CSI Department of Social Work Addresses Disparities on Staten Island

The CSI Department of Social Work is turning its attention toward addressing disparities on Staten Island.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent growing recognition of systemic racial inequities, many human service agencies and local businesses are laboring to respond to the pressing realities of a post-COVID-19 city. The Department of Social Work at the College of Staten Island, The City University of New York, has also been working tirelessly to develop tools and responses that can enhance our students’ and community collaborators’ competence in addressing disparities at the intersections of poverty, race, and disability. Although efforts to address discrimination have been implemented throughout the five boroughs, Staten Island continues to struggle with its own persistent challenges in assuring the full belonging and equity for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), immigrants, people living in economic insecurity, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities.

Imagine how we might transform the systems, beliefs, and practices that make Staten Island inaccessible and inequitable? How could we expand a shared understanding of access and supports so that it includes a professional ethic of accessibility, justice, and collaboration?

With these questions in mind and an acute awareness that meaningful change cannot be made alone, Dr. Mayra Humphreys and Dr. Paul Archibald, faculty within the Department of Social Work, partnered with local leaders to launch The Staten Island (SI) Equity and Belonging Project. With a focus on the disparities at the intersections of poverty, race, and disability, The SI Equity & Belonging Project is sponsoring a series of efforts that will work to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, connected, and equitable Staten Island.

These efforts began in July 2020 with the creation of a planning team of diverse leaders in Staten Island:

  • Paul Archibald, LCSW-C, ADS, C-CATODSW, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
  • Mayra Humphreys, LMSW, PhD, Associate Professor and BSSW Program Director, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
  • Lorianne, Delahunt, MA, CMHC Academic Specialist, College of Staten Island
  • Nicole DelPrete, LMSW, Division Director of Support Services Deputy, Person Centered Care Services
  • Alexa Donnelly, LCSW, Deputy Executive Director, Person Centered Care Services;
  • Linda Levin, BSSW Student Intern, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
  • Frances Meléndez, MA, PhD, Director, Master’s of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, College of Staten Island
  • Sharmila Rao Thakkar, MPA, MPH, Executive Director, Staten Island Not For Profit Association
  • Nisha Tumber, MSW Student Intern, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island

Together, the planning team contacted community residents, human service leaders, students, family allies, agency staff, and professionals and academics, and combined its collective networks to invite leaders to create an ecosystem (thriving interdependent community) to advance equity and belonging on Staten Island.

Beginning in August 2020, the planning team members undertook an initial step to prioritize gaining a better understanding of the views and perceptions of Staten Island residents and/or employees. To this end, PCCLF participants and human service organizations are inviting community members to participate in completing The SI Equity & Belonging Survey. The anonymous, online survey assesses SI participant’s attitudes, perceptions, and awareness about aspects of equity and community belonging. The results of the survey will be circulated and made widely available for organizations and community groups to review and integrate with their planning, training and development of policies, resources, and services that can better support equity and belonging for historically stigmatized populations living on Staten Island.

SI residents who currently live or work in the Borough of Staten Island and are 18 years old or older can access the link to The SI Equity & Belonging Survey.

In collaboration with the Geraldo Rivera Fund for Social Work and Disability Studies, and a grant from the Council on Social Work Education, the Department of Social Work also began convening The Public Conversations for Change Leadership Fellows (PCCLF) initiative, a space for civic dialogue, and the creation of transformative social change on Staten Island. The PCCLF is a fellowship designed to bring together fellows, partners, and collaborators to further contribute to building a thriving ecosystem of equity and belonging on Staten Island. As part of The Equity & Belonging Project, the PCCLF provides virtual (online) training, seminars, and a network of support that looks to enhance the commitment and skills for leading participatory change through civic dialogue, digital media, participatory research, peer-to-peer learning, capacity, and movement building.

Regarding the significance of the PCCLF, Arlette Cepeda, Deputy Director of La Colmena, said, “The fellowship has demonstrated that there are people on Staten Island, in positions of power, who are truly committed to equity and belonging and are leveraging that power to bring about positive change by creating beautiful solutions where they can.”

Alexa Donnelly, LCSW, Deputy Executive Director, Person Centered Care Services and PCCLF Planning Team Member, added, “For me, this group has created a space I wasn’t aware I needed. This space for me has validated my views of the world, is actively helping me self-reflect and self-actualize changes, and grow both professionally and personally. It has also empowered me to address inequities because I feel I have a strong support network to learn on rather than feeling I’m seeing or addressing things in silence or at risk without support!”

Looking to the future, The Staten Island Equity & Belonging Project will hold an SI Community Assembly on April 27, which will be open to the SI community. The assembly will invite participants to listen to beautiful solutions on how equity and belonging can be supported and sustained on Staten Island. Projects on transportation, accessibility, language, and community wellness will be presented by the PCCLF. All participants will have the opportunity to take part in a voting survey that will help narrow down what can be done–together.

To register for one of the two SI Community Assemblies on April 27, please use the links below:



By Mayra Humphreys and Terry Mares

Distinguished Professor Agaian Leading International Team Working Remotely to Combat COVID-19

A scan image of a 73-year-old patient with COVID areas highlighted in red

Sos Agaian, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at the College of Staten Island, is working with an international team of scientists in the fight against COVID-19.

The core of the group, which consists of Dr. Thaweesak Trongtirakul, Rajamangala University of Technology, Phra Nakhon, Thailand; and Dr. Adel Oulefki, the Center for Development of Advanced Technologies (CDTA), Algeria, formed about a year and a half ago under the direction of Dr. Agaian, whose work revolves around computer enhancement of images. Working remotely through the CSI Department of Computer Science’s Computational Vision and Learning Laboratory, their initial work examined topics such as oil spills and breast cancer.

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the team recognized the urgent need for an automated system to detect and measure COVID-19 accurately, with the goal of employing this new technology in developing countries.

In order to realize this plan, additional scientists from a variety of different university and industry backgrounds were brought onboard: virtual reality researchers and engineers Nadia Zenati, Benbelkacom Samir, and Aouam Djamel from CDTA, and attending radiologist Dr. Kassah Laouar of the EL-BAYANE Center for Radiology and Medical Imaging in Algeria.

Once assembled, the team’s first objective was to create a computerized automatic detection, visualization,  and measurement system for COVID-19 in the lungs, assessing the infected region’s volume with the aid of CT-scan images.

So far, Agaian reports that doctors are very enthusiastic about using the system and continuing to work with him and his team. One of the latest groups to collaborate consists of engineers and medical doctors from Tufts University, including Dr. Karen Panetta, Dean of Graduate Education and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Engineering; PhD student Foram Sanghavi (Electrical and Computer Engineering Department); and Dr. Neel Madan Radiologist of Tufts University School of Medicine.

According to Agaian, “The team’s short-term future efforts will focus on creating a computerized system that can help:

  • to detect COVID-19 symptoms using multi-view-based 3D shapes, which is one of the fundamental challenges of computer vision—drawing interpretations about the three-dimensional (3D) world from two-dimensional (2D) images;
  • to test surfaces for coronavirus; and
  • to analyze the long-term effects of COVID-19 in patients who have recovered from the disease, since these symptoms can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness. Even people who haven’t been hospitalized can experience persistent or late symptoms. We are currently preparing data for acute pulmonary embolism, which mimicks COVID-19 pneumonia, and is associated with a transiently increased risk of venous thromboembolic events involving blood clots in deep veins.”

By Terry Mares

Broadcasting Great Kenny Albert to Join “The Dolphin Pod” on January 22

Sports broadcasting giant will be a guest on the January 22 edition of “The Dolphin Pod.”

The Dolphin Pod, the College of Staten Island’s Official Athletics Podcast, will get a special guest to stop by in the coming days as broadcasting giant Kenny Albert will join the program on Episode 18, premiering January 22, 2021.  Albert will shed some light on some of his Staten Island roots and his ties to a handful of greats at the College that got him started on what has been an illustrious career.

The son of legendary sportscaster Marv Albert, Kenny Albert is the only sportscaster in the nation currently covering play-by-play duties in all four major professional sports leagues in the United States. He covers the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and pro boxing on FOX Sports, the National Hockey League on NBC Sports, and New York Knicks basketball and New York Rangers hockey for the Madison Square Garden network. Albert provides coverage of the Olympic Games in ice hockey and track & field, and is also a regular radio voice for all major sports, including the Stanley Cup Finals, for Westwood One.  A graduate of NYU, Albert is a native to the metro area, growing up in New York and now residing in New Jersey.

Albert will appear on The Dolphin Pod along with former CSI Men’s Basketball Head Coach Tony Petosa.  Both Petosa and Albert were affiliated with the Staten Island Stallions, an organization within the United States Basketball League, in the 1980s. The Stallions played their home games at the College of Staten Island’s Sunnyside campus (what is now the Michael J. Petrides School). Petosa was a former player for the team while Albert worked media, giving him part of his foundational start in the sports world.  Former CSI coach and Hall of Famer Evan Pickman was also a coach for the Stallions. Albert was also a part of the broadcasting team with Staten Island Cable Sports, where he anchored several Wagner College football games before making the jump to the National Football League.

Hosted by Associate Director of Athletics David Pizzuto and Associate Men’s Basketball Head Coach Nicholas Doran, The Dolphin Pod is in its second season of broadcast, debuting every Friday on CSI Athletics’ Podcast Page, and on SpotifyApple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, to name a few.    

By David Pizzuto

Chazanoff School Students Continue Winning Streak, Take Another First Place in National Case Competition

(Top to bottom) Olaitan Okeowo, Angelyne Acevedo, and Aqsa Naz

Following a first-place finish last year, a team of students from the Lucille and Jay Chazanoff School of Business at the College of Staten Island (CSI) has again taken the top prize in the annual Government Finance Case Challenge from the Association of Government Accountants (AGA).

The Government Finance Case Challenge is a national competition that began in 2015. At the undergraduate level, three teams from across the country were chosen for the finalist group this year, with two of those teams coming from the Chazanoff School of Business. The 2019 winning team from the Chazanoff School was at the graduate level.

Many of this year’s participating students were enrolled in ACC 305 (Intermediate Accounting), and took part in the competition under the mentorship of Professor Patricia Galletta, who also serves as the Deputy Chair for Accounting in the Department of Accounting and Finance.  Teams received a substantial packet of material and supporting data related to a city chosen by the AGA, from which the students had to prepare a summary document that followed Citizen-Centric Reporting (CCR) guidelines. The CCR aims to lay out in a clear, simple document exactly how governmental agencies are utilizing public resources.

This year’s focus was the small city of Urbandale, IA, which has a population of around 44,000.  While it might seem that this location could be difficult for CSI students to relate to, one student, Emily Peters, noted that “Urbandale is suburban, but is very close to the major city of Des Moines … we thought that was very similar to our hometown here in Staten Island.”

After being selected as finalists at the end of October, the two Chazanoff School teams had to quickly move on to the last stage of the Challenge. This required them to submit a 20-minute video presentation of their findings, modeled as a public meeting in which the students played the role of city council members. The students discussed the city’s accomplishments and challenges from the previous year, along with any anticipated plans for the future. The “council members” also took questions from a public audience. Social distancing guidelines meant that innovation was a key element in preparing the videos this year; the winning team of Aqsa Naz, Angelyne Acevedo, and Olaitan Okeowo submitted a video that was drawn from a recorded Zoom session, while the video from Emily Peters, Jennifer Stanley, and Mordecai Chrem was filmed outdoors, with participants sanitizing their microphones and wearing masks when not speaking.

During the planning process for their presentations, Professor Galletta arranged a virtual meeting between this year’s teams and two of last year’s winners, Mohamed Hussein and Richard Pallarino. Both alumni were keen to provide their insights about how the students could enhance their presentations. In addition to these suggestions, Professor Galletta noted that the AGA competition judges provided “detailed, rigorous, and comprehensive feedback,” that “added to the tremendous value of this learning experience for our students.”

Each team also recorded a short reflection on the Challenge, commenting on what they had learned from the experience. Olaitan Okeowo said that he “learned a lot of analytical and research skills” as part of the process of developing their CCR, including “a whole newfound level of respect” for all the thought that goes into producing a chart or graph that clearly conveys useful and relevant information. On a similar note, Mordecai Chrem, who was in his first semester as a declared Accounting major, said that he “really got to see what it was like to be in the trenches with the math.”

Dr. Susan Holak, Founding Dean of the Lucille and Jay Chazanoff School of Business, praised all of the participating students and their professor. “Congratulations to all who were involved – particularly the members of the winning team! We are thrilled by this astounding achievement, that demonstrates how our students are acquiring highly relevant and applicable skills and knowledge. These challenge competitions truly show the value of experiential learning, as a way to help students see themselves in real-world situations outside of the classroom.”

Summing up the experience from the student point of view, winning team member Aqsa Naz passionately emphasized that the experience provided the answer to the common student question, “Professor, when are we ever going to use this in real life?”

“The CCR…” says Aqsa, “THIS is when we are going to use this in real life!”

By Warrick Bell

Museum of the City of New York Chooses Selections from the CSI Public History Coronavirus Chronicle for Its New Exhibit

Rush-hour at the Staten Island Ferry terminal ferry soon after the lock down was lifted. (Susan Smith-Peter, 
June 24, 2020, Courtesy of the College of Staten Island/CUNY)

The Museum of the City of New York has selected photos and videos from the CSI Public History Coronavirus Chronicle, which has been documenting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic online.

Seven photos and videos from this project are prominently featured in a new online exhibit at the Museum entitled New York Responds: The First Six Months, which runs through April 11. Two photos by CSI History Professor Susan Smith-Peter, one of the organizers of the CSI Public History page, are featured, along with three from Steve White, a freelance photographer and firefighter. In addition, a video blog from CSI MSEd student Ashley Olivetti and a school blog by CSI History alumnus Andrew Savage were included. The exhibit contains a total of 100 items.

Commenting on the selection, Prof. Smith-Peter said, “I’m honored to have my photos chosen for the exhibit to show how Staten Islanders have responded to the virus in a more complex way than is often shown…They received more than 20,000 submissions. These are the only items in the exhibit that deal with Staten Island. I feel especially honored to represent Staten Island in this way.”

CSI Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Parrish stated, “Congratulations to Dr. Smith-Peter and her team for this recognition, and for the important role they have played in documenting this unprecedented time in the history of Staten Island.”

Prof. Smith-Peter created the CSI Public History Coronavirus Chronicle along with Joseph Frusci, Adjunct Assistant Professor of History, as a repository for the materials on the virus on Staten Island that they received during the pandemic. Prof. Smith-Peter said that HST 751 (Archival Studies) students have cataloged these materials, gaining valuable archival experience, which “will help next semester’s class in Public History create an online exhibit on the history of the virus on Staten Island.”

By Terry Mares and Michael Parrish

Public Conversations for Change Forums Seek to Shed Light on Issues Facing People with Disabilities

Some of the members of a PCC forums virtual Planning Meeting

Although they have taken place since 2016 and are now virtual events because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Conversation for Change (PCC) forums seek to convene marginalized members of the community, their allies, and other stakeholders to shed light upon and work toward positive change for people with disabilities. The series enjoys the support of the College of Staten Island (as the grant holder and primary lead in the project) and financial assistance from the Geraldo Rivera Fund for Social Work and Disability Studies.

According to Mayra Humphreys, PHD, LMSW, Director of the BSW program at CSI, the goal of the fall 2020 and upcoming spring 2021 forums is to “increase knowledge-sharing across stakeholders; cultivate a cohort of diverse cross-stakeholder leaders supporting person-centered, equitable policy, and services for people with disabilities; and collaboratively advocate for (one) person-centered, disability-related policy and/or service change.”

The co-coordinators of the PCC forums are CSI Social Work alumna Alexa Donnelly a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (BSW 2014, MSW 2015), Deputy Executive Director of the not-for-profit Person Centered Care Services, who will be teaching at CSI as an adjunct in the spring, and Nicole Mollinel, Division Director of Program Services at Person Centered Care Services, who will be teaching at CSI as an adjunct in the spring as well.

Donnelly stated that the last PCC forum was the first of a three-part series, which focused on employment and how the pandemic is affecting the experiences of people with disabilities. At this event, people who identify as having a developmental or intellectual disability (known as self-advocates) discussed their personal stories. The second event will invite parents and family members to share their experiences, and the third part of the series will feature the experiences of support professionals.

Donnelly said that the events are as inclusive as possible. “We invite all community members and have a targeted approach dependent on the forum, but we invite all to join us. We hope to bring these stories to folks who may not otherwise interact or get to know people with disabilities.” In addition, she noted that the planning committee consists of “a variety of people with disabilities involved in planning and putting together the events as well as ‘storytellers’ to share their stories with folks during these events.”

Summing up the importance of these forums, Donnelly said that “We are placing the person with a disability at the center of the story and shifting the focus from a ‘what to work on’ lens to a strength perspective. These sessions have brought an array of information to the community to engage folks into the disabled experience, community, and advocacy for policy change, as well as support for people with disabilities.”

More information on upcoming forums is available on the Geraldo Rivera Fund Website.

By Terry Mares