Oleksandra Dalaya, left, and Jasmine Frederique were honored with the Vanguard...

Oleksandra Dalaya, left, and Jasmine Frederique were honored with the Vanguard Award, which celebrates students who overcome challenges in their lives while preparing for careers in "nontraditional" professions for their gender.

Credit: Tom Lambui

When Oleksandra Dalaya left Ukraine seven years ago, she didn't know a word of English. Now the Commack resident is pursuing a career in cybersecurity.

Jasmine Frederique survived a rollover car crash eight years ago. Today, the Coram woman owns her own video production company.

Both Dalaya, 37, and Frederique, 27, are scheduled to graduate on May 18 from Suffolk County Community College.

They are among eight students, including women and men, statewide that the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany honored last month with a Vanguard Award. The awards celebrate students who overcome challenges in their lives while preparing for careers in "nontraditional" professions for their gender.

"They are women who not only care about their own success but the success of others," said Dina Refki, the center's executive director.

Videos highlighting the winners are available on the center's website to inspire others, she said, adding that winners don't receive any financial benefits such as cash or scholarships.

"They are not just exceptional students, but exceptional human beings," Refki added.

Jasmine Frederique

“I opened my eyes. I was hanging upside down," Frederique said Wednesday, recalling the night in 2015 when she crashed her car in Yaphank.

Exhausted after a 16-hour shift at a Montauk catering company, Frederique fell asleep at the wheel driving home and drove off the Long Island Expressway near Exit 66.

She said her car rolled over several times before she managed to crawl out a window and a passerby called for an ambulance. Frederique survived without a scratch.

She said she faces different kinds of challenges these days.

Frederique went into business for herself about six months ago, starting OTD Productions — short for Overcome The Doubts — after deciding that her gender was preventing her from getting jobs.

"They're expecting a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound dude," she said of prospective employers. "So I started my own company."

Frederique said she is interested in making documentaries and has worked in digital media and content creation.

“It's definitely challenging, especially as a woman," she said. "I am a person who likes to rise above anything in front of me.”

Oleksandra Dalaya

Dalaya became interested in cybersecurity two years ago when she saw a newspaper story about a Wading River woman who studied the subject while raising her children.

That sounded familiar to Dalaya, who has a 5-year-old son, Daniel, with her husband, Raju. 

She said winning the award has made a difference, with the Vanguard prize on her resume getting attention as she looks for a job.

Susan Frank, Dalaya's cybersecurity professor, said she helped expand the cybersecurity club at the college's Selden campus from three members to 15 after the group's hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dalaya continued her studies this past year while worrying about family in her native country. Her parents and sister are still there.

"My sister says every day she is scared," added Dalaya, who described sometimes feeling guilty for being safe while her family lives through a war.

"This year, this was tough," she said.

More about Vanguard Awards:

Qualifications: Students must be enrolled in a career-oriented or technical program that is nontraditional for their gender in a New York state college or university

Nominations: Must come from faculty or staff from the program in which a student is enrolled

Writing requirement: Finalists must submit essays discussing their interest in nontraditional occupations 

Winners: Eight winners are selected annually

More information: netprogram.org/vanguard-awards.html

Source: University at Albany

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