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.

Hurricane Photo by CSI Student Wins CUNY Photo Challenge

David Rodberg has won First Place in the CUNY Student Photo Challenge.

David Rodberg, a CSI sophomore who is a Cinema Studies major, has won First-Place honors in the CUNY Student Photo Challenge for November.

Rodberg snapped the photo, entitled, “Reflections of the Storm,” after Superstorm Sandy roared through the area, capturing the reflection of a church in his neighborhood in the flood waters that the storm left behind.

David Rodberg's Reflections of the Storm

Commenting on his motivation to take the picture, Rodberg says, “The morning after Hurricane Sandy devastated my neighborhood, I felt the need to document one of the most traumatic moments of my life by watching the high tide come back in, down my street.” He adds, “I find it interesting that there is a rich level of surrealism to this photograph, when there was only a mere perspective change of reality.”

In his spare time, Rodberg notes that he enjoys “photography, watching film, playing the drums with my band, and spending time with my girlfriend.”

Looking to the future, he states that he has “always wanted to work as a cinematographer in the Union (ASC).”

More information on the CUNY Student Photo Challenge is available online.

CSTEP Student Earns Accolades at Annual Conference

L-R: Debra Evans-Greene, Interim CSI President William J. Fritz, and Angelica Grant

Angelica Grant, a senior Psychology major enrolled in The Verrazano School at CSI, won first place for her poster at the 20th Annual CSTEP Conference in Lake George recently.

CSTEP students from all over the state presented their posters to students, faculty, and a panel of judges. The conference was comprised of several student workshops as well as programs geared to professional development. The highlight, however, was when the students themselves took center stage during the presentation of their posters. Grant’s poster, entitled “Children’s Socio-Cognitive Understanding of Jealousy: Effects of Age, Gender, and Perspective-Taking Ability during Middle Childhood,” earned her first-place honors and some very interesting research on child development. Her research centered on the personal narratives of children aged five to 11 and their “talk about their jealousy experiences as it relates to their emotion understanding and perspective-taking ability.” She hopes that her results will help in the development of ways to better support children who have difficulties in their relationships with others.

Grant, normally a shy, quiet speaker, remarked that she was “so happy to present my poster, I would gladly do it again.”

She also went on to describe her time at CSI, specifically with CSTEP, as “a great experience. The faculty, the staff, other students, everyone is really helpful and makes it a fruitful college experience.”

Many other CSI-CSTEP students presented at the conference, including Juan Cordona, Doriane Bouobda, Frantz Pierre-Toussaint, Melice Golding, and Norma Matos-Jackson.

“All of our students made quite an impression on the judges and faculty in attendance,” said Debra Evans-Greene, Director of the CSTEP program at CSI.

Angelica is currently working on applications for graduate school and recently completed an internship at an adult rehabilitation center, caring for people with psychiatric disorders. She called her time at the rehabilitation center, “refreshingly different from what I have done in the past” and believes it has opened up several new opportunities she did not believe she had.

In all, the CSTEP program is all about opening up new opportunities for a number of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students. CSTEP students receive intense training in the sciences, as well as one-on-one mentoring and access to faculty and research. They also receive internship opportunities and career guidance specifically tailored to their fields of expertise.

“What sets CSTEP apart is the support,” said Evans-Greene. CSTEP recruits approximately 20 incoming students every summer and the mentoring begins there. The students join workshops with the science faculty to expose them to the possibility of working with some of the best researchers in the country. Once enrolled, each cohort of students spends about one month together for five hours a day focusing on math and writing skills. At these workshops, they also get the chance to meet with engineering, math, and nursing faculty, and professors from many of the other sciences to help them determine which major they would like to eventually join.

Evans-Greene works as the Director of the program, but much of herself goes into her work. Much of what she does is act as a sounding board for the students. “Sometimes we have to work through the issues that prevent them from achieving academic excellence,” said Evans-Greene. “We don’t settle for in-between.”

Many CSTEP students go abroad to perform research and several have gone on to become PhD candidates. One student has been with CSTEP at CSI since the ninth grade. The support and expectation of excellence helps to ensure that CSTEP students have a bright future once they graduate, or, as Evans-Greene puts it, “Set the bar high, you will achieve it.”



CSI Sophomore Receives Women’s Opportunity Award

L-R: Zanada Mann, last years' winner; Destiny Santiago, the winner; and Catherine Putkowski-O'Brien

One of CSI’s own, Destiny Santiago, received the Soroptimist International Women’s Opportunity Award this spring. She received the honor during a ceremony honoring women returning to college who display strong academic motivation, and have both an academic and career plan, excellent academic references, and  financial need and dependents.

The Women’s Opportunity Award offers stipends to its recipients and has so far awarded $30 million since its inception in 1972. The Women’s Opportunity Awards program involves three levels of cash awards. The program begins at the local Soroptimist club-level, where award amounts vary. Local-level award recipients become eligible for region-level awards of either $3,000 or $5,000. Region-level award recipients then become eligible to receive one of three international-level awards of $10,000.

Santiago, a CSI sophomore with aspirations of attaining a Social Work degree, plans to counsel at-risk teens and young mothers, as well as stress the importance of a solid education.

“Destiny is only 22, but because the committee felt so strongly about her ability to turn her life around in spite of so many obstacles, we felt compelled to present her with this award to reinforce her commitment to succeed,” said Catherine O’Brien, Director of Health Education for the Staten Island Breast Cancer Research Initiative with the Center for Environmental Science at CSI, during her speech at the awards ceremony. “She sees herself as an example of hope, perseverance, and diligence.”

The word Soroptimist was coined from two words, “soro” and “optima,” which loosely translates as “best for women.”  The organization seeks out women of all ages and backgrounds who they consider leaders who also serve as role models for younger women at the beginning of their careers. Santiago, through her work at CSI and elsewhere, is one of Soroptimist International’s youngest winners, but she is not the only from CSI.

L-R: Catherine Putkowski-O'Brien; Danielle Lopez, the runner up; and Zanada Mann, last years' winner

This year’s runner up, Danielle Lopez, is a recent CSI graduate, is aspiring to be a clinical psychologist, and has enrolled in the Clinical Psychology program at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

Last year’s winner is also a recent CSI graduate who is starting the MARC Foundation, an organization for enhancing the opportunities of at-risk youths via education and resources.

Soroptimist International is a worldwide organization for women in management and the professions, working through service projects to advance human rights and the status of women. The organization strives to be a voice for women through awareness, advocacy, and action, and is committed to servicing local, national, and international communities, and participating actively in decision making at all levels of society.

[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]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZjUQ4Gd5Ew[/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.   

Troy Weekes, Jr. Earns Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship

CSI Biology major Troy Weekes, Jr. is the College's latest Jeannette K. Watson Fellow.

For the fifth consecutive year, a CSI student has been accepted into the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship.

Troy Weekes, Jr. is a freshman member of the SEEK and STEAM programs, majoring in Biology with a minor concentration in Theater. Weekes is a nontraditional student, returning to college to pursue his education seven years after graduating high school. During his time out of school, he held various full-time positions, including Gallery Coordinator at the Hilton Grand Hotel, Operations Supervisor at Rockefeller Center – Top of the Rock, and as a Flight Attendant for Colgan Airlines. Weekes is also a natural performer: he has sung publically since early childhood, both solo and in gospel choirs; during his teenage years, he participated in multiple talent showcases and competitions, including singing at the Apollo Theater twice. He is also an actor, having worked in two commercials, one public service announcement, two independent films, and one Nickelodeon network program. He can currently be seen on campus as a member of the CSI Gospel Choir and a finalist in the CSI’s Got Talent competition. Weekes is also deeply committed to mentoring young people; for the last few years, he has worked closely with teenagers at the Family and Friend Christian Worship Center in Brownsville, NY, and he is currently serving as a SEEK Ambassador, helping new SEEK students adjust to life in college. In addition to these accomplishments, he has managed to maintain a 3.88 GPA. Upon graduation, Weekes plans to attend pursue a career in education as a high school biology teacher and principal.

The Watson Fellowship is a three-year career-building and mentoring program that places students in paid internships for the final three summers of their college careers. Watson Fellows also have the opportunity to attend various cultural events and professional development events around the city. Recent CSI recipients of the Fellowship have included Paul Olivier (2011), Irvin Ibarguen (2010), Brian Kateman and Michael Maslankowski (2009), and Michael Young (2008).

For this upcoming summer’s internship, Weekes is considering Global Kids, Scenarios USA, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

In order to apply for the Watson Fellowship, students must be freshmen or sophomores, not older than 25 years old at the time of application, and U.S. citizens or green card holders. Ideal candidates will be able to demonstrate a history of academic success and community/college involvement. If you would like to learn more about this exciting opportunity, please visit the Career and Scholarship Center in Building 1A, Room 105 or call 718.982.2301.

Zanade Mann Wins Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award

Zanade Mann (left) is the winner of the 2011 Staten Island Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award. She is joined by Catherine Putkowski-O'Brien.

Zanade Mann, a College of Staten Island Psychology major, has won the 2011 Staten Island Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity Award.

Soroptimist, which means “the best for women,” is an international service organization for professional business and executive women. The organization is involved in creating UN policy, has a strong international lobbying constituency, and locally assists girls and women create their goals and dreams.

Zanade was one of many college women who applied for the Women’s Opportunity Award, which is given to a woman returning to college who demonstrates strong academic achievement, motivation to achieve her educational and career goals, and has financial need and at least one dependent and two letters of reference attesting to her academic strengths and motivation.

Zanade’s application was the most impressive application we have seen thus far. Her writing style was impeccable, her academic and career goals realistic with measurable, realistic objectives and delineation of the process involved in attaining these goals. Letters of reference demonstrated not only her academic strengths but also her volunteer service and two self-initialed service projects for inner-city girls. Not only is she a 2011 Women’s Opportunity Award Winner but a future Soroptimist member.