Moise Koffi: From Clemente to a PhD
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
As a mathematics professor at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, Dr. Moise Koffi has made it his mission to support underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students in their goals to earn college degrees. It’s a natural fit for this 2000 graduate of the Clemente Course in Poughkeepsie, NY:
“For me, it’s like a call to help minorities and underserved students because I understand the social forces against them. I understand the issues they face.”
Moise joined the Clemente Course after immigrating with his wife and two children from Ivory Coast in West Africa. He only spoke French when he arrived and was working low-wage jobs and seeking ways to create better opportunities for himself and his family. He came to believe that “education will be the solution to move from the bottom to the top.” Clemente was the perfect place to start.
“Clemente was a great experience because it really provided me with the skills and confidence to dream big, and this is important,” he said. “I improved my writing skills, my reading skills, and then my critical thinking skills. As [Clemente founder] Earl Shorris, said, ‘Knowing is better than not knowing.’”
Despite the hard work of supporting a family and raising his children, Moise’s passion for education only grew significantly after Clemente. He went on to earn his master’s degree and ultimately a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from the City University of New York. That meant reading philosophy textbooks in the car while his family shopped at the mall or working long into the night after helping his children with their homework. He didn’t sleep much during those years.
Moise knew that he was building a pathway that his children could follow for their own educations and careers. Creating a learning environment in the household was critical for him.
“I can say that I inspired my kids. Whatever I do, they try to do the same thing, although they pretend they don’t. But this is what they see every day.”
And Moise’s children have indeed followed his lead. His daughter earned her bachelor’s at Bard College and then completed a master’s degree in global finance. She currently works as an associate analyst at a credit rating agency in New York. His son recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working for an aerospace company.
At Hostos, Moise’s work extends far beyond teaching mathematics. Since joining the college in 2003, he has gone on to direct three programs that cumulatively serve thousands of underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students in preparing for degrees and careers in STEM. Between Proyecto Access, STEP, and CSTEP, his programs are touching his community from middle school-aged students to those applying for graduate school. In his day-to-day work, he is mentoring and preparing the math and engineering leaders of tomorrow.
He’s also a tenured professor, deputy chair of his department, and was recently selected as a CUNY Mindset fellow to help train and prepare professors to cultivate motivational mindsets in their classrooms in order to maximize students’ learning outcomes. As he publishes and presents his research at national and international conferences, Moise is proud to have mentored more than 10 award-winning STEM projects at statewide student research conferences.
It’s a busy life that is rich in the satisfaction of knowing his work has an impact on his community, both down the street and beyond. But for Moise, a key goal still remains:
“My dream is to create a Clemente program at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx,” he said. The course can provide the skill-building and mind-opening experience he knows first-hand can make all the difference in someone’s life. “When students attend a Clemente program, they say, ‘I’m not too old to study. I can do better.’ Why not help people to dream big?”