Students Present at International Conference in Morocco

Students dressed in traditional Moroccan kaftans for a special dinner event during their visit. Photo by Melinda Gooch.

Many college students spend spring break relaxing on one of Florida’s famous beaches, soaking up the sun while preparing themselves for the late semester push that can make or break so many college undergrads.

However, some spend the break presenting at scientific conferences, as was the case with 38 CSI students who attended the 18th International Taurine Conference in Marrakech, Morocco.

The group of 38 students, consisting mostly of CSI undergraduates, included students in the C-STEP program and The Verrazano School. There were also graduate and PhD students who participated. Students joined faculty from all over the world, many of them experts on the amino acid and its effects on different organ systems, as well as its effects on a wide variety of diseases.

Several of the undergraduates, including Evelyn Okeke, who was highlighted in a recent CSI Today student profile, presented their research on Taurine along with several hundred faculty presenters at the conference. CSI Graduate students were also among those who presented their work. All of the students were science majors, earning one or two independent study credits for the trip. Drs. William L’Amoreaux and Abdeslem El Idrissi organized the conference, developed the study abroad courses, and mentored the students. Many of the students had worked and studied in the professors’ research labs since they were freshmen.

“We had a huge number of students take part in this study abroad program,” said Dr. Deborah Vess, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Programs, who assisted the professors in implementing and organizing the study abroad arrangements. The Morocco program is an example of CSI’s faculty-led course abroad initiative, which is now in its second year. The program was so popular that Dr. Vess even went so far as to say that it was CSI’s “most successful faculty-led study abroad program thus far.”

While the point of the trip was to attend the conference, “these students learned so much by just traveling to Morocco and taking part in the culture,” said Debra Evans-Greene, C-STEP Project Director. She also called the program a chance for underrepresented and disadvantaged students “to experience something wonderful and become a major part of the College community.”

Evans-Greene also proudly pointed out that within a week of returning from Morocco, Angelica Grant, one of CSI’s C-STEP students, won first place in the social sciences at the annual statewide C-STEP conference at the Sagamore in New York, presenting in the field of psychology.

The trip to Morocco was not all business, however. This was spring break, after all. The students spent time on excursions such as visiting the Djemmaa el-Fna market place in Marrakech’s medina quarter.

As Victoria Papazian, one of the students who traveled to Marrakech, wrote in her “Dolphins Across the Seven Seas” blog, “It was amazing to see so many people selling different goods and the children running around together and playing games.” The students also visited a huge carpet store and were introduced to the Hassan II Mosque, near Casablanca. The highlight for many of the students seemed to be the Cheez-Ali dinner night, which reminded blogger Papazian of “Medieval Times and Aladdin,” with camel rides and belly dancers.

The program, and the conference, was part of a larger course experience with funding provided for several of the CSI students. Although the cost of the trip (flight, room and board, and conference fees) totaled approximately $2,000 per student, many students received funding from the approximately $25,000 total in scholarships awarded to students this year to conduct research and study abroad.

“This is a model we want to continue,” said Vess, adding that the student’s success at the conference was “a real tribute to our faculty and staff.”

The opportunities presented to the students who joined the program were only half of the equation. It is a tribute to the quality of CSI students that so many of them applied for the study abroad program and spent their spring break leaving their comfort zones in order to take advantage of this once-in-a lifetime experience.

[video] From CSI to Harvard, Valedictorian Irvin Ibarguen Exemplifies What Can Be Achieved


Irvin Ibarguen (center, bottom) credits the support of his family for making his academic dreams a reality. (Photo courtesy of the Ibarguen family.)

Irvin Ibarguen, College of Staten Island Valedictorian for 2012, is the first CSI undergraduate to be admitted into Harvard University’s prestigious PhD History program.

View his commencement address.

Irvin, a senior History major with The Verrazano School honors program, began his college career as a Marketing major. When asked why he made the switch from Marketing to History, Irvin answered, “People usually think of history as a set of names and dates, but, in reality, it’s a lively and, at times, acrimonious debate. I wanted to be a part of it.”

[youtube][/youtube]Although Irvin is aware of his achievements, he regards his admittance to Harvard’s PhD program as one stop in a long, academic ride, which so far has earned him several scholarships including an IME Research Fellowship: a full-tuition scholarship awarded to Mexican Americans, and the prestigious Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, which provides undergraduates with three consecutive summer internships.

As part of the Watson fellowship, Irvin has worked for the Institute of International Education; Crain’s New York Business, writing several articles for the seminal business newsletter; and will be traveling to Tunis, Tunisia to work for Amideast, a non-profit organization offering education activities in the Middle East, as a program assistant.  “Tunisia will be a radically different experience,” said Irvin. “I am looking forward to the challenge.”

Irvin maintained a 4.0 GPA and is quick to credit his CSI professors, namely, Drs. Calvin Holder and Richard Lufrano of the History department, for establishing “my love for reading and writing about History.”

On Irvin’s success at CSI, Dr. Lufrano noted: “In my 25 years of college teaching at different institutions, Irvin is among the top two undergraduates I have taught.”

Irvin especially credits his family with supporting him throughout his scholastic life.  His parents moved here in 1990 while his mother was still pregnant with him.

Growing up in a small apartment with ten inhabitants would seem like a drawback to many people but to Irvin it was more of a blessing. “I was never alone… They were the best support group,” he said of his parents who worked several jobs while raising him. “I was able to focus exclusively on my education.”

A graduate of Midwood High School in Brooklyn, Irvin also credits his background for motivating him to pursue a History PhD. “The scorn directed at illegal aliens often found its way down to me,” said Irvin, who admits to having distanced himself from his heritage while growing up. It was not until Irvin enrolled in an advanced seminar, in which he completed a paper about Mexican immigrants in New York City that he was able to “embrace the beauty of [his] Mexican background.”

At Harvard, Irvin hopes to continue to write about illegal immigration in a way that can contribute to ongoing debates.  In this regard, his background puts him in a unique position. “I am here because of the sacrifices of ‘illegal immigrants’ and I am deeply respectful of their plight, but I also grew up detached from them, so I can analyze their history with an interesting mix of passion and objectivity.”

Irvin eventually hopes to publish his dissertation, and establish himself in a tenure-track professor position where he can produce quality scholarship and influence students’ lives for the better.

For now though, he is “simply grateful to the CSI community for its constant support, especially Dr. Lufrano, Dr. Holder, [The Verrazano School’s] Katie Geschwendt, and [the Career and Scholarship Center‘s] Dr. Geoffrey Hempill.”

Evelyn Okeke Receives UNCF/Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award

The United Negro College Fund and the Merck Company Foundation recently named CSI student Evelyn Okeke a 2012 UNCF/Merck Undergraduate Science Research Fellow.

Evelyn Okeke’s journey to becoming a research fellow began innocently enough, “I was basically grad school shopping,” she said during a recent interview.  “I stumbled onto the UNCF Website, saw an opportunity for a scholarship, and applied.”  Upon completion of the application, which took about a month, she said she had “a good feeling,” and was relieved when she was notified of the fellowship this past February. “I saw an opportunity to earn experience for research done in an industry (as opposed to academia),” she said. 

Okeke is a senior Biology major with a 4.0 GPA who moved to the United States from Germany about three years ago.  The Dresden native originally moved here in order to be closer to her boyfriend in the States but quickly decided that this was the perfect opportunity to pursue a dream she had been cultivating all her life. “I always wanted to change the world for the best,” said Okeke.  Having discovered a love for research that she says began at CSI under the tutelage of Dr. Abdeslem El Idrissi, Professor of Biology, Okeke saw a way she could impact the world.

Okeke’s academic interests are so diverse it is nearly impossible to list them all, but they include physiology, computational biology, neuroscience, and even biophysics. She is excited about beginning the internship, which begins June 4 and will last for approximately 12 weeks, as well as the opportunity to see the industry aspect of research science as opposed to solely academic research. “I hope I can greatly contribute.”

Evelyn wants to credit her CSI professors, namely, Dr. El Idrissi; Dr. Leonard Ciaccio, Professor of Biology; and Dr. Ralf Peetz, Associate Professor of Chemistry, with challenging her and “giving great support,” during her undergraduate career. “Also, I appreciate the great support of the Louis Stroke Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program and C-STEP, as well has the continued support from Jonathan Blaize (a graduate student in Neuroscience).”

The UNCF/Merck Science Initiative (UMSI) offers 37 annual awards to outstanding African American undergraduate or graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The scholarship covers funds for tuition and room and board, as well as support for grants, hands-on training, and mentoring relationships.  In order to apply for an undergraduate research scholarship, the applicant must be African American, enrolled as junior who will be a degree candidate in the 2012-2013 academic year with a minimum GPA of 3.3.  More information about scholarship opportunities with UNCF/MERCK is available online.   

AI, CPU, DSLR, ASD: A Center for Student Accessibility Spotlight

Computer Science major Brian Wong is pursuing a number of interests at CSI, including photography.

This semester, Brian Wong is researching artificial intelligence, building a computer, and volunteering as a student photographer, all while maintaining a 3.82 grade point average.

The College of Staten Island sophomore is a Computer Science major with the Verrazano School honors program who plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Master’s of Science degree in Computer Science and even a PhD so that he can continue research in the field of natural language processing and voice recognition, which enables computers to interface better with humans. His career goals include becoming a computer programmer and technician and a part-time professional photographer.

Mr. Wong does not struggle academically; however, in the social arena, he does have some difficulty.

“I tend to be isolated, and I find it difficult to communicate with peers,” he commented, adding that he is not ashamed of his disability: Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Sydrome (AS) is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that is characterized by difficulties navigating social situations. Individuals with AS often significantly excel in specific areas of interest.

This particular student finds it challenging to stay focused and “on task.”

“Self-control is hard in general, though things have improved somewhat in college. I find myself more confident when talking with others,” he said. “The CSA (Center for Student Accessibility) has allowed me to make the most of my existing abilities and helps me cope with my problems. There’s a real sense of support there.”

The photography enthusiast, who has also fostered connections with the Communications Office, has found a role as a volunteer student photographer for the College’s online magazine, “CSI Today,” working closely with Director Ken Bach.

The tech savvy student also spends weekends collaborating on a special project with Vice President Michael Kress’s office. The project, which is lead by Center staff members Maryellen Smolka and Nicole Dory, involves building a cluster of six motherboards that will culminate in one high-performance computer, dubbed “Little Fe.”

Wong notes that he enjoys these connections and opportunities in which he is engaged at CSI.

“Being a CSI college student means being part of a vast community. I have access to a huge, beautiful campus with loads of great resources like state-of-the-art labs and sports facilities and excellent professors,” commented Wong, who is also an ALPHA Club member.

Wong recalled that one of his favorite professors has been his Computer Science professor, Emile Chi, who is “very understanding and helpful” and also has interest in photography.

Indeed, many of this student’s professors are working closely with Wong to support his efforts as he approaches graduation and eventually graduate school.

Faculty and staff who are interested in more information about ASDs can contact Sara Paul at the Center for Student Accessibility at 718.982.2513. She will provide information about workshops and seminars that can help in working with students with Asperger’s Syndrome and other ASDs.

As part of the Center for Student Accessibility’s (CSA) “My Story” campaign, the Center will regularly highlight high-achieving students who have overcome challenges and exhibit student success, including academic advancement, co-curricular engagement, and pre-professional training. The Center for Student Accessibility is a part of the Division of Student Affairs.

The Verrazano School Prepares Students for Life at One of CSI’s Most Prestigious Programs

Incoming Verrazano students enjoy a day of team-building on the College’s Great Lawn.

The Verrazano School held its Freshmen Orientation for the Class of 2015 last month. The Orientation program was comprised of workshops orienting the students to campus resources as well as activities designed to build community among the approximately 80 entering freshmen. 

Professor Charles Liu, Director of The Verrazano School, welcomed the new Verrazano students in the morning. He encouraged them to take advantage of all that CSI and The Verrazano School have to offer, meet with professors, ask questions, and declare a major when they know what they would like to study.  Perhaps most importantly, Professor Liu told the students, “You are in charge of your education. You are capable of great things, and you will achieve great things if you actively pursue the opportunities available to you here.” 

The incoming freshmen were divided into several groups and spent half of the day taking part in team-building exercises such as “The Web” and “Pipeline” with Project U.S.E.–an experiential education organization that has facilitated the teambuilding component of the Verrazano Orientation for four years. In “The Web,” a favorite among the participants, students navigated their way through a web made up of several ropes. The exercise required cooperation and problem-solving and helped the students get to know each other through the process.  Likewise, “Pipeline” tasked the students with running a small ball through a series of pipes. Each student is given a short length of “pipe” and in order to reach the finish line, students must take turns carrying their segment to the end of the pipe, allowing the ball to roll through.  

The students, a bit hesitant at first, quickly warmed up to each other and started to form friendships within their respective learning communities. As a cohort, this class of students will be spending the next four years taking classes, studying, working, and eventually, graduating together. “The orientation is intended not only to provide information about CSI and The Verrazano School but also to help them begin to establish relationships with peers and develop a sense of community and belonging here,” said Katie Geschwendt, Coordinator of The Verrazano School. 

Many of the students are Staten Island residents who were looking for a great education close to home and most graduated at or near the tops of their classes.  Jeffrey Bender, an incoming student who is planning on studying Pre-Med, quickly understood the purpose of the exercises. “They want us to work together,” he said.  “We’ll be spending a lot of time together and this is good because it makes sure even the shy kids make friends.”  

The students in The Verrazano School receive the extra benefit of smaller class sizes as well as priority registration. What really attracted many of the students to the school was the ability to perform research with experts, starting on day one. “I can’t wait to get into the lab and start studying things I really care about,” said Nick Galati, another incoming freshman.  

Along with Prof. Liu, 2011 CSI valedictorian Melissa Horne was on hand to welcome students in the morning as well as speak with them during the lunch break. Horne, a graduate of The Verrazano School, cited the smaller class sizes and the ability to work directly with professors as her motivation for applying to The Verrazano School. “The professors are great and they really want to help.” She even added a little extra motivation for the students in attendance by saying, “everyone who was a magna cum laude finalist graduated from either The Verrazano School or Macaulay Honors program. I guarantee someone in this room will be valedictorian in four years.” 

As if to validate Melissa’s point, one of the students pointed across the room, “my high school’s valedictorian and salutatorian are here.”  

As the students headed toward their next event, Merlin Raj, the 2011 class valedictorian at Susan Wagner High School, excitedly spoke of her reasons for applying to the Verrazano School. “The program is great, I like the fact that they help guide you every step of the way while still treating you like an adult.”  

During the next four years, much will be expected from the students entering The Verrazano School this fall, and while every student is excited about the prospect of working closely with professors, engaging in research and internship opportunities, and studying with like-minded individuals, they made sure to not put too much pressure on themselves. “I’m going to have as much fun as possible this summer,” said Jessica B., one of the incoming students. “I know that once we start in September, I’ll be working really hard. I expect great things.”

[gallery] Top Scholars Recognized at Fourth Annual Honors Convocation

Brian Kateman
Brian Kateman
Brian Kateman (left) addresses the audience. President Morales, right.

The College of Staten Island honored its top students, with the help of their friends and families, last night at the fourth 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.

View the CSI Today Photo Gallery.

College President Dr. Tomas D. Morales, in his greetings to the attendees, emphasized the transformation of CSI students, and of the College itself, “You are graduating during a period of remarkable transformation at the College of Staten Island. This academic year, a new mission statement was developed by the College that will guide our great institution for the next five years. Central to our new mission is our uncompromising and absolute commitment to student success and achievement, which will continue to elevate our College. As students graduating with honors, each and every one of you represents this ongoing transformation of the College of Staten Island as an outstanding public institution of higher education. And for that, I applaud you.”

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After greetings from CSI Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. William Fritz, the Class of 2011 Salutatorian Brian Kateman, who will be receiving a BS in Biology, gave the student address.

In his remarks, Kateman shared his philosophy of life, stating, “The truth is this: life is beyond total control. As a scientist, this has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn. Thankfully, through wonderful mentorship from the CSI faculty, I now know that success and happiness stems not from defining and designing our lives but from having the belief in ourselves to cope with its vicissitudes and capricious nature.”

Following the student address, Carol Brower, Director of Student Life, presented the Student Dolphin Awards to Michael Maslankowski and Jolanta Smulski. (They will receive the actual awards at the Dolphin Award ceremony following Commencement.)

In addition, Dr. Ann Lubrano, Acting Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Programs presented certificates of completion for the Melissa Riggio Program.  Christine Flynn Saulnier, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Dr. Alfred Levine, Interim Dean of Science and Technology, presented the Academic Honors and Student Service Leadership Awards.

Dr. A. Ramona Brown chaired the Honors Convocation committee and was the presiding officer.

[videos] Verrazano School Celebrates First Annual Senior Convocation

Jessica Scarcella, Verrazano Senior Convocation Student Speaker (third from left) is joined by fellow graduates before processional into the Convocation ceremony.

The Verrazano School at CSI celebrated its first annual Verrazano Senior Convocation on Wednesday, May 25 in the Center for the Arts.

View the CSI Today Photo Gallery.

The Class of 2011 is the second graduating class from The Verrazano School and the first Verrazano class in which students entered the prestigious honors program as incoming freshmen. There are also students in the graduating class who were accepted to the program after the freshman year as transfer students. In all, 42 students graduated from the honors program this year and as the program grows, so will the family of Verrazano alumni.

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Available to all majors, the students receive extra support from full-time faculty, benefit from smaller class sizes and priority registration, and perhaps more importantly, personalized academic advisement and career preparation.

“Students will not get lost in this program,” said Katie Geschwendt, Coordinator of The Verrazano School. “We stay in close communication with, and provide support for, students to help them have the most successful and fulfilling undergraduate experience possible.”

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The Verrazano School serves as a springboard for exceptional, highly motivated students who meet the academic requirements needed to enroll. Students in the honors program receive added assistance and guidance in pursuit of internships, research, career opportunities, or preparation for graduate studies.

Students also work closely with academic leaders, assessing the program and providing valuable insights on how to help the program evolve to better meet the needs of the students. This invaluable two-way discussion contributes to the growth and success of the program.

Dr. Charles Liu, the Verrazano Director, not only served as Master of Ceremonies for the Convocation but also provided the background piano music to the event as guests arrived.

“We’re running this event on a budget,” he joked. More seriously, he told the audience, “This Convocation celebrates the 2011 graduates of The Verrazano School and their wonderful achievements. I’m privileged and honored to have been able to get to know these remarkable students who have accomplished so much in their time at CSI.”

The featured speakers were Mr. Vullnet Kolari, Alumni Board President; Dr. Ann Lubrano, Acting Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Programs; and Jessica Scarcella, this year’s Verrazano Senior Convocation Student Speaker.

It was apparent during the Convocation that the faculty and staff formed a close bond with the students over the past four years as they all expressed pride and excitement for their students.  “It is extremely rewarding to work with students from freshman year to graduation and see the transformations that occur as they become involved in opportunities such as internships, research, community service, and study abroad,” said Ms. Geschwendt. “Verrazano students take advantage of opportunities within and outside of the classroom, and this makes them well-rounded and ready to take on whatever they choose to do in the future.”

The Dessert Reception, generously sponsored by the CSI Alumni Association, featured a delectable treat making its premiere on the campus: homemade miniature pies with sumptuous apple, peach, and chocolate cream filling adorned with a fresh-made pastry Verrazano “V” on top. The reception offered the opportunity for students to celebrate with their family and friends, professors, and CSI administrators and alumni.

This year’s graduating Verrazano class consists of students representing 17 majors, and the graduating class’ overall GPA is 3.475—an  exceptional number for an entire graduating class.

While many of the students are already prepared to enter the workforce, most will continue their academic careers in graduate programs at schools including Columbia University, College of Staten Island, CCNY, Brooklyn College, New York University, and Rutgers University.

The Verrazano School Hosts Orientation for Its Newest Class

The Verrazano School recently welcomed over 70 members of the Class of 2014 to campus for New Student Orientation. Students are accepted to The Verrazano School based on their strong academic records and extracurricular involvement in high school, and Verrazano freshmen are enrolled in learning communities (LCs), or groups of linked courses, together for Fall 2010 depending on their areas of interest.

Frank Saulle, an incoming Verrazano School student who graduated from New Dorp High School and will be studying Education and Foreign Language, said that he “was honored [to be accepted into the School] because not many people get this opportunity.”

Lauren Hornek, who also comes to CSI from Tottenville High School and who plans to major in Communications, echoed those sentiments, but underscored some of the benefits of Verrazano. “I feel privileged because out of 2,000 [new freshmen] coming in, it’s [under] 100 [new Verrazano School students]. I feel special and grateful that I was picked for this community. It’s great–one-on-one [mentoring and counseling], small class sizes, learning communities–it feels like a family already.”

Jia Hua, a Nursing student from Edward R. Murrow High School, focused on another aspect of the program. “I feel special because [The Verrazano School] has better [programs] like study abroad [opportunities], which I’m looking forward to.”

Entering Verrazano freshmen represent 33 high schools from Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and many were inducted into the National Honor Society. There are captains of varsity teams, two Eagle Scouts, a valedictorian and salutatorian, and a senior class president in the Class of 2014. Students in the Class of 2014 have also been involved in the community, with a majority of the students volunteering their time at local non-profit organizations over the last several years.

The New Student Orientation was kicked off with an introduction by Brian DeLong, Director of New Student Orientation/CLUE, and followed by a welcome by Dr. Charles Liu, Director of The Verrazano School. CSI President Dr. Tomás Morales was present to offer his greetings and advice for the incoming Verrazano students as they begin their college experience.

One of the unique components of the Verrazano New Student Orientation is the partnership with Project U.S.E.– an experiential education organization that has been providing learning experiences for 40 years–and this is the third year that Project U.S.E. has come to campus to work with incoming Verrazano students. Staff from Project U.S.E. facilitated teambuilding exercises, group games, and low-challenge course activities with the groups, and students traveled throughout the day with their learning communities. The challenge activities facilitated by Project U.S.E. helped students build a sense of community and connection to one another while working collaboratively to achieve the goals set before them. Over the course of the day, students learned how to apply concepts from the activities to their future college experiences at CSI while having fun.

After spending a good part of the day with the new students, Verrazano School director Dr. Charles Liu offered his assessment. “I am so impressed with this Verrazano class. These are students from all walks of life with tremendous backgrounds and skills. These are some of the best students who have ever come to CSI, and I’m looking forward to great things from them.”

Katie Geschwendt, Coordinator of The Verrazano School and the FIRST Program at CSI, also offered a glowing review of the incoming class. “The academic caliber of the Verrazano Class of 2014 is evident, and we anticipate that the members of this class will have an excellent college experience and make exciting contributions to the College of Staten Island.”

In addition, Geschwendt recognized some of the people who worked to make this Orientation possible. “Our thanks go out to Brian DeLong and his staff in the New Student Orientation/CLUE Office, Dining Services, the Center for the Arts, the CSI Foundation, and everyone who helped make this day a great success.”