Where Are They Now? – Michael Young ’10

Michael Young '10 is embarking on a Fulbright assistantship in Madrid.

Michael Young, who was also known for his role as founder and editor of the humor magazine Operation Three-Legged Dolphin, is currently a Fulbright Scholar, working as an English Teaching Assistant in Spain until the end of June 2012. “My placement is Instituto Clara Campoamor in Móstoles,” Young explains, “which is part of the Madrid region of Spain. This is the first year that the school has become a part of the bilingual program, which means that some students at the ‘Primero’ level (11 and 12 years old) get English education in all of their classes except for Math and Spanish. As an ‘auxiliar,’ I am part of English, Art, Science, Physical Education, and Technology classrooms, where I serve as a resource to students and teachers as a native speaker of English. I do everything from designing lessons, teaching and correcting spelling and grammar, to leading conversation groups. It’s broadened my abilities as someone who relates to students and as a thinker as well. In my classes I am reminded of my own education and feel a great sense of gratitude for all of the teachers who have led me to being here. I often tell my students that I started studying Spanish when I was their age, and because I studied in middle school and continued to study through high school and college I was able to have the opportunity to come teach in Spain.”

Although he began his study of the Spanish language at an early age, Young says, “My CSI education has prepared me well for this role. My Spanish minor has helped me tremendously, as it gave me a level of Spanish proficiency on which to build during my time here. My American Studies major has been useful as I explain to students various aspects of American culture, such as our music, art, geography, and sports. Fulbright was started to promote cultural understanding and communication between people of different countries and what better way to share my culture than to draw upon what I have been taught in college? And my Studio Art minor comes in handy as I work in Art classrooms and incorporate visuals into a lot of my lessons. I have drawn upon all of my experiences at CSI as a toolbox for being an effective teacher who brings something into the classroom. Also, CSI faculty were key in helping me prepare my application for the Fulbright, so I owe a lot of credit to them.”

After his Fulbright appointment is over, Michael notes that he “can see myself continuing down the road of education in some capacity.”

CSI Alumna Marissa Pontecorvo could be next ‘American Idol’

Staten Island musician Marissa Pontecorvo
Staten Island musician Marissa Pontecorvo
"It was totally surreal, you try out 13 times to be on something and then you're finally there," said Marissa Pontecorvo, 24, of Huguenot. "It was surreal but it could be taken away at the snap of a finger." Photo and caption courtesy of the Staten Island Advance / SI Live.

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE – Her voice is polished and honest and can go from smoky to sassy in just a few bars of song.
Huguenot native Marissa Pontecorvo has music in her blood — as a child she performed a Haydn Concerto on piano at Manhattan’s Merkin Hall and graced stages across the country in a touring production of “Annie.” As a teen, she honed her vocal chops in Nashville.

Now the blonde 24-year-old Islander could be the next American Idol.

She doubles the chances of the borough being home to the nation’s next big musical discovery, as Annadale teen Brielle Von Hugel vies alongside her for the title on the popular Fox TV show.

“It was totally surreal, you try out 13 times to be on something and then you’re finally there. It was surreal but it could be taken away at the snap of a finger,” said Miss Pontecorvo today, before heading out to her day job teaching choral music to students at Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church — her life having resumed its familiar rhythms after she returned from filming in Hollywood. “It was always a feat of mine I wanted to accomplish. It was always on my list to get on that show.

Ms. Pontecorvo, a serious musician with years of training which sets her apart from the show’s roster of golden-throated parvenus, got the ticket to Hollywood after auditioning in Pittsburgh. She appeared in snippets Thursday night, wowing the celebrity judges with her rendition of “Somewhere” from West Side Story.

“They told me I was going to Hollywood; that’s all they’ve shown so far,” said Ms. Pontecorvo, describing the October audition, that took place several months after she performed the National Anthem at the commencement ceremony of her graduating class at the College of Staten Island. “Jennifer Lopez is a huge fan of mine. She told me she loves my artistry and how I make everything my own.”

Ms. Pontecorvo said she cannot disclose how her luck held up in Tinsel Town, when she was one of 300 finalists chosen out of tens of thousands of Idol aspirants.

End result aside, the making of the popular TV show was unforgettable, she said.

“They have cameras on you at all times, the only time they’re not there is when you’re in the bathroom,” she joked about the 11 days she spent filming in Hollywood from Dec. 11 to Dec. 22. “They have you working non stop, I would wake up at 6 a.m. and wouldn’t go to bed until 4 a.m. There were challenges, group rounds; it was an intense schedule. They do that to mentally break you down to see who is fit and who is not, in a sense. For me it’s great I’m doing music.”

The Tottenville High School graduate said she will likely gather friends and family to watch the show with her in February, when the episodes that were filmed in Hollywood air.

Appearing also on the show will be her friend, another South Shore vocal stand out, Brielle Von Hugel: The 17-year-old Tottenville High School senior from Annadale is making a rare second season appearance on the show, after, last season, getting to just short of the semi-finals.
The bubbly talent auditioned in Savannah, Ga., in an episode that ran Jan. 3, and also featured her father, Bill, a former doo-wop singer. Ms. Pontecorvo, also credits her musical father as an inspiration. For two decades, his band Nightmoves has performed across the tri-state region, and now she joins at gigs as lead singer.

“I’m really good friends with Brielle,” said Ms. Pontecorvo, marveling how much the two have in common, most notably their love of performance. “We met doing karaoke on Staten Island. She’s got a great voice. I wish her the best; she’s a young talent. We both have talent.”

This story was originally published in the Staten Island Advance and on SILive.com on Monday, January 23, 2012, and is reprinted here with permission.

Supporting Teachers in Madrid

Michael Young '10 is embarking on a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Madrid.

The opportunity to obtain an excellent tuition-free education first drew Michael Young to the Macaulay Honors College at the College of Staten Island. The chance to travel nailed his decision. As an undergraduate he studied in Florence and Tokyo, in the summer after graduation in 2010, Guatemala City.

Now he is on the move once more, heading to Madrid on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.

At CSI, where he graduated magna cum laude, Michael majored in American Studies with minors in Studio Art and Spanish. His first step was working at CSI’s Career and Scholarship Center where he was able to secure his first two internships, one, a paid summer working for the Staten Island Mental Health Society, and the other, at Marvel Comics.

The Career and Scholarship Center also encouraged him to start getting involved on campus, where he worked as a Career Mentor for the Pathfinder Program, a SEEK Mentor, and a CSI Ambassador.

He then received a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship that provided a paid internship with Global Kids, which seeks to develop youth leaders, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation press office.

In 2010, during his third Watson summer, Young headed to Guatemala City’s Esperanza Juvenil (Boys Hope Girls Hope), a residential, college-preparatory school for about 100 troubled youngsters in grades K through 12. He arrived not long after a volcanic eruption dumped three inches of ash on the city, Hurricane Agatha struck, and a sinkhole that National Geographic reported was 60 feet in diameter and 30 stories deep opened not far from the school.

“Suddenly, Guatemala was receiving worldwide attention just days before my arrival,” he says. “I was nervous about safety, but motivated to start teaching.”

Young, found that he was “enamored by the students, teaching in a non-native language, and immersing myself in a new culture. I treat each of these experiences as opportunities for personal growth and discovery.”

Two days after he returned home from Guatemala, he started work with the New York City Civic Corps, an Americorps program for service to the city. He worked for the nonprofit organizations Central Park Conservatory and GrowNYC, “improving their volunteer capacity and working in project management.”

Now, the Fulbright Assistantship sends him to Madrid, where he is going to work in a secondary school. “I’ll be in classrooms supporting teachers, either in English, history, or social studies. Perhaps I’ll be training teachers in the English language,” he notes.

He credits his Spanish teacher, Dr. Carlos Abad, who performed his Foreign Language evaluation for the Fulbright, and also Dr. Jane Marcus-Delgado, CSI’s on-campus Fulbright adviser, for helping him with the Fulbright application process.

“I want to be a teacher or a professor…and my childhood dream is to become a cartoonist and illustrator. I started a humor magazine called Operation Three-Legged Dolphin, and that was my pride and joy.”

Young adds, “I’ve been very privileged to have had all these opportunities. They gave me a strong framework in which to think about professional development and to build a transferrable skill set–and build a life.”

CSI Grad Receives Prestigious Horst Schulz Prize in Biochemistry

Kelly Levano, who obtained her Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2003 from the College of Staten Island and her PhD in Biochemistry in August 2009 from the CUNY Graduate Center (home campus CSI), has recently received the Horst Schulz Prize in Biochemistry. Her winning paper was entitled “A Genetic Strategy Involving a Glycosyltransferase Promoter and a Lipid Translocating Enzyme to Eliminate Cancer Cells.” Levano received the award at a ceremony at the CUNY Graduate Center. In attendence were CSI Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. William Fritz; her mentor at CSI, Professor of Chemistry Dr. Probal Banerjee; and Levano’s mother, among others.

This is the second year in a row that the prize was won by a CSI student, as Leah Cohen received the award last year for her paper “Expression and Biophysical Analysis of Two Double-Transmembrane Domain-Containing Fragments From a Yeast G Protein-Coupled Receptor.”

Levano, who is currently working as a Postdoc at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Department of Developmental Molecular Biology under Dr. Paraic Kenny with a research specialization of breast cancer, said, “I was very honored to have received this award. I was especially moved during the award ceremony by [Executive Officer of the Biochemistry program at the CUNY Graduate Center] Dr. Edward J. Kennelly’s introductory speech where he read a few lines from my admission’s essay. He reminded me of my goals and expectations at the time I entered the Doctoral program and reinforced my goal to help in the fight against cancer.”

“The Horst Schulz award was started in 2008 honoring Prof. Emeritus Horst Schulz, who chaired the Biochemistry Doctoral program for a number of years,” Dr. Banerjee explained. “Every year, it honors a Biochemistry doctoral student whose research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal in the form of a first-author article. It is highly competitive, because a number doctoral students from various CUNY campuses compete for this honor. We are proud to acknowledge that Leah Cohen from Dr. Fred Naider’s lab received this award for 2008 and now Kelly received it for 2009, thus bringing special honor to CSI.”

As for Levano and her achievement, Banerjee added, “Kelly joined my research team as a shy undergraduate student who was sure about her talents but not really set in her goal in life. Her strong background in Biochemistry helped her grasp the research project fairly quickly, but then she had to work really hard to secure a berth in the CUNY Doctoral program in Biochemistry. Little did she or anyone else know that she would eventually mature into a talented doctoral student. Furthermore, it was difficult to predict that in the melee of so many highly talented students she will be chosen to receive this prestigious award…I feel extremely proud of her achievement and hope that she will accomplish much more during her future years as a cancer biologist.”

Regarding Levano’s honors and the fact that CSI students have won the award two years in a row, Dr. Fritz commented that “this is another indication that our students and academic programs are “World Class, right here.”

Looking back on her studies at CSI, Levano noted, “the College of Staten Island has been my home for ten years. It was here that I developed my love for research and where I acquired the tools to achieve my goals as a researcher.”

CSI alumna Kelly Levano is the second CSI student in a row to win the prestigious Horst Schulz Prize

CSI Alumna Dr. Muriel Howard named AASCU President

After her graduation from Richmond College (a predecessor of CSI) in 1970 with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and a minor in Elementary Education, Dr. Muriel Howard has dedicated her life to public higher education. After a 23-year tenure at University of Buffalo, and her most recent 13-year service to Buffalo State College, eventually becoming the institution’s President, Dr. Howard has been chosen as president of American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). AASCU is an advocacy and support organization representing over 430 public college and university members in the United States, as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Member institutions pride themselves on access and opportunity, being student-centered, and acting as “stewards of place”—connecting students and faculty with the people in the outer community to advance local education, the economy, and quality of life.

Read the entire article as published in Eye on CSI by viewing the CSI Today virtual magazine.

Discussing her selection to lead AASCU, Dr. Howard remarks, “I was especially thrilled and honored to be selected because I was recommended and selected by my peers. In addition it is a privilege to have an opportunity to help advance national policies that will impact the lives of so many students. This opportunity comes at a very exciting time in my career in that I believe that I had accomplished many of the goals that I had established for Buffalo State College. I was ready to examine new opportunities that would enable me to have a greater impact on higher education and to help a greater number of students….”

Regarding her new role, Dr. Howard says, “We are an association that is focused on student access, affordability, and competiveness in higher education. My role will involve working on public policy issues such as garnering more Pell support for students. I will work closely with our member institutions to seek greater opportunities for first-generation and non-traditional learners as well those students who are from underserved populations and creating professional development and leadership opportunities for institutional leaders—especially college and university presidents and chancellors.

Richmond College Revisited
When asked if her time at Richmond College had an impact on her success, Dr. Howard’s response was “Absolutely. We had a wonderful faculty. They were extremely talented and came from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. Some of them were interested in what we might today call applied research and frequently guided students through academic learning experiences that involved the community. I vividly remember two experiences that I was engaged in and I know that those experiences influenced my life and my work at Buffalo State College. In addition, Professors Francis Botchway and Charles Thomas from the African American Studies Department provided a home away from home for students and spent many out-of-class hours helping myself and other students chart a course of success. So, certainly, my experience at Richmond was extremely meaningful.”

Richmond College also provided a spark that kept Dr. Howard focused on her own education, and eventually, helping others to advance their studies. “Before I completed my degree, I remember Brian Sherman (who was my major adviser in Sociology) saying to me, ‘You should go to graduate school.’ I thought about it and decided to work for a semester on Staten Island at the Urban League, following through on my major in Sociology. Over the summer, I decided to go back to graduate school [at the University of Buffalo] and discovered that Brian had been right. It was the most important thing he ever said to me. I had a great experience at the University of Buffalo and completed my Master’s of Elementary and Remedial Education and a Doctorate in Education, Administration, Organization, and Policy while working full time at the University. Prior to this new position, my entire career in higher education has been in Buffalo.

A Connection to CSI’s Future President
While at the University of Buffalo, Dr. Howard found herself working with Dr. Tomás Morales, who is now CSI’s President. “When he was working for [City College] CUNY,” Dr. Howard recalls, “he was very much involved with the EOP [Educational Opportunity Program] and helping students to gain access to college. Our careers were moving along similarly and we would attend statewide meetings together and try to champion issues that we felt were important to access, retention, and the persistence of students. Tom and I always shared ideas and information about projects or activities that we were involved in at our institutions and we often lobbied together in Albany.

Today, Dr. Howard and Dr. Morales are working together again, advocating for higher education, as they both sit on the AASCU Board.

Making an Impact at Buffalo State
As President of Buffalo State College, Dr. Howard certainly brought positive results. Among her many achievements are the successful overhaul of the institution’s general education program. In addition, she helped to amass over $350 million for new buildings and other capital improvements on campus, including a new arts center, and a new math and science center, residence hall, and technology center, which are currently under construction. Dr. Howard was also instrumental in expanding the school’s honors program from about 60 students to 200, and she succeeded in increasing the number of faculty, noting, “last year I was able to hire 50 new faculty members before the economic decline came along and that was just in one year.”

The Importance of Public Higher Education
Now that she is heading AASCU, Dr. Howard can continue her lifelong work to help others gain access to a college or university education. “I think that public higher education is a basic right that everyone should be afforded and take advantage of at some point in their life. I found it to be a transformational experience and have been afforded many opportunities and benefits as a result of my collegiate experiences. Like me, most college graduates, tend to volunteer more, help others, and are more engaged in their community and society. College graduates also tend to apply their knowledge to support and advance their careers and offer to support other family members who wish to attend college. I believe that a college education is the greatest and most important opportunity available in society. It is a special gift and I am thankful to my family for the support and many sacrifices that they made to support my siblings and me.”

Dr. Muriel Howard is the President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.