Protecting the Coastline

Sean Thatcher outside the College of Staten Island Library.

CUNY MATTERS – On a geology class field trip in 2014, two College of Staten Island students – 2015 Goldwater Scholarship winner Sean Thatcher and classmate Victoria Rivelli – discovered something geologically new about the exhaustively studied Palisades cliffs, along the west flank of the Hudson River.

Examining an outcrop of sedimentary rock that had been newly exposed at a construction site in North Bergen, N.J., they spotted sedimentary structures in the sandstone that shouldn’t have been there. And when they and lecturer Jane Alexander, the sedimentology teacher, presented their findings at a Geological Society of America conference, they rocked the place.

“We’re still analyzing rock samples that we took back to the lab to determine chemical variations associated with the Palisades Sill intrusion,” he says, referring to the formal name of the igneous rock that, as molten lava, flowed into fissures in the earlier sedimentary rocks. (The only reason the class visited that site (a parking lot for a new bank) was that it was wheelchair-accessible. That’s a must for Thatcher, who became quadriplegic after fracturing his neck in a diving accident six years ago, when he was 18.)

“I don’t let the wheelchair slow me down,” Thatcher says. “I refuse to stop living. I like to be productive and get things done. I think that using a wheelchair has actually enhanced my ability to think outside the box.”

Thatcher expects to graduate in 2017 from CSI’s selective Verrazano School honors program with a major in biology and a minor in geology. He says he took the geology class to “get a better understanding of the environment and its complex interactions.”

In his Goldwater application, he proposed a research project that would help him continue developing expertise in protecting and enhancing coastal ecosystems, which are under attack by human activity and climate change. His proposal, studying how fertilizer affects the growth rates of dune grass, would take place in CSI’s greenhouse.

Thatcher will spend this summer at the CUNY Graduate Center on a CUNY Pipeline Fellowship, which supports students who intend to earn Ph.D.s and teach in their fields at the university level. His pipeline project involves redeveloping the coastal ecosystem with sand dunes, coastal wetlands and other natural approaches to protect human communities from future storm surges, like those that swept across Staten Island during Hurricane Sandy.

“As a society, we need to redevelop coastal areas to better prepare for rising sea levels,” he says. He prefers taking the natural approach, rather than investing in mammoth barriers that have been proposed to protect New York’s harbor. While there may be a role for sea walls, he prefers “natural structures that cost little for humans to build, but support valuable biodiversity. What’s better to protect homes than green space?”

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, established by Congress, is the premier federally funded undergraduate scholarship that supports students who are headed toward doctoral study in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. The one- and two-year scholarships cover tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 a year.

[video, gallery] Eighth Annual Honors Convocation

Lucinda Zawadzki is graduating May 2015 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, and a double minor in Biochemistry and Chemistry.

The College of Staten Island honored its top students at the Eighth Annual Honors Convocation at the Center for the Arts Springer Concert Hall.

Lucinda Zawadzki, the CSI Class of 2015 Salutatorian and graduate from the Macaulay Honors College: University Scholars Program at CSI, was the student speaker at the event.

Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. A. Ramona Brown, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Fred Naider, and CSI President Dr. William J. Fritz, also brought remarks.

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President Fritz began by asking the honorees to stand and “be duly recognized for your achievements.” Once the applause subsided, President Fritz shared his pride to be “standing here before our highest-achieving students.” He then discussed his reasons for which the students were being honored—that the College was proudly celebrating “your intellect, your drive to succeed, and your dedication to service.”

Furthering a trend that he began two years ago at the Honors Convocation, President Fritz referred to comments made by 2014 Salutatorian, Elizabeth Krawczun, saying, “As we go forward, we must take our scholarship, ambition, character, heart, and spirit to make good art—programming software, pumping gas, preparing a good meal, telling a funny joke—Make good art,” he told the attendees.

“For Elizabeth,” he continued, “making good art meant creating something of value, of meaning, of importance—it meant doing the extraordinary, if not the impossible—it meant changing the world. So to the mazing students here to be honored, whether your discipline is within the creative arts, humanities, sciences, or social sciences, within business, education, or health sciences; tonight in deference to Elizabeth, let us all share a common bond.”

President Fritz concluded his address by telling the attendees, “Tonight let us all be artists, let us share something of ourselves, and let us make good art.”

[youtube][/youtube]Zawadzki, who is graduating Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, and a double minor in Biochemistry and Chemistry, also earned the Biology Department Faculty Award for Academic Excellence.

During her remarks, she acknowledged “Many of us are afraid of the future. I know I still am. But I’ve learned that you shouldn’t let that fear stop you, and you definitely shouldn’t let it guide you,” adding “none of us know what will happen down the road, so just try finding what you are truly passionate about and give it your all.”

“Remember, there is nothing in this world that can limit you,” Zawadzki concluded. “We define our own limits, but the world knows no bounds. So let go. Go with the flow. Take it all in. Strive for greatness.”

Following the ceremony, the honored students, their families and friends, and staff attended a dessert reception in the Center for the Arts Atrium where they were able to celebrate their accomplishments at CSI.

Jaclyn Miceli, dedicated to classroom communities

Jaclyn Miceli

Jaclyn Miceli is a June 2015 graduate of the Science, Letters, and Society major at the College of Staten Island.  In addition to completing her Science, Letters, and Society degree, Jaclyn has also completed the course requirements for childhood education.

A Macaulay Honors student, Jaclyn has maintained a GPA of 3.9 throughout her years at CSI. She is the recipient of the Commencement Award for Honors in Science, Letters, and Society. As part of the requirement to graduate with honors in Science, Letters, and Society, Jaclyn completed an honors thesis entitled, “Immigration Studies and the Strengthening of Classroom Communities.

[video] Meet Kawsar Ibrahim: 2015 Valedictorian and Commencement Speaker

Kawsar with a patient at the health clinic she helped set up with the Global Medical/Dental and Public Health Brigades in Panama (August 2014).

Kawsar Ibrahim, a student of the Macaulay Honors College, is graduating Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and minors in Biochemistry, Chemistry and Studio Art.

Kawsar’s parents originally emigrated from Egypt and settled in Brooklyn where Kawsar and her siblings were born. Their family moved to Staten Island about a decade ago, where she graduated as Valedictorian of Tottenville High School.

As a future physician and researcher, Kawsar has been conducting research under the mentorship of Dr. Alejandra Alonso and Dr. Daniel McCloskey at the Center for Developmental Neuroscience. A recipient of the CSI Undergraduate Research Stipend, she studies Tau proteins as a treatment target for Alzheimer’s disease. She has presented her findings at various local, state and national conferences, including the prestigious 2014 Innovative Exploration Forum in Albany and the 2015 National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Washington State. Kawsar has also won awards two years in a row at the Macaulay Honors College Research Symposium and coauthored a publication in Neuroscience Bulletin.

[youtube][/youtube]Kawsar has also been a volunteer and biomedical researcher at Staten Island University Hospital’s Heart Institute, where she contributed to research projects and gained insight shadowing cardiothoracic surgeons.

Last August, Kawsar served abroad in Panama with the Global Medical Brigades to bring medical/dental healthcare and education to under-served people. There she also helped build a compost latrine for a family of six as part of a public health initiative to support rural families.

Kawsar representing the College of Staten Island at the Spring 2014 Macaulay Honors College Open House as a student ambassador. (Photo Courtesy of Macaulay Honors College.)

In addition to participating in an indigenous welcoming ceremony while in Panama, Kawsar made Panamanian friends and met Fabian, a young boy who came to the clinic for a check-up.

“He was so excited that we had set up the clinic at his school and did not want to leave,” Kawsar reflects. “Seeing the excitement in his eyes, we gave him a stethoscope to put on. When he came up to me to “listen” to my heart, I remembered playing with my toy stethoscope as a child; so I too put my stethoscope on his chest. His heart was beating so fast that I felt it run through the chest piece and through my fingers—that’s when I knew that I had experienced what our brigade calls the heartbeat of the world.”

Outside of her scientific pursuits, Kawsar enjoys creating artwork through her painting. She also loves watching Arabic dramas, and, as a student ambassador, she represents CSI, mentors, and motivates prospective students to achieve their full potential.

This fall, Kawsar will be starting medical school at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in pursuit of specializing in foot and ankle surgery.

[video] Meet Lucinda Zawadzki: 2015 Salutatorian and Honors Convocation Speaker

Lucinda holds a Northern Saw-whet Owl that she banded at Sandy Hook, NJ during the fall of 2014.

Lucinda Zawadzki is graduating May 2015 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, and a double minor in Biochemistry and Chemistry.

Lucinda, a Macaulay Honors College student, has been conducting research with Dr. Richard Veit on vagrancy and population dynamics of migratory birds.

“I have [also] had the privilege of working with, and learning from, Dr. Ralf Peetz of the Center for Engineered Polymeric Materials, Dr. Shaibal Mitra of the Biology Department, and Dr. William Wallace of the Center for Environmental Science,” adds Lucinda.

[youtube][/youtube] She is currently working on four publications related to her research, including “Duration of stopover in relation to date of arrival in vagrant Western Kingbirds.” She has presented her research at numerous conferences, and recently presented her work on Western Kingbirds at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Spokane, Washington this April.

Lucinda at CSI's Undergraduate Conference on Research, Scholarship, and Performance presenting her research on vagrancy in Western Kingbirds.

Lucinda has been awarded the College of Staten Island Undergraduate Research Stipend two years in a row for her research, as well as an honorable mention from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2014.

During her undergraduate career, she has often traveled to conduct research.  Lucinda studied contemporary British drama in London during the summer of 2012, participated in an archaeological dig at the coastal erosion site of the Knowe of Swandro in Rousay, Scotland, during the summer of 2013, and learned about tropical ecosystems through a tropical ecology course in St. John, US Virgin Islands, this past winter. She continues her research fieldwork of banding birds in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Lucinda photo-cleaning part of the archaeological site at the Knowe of Swandro in Rousay, Scotland (June 2014).

In the summer of 2015, Lucinda will continue to conduct research with Dr. Richard Veit at Tuckernuck Island, Massachusetts, studying gull diet, and assisting in the banding of birds at two Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) banding stations. She has plans to attend graduate school to obtain her PhD in ornithology to pursue her dream of becoming an ornithologist, and conducting research on vagrant birds.

“The Macaulay Honors College at the College of Staten Island has provided me with a unique educational experience that I would not have received elsewhere,” Lucinda reflects, adding “thanks to our esteemed faculty and small class sizes, I had the chance to form meaningful relationships with my professors, which has led to great research opportunities.”

Learn more about Lucinda:

Staten Island Advance CSI Value article>;

The Macaulay Messenger Spotlight profile>



Creative Writing Major Earns AP Award

Andrew Simontacchi ’15, a creative writing major, was one of the Staten Island Advance reporters who earned a second place win for outstanding Spot News Reporting on the day of the Eric Garner grand jury decision.

According to the announcement article appearing on

“The Staten Island Advance has been recognized with two New York State Associated Press awards for its coverage of the Eric Garner case.

The awards included a second place win for outstanding Spot News Reporting on the day of the Garner grand jury decision and a first place photography award for Videos and Slide Shows over the course of coverage, from July through the end of 2014.

“We are excited that the AP has recognized the work of the Advance’s reporters and photographers,” said Gail Lubin, the Advance’s content director. “Our news staff is dedicated to its Staten Island readership, and we are proud of their outstanding efforts to provide real-time news 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The spot news award is technically a writing award, but it was an overall live-coverage package, comprised of text, photos and video, that was submitted for consideration. This included a step-by-step look at the day’s events as they unfolded, from the first rumors that the grand jury was about to announce its decision, to Rev. Al Sharpton’s Harlem press conference announcing a National March to be held in Washington.

The reporters, photographers and editors who contributed words, images and videos to this package include:

Reporters: John Annese, Vincent Barone, Frank Donnelly, Maura Grunlund, Ryan Lavis, Diane Lore, Tracey Porpora, Andrew Simontacchi, Anna Sanders, Lauren Steussy, and Mira Wassef.

Editors: Eddie D’Anna, Managing Producer of Breaking News; Mark Stein, Community Engagement Specialist; and Tom Wrobleski, Senior Opinion Writer.

Photographers: Anthony DePrimo, Hilton Flores, Bill Lyons, Irving Silverstein, and Jan Somma-Hammel.

The award-winning slideshow included the poignant images of grief and the powerful images of protest and resolve so prevalent throughout the many months of the Garner coverage.

The photographers whose work was included in “The death of Eric Garner,” the slideshow submitted for consideration, are: Vincent Barone, Anthony DePrimo, Hilton Flores, Jan Somma-Hammel, Ryan Lavis and Bill Lyons.

Winners will be honored at the annual state AP awards banquet, scheduled for June 6, at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs.

[video, gallery] CSI Honors Student-Athletes at Annual Awards Banquet

The College of Staten Island athletics program celebrated another great year that was this evening, dishing out over 60 awards at its annual awards banquet held at The Vanderbilt at South Beach in Staten Island, New York.  The annual event recognized the top performers and other distinguished award winners spanning CSI’s 15 intercollegiate programs.

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After greetings from Director of Athletics Charles Gomes and CSI President Dr. William J. Fritz, awards were given for each sport in chronological order beginning with teams last fall, and ending with women’s softball, which finalized its season with a CUNYAC title and was one of three teams to advance to NCAA National Tournament competition.

Major awards were presented to Female Athlete of the Year Dakota Dawkins, junior from the women’s swimming and diving team.  In 2014-15, Dawkins was part of a unit that broke over 20 school records, and the signature breaststroker was a part of four individual and four relay record-breaking teams, and broke two records at the CUNYAC Championship.  Dawkins earned CUNYAC Performer of the Year honors this winter.  CSI Basketball powerhouse Will Fonseca earned Male Athlete of the Year honors.  Fonseca, the CUNYAC, ECAC Metro NY/NJ, and Metropolitan Basketball Writers’ Player of the Year, led  All-Star led CSI basketball to its second-straight ECAC championship, breaking the school record for points in a season with 732, and leading the nation in total points and double-doubles. 

CSI Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors was given to men’s tennis star and junior Ed Ruffe.  A CUNYAC first-team All-Star this season, Ruffe is graduating early from CSI, sporting a 3.987 GPA while majoring in Psychology. Vice President for Enrollment Management Mary Beth Reilly also honored the CSI Women’s Swimming & Diving team for posting CSI Athletics’ highest Team GPA, at 3.29.

Jennifer Coughlan, graduating senior from women’s basketball, was awarded the 10th Annual Bill Cali/John Scrivani Sportsmanship Award, named after CSI’s former baseball skippers who earned similar honors from the Staten Island Advance in 2005.  CSI men’s basketball head coach Tony Petosa, who won the same honor from the Advance in 2011, assisted in the presentation.  Coughlan, a captain with the squad, overcame several injuries to persevere as an ambassador to the program.

The same holds true for women’s soccer standout Danielle Smith, who was awarded CSI’s Inaugural Sports Medicine Award, distributed by Head Athletic Trainer Joe Abruzzo.  The award is given to an outstanding athlete who displays courage and resiliency through injury and/or rehabilitation.  Smith overcame a season-ending injury in 2013 to rebound and lead her team in goal scoring in 2014.

Honoring those outside the halls of athletics, the program honored long-time staffer and swim instructor Geraldine Ayers with a Distinguished Service Award.  Ayers, long regarded as one of Staten Island’s top youth instructors has spearheaded private lessons at the College, which has seen a spike in revenue and community interaction.  Another Distinguished Service Award was given to Kenichi Iwama, Deputy to the President.  Working collaboratively with Charles Gomes, Iwama has been instrumental in advancing and supporting the program through continuing branding efforts and facility upgrades. 

Midway through the ceremony, members of the CSI Student-Athlete Advisory Committee presented their fifth-annual G.L.O.V.E. Award to the CSI Women’s Basketball Team for their model of Giving, Leading, Organizing, Volunteering, and Encouraging.

All told, the rousing event was a great success, according to Gomes.

“It’s been an amazing year for CSI Athletics and tonight was our night to celebrate that success,” said Gomes.  “Our student athletes invest so much effort on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. This is our opportunity to honor them and their achievements. I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments from this past year.”

[youtube][/youtube]An end-of-year highlight video, prepared by CSI Facilities Manager Anthony Avena was the highlight of the evening.  he CSI academic year will come to a close in the coming weeks, when Commencement will take place on May 28.

[video] Sean Thatcher named 2015 Goldwater Scholar

[youtube][/youtube]Sean Thatcher, a senior with the Verrazano School Honors program at the College of Staten Island (CSI) was recently named a 2015 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, one of only 300 students nationwide to earn this prestigious distinction.

A Biology major with Geology minor, Sean has been working with Dr. Jane Alexander in examining the Palisades Sill in North Bergen, New Jersey as well as with the Greenbelt Conservancy as a Development Associate.

Sean was introduced to the Goldwater Scholarship program when he attended a Career and Scholarship workshop led by Michele Galati, who eventually nominated Sean for the Scholarship due to his impressive GPA, excellence in the STEM fields and ambition for research, which was validated by his project proposal for a Coastal Management Strategy in an effort to help prevent against coastal flooding on Staten Island as a result of storms and future sea level rise.

What makes Sean Thatcher’s accomplishments all the more impressive is that in 2009 he had an accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury that has left him almost completely paralyzed from the neck down.

Just after completing his freshman year at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, Sean went swimming in a lake with his family and was badly injured after diving underwater and hitting his head, breaking three vertebra. After two years of therapy, Sean decided it was time to return to school so he enrolled at CSI for the convenience—Sean is a Staten Island native—but soon realized that CSI had given him the tools to do exactly what he wanted to do.

During his second semester at CSI, Sean attended one of Dr. Alexander’s Historical Geology classes and was instantly hooked, though he realized that being a quadriplegic would make fieldwork for a potential geologist challenging.

“There was a steep learning curve,” said Sean, of studying from his wheelchair. “It took a lot of practice but I was lucky in that I had very accommodating professors that also didn’t let me off the hook because of my condition.” This was made the most apparent during Dr. Alexander’s classes’ field trips to the Palisades Sill where Sean was given “different types of work to accomplish, but never easier.”

Sean became an efficient manager of data that the other students collected. He collected the notes and collated them making them simpler and easier to understand.

Sean has presented research on the Palisades Sill at the Geological Society of America (GSA) Conference in 2014 and 2015, and the research team he is currently a part of is investigating a mineral discovered in the metamorphosed rocks, called smoky quartz, which may have broad-reaching implications on the understanding of how the Sill altered the chemistry of the preexisting rocks millions of years ago. The presentation of the results for the smoky quartz research took place on April 30 at the CSI’s Annual Undergraduate Conference on Research, Scholarship, and Performance.

Along with his work with the Palisades Sill, Sean is also working with the Greenbelt Conservancy, a not-for-profit, whose mission it is to “promote, sustain and enhance Staten Island’s 2,800-acre Greenbelt through education, recreation, conservation and research.”

Sean wants to use the Goldwater Scholarship to help him continue his research and seek a PhD in Environmental Sciences.

While he is passionate about his research, Sean really enjoys teaching. “I really enjoy helping students with their studies and conveying my passion for research,” he says of wanting to teach at the college level. “I find it to be a very rewarding experience.”

Sean will spend his upcoming summer working with CUNY Pipeline along with Dr. Jane Alexander. During the six week program he will be participating in GRE prep courses, take part in research seminars and will start an independent project which he will present at the CUNY Graduate Center during the Spring Semester.

When asked for what advice he would give to students who are struggling to find their passion, he answered, “Try everything. It’s the easiest way to discover what you like.”

The Goldwater Scholarship was established by the United States Congress in 1986 and is the premiere federally funded undergraduate award of its type. It is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers and PhDs in the sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer science and related fields.