Brian Raleigh ’18 Harmonizes Academics and Interests

Brian Raleigh "crowd surfing" at Webster Hall

It has been well established among researchers that music can have a relaxing effect on people. Perhaps, no one knows that better than College of Staten Island (CSI) student Brian Raleigh ’18. The Verrazano School student has been a musician since age five, and now, as a successful college student in a popular band, Raleigh finds that his calm demeanor is his key to stress-less success.

“I feel like many college students get into the ‘end of the world’ mentality a lot of the time and it only makes them more stressed, which is not the goal of college. College is supposed to be a place that is challenging. However, the challenge does not lie with the actual work professors give. It lies with one’s response to it,” declares Raleigh, a Business Management major, minoring in Music.

While playing keyboard in his band, Wayward Strangers, at such popular venues as The Bitter End and Webster Hall, Raleigh still manages to work as a peer coach in the Office of Academic Support at CSI and at his family-owned shop, Eggers Ice Cream Parlor, while maintaining a 3.5 GPA.

Being a part of the CSI community is important to Raleigh, and he urges all CSI students to “make CSI your own! Don’t be afraid to stay on campus and make friends. CSI is a great school for the price we pay, and one should feel proud to go here. Get involved and enjoy college!”

The 20-year-old Petrides High School graduate is also a member of the CSI Music Club. His goal is to pursue music professionally, be it with his own band or as an associate in the industry, possibly opening a record label or talent management firm.

Raleigh working at Egger's Ice Cream Parlor.

“I would like to shape this next generation of music as well as give back to a community that has given people behind them the chance to listen to amazing music,” Raleigh commented.

“The band is my passion but so is music in general. I think anyone’s dream career would be to travel the world with some of their best friends and make music. I think that with Wayward Strangers it’s a real possibility,” said Raleigh, a West Brighton resident.

The student credits Charles Liu, PhD, Director of the Macaulay and Verrazano School programs, because he, “really got me to think about life and the reality of the world outside of college. He is very inspiring and is always filled with surprises.”

Dr. Liu, also an astrophysics professor at the College, says Raleigh inspires him right back.  “Brian was a pleasure to have in my class – what an engaged, active learner he is!  He’s great to have around outside of class too – as a student, a musician, and much more.  He is a highly valued and greatly appreciated member of the Verrazano Community.”

The model student advises his fellow peers to keep up with their priorities and not to let too much responsibility weigh them down.

Raleigh insists, “Do not get caught up in the amount of work you have. Always do your work but always realize that every situation, good or bad, is temporary. Thus when life and school are good, push harder because at some point that good situation will start to change, so be prepared. On the other hand, I find myself buried in work all the time, but whether its school or work, when things get hard, I accept the challenge. I will get through it, good or bad, pass or fail, the stress will end.”




CSI students spend winter vacation working at Costa Rican orphanage

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE — While most college kids spend winter break binging the latest Netflix series, six students from the College of Staten Island gave up their vacation to fly across the globe and volunteer in Costa Rica.

Pablo Llerena, Dea Aga, Blerim Cukovic, Xena Flowers, Shiqirije Salaj and Jorge Villatoro partnered with the volunteer organization UBelong to help with reconstruction projects in Pitahaya, Cartago, Costa Rica.

“Realistically, I know there’s not much impact I can make in Costa Rica,” said Cukovic, a 21-year-old psychology major with a pre-med concentration. “I’m only a pair of helping hands, but that’s enough for this experience to mean a lot to me.”

From Jan. 6 to Jan. 30, the CSI group reconstructed the Hogar de baik Costa Rica (Home of the Children Baik in Costa Rica) orphanage.

Although the group originally signed up for manual labor — they also cared for the children of the orphanage, ranging in age from toddlers to 7 years old.

Cukovic said leaving the kids was tough — but the lessons learned from them will stay with him forever.

“The way they persevere through life is so inspiring,” the Grasmere resident said. “It’s like they were teaching me more than I was teaching them.”


The students stayed with a host family in the developing country. They walked through the towns, worked full-time, seven-hour shifts during the week at the orphanage and “lived life as Costa Ricans” throughout their stay.

The three-week trip marked the first time anyone in the group had been to Costa Rica. They say the experience opened their eyes to the world and humbled them on a personal level.

“It made me realize that we are very lucky to live in New York where we have access to anything that money can buy,” said Dea Aga, 23-year-old biology major from Grasmere. “The main lesson I learned from this trip was to be more humble and take advantage of all the opportunities that come my way.”

Their trip was not free of complication: On their first night, the town where the students lived experienced a black out. Shortly after, ongoing pipe construction left Costa Ricans with no water for a day.


Sure, the idea of “giving back” via helping a community in need warms their hearts, but the group went to Costa Rica in hopes of doing some personal soul searching as well.

“This has always been a bucket list thing for me, to take time and help people who need it,” said Brooklynite Jorge Villatoro, a 23-year-old political science major. “I wanted to start the new year with a new perspective.”

Cukovic said it was simply an opportunity to turn “free time into useful time.”

This article by Victoria Priola was first published February 8, 2017 on  It is reprinted here with permission.


Senior Naomi Gaggi takes home presigious CUNY Scholar-Athlete of the Month citation

The City University of New York Athletic Conference has named College of Staten Island women’s swimmer Naomi Gaggi as the CUNYAC/Hospital for Special Surgery Scholar-Athlete of the Month for December 2016. The senior from Brooklyn, NY has earned a 3.9 GPA as a Psychology major with a concentration in Neuroscience and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Dolphins’ distance swimmer earned 10 first place finishes and a total of 24 podium finishes in the month of December alone. Gaggi is the team’s second leading point getter with 188 total points through December’s action. In addition, Gaggi is three-time CUNYAC All-Star and 2017 will look like more of the same for the senior, “this will be my first year to medal individually (at the CUNYAC Championships) and I’m excited. Our team put in a lot of hard work, the boys should be favored and our girls team will look to give everyone a run for their money.”

The team captain began swimming competitively in fourth grade and has only improved since then. Gaggi competes for the Dolphins in the 200, 500 and sometimes 1,000 freestyle, as well as on the freestyle and medley relay teams. Distance wasn’t always her forte however, “The first time I swam the 500, it kind of came as a surprise, I was not a distance swimmer, but I did well and it showed all my hard work payed off in practice.” The St. Joseph Hill alumni said the transition to the storied CSI swim program was not the easiest, “I’m a much stronger swimmer now than when I first came to CSI. I didn’t come from a specialized club team like others, so there was a pretty tough transition to college swimming.”

Leaving New York City was never a thought when Gaggi was choosing a college for herself. “I knew I wanted to stay local in the city, CSI had a great research database and access to so many different research institutions in New York City that focus on autism research.” The senior has made the most of her four years at the College of Staten Island, while being a part of two research teams on campus, Gaggi also has conducted research at the Yale University School of Medicine and Mount Sinai with nationally renowned doctors and researchers. Due to her outstanding efforts in the research field, Gaggi was recognized nationally as a 2016 honorable mention for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater. “I want to focus on neuroscience and autism spectrum disorder because there is so much known about the basic mechanisms of the brain and so little known about the social aspect of neuroscience. Autism spectrum disorder, on the other hand, is understood on the social level, but little is known about the mechanisms of the brain. I see this as a challenge that I want to further explore through neuroimaging while I obtain my PhD,” states Gaggi.

“I wouldn’t say that being a student-athlete has struggles, it’s just obviously very time-consuming. I think the time-consuming nature helps people learn to prioritize things and manage their time better. It’s certainly pushed me to be a better student.” Like many other scholar-athletes, Gaggi turns the demands of being a full time student-athlete into positives, “swimming twice a day and going to the gym as well, it takes a lot of time, it’s not only helped me make friends but the mindset of being an athlete also helps me be determined and to persevere in the classroom.”

CSI swimming head coach Michael Ackalitis had plenty of praise for his senior captain, “Naomi is a top candidate to be the CSI Valedictorian at this year’s Commencement. She is an exceptional researcher and an outstanding athlete and how she has been able to do both is amazing. She has been a very special piece to the women’s program over the last four years. Her leadership has set the tone for what being a Dolphin is all about. She is a Macaulay Honors Student who is majoring in Neuroscience and boast a 3.89 GPA, she has been the leader for the women’s team earning the highest GPA on campus the last two seasons. Her leadership translates to the pool where she continues to work hard and has won several gold medals at CUNY’s as part of winning relays and also four school records. Naomi has been a major key to keeping the women’s team going in a positive direction,” stated Ackalitis.

“I’ve become a lot more cultured through my tenure at CSI, I volunteered in Sri Lanka with children who have autism spectrum disorder, and I studied abroad in Denmark as well,” says Gaggi. Looking towards the future, Gaggi has been applying to graduate schools to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience and one day hopes to become a full-time researcher and professor in the field. “Swimming and life have taught me one thing, when it’s freezing cold and you don’t want to jump into that pool at 6 AM, you just have to take that initial leap, and that’s the same thing you do if you want to achieve your goals,” said Gaggi.

When asked what it meant to Naomi to be named December’s Scholar Athlete of the Month she had this to say, “it is a really great honor to be recognized with, I really want people to see how great being a student athlete is, it not only helps me in swimming, but it’s given me so many valuable lessons about life and how to be great academically.”

Former Miss Staten Island, Katlyn Cohen, fulfills dream at Disney University

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE – Great Kills native Katlyn Cohen, Miss Staten Island 2015, is fulfilling her lifelong dream.

The former beauty queen has been asked to participate in the Disney College Program, where she’ll be enrolled in classes at Disney University while serving an internship in entertainment.

“I’ve been dreaming about doing this program since I was 11 years old and I can’t believe my dreams of working for the Walt Disney Company are finally coming true,” says Katlyn.

She adds: “I will also be videotaping my entire journey on my YouTube channel if anyone is interested in following my adventures!” 

The bright, brunette beauty says she is incredibly excited about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and is grateful for the love and support the Miss Staten Island Board, her family and friends have shown.

Katlyn was named Miss Staten Island at only 18 years of age and on her very first try at any pageant competition.

For her talent performance she delivered a dramatic contemporary monologue from the beloved play “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder, having performed it earlier as part of her senior project.

Katlyn, the daughter of Jen and Eric Cohen, chose a hot topic for her pageant platform: “Stop the Texts and Stop the Wrecks.”

To say the former Miss Staten Island looks with enthusiasm toward her trip to the Sunshine State, would be somewhat of an understatement.

Before she ventures down south, however, the College of Staten Island co-ed will be feted by her pageant family and friends at a “Good Luck Dinner” Wednesday, Jan. 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Perkin’s Restaurant on Amboy Road in Eltingville.

All are invited to attend. Note: There’s no entrance fee. Guests are responsible for dinner.

“We are always proud and happy when one of our title holders advances in her dreams,” said Jim Smith, pageant executive director.

All pageant princesses and former contestants are encouraged to attend.

This article by Carol Ann Benanti was first published January 16, 2017 on  It is reprinted here with permission.



Saada Amadu ’16 Forges Ahead to Study Sustainability

Saada Amadu visiting Château de Chambord in France.

As a sustainable environmental continues to be a global concern for many, one College of Staten Island (CSI) graduate is taking action.

Saada Amadu ’16 has received a full scholarship to attend graduate school at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary to study Environmental Sciences and Policy.

“I hope to work at the intersection of environmental science and policy because I believe for us to be able to find methods to sustain ourselves without endangering the environment and livelihood and well-being of future generations to come, international policy must find a way to bridge the gap with the scientific community,” said Amadu, who was an International Studies major with minors in Geography and French.

The Port Richmond High School graduate credits much of her motivation and inspiration for graduate studies to her experiences with research, under the advisement of Associate Professor Roshen Hendrickson, and study abroad opportunities at CSI.

“Saada is a very bright and ambitious woman who has gained access to stimulating opportunities, such as study abroad and graduate school in Europe, through sheer hard work. She has been a great pleasure to work with because she’s intellectually curious and motivated to contribute to her global community,” commented Professor Hendrickson.

Saada Amadu visiting temples in Hong Kong.

For her honors thesis, Amadu wrote about, “policies that led to Senegal importing over 70% of its food and also organizations and individuals working to revive the sector. The interesting part of the research was discovering that structural adjustment programs imposed by the IMF and World Bank were part of the reason for the decline in the Senegal agricultural sector.”

Currently crafting her Master’s thesis, Amadu is studying “the nexus of food, energy, and water security issues. The need for new energy sources and climate change have led some countries to seek alternative sources of energy through biofuels, which are basically energy derived from biomass. First generation biofuels can be derived from crops such as soy or corn while second generation biofuels are derived from by-products such as wood or crops such as jatropha [a flowering plant]. My research is focusing on the fact that biofuels affect both energy and water security of certain communities, in particular rural Ghanaian communities.”

For a truly rich college experience, Amadu strongly urges college students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities as well as the financial support available for those courses.

“Programs can be expensive but with the help of scholarships and grants, the costs might not be too much. I went on two semester-long programs and was still able to graduate in three and a half years. The Center for International Service is particularly helpful when it comes to applying for programs and scholarships,” said Amadu, who traveled to Paris, France in Spring 2015 and Hong Kong in Spring 2016.

The 21-year-old native of Tamale, Ghana was also the recipient of the Gilman Scholarship, Benjamin Franklin Travel Grant, CUNY SIROCS, and CSI Study Abroad Scholarship.

“Saada is an outstanding, dedicated student with a plan to utilize sustainability initiatives to make a difference for underserved communities around the world,” praised Michele Callahan, Fellowship & Scholarship Advisor.

To succeed in college, Amadu urges students to, “Take advantage of opportunities if and when you are presented with them. Also, try to have a faculty mentor because they can be of help when you least expect.”



Ana Hayes ’17 Receives Thomas W. Smith Fellowship

Ana Hayes with Dr. Gerry Milligan

Adding to her long list of impressive accomplishments, Ana Hayes ’17 is the recipient of the Thomas W. Smith fellowship. A CUNY BA and Macaulay Honors College student, Hayes also recently traveled to Berlin, Germany for a two-month internship at the American Citizen Services department in the U.S. Embassy.

Hayes is grateful to, among others, her mentors for the CUNY BA: Peter Kabachnik, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Global Affairs, and Gerry Milligan, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of World Languages and Literatures.



CSI Student Competes for Miss New York USA 2017 Title

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE — Sabrina Mahmood, 22, of Graniteville, will compete for the title of Miss New York USA 2017 from Jan. 13-15 at The Purchase (N.Y.) College Performing Arts Center.

Sabrina, the daughter of Maria and Arif Mahmood, attends the College of Staten Island.

An excited Sabrina’s reveals this is her first attempt at any pageant and she looks with anticipation toward its outcome.

Sabrina whose activities and hobbies include painting, running, and reading explains: “Of course I would love to win, but i think it’s really just going to be a great experience and something I can remember for the rest of my life.”

The Miss New York Teen USA and Miss New York USA pageants are official preliminaries to the Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants — and Sabrina couldn’t be more proud  to be part of the entire experience.

The young woman chosen Miss New York USA 2017 will go on to represent the state of New York in the 2017 Miss USA pageant as seen live on FOX television, one of the most anticipated television events of the year.

FYI: Sabrina’s pageant dress is from Ultimate Fashions in the Staten Island Mall, her dress pageant sponsor.

The prospective titleholder goes on to say, besides school she’s active in her family business, Omar Jewelers in Meiers Corners.

“I am studying accounting at the College of Staten Island as well and I hope to be finishing my bachelor’s in about a year. I feel like becoming Miss New York USA would be ideal for me because it would allow me to be more involved in the community and I would be honored to represent my home State of New York.”

This article by Carol Ann Benanti was first published Nov. 30, 2016 on  It is reprinted here with permission.

CUNY Foster Initiative Students Living in CSI Dorms Featured in Wall Street Journal

New CUNY initiative at CSI provides free housing and other support to young people who grew up in foster care

College of Staten Island (CSI) students Araceli Zapien and Amanda Bahamonde spent much of their lives in foster homes. Now, thanks to a new initiative at the City University of New York (CUNY), the two students receive free year-round housing and meals. The efforts are part of the CUNY foster initiative, which aims to beat the low graduation rate for young people who grew up in foster care, a nationwide problem.

Currently, fifty young people are part of the program, which school officials hope will serve 200 students over four years. Participants reside on the Staten Island campus or at Queens College.

Read the full article, “Foster Youths Get Extra Help Making It Through College,” by Leslie Brody in the Wall Street Journal.