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April 20, 2010

Sister Suzanne Neisser, Director of La Salle’s BUSCA Program, Receives Rousseau Justice Award

Sister Suzanne Neisser

Sister Suzanne Neisser, RSM, Director of La Salle's BUSCA Program, (right) receives the 2010 Brother Scubillion Rousseau Justice Award from Louise Giugliano, associate director of University Ministry and Service.

In mid 19th century France, Brother Scubillion Rousseau dedicated his life to educating those marginalized by society. Known as the “catechist of slaves,” Rousseau believed every person was worthy of a quality education and developed curriculum suited to students’ needs and abilities. This year, La Salle University’s Justice Award, named in Rousseau’s honor, was presented to Sister Suzanne Neisser, RSM, Director of its Bilingual Undergraduate Studies for Collegiate Advancement (BUSCA) Program.

“Like Brother Scubillion Rousseau, Sr. Suzanne has dedicated her life to educating and advocating for those marginalized in our society,” said Ray Ricci La Salle’s Special Assistant to the President for Mission Integration. “As Director of BUSCA, Sr. Suzanne is building better lives by providing a college education to those who may not find an opportunity elsewhere.”

“Sister Suzanne is a passionate advocate and an insistent spokeswoman for her students,” said Ricci. “Through BUSCA, she has brought the possibility of educational advancement, and hope, to hundreds of Spanish-speaking students who stand precariously at the economic edge of this city and this region.”

Started in 1993, BUSCA is an innovative program that offers the region’s growing Spanish-speaking community the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree. Students begin the program with an intensive 12-credit course in English and then transition to classes completely in English. Students study full time for five semesters, attending class in the evening, allowing them to work during the day. To provide students with the best possible chance of success, the program provides bilingual tutors, and motivational, academic, and financial aid counselors.

“A former student once said to me, ‘BUSCA is a bridge to my dreams,’” said Sr. Suzanne. “The Hispanic population has been so underserved in higher education that I feel so privileged to be in a position to open doors for them and to help them make a better life for themselves.” 

BUSCA students who are eligible for the complete package of federal and state aid study for free. The University, through grants and scholarships, covers the difference between the government aid and the total tuition cost. Currently 160 students are enrolled in BUSCA, ranging from recent high school graduates to grandparents. Nearly 75 percent of the students continue on to bachelor degree programs.

According to Sr. Suzanne, one of her proudest moments was when she found out that a former BUSCA student is currently teaching at the University. Altidoro Gallardo, who drove a cab while completing the BUSCA program, went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from La Salle, a master’s degree from Temple, and is currently teaching as an adjunct professor in the foreign languages department. “This is what the program is all about—helping people realize their potential and their dreams,” Sr. Suzanne said.

Sr. Suzanne took over as Director of BUSCA in 2006 after serving as the program’s motivational counselor for two and a half years. A Sister of Mercy nun for nearly 45 years, she taught foreign languages at Archbishop Carroll High School, Gwynedd Mercy Academy, and St. Charles Seminary. Sr. Suzanne started the North Philadelphia Spiritual Center, where she serves as spiritual director primarily for Hispanic and African American women. For the past 15 years, she has served as a buddy volunteer with Action AIDS of Philadelphia.