Support in the Midst of Crisis: How the CSI Counseling Center Has Continued Serving Students Online

The CSI Counseling Center continues to serve students online.

When the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated CUNY’s transition to distance-learning, the more than 12,000 students enrolled at the College of Staten Island continued their courses online for the remainder of the Spring semester. This meant that the more 150 students who visit the CSI Counseling Center each week would not be on campus for nearly three months, and potentially for far longer than that. For Counseling Center Director Ann Booth and the rest of the counselors, it also marked the beginning of their efforts to bring the Center’s services online.

Soon after the announcement of the transition to distance-learning, the Counseling Center had moved to an online platform and was offering virtual sessions to students, but just one week later, those working in the Counseling Center, along with the majority of CUNY employees, were told not to report to work and to begin the process of working from home. Booth credits being able to begin moving online ahead of the campus closure with easing the shift from conducting sessions in-person to doing so remotely. “Virtual counseling began before our staff left campus,” Booth said. “This gave us the weeks ahead to begin planning.”

Although the counselors have all become much more acclimated with conducting sessions online, the inability to meet with students face-to-face has not come without its challenges. “Philosophically, the art of therapy is a human connection,” Booth said. “Nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting.” However, Booth and the rest of the counselors have worked hard to replicate the in-person meetings that have formed the foundation of their relationships with students as they offer both telephone and video counseling to those seeking support. Most students have opted for the video.

In addition to the challenges presented by being unable to interact with students face-to-face, the issue of students finding the privacy required to conduct sessions has also become an obstacle. It hasn’t been unusual for welcome guests such as pets to join students during their sessions with counselors, but in other cases, siblings and family members have made it very difficult for students to receive therapy in private. Booth describes this issue as “the biggest challenge we are seeing right now,” and says that “there have been a lot of distractions and prohibiting factors for students reaching out for help.”  

For the approximately 125 students who have been able to participate in virtual counseling sessions each week, the pandemic has almost always been a part of the discussion. According to Booth, “the stress that students are experiencing right now stems from the upheaval in their daily routines and their lives, being disconnected from social supports, and financial struggles.” On top of that, she says that more than half of the students she has spoken to have been directly impacted by the virus. “Some have loved ones who have died. Others have loved ones who are sick. There is also the fear of contracting the virus as well. We’re working with students to identify the areas of their lives over which they have control.”

The Counseling Center hasn’t yet seen an influx of new clients as a result of the pandemic, but they have maintained nearly all of their relationships with existing clients.  

Challenges stemming from the pandemic have not only impacted students who seek the services of the Counseling Center. The counselors who have been working to support them have experienced a great departure from their typical routine as well. Sharing the feelings of many students who are missing life on campus, Booth says, “we miss the campus too, and we miss each other.”

Like many who have made the transition to working from home during the pandemic, Booth and the rest of her staff have also found themselves working more hours than ever before. This workload isn’t an issue for the Center’s Assistant Director, Mary Murphy, who is happy to provide students with the services that weren’t available to her during her time in school. “I absolutely think this is a wonderful service that we have,” she said.  “As counselors, we are privileged to be doing this work and to be able to help students at this point in their careers and in their lives.”  

To help students cope with this pressure, Booth emphasizes the importance of sharing information. In an effort to provide students with additional informational resources, the Counseling Center has started an Instagram page, csicounseling, and launched a series of presentations, “Tuesday Talks” and “Wednesday Wise,” both available at their Website, www.csi.cuny.edu/students/counseling-center.

The Counseling Center also continues to offer nearly all of their previously existing services online including individual counseling, couples counseling, medication services, a monitored email account that provides appointments for same-day virtual counseling, and a 24-hour telephone counseling service for those in need of immediate support. These services, confidential and free for all students, can be accessed by contacting the Counseling Center at counseling@csi.cuny.edu, and emergency support is immediately available by phone at 718.982.2391. 

The counselors look forward to the return of walk-in services that will come with the re-opening of campus, but Murphy encourages those in need of support to reach out now.  Booth’s message to those who feel they may require support at this time is a simple one: “You do not have to suffer alone. We are here for you.”

By Joseph Foreman

Virtually Overnight: CSI Student Life’s Digital Footprint Is Growing to Serve Students

Natalie Taub

Natalie Taub had a feeling it was going to be a good year. Fresh off of graduation, the student leader had applied for and received a CUNY Counseling Assistantship Program (CUNYCAP) position in the Office of Student Life, an area with which she was very familiar as an undergraduate at CSI. Things were going great until the COVID pandemic hit, closures started, and the Student Life office was thrust in a completely new direction. At first just a general assistant, Taub is now working side-by-side with staffers like Director of Student Life Carol Brower and Associate Director Debi Kee to revamp Student Life offerings in this whole new, virtual world. 

“Before the closure, I was helping Student Life primarily with CLUE programming, entering names into databases, managing the monitors in the Campus Center, and although I was doing some social media, it’s definitely not as much as I am doing now,” said Taub. “At Student Life, we had a lot of communication with students every day in person, and when we lost that, we had to refocus getting that back through our social media pages and I got to work a lot more with it.”   

Student Life has long had an online presence, but the loss of in-person classes and campus closures put a heavy weight on the unit to transition their operation to the virtual world…and fast, and there’s where Taub felt she could fill a void.

Brower understands first hand just how important being virtual is now in the digital age. She attests that although the in-person student involvement never fully wanes, more and more students aren’t just amenable to online programming, they depend on it, and the COVID pandemic brought that more into light. “We’re learning that there is less and less tolerance for students to sit in a confined space for long stretches of time, so we are looking at connecting with students digitally in short waves, learning from them what works and what doesn’t. We dove head-first into the measure and Natalie has really helped us catch up on the social media front.”   

A student herself, Taub was a Sociology major with a minor in Disability Services during her time at CSI, and she recognizes the importance Student Life was to her. In today’s world, being at home and attending classes at the same time may be new and exciting for some, but can also become monotonous and mundane if left alone. She contends that Student Life is offering opportunities for students to lend themselves to something other than what the typical classroom dynamic has to offer.

“I think just in terms of being more consistent with what we are doing and putting stuff out there more regularly has been the key,” said Taub.  “We’re gaining more followers and more awareness, and our social media went from being something we weren’t using a lot, to one of our main ways of contacting and messaging, and I’m proud of that.”  

One of Taub’s first orders of business was to create an interactive routine, and a daily theme was created to stay on task. Examples include “Tips of Success Mondays,” which discusses tips on how students can succeed during distance learning and how to stay on track, and “CSI Flair Wednesdays,” a big hit, when faculty and students can show off their talent in front of the screen. 

Students have appreciated the changes, too.  Taub says she has seen a nice boost of activity on Student Life’s social media pages across the board.

Student Clubs have also gotten involved.  Recently, the Pre-medical Society held a COVID-19 Trivia Tournament, the Japanese Visual Cultural Club continued their popular anime film series, and the Black Women’s Initiative hosted a virtual talent competition.

Turning things around digitally has come with its share of challenges of course, and a few have popped up for the Office of Student Life.  Having to log on and account for presence at events, digital hosting, technical support and hiccups, and the marketing of some events come with added duties to which the office has had to adapt.  Still, the program has done a great job, not one lost on College of Staten Island Vice President for Student Affairs Jennifer Borrero, who oversees Student Life as part of her vast division. 

“I’ve been most impressed by how quickly the team at Student Life came together to support our students during this time,” said Borrero.  “They familiarized themselves with the technology much faster than I expected and they transitioned all of our events rather seamlessly.”  

With courses remaining online through the summer, Taub knows that her appointment as a CUNYCAP will continue in this same way for some time. She is completing her first year of the Graduate Program at Hunter College studying Special Education and plans to stay with Student Life next year if they will have her back. She contends that even though Student Life feels good about what it is doing in light of the pandemic and closure, there is plenty still to do, and the office is constantly brainstorming and developing new ideas.

If the future is anything like the present, then CSI students can take comfort knowing that Student Life will continue to meet and surpass their needs. ​​

By David Pizzuto

Undergrad Research Conference: Virtual, but Successful

The first Virtual Undergraduate Research Conference was a success.

With the College of Staten Island campus closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, offices, departments, and even events have had to enter the uncharted territory of operating remotely. The 19thAnnual CSI Undergraduate Conference was no exception, taking place, virtually, at the end of April.

This year’s event was slightly scaled down from past years. Nonetheless, considering the circumstances, participation was impressive with 145 students (single and group presentations), 96 presentations, 48 mentors, and 16 departments represented.

As always, the Conference gave viewers a chance to see the research results of the close collaboration between students and faculty at CSI, but instead of posters and presentations in the CSI Center for the Arts, students presented on one of five available online channels in blocks of 20 minutes, ten to present and ten for Q&A.

Regardless of the remote aspect of the Conference, students were still glad to be a part of it, presenting their research.

Emmanuel Appiah, co-author (with Alejandra Romero) of “Struggle for Indigenous Rights and Recognition,” mentored by Professor Jane Marcus-Delgado,

Department of Political Science and Global Affairs, said, “The Conference was a huge opportunity for students like myself to express ourselves especially in regards to various topics we addressed. It also gave us the opportunity to have a taste of public speaking, which is not easy. Preparing for the final presentation, I realized how much information I had acquired, which felt awesome.”

Arshia Lodhi, a Verrazano School student, who presented “Similarities and Differences in Middle-school and College Students’ Conceptualization of the Internet,” under mentors

Professor Patricia J. Brooks and Jessica Brodsky, Department of Psychology, noted, “Being part of the Conference always feels like a celebratory moment. It’s the time where all the research work you have done gets presented to your peers and professors. You get to look at other research that your peers have done, which is always nice. It is definitely a moment worth going back to.”

Aishwarya Udayan, a Macaulay Honors College student, whose poster was entitled “The Effects of Relcovaptan/SR49059 Administration on ASD-like Behavior

in BTBR T+Itpr3tf/J Mice,” mentored by Professor Dan McCloskey, Department of Psychology, stated, “The research I presented at the Undergraduate Research Conference this year, is actually my work for my thesis. While I am still a year away from submitting it, this was a good start in terms of presenting my work. It was also a great opportunity to understand the angle of possible questions I would be asked regarding my research work.”

Although the virtual experience was a bit uncomfortable because of the lack of facial responses from viewers, Udayan added, “However, given the present circumstance, I still am grateful to have the opportunity to participate. This is because CSI holding the Conference virtually demonstrated its adaptability for its students, and we as a student body were able to show our resilience.”

Udayan’s comment underscores the College’s resilience and adaptability. CSI’s faculty and staff worked tirelessly to adapt the Conference’s platform for the students, who must also adjust to this “new normal.”  The success of this Conference demonstrates the “can do” attitude and commitment to student success for which CSI is known.

CSI Food Pantry Is Open and Ready to Serve Students in Need

The CSI Food Pantry remains open during the pandemic, working to serve CSI and local CUNY students in need.

The COVID-19 pandemic might have closed most of the College of Staten Island’s Willowbrook campus, but the CSI Food Pantry is still open, ready to assist the growing number of CSI and City University of New York students (who live on Staten Island) who are facing food insecurity.

Jennifer S. Borrero, JD, CSI Vice President for Student Affairs and Alumni Engagement, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our students academically, emotionally, and financially. We see a far greater need now than during the Great Recession or Superstorm Sandy. The CSI Food Pantry is a necessary resource for our students and their families. No student should have to worry about their next meal.”

Established in 2016, the Food Pantry provides non-perishable food assistance for all CUNY students who need it. At this time, the Pantry is accessible by appointment only, but Pantry staff have doubled the hours when students can pick up food, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30am to 1:00pm. Students can schedule an appointment online.

According to Carol Brower, Director of Student Life, the Pantry has been having a significant impact, serving food to more than 80 families since the College closed. The problem, however, is ensuring that there is enough food on hand. “Our primary challenge has been keeping the food pantry stocked,” Brower noted. “Inventory is extremely low in supermarkets and delivery is not available for the demand we need. Our staff has been shopping as needed, and some members of the CSI community have made food donations.”

Those who would like to lend a hand to keep the Pantry stocked may make monetary donations online.

By Terry Mares

CSI Nursing Alumni Serving on the Front Lines during Pandemic

Nursing alumni from CSI are working on the front lines during the pandemic.

Nursing alumni from the College of Staten Island are on the front lines with other healthcare workers working tirelessly to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, Janett Perez ’12 and Alexa Zuffante ‘14 have been featured in local media reports on NY1 and WABC 7, and in The Washington Post.

Dean of the CSI School of Health Sciences Marcus Tye commented on the dedication of CSI Nursing alumni during these difficult times, “I offer my heartfelt gratitude and admiration for CSI’s many thousands of Nursing alumni who are on the front lines, providing compassionate and essential clinical care at great personal risk in these most difficult of times. For each of these selfless contributions we recognize from our brave nursing, health sciences, human services, social work, and other alumni, we know there are thousands more whose sacrifices we may never hear but whose efforts have saved lives.”

By Terry Mares

Free Online English Classes with the English Language Institute

CSI’s English Language Institute is offering free English classes to people around the world.

The English Language Institute (ELI) at the College of Staten Island is offering free English classes via Facebook Live videos and Zoom meetings. These free short sessions are offered to any student around the world who may want to learn or practice English. There are even sessions explained in Spanish and English at the same time to help Spanish speakers understand the class.

Many English language centers around the world are closed and not many students will have the chance to return to face-to-face English classes or have the means to attend online instruction. According to the British Council, two billion English learners were expected for 2020, more than a quarter of the world’s population. Many students who wanted to come to the United States to learn English have canceled their plans amid the COVID-19 health crisis.

ELI switched its 2020 Spring semester to online instruction. The students who were already learning English on campus are now on Zoom classes with ELI teachers. The great benefit is that they continue to have synchronous instruction and the same courses. Every day, ELI teachers are live with students covering topics such as reading, writing, conversation, and a TOEFL preparation course. Students are from Brazil, Colombia, Chile, China, Germany, Guatemala, Israel, Ivory Coast, Japan, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine.

ELI also wanted to help students who were about to arrive in New York this summer and those who had their English classes canceled in their home countries. ELI organized short classes on its Facebook page and with Zoom meetings, and the first class immediately had nearly 1,000 views. ELI teachers will cover different topics every week and for different English levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced).

ELI Director, Gonzalo Villena, was surprised with the first class audience. “We had students watching from Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Poland, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and even different cities in the U.S.”, according to the ELI Director. “Our goal is to help everyone who wants to practice some English, help those who had their English classes canceled in their countries, or whoever wants to have a good time during quarantine at home,” he added.

Since the first class was really successful with Spanish speakers, ELI extended an additional class explained in Spanish and English simultaneously. “The classes are explained 100 per cent in English on Tuesdays and half Spanish, half English on Wednesdays,” Villena mentioned. The goal is to reach as many students as possible and provide help using online instruction.

Classes are broadcast live on the ELI Facebook page and Zoom every week at 3:00pm, New York time, but students in different time zones can watch the class any time since they are recorded and they have free access on the Facebook page. ELI is also uploading the class on its YouTube channel so anyone can enjoy the topic they want to see. The first class is already available in this YouTube link. If you want to subscribe to the YouTube channel and receive notifications of new classes, you can always go to its channel.      

ELI invites everyone to watch the next class. If you want to join from Facebook or Zoom, you just need to see the events posted on ELI Facebook, ELI Instagram, ELI Twitter, ELI LinkedIn, or on the CSI or CUNY Websites. For those who want to join with Zoom from a computer or laptop, they just need to click on the Zoom link and watch the class directly; those who join with Zoom from their cell phones need to download the app and add the meeting code number (number posted on Facebook and other social media posts).

By the English Language Institute

School of Business Alum Offering Free Marketing Clinics to Food and Beverage Businesses

Jonathan Saquicili (Photo Credit: Andre Salazar Photography)

Jonathan Saquicili ’15, an alumnus of the Lucille and Jay Chazanoff School of Business, and currently Project Manager at Merkle, an NYC-based marketing agency, has decided to use his expertise to lend desperately needed assistance to small businesses in the food and beverage industry through Volunteer Marketing Clinics.

According to Saquicili, he “started the Volunteer Marketing Clinic as a way to give back to the community. The agency I work for is helping its clients prepare for once this pandemic clears and I want to do the same for the small businesses that may not be able to afford the [marketing services of] the WPPs or Dentsus of the world. I understand that businesses need money to keep afloat, but I believe that a good marketing strategy can help them get back on their feet as well.

“The clinic,” Saquicili continued, “is made up of close friends I’ve made while working in advertising. These folks have worked on beauty, automotive, financial, travel, and entertainment clients. We offer audits, best practices, and strategies gained from our experience with our clients. Right now, we are able to consult on organic and paid social media, email marketing, content marketing, audience strategy, and advanced analytics.”

So far, Saquicili reported, the clinics are going well. “As we work to ramp up our client roster, we are seeing some positive results. One of our clients received an organic social strategy that has now had them rank in the top results for their niche. We’re even seeing engagement increase by more than 200%.”

Looking to the future of this effort, Saquicili said that “Through my @meetmeinmytummy [Instagram food] page, I am hoping that I can provide a limited number of businesses with a complimentary photo shoot to highlight their staff and menu items. I believe this will allow me to connect with local businesses and help me tell their story. The bonus here is that I am multilingual and can publish content in different languages.”

By Terry Mares