Campus News

Women’s History Month 2024: An MTA leader, a steelpan aficionado highlight Opening Ceremony

Rev. Monica DaCosta

A wearer of many hats, Rev. Monica DaCosta will bring plenty of life experience to Medgar Evers College on March 4, 2024.

As the keynote speaker in the Opening Ceremony for Women’s History Month, the Brooklyn native will share her insights as the Chief Officer of Operations Training at the Metropolitan Transit Authority for the City New York, as well as an adjunct professor in Principles of Management at Long Island University. 

Oh, and she’s the head pastor at Christ’s First Presbyterian Church in Hempstead, NY.

The daughter of Nigerian parents somehow manages to make it all work.

“All of my roles are people-centric, so my output is all around people and that’s the intersectionality of everything,” she explained. “What I do is driven to make people better in one way or the other. I care about people, so if I’m developing programs at the MTA, I’m always thinking about how they affect the public. 

“When I’m teaching a class or giving a speech that is in a secular event, it’s all about what does that person walk away with so that they are better? At church, it’s about how does your faith allow you to experience this journey called life in a greater capacity?”

An 11-year MTA veteran, DaCosta’s role finds her responsible for the strategic direction and leadership of the operational training and workforce development program for more than 30,000 employees and external partners. 

Coming into that position required her to be one of six applicants of 400 that earned a place in a highly competitive MTA training program. That drive led DaCosta to develop expertise spanning strategic planning, operational improvements, organizational development, and the implementation of innovative solutions. 

The current subway initiative that has station agents providing customer service outside of the fare booth was spearheaded by her. 

DaCosta’s Medgar Evers College connection dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her parents were both involved with the Pan-African scene and the African movement called The East and often frequented the now-defunct New Muse Museum. It was here that she saw her stepfather Nii Ahene Mettel-Nunoo’s artwork shown in a number of exhibits. For DaCosta, coming back to Medgar Evers College is full circle and a chance for her to inspire.

“I hope whoever attends the keynote event comes away energized to include others in their orbit,” she said. “We have focused on ourselves and on ‘the me’ to the exclusion of the other. I want people to know that in my individual expression, there is space and room for you.”

Travis Roberts

Travis Roberts to bring steelpan vibes to Opening Ceremony

When steelpan player Travis Roberts comes to Medgar Evers College on Monday, March 4 to participate in the Women’s History Month Opening Ceremony, it’ll be with the hope of setting a festive atmosphere via his skills on this highly eclectic instrument he’s mastered over the course of his lifetime. 

A percussion instrument constructed from 55-gallon drums and played with rubber-tipped straight sticks, the steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. And while Roberts is a native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the unique sound sucked him in when he was 11.

“I was going to a secondary school in St. Vincent and they introduced the pan into the school, which I then joined,” he recalled. “That was it, I’ve been hooked since then and it continued after I came to this country back in 1991 to attend Prospect Heights High School. It was funny because they started a steelpan program. When I found that out, I joined and was happy because I could continue playing.”

It turns out CASYM (Caribbean-American Sports & Cultural Youth Movement) was the partner for this initiative and before long, Roberts’ playing found him moving up through the CASYM ranks over the past few decades. He not only has been the longest CASYM captain, serving from 2004-2024, but is the current president. 

Along the way, he was also invited to join the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra (BSO), a supergroup of steelpan players who competed in the 2015 World Steel Competition held in Trinidad. Out of 20-something international groups that competed, BSO placed fourth. 

Currently, BSO serves as advocates for steelpan and the traditions that surround it.

“Right now, the Brooklyn Steel Orchestra still exists,” he said. “We have had a competition called Pan is Sweet back in 2018 and 2019. We basically put on shows for the community just to keep the culture going.”

Roberts’ Medgar Evers College performance will find him playing a variety of songs attendees will be familiar enough with that he hopes, “…they can sing along with, dance to, and feel the music. I just want them to enjoy the steel pan for what it is.”