Thomas Volscho Wins Edward R. Murrow Award

CSI Associate Professor of Sociology Thomas Volscho has recently won an Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting for his work on the ABC Radio News podcast Truth and Lies: Jeffrey Epstein. The Award is presented by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Volscho’s reporting for the podcast, especially Episodes 3 and 4, working closely with Mark Remillard and Senior Producer James Hill of ABC News, won him the award. In addition, he also did reporting and on-camera interviews for two episodes of the ABC News television program 20/20, one on Epstein and the other on Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s associate.

“I worked on investigating Jeffrey Epstein’s finances and how he accumulated his fortune,” Volscho explained. “We found that Epstein began accumulating his real estate, airplanes, island, and other things shortly after selling stock on behalf of his billionaire client Leslie Wexner. I also reported on Epstein’s time as a teacher at the Dalton School and how he was dismissed, contrary to what he told people.”

Volscho is currently writing a manuscript for a criminology book titled Sexual Predator, Master Manipulator: How Jeffrey Epstein Got Rich and Became the Most Prolific Child Sex Predator in American History. He said, “The reporting overlaps with parts of the book because for the book I had to investigate how he got rich. His fortune made his sexual abuse crimes possible.”

According to RTDNA Website, “Since 1971, RTDNA has been honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast and digital journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards. Among the most prestigious in news, the Murrow Awards recognize local and national news stories that uphold the RTDNA Code of Ethics, demonstrate technical expertise and exemplify the importance and impact of journalism as a service to the community. Murrow Award winning work demonstrates the excellence that Edward R. Murrow made a standard for the broadcast news profession.”

By Terry Mares

Associate Professor Angelo Bongiorno Receives $301K NSF Award

Associate Professor of Chemistry Angelo Bongiorno has received a $301K grant from the National Science Foundation for his research titled “Novel first-principles methods for studying thermoelastic properties of materials.” The award started on September 1, 2021.

Commenting on receiving the award, Bongiorno noted that “I see this grant as a reward, not only for the hard work I have put into this research, but also for believing that it was a meaningful research direction to pursue. In the end, this NSF grant is telling me that ‘I have done a good job’ and that the scientific community at large thinks that “I should continue to work in this particular research area.”

This award supports computational research aimed at developing novel methods to calculate thermoelastic parameters of materials, such as the coefficient of thermal expansion, and linear and non-linear elastic constants at different temperatures and pressures.

According to Bongiorno, applications for this research will include the design of reliable technological devices operating at variable temperatures, and predicting the values of elastic constants of minerals over extended intervals of temperature and pressure, which is essential for the interpretation of seismic data.

Associate Prof. Bongiorno explained that “This project will impact several areas of materials science, physics, chemistry, and technology by creating new capabilities for computational prediction of materials properties. To enhance the broader impacts, the Principal Investigator (PI) will develop a simulation-based physical-chemistry course for undergraduate students.” He added that innovative strategies will be created to encourage underrepresented students to enroll in the course and conduct undergraduate research in the PI’s lab. The PI will also offer two-week-long summer programs for high school students aimed at showcasing computer simulations as a means to learn, explore, and do science.

Prof. Bongiorno received a BS degree in Physics from the University of Milan (Italy) and a PhD in Physics from the Ecolé Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. He was at Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA) from 2003 until 2015, first as a postdoctoral fellow, then as an Assistant Professor, and then as Associate Professor with tenure. In 2015, he came to CSI as a tenured Associate Professor. Since then, he has been enjoying being part of the Chemistry Department, teaching General Chemistry, serving on various committees, and pursuing his research interests.

By Terry Mares

CSI’s Dr. Rupal Gupta Earns Junior Faculty Research Award

College of Staten Island Assistant Professor Dr. Rupal Gupta has been awarded a Junior Faculty Research Award in Science and Engineering by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The $50,000 grant will be used to continue Dr. Gupta’s research project being performed at the College entitled “A Correspondence between Antimicrobial and Inflammatory Processes in the Human Innate Immune Response: Role of Calgranulins.” She joins a select group of 22 other CUNY faculty who have won the award since 2012.

“I am grateful for the support from the Research Foundation and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation,” said Dr. Gupta. “This is a memorable achievement for my professional career. Having the significance of the work conducted by my laboratory and what we envision to achieve in the coming years validated in such a way is both rewarding and motivational.”

The foundation of Dr. Gupta’s research to this point is based on the human body’s immune system and its response to pathogens. Dr. Gupta explains there are two ways the human body is naturally equipped to deal with pathogens. One way is by utilizing antibodies created by the body in response to recognized pathogens that enter our system. Her team’s research centers on our body’s innate immune response that acts as a first line of defense against pathogens and induces inflammation. 

“Our bodies have a feedback loop that sends signals to start inflammation during infection, which creates a natural defense system against them,” said Dr. Gupta. “Understanding how this process works, the connections that warn human bodies of a potential infection and initiate inflammation, could help us better understand how our immune system works and ultimately help the immune-compromised.”

The Junior Faculty Research Award will go a long way into the advancement of Dr. Gupta’s study. It will be used to support researchers in her lab and to purchase materials and supplies, including biological samples for study.

“The goal is to use this research we are doing now to establish a long-term vision for future study,” she noted, explaining that a major aim of this award program is to help fuel research productivity and advance future studies. “There has to be a vision for not only how the project can develop our research right now, but also how it will impact our research and understanding of the immune system five to ten years from now.”

Dr. Gupta is hopeful that by understanding the atomic-level complexities of the immune system, her research can ultimately further the medical and pharmaceutical industry, providing for advanced treatment and potential medicines for the immune-compromised. “Our lab doesn’t work in drug development. Rather, we hope our studies will in turn help the researchers in academia, medical industry, and drug manufacturers develop efficient therapeutics,” she explained.

Dr. Gupta, who also teaches in The Graduate Center, CUNY has been a faculty member in the Chemistry Department at the College of Staten Island since 2017. Her lab features several CSI undergraduate students who are an integral part of her team. “Our researchers and undergraduate students do a phenomenal job,” she noted. “Our research requires a lot of skilled and precise operation, and on a specific timeline, and so we extensively train our students so that they can perform and operate within the lab.”

The Junior Faculty Research Award in Science in Technology is a one-year grant, but Dr. Gupta hopes it springboards follow-up proposals for grant funding to further the research, as her current project looks to open the door for more extensive and long-term research into the immune system.

By David Pizzuto

Leora Yetnikoff Receives NIH SCORE Award

Leora Yetnikoff

Leora Yetnikoff, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island, has received a three-year $391K SCORE Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her research titled “Axo-glial interactions between midbrain dopamine neuron axons and oligodendrocyte lineage cells in the corpus callosum.” This is the first time that a CSI faculty member has received a SCORE Award, which the NIH presents to institutions of higher learning that have records of graduating biomedical students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in the field. Yetnikoff says that while the science she proposed won her the award, the hard work of then Associate Provost for Graduate Studies, Research, and Institutional Effectiveness Margaret-Ellen (Mel) Pipe and her team granted her the necessary award eligibility. As a result of this breakthrough achievement, other faculty members at CSI are now eligible to apply for similar grants.

Yetnikoff’s research challenges a century-long established belief that the principal cells in the brain—neurons—can only communicate with other neurons. Her study investigates whether glial cells, another type of brain cell that control how quickly neurons can function, can actually communicate with neurons as well. Yetnikoff said that “We are learning more and more that glial cells ‘listen’ to neuron signals, and actually change the way they interact with neurons based on their interpretation of these signals.”

To shed further light on her research, Yetnikoff explained, “Almost everyone is familiar with the term ‘dopamine’ because of the roles of this neuron signal in rewards and various neuropsychiatric diseases. Based on preliminary data, the hypothesis outlined in my proposal is that, in addition to their known conventional roles in communicating with other neurons, dopamine neurons also communicate with glial cells. Because of dopamine’s wide-ranging roles in brain and behavior across species, including humans, this work will hold important implications about brain function and disease, including schizophrenia, drug addiction, and multiple sclerosis.”

Saying that receiving this award tells Yetnikoff that she and her fellow researchers are on the right track, she further noted that “My students, collaborators, and I worked tirelessly together—remotely—during a pandemic to put out a competitive proposal with sound scientific merit and it is extremely gratifying and rewarding to learn that these efforts paid off.” The grant will also allow Yetnikoff to increase the number of undergraduates who will receive training in her lab.

Dan McCloskey, Chair of the CSI Department of Psychology, further underscored the importance of this grant for the College and its students. “We have seen other CUNY colleges really benefit from SCORE funding, and the net result is a greater population of students who go on to careers in research and medicine. Diverse students bring diverse perspectives, which means new ideas for the treatment and cure of diseases. Dr. Yetnikoff’s award is an important first step to open the door for more faculty and students to add to this workforce.” 

By Terry Mares

PRSA Presents Frank Bonilla Book Award to CSI’s Ismael García-Colón

Ismael García-Colón (R) and the cover of his award-winning book

The Puerto Rican Studies Association has named College of Staten Island Professor Ismael García-Colón the winner of its coveted Frank Bonilla Book Award. García-Colón’s book, Colonial Migrants at the Heart of Empire: Puerto Rican Workers on U.S. Farms, was released in February of 2020, and explores the plight of migrant farm workers from Puerto Rico, U.S. citizens categorized as foreign others, and their struggle with prejudice and assimilation.

Awarded every other year, the Frank Bonilla Book Award is the PRSA’s highest honor, and serves to honor work that compellingly engages issues and concerns of Puerto Ricans and their communities. It is  named in honor of one of the leading figures of Puerto Rican study in U.S. history, Frank Bonilla. For García-Colón, the award means a great deal considering its namesake.

“To be acknowledged in this way is an honor for me, because I feel the book is a continuation of the work and research that Frank Bonilla did as a pioneer for Puerto Rican studies,” he noted. “More than anything, it has given me the energy and enthusiasm to pursue my research further.”

García-Colón notes that writing the book was a labor of love, and a chance to look into his own roots.  “Growing up in Puerto Rico, I would hear how many of our people had migrated to the States. I learned that my father had an uncle who migrated as a farmworker who lived in Lancaster, but I didn’t fully understand the impact the movement had,” he said. 

García-Colón became more familiar with the research while working the archives at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, making it a focus of his graduate dissertation, and that’s when he became invested. “I learned that there was still a vast community of Puerto Rican migrant workers in Southern New Jersey, and traveled there to interview them and to conduct research.” Ignited by the dialogue, García-Colón researched tens of thousands of articles and essays over 15 years and made constant trips to Puerto Rico to interview former migrant workers and to further his research.  “People don’t tend to tie Puerto Ricans to this type of work and the farm labor migration, but it still exists today.”

García-Colón is now hoping his text is seen as a historical reference and resource. He notes that Puerto Rican migrant workers were a unique study to the migrant worker story in the U.S., subject to prejudice and evolving immigrant policy despite their U.S. citizenship, and their fight to overcome poverty while establishing the Latinization of the U.S. farm force. He says, “Where I feel my book may be different than others is in comparing the Puerto Rican experience with other immigrant populations of farm workers in the Unites States,” he explained. “Immigration and guest worker programs shaped the migrant farm worker experience, giving Puerto Ricans the opportunity for work at times when there was much anti-immigrant sentiment in the States, but it also subjected them to some of the same coercion and bias that many immigrants faced, what scholars in the social sciences call, the deportation regime.”

Part of the Anthropology program, García-Colón served as Chair for the Master’s of Liberal Studies program at CSI as well, and feels his research and this recent honor given to him by the PRSA will continue the work of telling the migrant’s story in the U.S. “Receiving this honor lends importance to the work and I hope that the book can be used in the research and the bibliographies of Puerto Rican migration study. It is a nice feeling to know that people are paying attention to this important work, as  part of both Puerto Rican culture and United States history.”

The PRSA will officially bestow honors on García-Colón this coming fall in a virtual awards ceremony.  He is the fifth winner in the award’s history, and his work will be cited along with Honorable Mention recipients Helena Hansen (Addicted to Christ: Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Drug Ministries), and Patricia Silver (Sunbelt Diaspora: Race, Class and Latino Politics in Puerto Rican Orlando).

By Dave Pizzuto

Matt Brim Wins the Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey Award

Matt Brim has won the Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey Award from the Working-Class Studies Association for his book, Poor Queer Studies: Confronting Elitism in the University (Duke University Press, 2020). The award recognizes books by writers of working-class origins or work that speaks to issues of the working-class academic experience. Poor Queer Studies focuses on underclass queer education at CSI and CUNY as it reorients the field of queer studies away from exclusionary institutions of higher education and toward working-class colleges, students, theories, and pedagogies.

Brim is Professor of Queer Studies in the English Department at the College of Staten Island and in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. He accepted the prize on Tuesday, June 8 at the annual meeting of the WCSA, where he also presented the conference’s keynote address.

By Editor

Verene Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Chris Verene

Chris Verene, Associate Professor of Photography at the College of Staten Island, has received a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2021.

According to the organization, “The Foundation has awarded Fellowships this year to 184 American and Canadian scientists, scholars in the social sciences and humanities, and writers and artists of all kinds, selected from almost 3,000 applicants. Since its establishment in 1925, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted nearly $400 million in Fellowships to over 18,000 individuals, among whom are more than 125 Nobel laureates, members of all the national academies, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal, Turing Award, Bancroft Prize, National Book Award, and other internationally recognized honors. In 2020 alone, four Fellows were awarded Nobel Prizes and five won Pulitzer Prizes.”

By Editor

CUNY Geographer Wins $2.5M to Participate as Co-Investigator for Global Nonviolent Civilian Protection Research

Dr. Nerve Macaspac

Dr. Nerve V. Macaspac, an Assistant Professor of Geography at the College of Staten Island (CSI) and Doctoral Faculty at the Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) Program at The Graduate Center, CUNY won a $2.5 million (£1.87 million) research grant through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as a Co-Investigator for a major international research project aimed at providing greater protection for millions of civilians caught up in conflict zones.

“Across the world, there are over 50 state-based active armed conflicts affecting millions of people, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. In 2019 alone, over 70,000 people died related to state and non-state-based violence. Simultaneously, there are over 68.5 million people forcibly displaced by violent conflicts in 2019, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. How can ordinary people navigate ongoing wars and violence, and prevent deaths and displacement? How do they create spaces of safety, of protection, or of survival within landscapes of violence and conflict? How do they organize community-led mechanisms of self-protection particularly when state or non-state actors fail to do so? And more importantly, how can we support and strengthen practices of unarmed civilian protection during violence and conflicts? These are some of the questions that our research team of scholars and practitioners are focusing on,” Dr. Macaspac explains.

“Creating Safer Space” is a four-year global interdisciplinary research project that aims to enhance unarmed protection practices that create safer spaces for communities and individuals amid violent conflict, raise their levels of resilience, and help prevent displacement. To accomplish this objective, the project establishes a global interdisciplinary network that will focus on designing and conducting research with communities in four core countries: Colombia, Myanmar, South Sudan, and the Philippines.

As a Co-Investigator for the research project, Dr. Macaspac collaborates with 14 international partners from Europe, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. The global research project is led by Professor Berit Bliesemann de Guevara of Aberystwyth University’s Department of International Politics. The “Creating Safer Space” global network is composed of:

Dr. Macaspac started his faculty position at CSI’s Department of Political Science and Global Affairs (PSGA) in Fall 2018. His current interdisciplinary and ethnographic research focuses on the spatialities of peace. Specifically, he studies the phenomenon of community-led peace zones, popularly understood as demilitarized geographic areas, to better understand civilian processes of carving alternative political spaces and creating spaces of peace during prolonged and active violent conflicts.

Dr. Macaspac teaches Urban Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Introduction to Geography at CSI. He also runs GeospatialCSI, a curricular initiative that aims to build a community of CUNY students engaged in spatial ethnography and other creative, collaborative, and public-facing Urban Geography-centered inquiry and research. Dr. Macaspac earned his PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles and his Master’s degree in Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is from Manila, Philippines.

By Editor