The fruits of the excellent academic connections between College of Staten Island (CSI) students and their faculty mentors were on display, last May, at the Annual Undergraduate Conference on Research, Scholarship, and Performance, which took place in the Center for the Arts.
This year’s Conference was the largest ever with 335 research poster presenters (200 actual posters), 12 oral presentations, and nine panel participants, as well as performances from 80 Music and Dance students, and works by 30 students of the Visual Arts.
CSI Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Gary Reichard, PhD, commented on the significance of the event. “The annual Undergraduate Conference on Research, Scholarship, and Performance provides important opportunities for CSI students to showcase their research and performance skills for fellow students, CSI faculty, and members of the campus and Staten Island communities. In its 16th year in 2017, it has become a jewel for CSI. The annual Conference underscores the exceptional one-on-one mentoring relationships between CSI’s world-class faculty and students.”
Beyond the research posters, panel discussions, and paper presentations, other highlights included a recital from the CSI Chamber Music Ensemble, a program featuring the CSI Dance Program, and the Undergraduate Research Conference Art Exhibition.
The Conference is sponsored by the Division of Academic Affairs with funding from CSI Student Government, the Office of Alumni relations, and the CSI Foundation.
Gray skies and cool temperatures could not quell the enthusiasm among the graduating Class of 2017, and their mentors, families, and friends as they all gathered on the Great Lawn of the College of Staten Island for the institution’s 68th Commencement. This year marked the largest graduating class in the school’s 60-year history with 2,994 January and June grads, and 297 August 2017 candidates.
After introductory remarks from CSI Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Gary Reichard, PhD, CSI President William J. Fritz, PhD, spoke about the College’s legacy of mission. Using comments from the first Commencement at Staten Island Community College in 1958 from then SICC President Walter Willig; Staten Island Borough President Albert V. Maniscalco; and College founder Arleigh B. Williamson, Dr. Fritz underscored the continuity of mission that has been an integral part of CSI from the beginning, “the opportunity to raise oneself through academic excellence; the opportunity to lift community; and the opportunity to advance society; in sum, the opportunity to ascend. From an initial student body of 111 to 14,000 today—our mission remains the same.”
Following remarks from CUNY Trustees Rita DiMartino and Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, as well as CUNY Vice Chancellor and University CIO Brian Cohen, Associate Professor of Philosophy Barbara Montero, PhD, offered words of encouragement to the graduates on behalf of the faculty. Dr. Montero used her comments to discuss the importance of neural plasticity, the brain’s natural ability to form new neural connections, thus strengthening and regenerating, as a way of encouraging the grads to continue in their intellectual pursuits to improve their brains throughout their lives. “Increasing your brain power doesn’t have to stop at graduation. It’s more than simply living up to your potential; you can, in a very good sense of the word, increase your potential. But it takes work,” she said.
This year’s valedictorian, Palwasha Syar, a Macaulay Honors College student, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry, spoke on behalf of the Class of 2017. After discussing the move from her native Pakistan to the U.S. when she was 12 and the often difficult transition that she had to make to life in the U.S., Syar offered stories of others who overcame adversity and challenges to get a CSI degree. She stated, “Our campus is full of diverse and tough students who went through many obstacles to sit here today and graduate. These challenges, on top of the stress from taking finals and pulling all-nighters to complete that 15-page paper, show that you are strong and that you are committed. It means that all of you today have perseverance and the tenacity to follow through with your goals.” Syar also offered some advice to her fellow grads to not be afraid of obstacles and failures, and to celebrate the people around them.
Also during the ceremony, the College bestowed four honorary degrees: Deirdre DeAngelis, Principal of New Dorp High School, as well as publishers and College benefactors Peter and Robin Jovanovich, received the degree of Doctoral of Humane Letters; Margaret Ricciardi, ’86, who is still attending art classes at CSI at age 103, received a Doctor of Arts degree; and a Doctor of Science degree went to Dr. Andy Shih, the Senior Vice President for Public Health and Inclusion at Autism Speaks.
Departmental Commencement exercises followed the main ceremony at various locations across campus.
During her speech at the College of Staten Island’s (CSI) 68th Commencement, Palwasaha Syar ’17, CSI’s valedictorian of the graduating Class of 2017, quoted Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win, or I learn.” Her meaningful words were in reference to the life lessons she learned during her time as a student at CSI.
Syar graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with plans to attend medical school.
“CSI was the place where I was accepted for who I was. … leaving it is like leaving my home… CSI has also shaped me into the strong woman that I am today,” she said, while also conveying her sentiments of challenge and triumph at CSI.
Syar shared the spotlight with several of her fellow graduates, relaying stories about their varying struggles to arrive at graduation. One student, Erin Richards, a single mother of four, while attending classes also had to manage the care of her children. Another, Andrea Dalzell, was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis and is currently graduating from the Nursing program.
Syar further asked those in attendance to “celebrate the people around you… Learning about people’s lives and the struggles they go through will give you new perspective on your problems… Learning about others allows us to connect with them. Listening to others’ stories gives us courage and remind us that we are not alone in our struggles.”
Syar has an impressive track record of being active outside of the classroom. Along with a long list of internships, she volunteered with the CSI Emerging Leaders and also joined the CUNY Service Corps, volunteering at the Staten Island Youth Court.
“I think it is very important to get experiences outside of the classroom… since I have been blessed with so much, it is very important for me to give back. I would like to continue my service in the future, and take my medical degree to work in impoverished areas,” noted Syar, who emigrated from Pakistan to the U.S. when she was 12 years old.
Facing both social and financial challenges when she arrived, and moving several times within New York State, she found it hard to make friends. Coupling this with her challenge to master the English language, the young Syar felt “lonely and isolated.”
During her initial visits to New York City, she was in awe of her new surroundings. She noted, “the skyscrapers in the city were so high that my hat used to fall of my head when I used to look up at them.”
After her plans to attend medical school, Syar plans to continue to give back to the community. She intends to open her own medical practice in the U.S. and also volunteer in poor and underserved areas in Pakistan.
“I would like to take the skills and values I have learned here and apply them to my service in developing countries,” she commented.
Syar concluded her speech by thanking her parents, sisters, and aunt, who came from Pakistan to attend the Commencement. She also thanked the faculty and staff who supported her and her friends who made her experience at CSI so memorable.
Syar proudly exclaimed, “It has been an absolute honor standing here in front of you all giving this speech. I would like to thank you all and Congratulations, Class of 2017!”
Graduate students at the College of Staten Island (CSI) had the opportunity to share their research with a larger audience at the Second Annual Graduate Conference on Research and Scholarship. The Conference also spotlighted the one-on-one mentoring relationships between CSI faculty and students, which is a critical component of an education at the College.
This year’s program consisted of four oral presentations (moderated by Professor Wei Zhang) and 54 poster presentations by more than 67 CSI students.
One participant, Rosita Harris in the Social Work Department, who is studying with Nafees Alam, appreciated the chance to share her research. “It’s a great opportunity. You don’t get to do this every day.” Another poster presenter, Omri Schick, a current high school teacher who is studying Education with an emphasis in Biology under Professor Irina Lyublinskaya, emphasized the importance of research and collaboration at the Conference. “It’s very important for me to participate in research for my professional development as a teacher. Research allows us to see different methods, different approaches, and we can learn from each other.”
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Gary Reichard, PhD, discussed why the event is beneficial to CSI’s graduate students, and the College. “In its second year, the Graduate Research and Scholarship Conference afforded our graduate students the chance to share the results of their research and collaborations with our faculty with a broader audience, from both on and off campus. Their work, showcased in both posters and live presentation, provided outstanding evidence of the quality and breadth of CSI’s master’s and doctoral-level programs. Like the College’s longer-established Undergraduate Research Conference, the Graduate Conference has already become one of our signature programs.”
Beyond the poster and oral presentations, the Conference also featured a Plenary Session with music provided by William Bauer, PhD, of the performing and Creative Arts Department; comments from Mel Pipe, PhD, Associate Provost for Graduate Studies, Research, and Institutional Effectiveness, and CSI President William J. Fritz, PhD; and a keynote address, “My Life with Peptides: Shmoos, Food, and Drugs,” by Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Fred Naider, PhD.
College of Staten Island Associate Professor of English Tyehimba Jess has been named the 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Poetry for Olio, a volume of original verse published by Wave Books.
The Pulitzer organization called it a “distinctive work that melds performance art with the deeper art of poetry to explore collective memory and challenge contemporary notions of race and identity.”
Olio, published in 2016, has been called “Encyclopedic, ingenious, and abundant…” in Publisher’s Weekly’s starred review, and was selected as one of the five best poetry books of 2016. Olio was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award in 2016.
Jess is also the author of Leadbelly, a winner in the 2004 National Poetry Series. The Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.” He received a Lannan Literary Award December 2016.
Professor Jess has taught at CSI for seven years, and is currently on sabbatical in Chicago, returning to the classroom in fall 2017.
“Tyehimba is a great colleague and teacher, too, and we are absolutely thrilled for him,” commented Lee Papa, Chair of the English Department, adding “our amazing creative writing faculty includes Patricia Smith and Cate Marvin, both Guggenheim fellows; Ava Chin, a Fulbright fellow; Sarah Schulman, a winner of both a Fulbright and a Guggenheim; and, now with Tyehimba, a Pulitzer winner.”
“We have always known Professor Jess to be an integral component of the College of Staten Island experience, where he has shared the emotional depth and range of his poetry at many major events,” noted Nan M. Sussman, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences. “As coordinator of the Schwerner Writer’s Series, Professor Jess invited emerging and nationally-recognized poets to read to the college community and speak in classes. The College is honored and proud of this national distinction, and delighted that students at CSI have the opportunity to learn the craft of poetry in his classes.”
Read the Author’s Biography and more about the Winning Work at pulitzer.org>
After months of extensive renovation to what was formerly called the President’s Board Room, located on the fourth floor of Building 1A, CSI President William J. Fritz, Provost Gary Reichard, College Vice Presidents and Deans, and other distinguished members of the faculty gathered to inaugurate the new state-of-the-art meeting space, the Gordon and Lorraine Di Paolo Board Room.
Thanks to a generous grant from Lorraine and Dr. Gordon Di Paolo, the facility now boasts furniture and technological upgrades, including new tables and chairs, as well as a new sound amplifier and speaker array, a wireless microphone system, and enhanced high-definition telecommunications functionality, which are all connected to a powerful and unified audio-visual processor unit that is operated via a wall-mounted touch panel.
Khatmeh Osseiran-Hanna, Vice President for Institutional Advancement and External Affairs and Executive Director of the CSI Foundation, warmly welcomed guests by highlighting the Di Paolos’ “lifelong commitment to students through scholarship opportunities and contributing to the excellence of the CSI experience.” She noted with pride that Dr. Di Paolo joined the faculty in 1971, earned the Dolphin Award for Outstanding Service and Contribution to the College by a Member of the Full-Time Faculty in 2015, and is now the College’s first one-million-dollar lifetime benefactor.
Dr. Fritz continued, underscoring the long history of support that the College and its students have received from the Di Paolos, “This room represents but a part of the ongoing generosity and support that Gordon and Lorraine have shown for our students, and our College over the years. We also have them to thank for the Gordon and Lorraine Di Paolo Overseas Scholarship and the Di Paolo Commencement Awards in Marketing and Management, which, respectively, broaden our students’ worldviews and global experience, and ensure that they complete their degrees so that they may fully pursue their professional goals. They have also established other scholarships and provided funds for disabled students; the College, in general; and other critical initiatives. For their enormous contributions, they were honored in 2009 at the First Annual Celestial Ball with President’s Medals.”
“Today is a tribute to all of you. I have worked forty years as a classroom teacher and I loved the challenge of making the material interesting. Now, as a part of the governance and leadership team, I discovered that CSI has the most impressive, hardest working and brightest people I have ever met. Your warmth nourishes me and my soul, and I thank you for that,” commented Dr. Paolo, as a retrospective slideshow from his personal and professional life graced the large monitors encircling the room.
“Lorraine and I are very fortunate,” he continued. “We both have jobs we love and are surrounded by people we respect. But we do not have our own children… the students at the college are our kids, and we are pleased and proud to support them as if they were our own. Thank you.”
Adding to the impressive array of substantial grants received by College of Staten Island (CSI) faculty are several new and well-deserved federal awards.
Professor Christina Tortora, PhD, has received a $740,000 grant to continue her research in linguistics. The collaborative research grant includes CSI as the “Lead Institution,” as well as the University of Pennsylvania, Queens College, and Lehman College.
According to Dr. Tortora’s grant proposal, “The Corpus of New York City English (CoNYCE) is an in-progress project that aims to further the study of New York City English (namely, the varieties of English particular to New York City and the surrounding region), through the development and use of an innovative audio-aligned and parsed corpus of New Yorkers’ speech.”
“I was thrilled to receive positive news from the NSF so early in the process,” said Dr. Tortora, a 16-year veteran at CSI. This is her seventh National Science Foundation (NSF) and ninth federally funded grant.
The CoNYCE “will combine recent advances in speech corpus development tools with the special talents and backgrounds of CUNY undergraduates to create a database that will be a resource for researchers in all areas of linguistics. In so doing it will provide extremely valuable research opportunities and experiences for CUNY undergraduates,” according to Dr. Tortora.
During the 42-month grant, Dr. Tortora will recruit students from her course “Methods in Linguistic Research,” a class replicated at Queens College and Lehman College, to conduct 200 interviews with people living in New York. The goal is to get one million words recorded, the industry standard for this kind of work, and, according to Dr. Tortora, this student involvement is “really key.”
“Our students are perfectly positioned for this, and they are so excited about the prospect of interviewing a person of their own choosing. They are excited to contribute something of value, and they are committed to doing it right,” noted Dr. Tortora, who is also working closely with CSI-CUNY Speech Laboratory Director, Jason Bishop, PhD.
As students gather data from different people and begin to process and analyze that data, they also work closely with Dr. Tortora as she mentors them through related research projects.
Another significant award was made to Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sharon Loverde, PhD. Dr. Loverde received a $477,089 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study the behavior of small molecules and to examine how they interact with each other or with cell membranes. Using computer simulation, Dr. Loverde’s team is able to observe perspectives that are sometimes difficult to recreate in an experimental scenario.
“We can help experimentalists design better molecules or drugs, and our work is really best done at places like CSI where we can take advantage of the HPC and NSF Super Computers,” noted Dr. Loverde, who is currently working with three graduate students and two post-doctoral researchers, as well as with collaborators at City College of The City University of New York. They are looking to design different molecules to deliver cancer drugs to tumors. The focus is on how molecules behave in the body and these computer simulations are able to show just that.
“I hope that people in my group are able to learn from their experiences here at CSI and then can move on to other positions in the industry or academia, and I also hope the collaborations that I’ve started will continue,” said Dr. Loverde, a Chicago native, who has been at CSI for three years.
In other notable news, Dr. Emily Rice received a $565,658 NSF grant, her third from NSF; Dr. Sarah Berger received an NIH Research in Undergraduate Institutions grant for $375,000; Dr. Mark Feuer, with Jiang Xin, received his first NIH award of $307,156; Dr. Tobias Schaefer received a $99,554 NSF grant; and Dr. Greg Phillips received a $82,373 NIH award.
“Awards such as these are extremely competitive,” commented Associate Provost Mel Pipe, congratulating the recipients of these awards. “We are fortunate at CSI to have so many faculty who compete successfully at the highest level, not only for these federal grants but for funding from many other sources also.”
NIH offers funding for many types of grants, contracts, and even programs that help repay loans for researchers. To read more about NIH, visit their Web site.
NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. It does this through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations, and other research organizations throughout the United States. The Foundation accounts for about one-fourth of federal support to academic institutions for basic research.
All members of the College community are invited and encouraged to submit nominations to the 2016-2017 Dolphin Awards Committee. The deadline for submission is Friday, Mar. 24, 2017.
The Dolphin Award, instituted in 1980, is given by the President to select faculty, staff, and students in recognition of their contribution and achievements. The awards, in ten categories, are bestowed annually and are formally presented on the day of the College’s Commencement.