Bergen Recognized as a College that Cares

PARAMUS, N.J. – For their efforts in supporting adults with intellectual disabilities, Bergen Community College and its Phi Theta Kappa honors students have received the “Companies that Care” award from the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ) and Commerce magazine.

The award specifically recognizes a project the students created for the Bergen County Special Services School District Stepping Stones Program after securing a $1,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant enabled the creation of two portable, accessible and sensory mini-golf courses. Bergen represented the only community college among more than 50 honorees to receive an award from CIANJ at the June 7 breakfast hosted by the organization.

“It has been such a pleasure to be able to serve my community and to use my hobbies to help others,” Bergen PTK student Matthew Paccione, of Dumont, said. “I am very thankful to be able to contribute my engineering skills and apply my knowledge toward a project like this which will go on to have a meaningful impact in the lives of the Stepping Stones clients.”

The students’ “honors in action” project followed an international theme for community-building projects from PTK - “the art and science of play.” To develop their project, the students played mini-golf with members of the College’s Turning Point Program for intellectually disabled adults and visited the USGA Golf Museum in Liberty Corner.

The PTK students’ mini golf course features sensory elements, including textured golf club handles, colorful hazards and a first-of-its-kind musical golf cup. Stepping Stones participants also receive “Golf is for Everyone” t-shirts designed by the honor students. To secure the grant, the students conducted research on inequities in sports for those with disabilities.

PTK students Kim Gastelu, of Oradell; Petar Petroski, of Garfield; Umar Sultan Kahloon, of North Haledon; Deborah Regan, of North Arlington; Mana Mehdizadeh, of Nutley; and Paccione collaborated on the honors in action project to secure the Mellon grant, conduct the research, work with Stepping Stones personnel, design the sensory mini-golf course and construct the final product.

“To make golf more accessible to all, our students worked tirelessly for months performing research, designing a course, engineering never-before-seen prototypes, and communicating with local partners,” Bergen PTK and Honors Coordinator Anna Gergen said. “We are so proud of their hard work, which had an immediate and visible impact on their local community.”

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

Photo caption:Bergen President Eric M. Friedman, Ph.D., student Matthew Paccione, Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey President Anthony Russo and Bergen Assistant Director of Phi Theta Kappa and Honors Anna Gergen.

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