CSI Student Earns First-Place Honors at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference


Elizabeth Che employed state-of-the-art eye-tracking technology, available at CSI, to conduct her research.

CSI Senior Elizabeth Che (Macaulay Honors ’13), won first place for the best poster in the Social and Behavioral Sciences category at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference (NCHC) in Boston, recently. The experiment, entitled “The Enhancement of Cognitive Flexibility through Aesthetic Experience,” examines how creativity can influence spontaneous “out-of-the box” thought.

With the help of Associate Professor of Psychology Irina Sekerina, Che used advanced, state-of-the art eye-tracking equipment to track the amount of eye movements subjects thaat had while viewing certain pieces of art. The amount of eye movement would then correlate to the creativity of the subject—basically, the more the eye moved from picture to picture, the more creative the subject.

“This experiment could only have been possible at CSI,” noted Professor Sekerina, saying that CSI is the only CUNY school with the expensive, eye-tracking software.

The experiment took countless hours and even more patience but Che said that it “was all worth it,” as the subject was a “real passion of mine.”

The impetus behind such an experiment came from the fact that Che is a Psychology major and a Studio Art minor, and the two philosophies sometimes caused a conflict within her. “I wanted to find a way to show people the value in art, not just philosophically, but scientifically, as well.”  She wanted to answer one question, “does art actually have an effect on people?”

Prof. Sekerina backed up that line of thought we she addressed the long-ranging possibilities of conducting experiments such as the one that won Che first place. “Elizabeth’s experiment has so much practical value,” Sekerina said. “This is a chance to use this technology to track the use of eye movements during lectures, art education, and even in museums.”

The experiment basically asked 18 students to first take what is known as Guilford’s 1956 Brick and Unusual Uses test—students were asked what the many possible uses for a coat hanger were—which can be used as an indicator of how creative a person is. They were then given a questionnaire that was also used to help determine the curiosity level of the students. The meat of the test began when the volunteers sat in front of images of paintings—some surreal, others realistic—hooked up to the ISCAN ETL-500 remote eye-tracker, which tracked the eye movements of the students as they were asked to look at different parts of the paintings. The thinking was that studying the surreal paintings would cause the students to become more creative during the post-test, which was another Guilford test.

Che poses with her poster.

If the experiment sounds like it required a lot of time and effort on Che’s part, that’s because it did.

“This is serious work,” announced Prof. Sekerina, who trained Che on using the ISCAN eye-tracker.  Although Che has not officially counted, she believes she has easily logged several hundreds of hours on her experiment, adding the amount of preparation plus training she had to put in.  “There was so much data,” she said.  That extraordinary level of patience paid off for Che in the form of her first-place poster at the NCHC where she says she was “just happy to be there—I never expected to win.”

Che called her experience at the conference very “new and exciting. I learned so much about my poster.” She was impressed by the questions she was asked about her poster—many of which were from professors, researchers, and graduate students—that she said she “really needed to be sure I knew what I was talking about.”

Che, who already has a Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award, has begun applying to several schools for graduate study, though she is torn between law school and the social/behavioral sciences.  Needless to say, the self-described “half-scientist, half-philosopher” will be successful in whatever future endeavors she chooses.

Renowned Astrophysicist and CSI Professor Named Director of Two of CSI’s Flagship Honors Programs

Prof. Charles Liu has added Director of the Macaulay Honors College at CSI to his long list of responsibilities.

During a recent photo shoot for CSI Today, Professor Charles Liu was having a hard time standing still. With each click of the camera’s shutter, Prof. Liu grew more animated, first shifting in his chair, then rising altogether.  His polite smile evolved into a broad grin as he tossed his blazer over his shoulder and began offering his own direction. “What if I lean on something?” he asked. “Try some action shots,” he said before jumping into the air, his arms and legs splayed forming a lithe “X” with his entire body.

The renowned astrophysicist who has spent much of his career studying galaxy evolution as an Astrophysics Professor at CSI, as well as an Associate of the Hayden Planetarium and Department of Astrophysics with the American Museum of Natural History—is going to need all of that energy after being appointed, as of this past July, as Director of The Macaulay Honors College at CSI. This appointment is in addition to his continued service as the Director of The Verrazano School.

Charles Liu outside of the Rose Center. Photo by Jenn Su.

Prof. Liu does not seem to mind being one of the busiest people on campus as his faith in the faculty and staff working with each honors programs is steadfast. “The staff is terrific,” he beamed, during a break between shots. “The people I work with—from Katie Geschwendt and Cynthia Palumbo at The Verrazano School to Lisa French, Anita Romano, Barbara Uszacki, and Kim DeMarzio at the Macaulay Honors College—are so dedicated to doing what is best for the students that they make it possible for me to do my best too.”

Already a campus favorite due to his high energy and sense of humor, Prof. Liu is continuously evolving his technique with the ultimate goal of making college a place students want to attend, instead of a place they have to.  As an example, he likened studying to shooting a basketball. While students who play basketball seem to have no issue with practicing their jump shots all day, those same students may not be as dedicated to studying and attending classes. “Our job is to make the classroom as meaningful and enjoyable as the basketball court,” said Prof. Liu, completing the analogy.

When asked how he planned to help convince students to want to be more dedicated to their studies, he answered that, while there is “no magic formula,” the unique nature of each honors program does make it possible. Both are relatively small, allowing the faculty and staff to address individual students’ needs first and foremost. He is also a fan of students studying abroad and performing practical applications of the work they study in class through service learning, internships, and research. “We serve each student with a separate solution, not with a cookie cutter,” he said. “What really helps is the willingness of each program’s bureaucracy to be flexible and student-centered.”

When asked how he feels about now being a part of that bureaucracy he answered, with a large grin, of course, “I try to say “no” to every administrative job offered to me—twice.”

It is that practically allergic reaction to wielding authority that helps Prof. Liu connect with his students. According to him, Prof. Liu grew up devoting time to a wide range of subjects in addition to science, especially his love of music. To the chagrin of his parents, he spent hours each day “in my room composing and arranging musical scores.” He realized at a young age that as long as he was able to take care of and manage what was expected of him, “I was allowed to be unusual, to be myself—and that made me who I am.”  He now extends that line of thought as a professor and administrator. “The core expectations of a professor are to do great scholarship and always be enthusiastic about transferring that information to your students,” he said.

Before agreeing to add the directorship of the Macaulay Honors College at CSI to his role as head of  The Verrazano School, Prof. Liu had some long conversations with his wife Amy (herself a former college professor) and their children Hannah, Allen, and Isaac. “Their support—their belief in me that, by taking this dual directorship position, I could do a lot of good for the College and its students—made all the difference in my decision.” As Director, he is not interested in personal legacy but rather in making sure “the great things that the honors programs do remain great and are fully supported.”  He was also clear to state that he wants to grow the programs not so much in terms of size, but rather “in the quality of results.”

That was finally what led him to accept the two positions—“a focus on results.” Prof. Liu likes the fact that each honors program has its own identity and strengths; in their admissions policies, for example, Macaulay only accepts incoming freshmen, while The Verrazano School accepts transfer students along with freshmen. Yet, both programs have produced similarly impressive and successful graduates; the last two CSI valedictorians have been Verrazano students, and the last two CSI salutatorians have been Macaulay students. Prof. Liu believes that his job is to help students “feel proud that they can change the world but also be humble.” His goal is to foster a community of students who want to seek knowledge and serve their communities. “The point of college, beyond graduating with a degree in hand, is to grow as a human being so you can be and achieve whatever you want,” he said, returning to posing for the camera.

He seemed more settled as the photo session wound down—perhaps sensing that the afternoon was growing late or realizing that there were enough shots taken for the Website.  More likely, though, he was saving his energy for the work ahead.

“Washington Monthly” Names CSI one of America’s Best-Bang-for-the-Buck Colleges

"Washington Monthly" has named CSI to its list of the nation's Best-Bang-for-the-Buck Colleges.

Washington Monthly, which publishes an annual rating of colleges throughout the U.S., has recently named the College of Staten Island as one of America’s Best-Bang-for-the-Buck Colleges. The article appears in the magazine’s September-October 2012 issue.

Providing some background for its ranking system, Washington Monthly notes that, in its opinion, other college rankings are often flawed because they tend to measure the level of prestige that institutions have, as opposed to how well they are serving their students. The article further notes that some of the higher-ranking colleges in other lists have often taken the focus off of traditional students in favor of higher-caliber recruits through an increase in admissions standards.

“We are proud that Washington Monthly has recognized the value of the high-quality education offered at the College of Staten Island,” said Dr. William J. Fritz, interim president of CSI. “This national honor is indicative of our renowned faculty, establishment of new national honor societies, construction of world-class residence halls, and the distinction of being ranked as a top military-friendly institution. The CSI community should indeed be proud of this tremendous achievement.”

In regard to these policies, the article explains, “The Washington Monthly has long believed that such behavior by colleges doesn’t serve the broader interests of the country, and that rewarding such behavior is wrong. And so the magazine designed its own ranking system to do the opposite: to rate colleges based on how well they perform with the students they have, regardless of the students’ backgrounds or SAT scores, on metrics that measure the widely shared national goals of increasing social mobility, producing research, and inspiring public service.”

As Washington Monthly ranked U.S. colleges this year, it took another aspect into account—“cost-effectiveness.” Using a measure called “cost-adjusted graduation rate,” which involves, according to the article, “the gap between the predicted and actual graduation rate of a school…divided… by the net price of attending that institution,” the magazine compiled a list of institutions that represented a good investment from the students’ perspective and CSI made the list.

The article notes that “As an urban, commuter institution, the College of Staten Island attracts a diverse group of students from the New York City metro area. Because of the difficulty in retaining commuter students, the college offers many programs to enrich students’ academic lives and provide incentives for them to stay invested in finishing their degree.” The article mentioned the SEEK program, designed for students who have the potential to succeed in college, but would benefit from enhanced academic support and financial assistance, and the three honors programs available to high-achieving students as examples of some of the exceptional value available to students at the College.

Commenting on CSI’s inclusion in this prestigious list, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Jay Hershenson said, “It comes as no surprise that the high-quality academic programs and services available at CSI are widely perceived to be of great value, especially during these difficult economic times. Students and their families are very fortunate to have this jewel of a CUNY college in the crown of Staten Island.”

Read the full article online at WashingtonMonthly.com


CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales Named Distinguished Leader in Education

President Morales and Christine Cea

College of Staten Island (CSI) President Dr. Tomás D. Morales received the Distinguished Leader in Education award from the Education Update newspaper at the Harvard Club in New York City this week.

He was recognized by the newspaper’s publishers, Dr. Pola Rosen and Adam Sugerman, for his five years of transformative leadership at The City University of New York’s College of Staten Island, the only institution of public higher education in the borough, serving more than 14,000 students. Morales’s award from Education Update comes on the heels of successfully guiding the College through the Middle States reaccreditation process, with CSI earning commendations in 12 out of 14 assessment areas.

Dr. Christine Cea, President of the CSI Foundation Board, presented him with the award. “In his continued quest for excellence, Dr. Morales created a scholarship program to attract valedictorians and salutatorians from high schools in our area … and these numbers have also grown, as has participation in the Macaulay Honors College,” commented Cea in her opening remarks. “The student population has grown in diversity, and I am told the College has one of the best support programs for students with disabilities in the entire in CUNY system. In all, the student college experience has grown to include a robust undergraduate research program, participation at professional conferences, and expanded opportunities for community service and study abroad.”

Dr. Morales also succeeded in inaugurating four new honor societies and developing and implementing a new Strategic Plan.  Additionally, construction began on the College’s first-ever residence halls, the design phase for the building that will house the CUNY Interdisciplinary High-Performance Computational Center (one of the most powerful in the region)  has been initiated; and a new transit hub is being investigated to ensure greater access to the campus for faculty and students.

Dr. Morales has served as President of the College of Staten Island, a senior college in the CUNY system, for the past five years. In August, he will assume a new role as President of the California State University at San Bernardino.

“As Dr. Morales takes his leave in August, he can do so knowing that he has accomplished what he set out to do – make the College of Staten Island a center for excellence in scholarship and civic mindedness,” added Dr. Cea. “Thank you for your passionate leadership and the vision that you brought to the College and to our Staten Island community.”

When accepting the award, Dr. Morales was quick to note that “these accomplishments come about due to the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff, and their invaluable contributions to the process.”

Education Update has been honoring outstanding educators and their contributions to the students of New York City for the past nine years. This year, Dr. Morales was joined by fellow honorees:  Jay Hershenson, Senior Vice Chancellor, CUNY; Jennifer Raab, JD, President, Hunter College; and Dr. Charlotte K. Frank, Senior Vice President, McGraw-Hill.


CSI Honors Its Liberal Arts Students with Phi Beta Kappa Associates Book Awards

Fifteen CSI graduates were recently honored at the 12th Annual Phi Beta Kappa Associates Book Awards.

Fifteen CSI graduates were recently honored at the 12th annual Phi Beta Kappa Associates Book Awards, which were held in the Center for the Arts Recital Hall.  

Professor Tim Gray of the English Department delivered the annual Phi Beta Kappa address, entitled, “Blasted Categories,” in honor “of the writers, artists, and musicians whose detonation of boundaries inspires my research and writing,” in which he discussed the idea of academic bravery to those in attendance. “Independent thinking and intellectual courage must be your guiding principles,” Gray told the audience. 

The Book Awards are held to honor those students who show evidence of excellence in liberal arts at CSI. The requirements for induction include a minimum GPA of 3.8 and evidence of outstanding work across the liberal arts fields at CSI. 

“The honorees show that liberal arts coursework motivates students to be good citizens and prepares them for fulfilling, constructive careers,” said Mary Jeanette Moran, President of the CSI Phi Beta Kappa Associates, and Assistant Professor of English.

Although this was the 12th annual awarda ceremony, it is important to note that CSI is not currently a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society—one of the oldest in the U.S.—but through the efforts of Professor Gray and others, a book award ceremony was started to honor those students who would have been inducted into the society if there were a chapter at CSI. 

The fact that CSI faculty and staff dedicate their time and energy every year to honor our liberal arts students goes to show the value that the CSI community puts on its students and their accomplishments.

“It is an honor for me to be involved,” said Moran. “Interacting with excellent students from a wide variety of disciplines has been a very rewarding experience. Our honorees come from the general population of students as well as the Macaulay Honors College and The Verrazano School, reminding me each year of the talented and hardworking students in all of our programs.”

The book awards are so named due to the fact that one of the major awards presented to the students is a book chosen by the keynote speaker, as well as a Barnes & Noble gift certificate, both of which were generously donated by the CSI faculty and staff.  This year’s book was Urban Pastoral by Professor Gray, which, according to the University of Iowa Press Website, “shows us that startlingly new approaches to New York City art and literature emerge when natural and artificial elements collide kaleidoscopically.”

With current CSI Provost and soon-to-be Interim College President Dr. William Fritz’s support, the PBK Associates hope to begin the membership process for the Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society in the fall, so that future ceremonies can be fully endorsed by the Honors Society.

2012 Award Winners include:

 Mark Barahman (Biochemistry/Macaulay Honors College)
Victoria Cooper (English Literature/Spanish/Macaulay Honors College)
Kimberly Cruz (Chemistry/Sociology/Anthropology/Macaulay Honors College)
Elizabeth Davis (English Writing)
Daniel Feldman (Physics/Macaulay Honors College)
Julia Hayes (Philosophy/Political Science)
Irvin Ibarguen (History)
Brian Iskra (Biochemistry/Macaulay Honors College)
Leana Leon (Psychology/Sociology/Anthropology)
Ann Mackey (Psychology)
Jennifer Olonko (English/History)
Sylvana Salama (Mathematics/Macaulay Honors College)
Samantha Scicchigno (Psychology/Macaulay Honors College )
Brian Siegel (English Writing/Psychology)
Lev Treybich (English Literature/Linguistics)


CSI Honors Top Students

College of Staten Island Salutatorian Daniel Feldman plans to begin studying astronomy at Boston University as a PhD student in the fall. He is a Physics major and part of the 2012 graduating class of the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at CSI.

The College of Staten Island recently honored its top students, with the help of their friends and families,  at the Fifth Annual Honors Convocation, which was held in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall.  The event’s emcee was Dr. A. Ramona Brown, CSI Vice President for Student Affairs. 

Following greetings from CSI President Dr. Tomás D. Morales and Dr. William J. Fritz, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, the Class of 2012 Salutatorian Daniel Feldman, who received a BS in Physics, gave the student address.

In his remarks, Feldman shared the highlights of his CSI experience with the audience, “I’ve had a lot of great experiences at the College of Staten Island—thanks to Professors Charles Liu, Irving Robbins, and Emily Rice, I’ve completed a number of research projects in Astronomy…tracking asteroids, classifying the shapes of far-away galaxies, and uncovering the hidden properties of failed stars. With the help of CSI’s Career and Scholarship Center, especially Dr. Geoff Hempill, I’ve won awards and secured research internships at Hunter College and Northern Arizona University. I received guidance from the Macaulay Honors College staff, namely Dr. Deborah Popper, Anita Romano, and especially Lisa French, who somehow got me through a semester of 23 credits at three campuses.”

Feldman, one of approximately 850 students graduating with honors from among 85 different majors, humbly addressed his success and that of his peers in his speech. “Coined by Pauline and Suzanne Imes in 1978, the Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon in which people are unable to believe they deserve the success they have achieved,” said Feldman. He went on to explain that many successful people suffer from this syndrome, many of them most likely in attendance at the Honors Convocation, but that they should all be viewing the awards ceremony as “proof that you are not an imposter…your attendance here is a testament to your success.”

After the student address, Dr. Brown presented the Student Dolphin Award to Meagan Derbyshire, who called receiving the award “a great honor.” Derbyshire, who plans on pursuing a career in global medicine, also felt that the Honors Convocation validated the efforts of the CSI faculty and staff because by honoring the highest-achieving students, the campus also “honors the people who help the students.”

In addition, Dr. Deborah Vess, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Programs, presented certificates of completion for the Melissa Riggio Program. Dr. Christine Flynn Saulnier, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Dr. Alex Chigogidze, Dean of Science and Technology, presented the Academic Honors and Student Leadership Awards.

Dr. Vess, highlighted the importance of holding an Honors Convocation when she told the attendees, “events such as this remind us of the wonderful work done by students and faculty and of all the ways in which CSI continues to fulfill its mission.”

The honored students, their families and friends, faculty, and staff attended a dessert reception in the Atrium following Dr. Brown’s closing address, where they shared stories of their time at CSI, celebrated their accomplishments, and set their sights on the future.

[gallery] Second Annual Induction Ceremony for International Scholars

A total of 56 scholars were recently inducted into the Eta Lambda chapter of the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars.

The College of Staten Island (CSI) recently held its second annual induction ceremony of students, faculty, staff, and alumni into the Phi Beta Delta Honor Society for International Scholars.

View the CSI Today Photo Gallery.

The Eta Lambda chapter at CSI—the first ever for a CUNY campus–inducted 56 scholars from all walks of life, but the tie that binds them together is their commitment to spreading their knowledge and experience across the globe, eliminating cultural and geographic borders.

“The emphasis of the honor society is to bring a unique, international quality to CSI,” commented Ann Helm, Executive Director of the Center for International Service and the coordinator of the Eta Lambda chapter. “We are dedicated to extending the boundaries of the campus.”

The reciprocal nature of CSI’s multiple international exchange and ambassador programs ensures that the CSI campus community will grow well beyond Victory Boulevard and reach out to nations across the globe.

The honor society’s goals break down into four categories: (1) to recognize the scholarly achievement of students and scholars who come from other countries to study at CSI or domestic students who study abroad while enrolled here; (2) serve as a vehicle for the development of academic-based international programming; (3) provide a network on campus involved in international endeavors; and (4) extend this network in chapters across the world.

“It is important to recognize people who help students earn an international education as well as the students themselves,” said CSI Professor of International Business Alan Zimmerman, regarding the value of having a chapter on campus. The newly elected president of the Eta Lambda Chapter also spoke about why international education is more important now than ever before. “Many corporations are looking for international experience in students,” said Zimmerman. “In order to be a fully rounded student you must be exposed to other countries.”

Each student, faculty, staff, visiting scholar, or alumni member was nominated by an Eta Lambda Chapter member, based on his or her work in supporting an international community. Students who were inducted all had international experience either as international students attending CSI or as domestic CSI students studying abroad. The faculty and staff all must show some evidence of performing international research, teaching internationally, or providing a comparable service to the international community. No matter the requisites, all inductees must show a dedication to spreading their wealth of knowledge internationally. “The honor society stands for excellence and requires excellence,” said Helm.

The success of CSI’s international programs was validated during the induction ceremony as 34 students were inducted this year, all from different cultural as well as academic backgrounds.  The students were joined by 20 members of the CSI faculty and staff, as well as two alumni, all of whom added valuable international experience to this culturally rich and vibrant campus.

Having a CSI chapter of the Phi Beta Delta honor society “shows CSI is making its ‘world class, right here’ slogan a reality,” said Meagan Derbyshire, Political Science and Philosophy major and Student Governing Board member. The Class of 2013 Macaulay Honors College student was inducted for her study abroad work in the Galapagos Islands and London as well as for her coursework as a Political Science major with a heavy international focus. As a student hoping to pursue a career in global medicine, Meagan believes that having the Phi Beta Delta honors society on campus “further emphasizes the importance of global education.”

The induction ceremony was sponsored by the CSI Alumni Association, the Student Government, and the CSI International Business Society.

Phi Beta Delta is an organization dedicated in recognizing scholarly achievement and is comprised of 168 chartered chapters worldwide. It is the first honor society dedicated to recognizing scholarly achievement in international education.

From CSI to BU, Salutatorian Daniel Feldman Reaches for the Stars

College of Staten Island Salutatorian Daniel Feldman plans to begin studying Astronomy at Boston University as a PhD student in the Fall. He is a Physics major and part of the 2012 graduating class of the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at CSI.

Read Dan’s blog Science for Dessert, on the CSI Today Student Blogs page.

During his undergraduate studies, Feldman has taken part in numerous research projects. Starting the summer after his freshman year (2009), he conducted galaxy evolution research as part of a research team at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), under the advisement of CSI Professor Charles Liu. He presented this work at the 215th American Astronomical Society (AAS) Meeting in Washington, DC.

Over the course of 2010, Feldman participated in two research projects at CSI that were overseen by Professor Irving Robbins. The first was an asteroid-tracking project, determining the positions and trajectories of high-priority asteroids using data from Tenagra Observatory in Arizona. The second project involved helping to build a radio antenna to track solar flares; this work was done as part of the SID collaboration, which was run at Stanford University.

In the summer of 2010, Feldman was selected to participate in the CUNY Summer Undergraduate Research Program (C-SURP), where he worked with Professor Kelle Cruz at Hunter College and the AMNH, studying youth indicators in M dwarf stars. He continued this research through the following year, resulting in numerous research presentations, including the ASNY Conference at the University of Rochester and the AAS Meeting in Seattle, WA.

In the summer of 2011, Feldman was selected to participate in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) Program at Northern Arizona University, studying Kuiper Belt Objects. This research resulted in presentations at both Columbia University’s AstroFest and the AAS Meeting in Austin,TX.

In his last year at CSI, Feldman has been working on his senior thesis with Professor Emily Rice, as well as collaborators in the BDNYC research group at AMNH; he has been using high-resolution near-infrared spectroscopy techniques to help determine the physical properties of brown dwarfs.

In addition to research, Feldman has been active in developing his teaching skills. Since his freshman year, he has worked as a physics and calculus tutor for  the Macaulay Honors College. Beginning in his junior year, he has also been employed at the College as an adjunct college lab technician (CLT) for the astronomy labs. He has also done outreach at CSI’s astrophysical observatory, helping teach the public about astronomy.

A graduate of Port Richmond High School, Feldman has a passion for music and theater. As hobbies, he enjoys playing numerous musical instruments, as well as performing as a singer/actor in musical theater productions in various venues on Staten Island. It is his hope to continue to pursue these scientific and artistic passions after graduation, and become successful in these different aspects of life.

In the fall of 2012, Feldman will begin studying Astronomy at Boston University as a PhD student. In the future, he has aspirations of becoming a professor at a research institution.