This photo of Brian Kateman, of Bulls Head, was taken in Spain. The 21-year-old senior from the College of Staten Island, is part of CUNY's Macaulay Honors Program, and has traveled the Galapagos Islands and parts of Europe through its study abroad program. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Kateman)

Staten Island Advance – Brian Kateman found nirvana. And he’s still searching for more.

He’s snorkeled with sea lions, relaxed on serene beaches and slept under the stars while aboard a luxury yacht, spoke Spanish and danced with the locals, and dined on Latin American cuisine.

And, this wasn’t part of a fancy vacation package.

Kateman, of Bulls Head, is a member of the CUNY Macaulay Honors College, which provides an unprecedented educational opportunity for high-achieving New York City students. The chances to study abroad, with the help of the program, are great. It was founded in 2001.

He’s in his senior year at the College of Staten Island (CSI), Willowbrook.

When he wrote to the Advance more than a week ago, Kateman was enjoying spring break in Spain. (He was actually on vacation.)

But, what he spoke about most were two study abroad experiences, which included visits to the Galapagos Islands and Florence, Italy.

“The Galapagos Study Abroad program is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about important topics in evolution and conservation by following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, my hero,” the 21-year-old student wrote.

Kateman doted on Darwin’s revolutionary findings and thoughts on what he observed in the Galapagos Islands in the 19th century.

“Through an exploration of some of the most biologically diverse and breathtaking islands in the world, I learned about wondrous animals like the marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies,” said the CSI senior, who called it the best experience of his college career.

“I cannot help but smile when I think about my experiences there,” added Kateman.

In Florence, Kateman furthered his understanding of the Italian Renaissance. He learned about the philosophies of science that were born out of the era.

Like other Macaulay students, Kateman has attended multiple national undergraduate conferences in Washington, DC, and Montana to present research.

At CSI’s Willowbrook campus, Kateman’s passion for studying evolutionary biology spawned from three classes: vertebrate zoology, ecology, and animal behavior.

His research also led him down various, unique paths.

“I worked in neuroscience lab studying the social behavior of naked mole rats, a genetics lab studying the biography of snakes, and dendrochronology lab studying the effect of climate change on White Oak Trees,” said Kateman.

He most enjoyed studying the movement of birds by collecting data in the field with Dr. Shaibal Mitra and Dr. Richard Veit, he said.

Kateman is currently completing his honors thesis on the long distance dispersal of ten species of birds as a mechanism for range expansion.

“It is a fascinating topic, and I envision continuing a facet of my research in my studies in the future,” he said.

During his time in the program, he earned the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, which provides three consecutive summers of paid internships, a cultural package, seminars and mentoring.

His internships included time at Echoing Green, which invests in and supports outstanding emerging social entrepreneurs to launch new organizations that deliver bold, high-impact solutions.

Last summer, he focused on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with the Center for Environmental Research and Conversation (CERC) under the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“I helped to write an important case study, role playing exercise, and set of teaching notes that were the center piece of classes in the Certificate Program and Inquire Institute at CERC,” said Kateman, who works part-time focusing on CERC’s media presence using Twitter, Google, and Facebook.

This summer, Kateman will study at the National Wildlife Refuge Association in Washington, DC.

He hopes to complete a Master’s degree and PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology.

Kateman noted that he’s received a heavy morale boost.

“Such a belief in the powers of myself derives largely from the mentoring and guidance of the faculty, professors, and students in the Macaulay Honors College as well as the opportunities that were provided to me,” explained Kateman.

“Though I know I have much to learn, I am confident that I will someday be a valuable contributor the world.”

This story appeared first in the Staten Island Advance on May 5, 2011, and is reprinted here with permission.