remain committed to my objectives.”
Birva started noticing other students who were struggling with English as she became more involved at HCCC. Familiar with the obstacles that students with English as a second language face, Birva decided to start the Embrace, Support, Lead (ESL) group to help others overcome their fears and improve their communication skills.
“Everyone has a story to tell, so [the ESL group] doesn’t just improve English skills; it also gives people a chance to socialize and share interests in a lighthearted way.”
Outside of college, Birva is focused on community impact, from promoting inclusivity and equity in the workplace to protecting the environment. On Saturdays, she helps improve the biodiversity of local streams by removing invasive species that spread toxins and destroy habitats.
“Any activity, no matter how tiny, has a societal impact in a variety of ways that we might not immediately see.”
Renee Rivera Restivo
Northwestern Connecticut Community College
A first-generation student raised by a single parent, Renee experienced firsthand the obstacles children of economically and racially marginalized families face in their educational journeys. She entered the criminal justice system and was in and out of detention centers for several years before becoming a young mother at the age of 16. After escaping an abusive relationship, she worked hard to build a better future for herself and her children by focusing on her postsecondary education.
“I believe in myself … if it wasn’t for the support that I found at the [community college] that I couldn’t find in my community or in my home, I wouldn’t be here. This is where change starts.”
At Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NWCC), Renee has taken advantage of every opportunity available to her. She applied to the student senate and co-founded the Students of Color Alliance, which she said was one of her proudest achievements. Through the alliance, Renee is able to do what she loves: bridging gaps and creating equitable learning spaces for racially minoritized students in a predominantly white community. Renee was also selected for the Women’s Leadership Initiative, a group of dedicated women who are focused on creating successful outcomes for others.
“In order for a [community college] to serve its community, it must understand all those that make it up, not just the majority, because everyone deserves equal access and equal supports.”
Renee is passionate about social justice issues, and she dreams of bringing people together to make a world that’s more equitable for all. She hopes to show others, especially people of color and economically marginalized students, that their circumstances are not a reflection of who they are or their capabilities but a result of an oppressive system.
A small business owner and artist, Renee uses her work to uplift and celebrate her community. She is opening a brick-and-mortar store for her wearable art that she hopes will double as a safe space for young people, the elderly, and anyone in need of help and resources.
“We do not have to continue to be defined by our oppressions and shortcomings but can be defined by our determination to bring about a better world for [our] future generations.”