CSI College Community Responds to Student Needs with Emergency Relief Fund Campaign

CSI’s Student Emergency Relief Fund is helping students in need.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a point of unity for the CSI College community in the form of the Student Emergency Relief Fund campaign, an effort to support the growing numbers of students who are facing economic hardships as a result of the crisis.

Jennifer Lynch, CSI Associate Director of Annual Giving, stated that when students began to suffer from the vast economic fallout of the pandemic, the Division of Institutional Advancement responded immediately with a pivotal shift from its regular fundraising campaigns to the Emergency Fund to address food and housing security, and to provide access to resources so that students could continue their studies.

Lynch reported that the response, so far, “is unprecedented for one of our crowdfunding appeals. It says so much about the cause and our campus/alumni community wishing to help.” As of this writing, more than $31K has been raised, which exceeds the initial goal of $25K by 128%, and allows the effort to reach even further.

Lynch expressed gratitude for the many donors and organizations that have stepped up to support our students and the inspiring messages they have posted on the crowdfunding platform.  Examples include:

·         The support of Student Government President, Fatu Amara, Class of 2020, who is featured on the site.

·         The Friends of CSI’s $2,000 donation to seed the campaign and kick it off

·         A $1K donation from the CSI Alumni Association

·         $10K from an anonymous donor, with $5K initially and a $5K matching challenge that was met in a week

·         Many large gifts in the hundreds and thousands of dollars

·         Many first-time donors

Cheryl Adolph, Executive Director of the Division, said that “the quick and generous response to the campaign demonstrates that the College community will always be here for our students, especially when they are facing extremely difficult times.”

Those who are interested in supporting our students in need, and ensuring a brighter future for all, may visit the CSI Student Emergency Relief page.

EDUCares Connects Students and Faculty in Uncertain Times

EDUCares is an initiative of CSI’s Center for Advising and Academic Success.

As students and faculty at the College of Staten Island faced a new distance-learning reality in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Advising and Academic Success (CAAS) saw a significant increase in email and phone communications from students, many of whom simply needed help connecting with their instructors. At about the same time, CAAS started to receive similar requests from faculty members who needed to contact  their students. As a result, CAAS formed EDUCares, an academic care unit, coordinated by the Center’s Jennifer Durando, with the goal of keeping CSI students engaged and connected to their academics, faculty, and CSI. 

The EDUCares team is comprised of administrative staff and professional advisors from all divisions who work to unite faculty with students, or students with necessary resources. Faculty members simply email the EDUCares team (EDUCares@csi.cuny.edu), identifying students with whom they have lost contact or anyone who is not sufficiently engaged in the remote learning environment, as well as students who seem frustrated with technology challenges. At the launch of this project, more than 600 students were identified by faculty in the first two days alone. 

The team structures the outreach to students using Navigate, the Center’s recently launched student advisement and communication system. Veronica DiMeglio, the Educational Advisory Board (EAB) project co-coordinator of CSI Navigate, and EAB staff, developed and implemented a system structure and workflow, and then trained the EDUCares team with the goal of maximizing contact opportunities with students. By Day Five, there were nearly 1,200 students identified, and the team needed to be restructured to accommodate the workload. Nina Delgatto, from the Provost’s Office, joined the team as coordinator to assist with workflow and case management.

With the staff and mechanics in place, it quickly became evident that EDUCares not only reconnected students with CSI in a time of confusion and uncertainty, but the College was also able to learn a considerable amount about the systemic challenges that students and faculty were facing in this unprecedented situation, allowing for valuable and strategic decision making. Specifically, the EDUCares team learned that most of the challenges were in fact technology-related: students needed devices, and access to Wi-Fi, Blackboard, email, and email addresses. All of these students received help quickly, directly, and personally through an EDUCares advisor, or through avenues that directed students to resources to help them resolve the specific issue at hand.

In addition, the various challenges that students were facing outside of the classroom, which had an immediate impact on their academic performance, quickly crystallized into themes. These could be quickly communicated to faculty members, fostering an increased understanding of the full range of difficulties that their students were facing.

Most of these students by far, when reached, were grateful for the text, email, or phone call. One student, Sandra, struggling in the learning environment, called the EDUCares team “CSI student guardian angels.” Alan Hoffner, Director of the Office of Testing and an invaluable team member, stated that “regardless of the number of students we help, where we do, it seems to matter a great deal.”

That impact was immense. By mid-April, the EDUCares team assisted many more of our students in need—sending more than 5,000 text messages and hundreds of emails. 

As the semester moved on, EDUCares evolved, creating a Progress Report campaign that invited faculty to identify students at-risk of academic and technology challenges: students in need of tutoring, those with attendance concerns, students who still needed devices or connections to Wi-Fi, and those who had not been engaging in the classroom. Follow-up through the EDUCares team again connected students to resources, with more than 1,000 students identified as being in need tutoring and an additional 100 students who needed devices. By this time, the number of students not engaged in the classroom had significantly decreased to fewer than 300 students identified campus-wide.  

As this challenging semester draws to a close, the EDUCares team’s critical work will continue and, in fact, increase. The new goal will consist of contacting all students who are eligible for the CR/NC (Credit/No Credit) Flexible Grading Policy implemented by CUNY in response to COVID-19, as well as helping students with fall registration.

By Jennifer Durando

NYSBDC Leads the COVID-19 Economic Recovery

Left to right, Ken Iwama, NYSBDC Director of International Business Development Jinshui Zhang, CSI President William J. Fritz, NYSBDC State Director Brian Goldstein, and CSI SBDC Director Dean Balsamini

Ken Iwama, Vice President for Economic Development, Continuing Studies, and Government Relations at The City University of New York, College of Staten Island, was appointed to serve on the Advisory Board of the New York Small Business Development Center (NYSBDC) in February.

The NYSBDC Advisory Board is a collective of leaders in the industrial, government, and educational sectors who provide their unique perspectives on the issues facing small business owners across the state. State Director Brian Goldstein commented, “We are very pleased that Ken Iwama has joined the Advisory Board as he is a staunch advocate of our mission as the premiere business assistance organization in New York State. Additionally, The City University of New York is a valuable and longstanding partner of the NYSBDC, and through this continued collaboration Ken will provide needed representation and input on behalf of all of New York City.”

Amid the pandemic, the NYSBDC has taken a place at the front and center of the COVID-19 economic recovery. The organization has been leading Webinars across the state to help guide small businesses through these tough times. Additionally, Nora Santiago from the Division’s Office of Sustainable Community Planning developed a COVID-19 resource dashboard that provides critical data for New York City and Staten Island, including the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The dashboard utilized the Environmental Systems Research Institute’s ArcGIS, the world’s leading mapping and location analytics platform, to visually display the virus’s impact over time. Data is extracted daily from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and they provide additional pertinent data as it becomes available. Since its release, the dashboard has been incorporated on the response Website of the national higher education organization, CUMU, and has even been shared by the Governor’s office.

The NYSBDC provides expert management and technical assistance to start-up and existing businesses across the state. It is administered by The State University of New York and funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the State of New York, and host campuses. Through 22 campus-based regional centers, and dozens of outreach offices, the NYSBDC applies the resources of university, private sector, and government to solve business problems and foster entrepreneurship, and emphasizes counseling and training services to women, veterans, people with special needs, and minority clients. The NYSBDC also focuses on projects that advance the job development, investment, and economic growth priorities of New York State, with an emphasis on manufacturers, exporters, and technology-oriented firms.

By Jasmine Cardona

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