MHC’s Christina Vicidomini wins prestigious Salk Scholarship

Christina Vicidomini

Christina Vicidomini, a 2013 graduate of the Macaulay Honors College at the College of Staten Island (CSI), has earned a prestigious Jonas Salk Scholarship. Vicidomini earned one of only eight coveted awards presented to CUNY students annually.  The award will provide $8,000 to apply toward medical school tuition.

The Salk program was created in 1955 to honor Dr. Jonas E. Salk, the 1934 graduate of City College who discovered the polio vaccine. Highly selective, the Salk Scholarship identifies students entering the fields of medicine and the biological sciences who are most likely to make an impact on medicine and research.

Vicidomini majored in Psychology at CSI with a particular interest in the study of the nervous system. She served as a research assistant on a project investigating behaviorally relevant changes in brain development following prenatal hypothyroidism in rats. She spent time at both CSI and the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities to complete this project.

“Ultimately, my strong work ethic comes from my self-sufficiency and determination to achieve a goal. As the first person in my family to further my education after high school, I have learned to become very independent in my studies, and also about the true definition of hard work,” said Vicidomini.  “In doing so, I have developed crucial traits of commitment and stamina that I will carry over into my training, and ultimately my career.”

“Christina’s passion for research and unfailing work ethic led her to become an exemplary Macaulay Scholar,” says Lisa French, Macaulay’s Associate Director and Advisor at CSI.  “She is a source of inspiration for many of her classmates.”

“Working in a lab as an undergraduate has given me invaluable skills and knowledge and has helped me to prepare for a career in medicine,” adds Vicidomini. I was able to present my work at an undergraduate research conference at the College last spring, and will be credited as a co-author of papers that are published on this research in the future. The staff of Macaulay has advised, prepared, and encouraged me in a very individualized manner, and I can truly say that I have benefited from the opportunities and advantages of this esteemed program.’

Vicidomini will be attending New York Institute of Technology – College of Osteopathic Medicine. The first person in her family to pursue a higher education, Christina Vicidomini is a psychology major who intends to research neuroscience in her medical studies. She traces her curiosity in how the brain impacts the rest of the body to a six-year stint working in a Brooklyn pastry shop, noting the array of psychological traits among the customers. She honed her clinical skills as a medical assistant and volunteer in hospital and private office settings.


 About College of Staten Island

The College of Staten Island is a senior college of The City University of New York (CUNY) offering associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees.   CSI is home to a School of Business, School of Education, School of Health Sciences, The Verrazano School Honors Program, the Teacher Education Honors Academy, and is a select campus of the Macaulay Honors College University Scholars program. For more information, visit

About Macaulay Honors College

Macaulay Honors College at The City University of New York offers exceptional students a uniquely personalized education with access to the vast resources of the nation’s largest urban university and New York City itself.   Selected for their top high school records and leadership potential, Macaulay students receive a full-tuition scholarship, a laptop and technology support, and an Opportunities Fund to pursue global learning and service opportunities. Macaulay students enroll in one of eight CUNY senior colleges (Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter, John Jay, Lehman, Queens and Staten Island). For more information, see

Caroline Arout goes on to Yale

College of Staten Island alumna Caroline Arout has been accepted for a post-doctoral position with Yale University beginning the summer of 2014.

When Arout began her studies as an undergraduate at CSI in 2003, she claims that she had no intention of moving on to post-graduate work, let alone earning a PhD. She first considered business coursework and later switched to nursing, and while she enjoyed her studies and performed well, she admits that something was missing. “I felt like I was looking to get a degree just for the sake of it, and that if I continued with that mindset, I wouldn’t be happy in the long run. I enjoyed Psychology, so I decided to commit to an education in a field I knew I’d be happy in.”

Arout eventually changed her major to Psychology.

In 2006, she was encouraged by CSI Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department, Dr. John Lawrence, to work in the neuropsychology-focused lab of Dr. Benjamin Kest. After that, the rest came easily.

“I loved neuroscience, I enjoyed working with Dr. Kest and found his work in opioid hyperalgesia (the increased pain sensitivity that results from opioid treatment) fascinating, so that helped make up my mind.” She called working with Dr. Kest “phenomenal” and credits him with sparking her love for neuroscience. “He taught me how to be an independent, confident researcher, to never question myself.”

After finishing her senior year at CSI working in Dr. Kest’s lab and graduating in 2007, Arout applied for and was accepted to Queens College’s General Psychology Master’s program. It was then that she and Dr. Kest started collaborating with CSI Associate Professor of Psychology, Dr. Dan McCloskey, working on her first independent project—researching the molecular basis of morphine hyperalgesia. She continued on to pursue a PhD in Neuropsychology from The City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

“We studied the way morphine works in our brain—the way it affects pain processing,” she said, explaining her second research project that would eventually become her PhD dissertation. “I wanted to find out how receptors in the brain and spinal cord contribute to morphine hyperalgesia.”

After receiving her PhD, Caroline focused her attention on teaching her experimental Psychology 330 class at the College of Staten Island, and began searching for possible post-doctoral positions when she noticed an opportunity at Yale, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She wanted to continue “studying drugs of abuse, how they affect the brain,” she said of the motivations behind her search. “The brain is so mysterious,” she continued. “There is so much we don’t know about it—it’s this bundle of cells that determines every aspect of your life. I am fascinated by how drugs can change it.”

After a short wait, Arout soon found out that she was chosen to work at Yale’s Veteran’s Hospital campus in West Haven, Connecticut this summer. There, she will contribute to clinical trials of treatments for nicotine and alcohol abuse, and she hopes to use her opiate expertise to be able to focus on treatments for veterans who are suffering from chronic pain.

She admitted that she was a little nervous about applying to an Ivy League university. “When I applied, I was intimidated because it was Yale, but it felt really good to find out that they were as excited about me working there as I was—I felt truly validated.”

The advice that she would like to impart on future students is to “never sacrifice your dreams in order to keep up with everyone else’s. What I do matters—it was worth the extra time and effort. CSI and CUNY have some of the best and brightest students and faculty around, there is no reason we shouldn’t do what makes us happy.”


UPDATE [video] Centenarian Celebrates Birthday with Solo Exhibition at Manhattan Gallery

Margaret Ricciardi, December 2013 with "Calitri," 40' x 30" oil on canvas.

Margaret Ricciardi, the College of Staten Island’s (CSI) oldest active alumna will celebrate her 100th birthday this month with a retrospective solo exhibition of her painting and sculpture at the National Arts Club in Manhattan. The exhibition, organized and curated by Marianne Weil, Assistant Professor of Sculpture at The City University of New York’s College of Staten Island, will run from March 31 to April 12, 2014.

Margaret Ricciardi was born in Brooklyn on March 8, 1914 to Guiseppe Della Badia and Filomena Maffucci, both immigrants from Calitri, Italy. Together with her husband Frank, they established a shoe service business that became a landmark to thousands of daily commuters in the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Margaret showcased her artistic flair when, as business expanded, she sold designer shoes, handbags, and accessories.

At the age of 67, Margaret enrolled in classes at CSI. After Frank passed away in 1983, she attended the College’s Studio Art program full-time. She received her Bachelor’s degree in 1986. Her passion for art and sculpture classes at CSI has continued for the past 32 years, and she has earned the distinction of the College’s longest continuous student.

[youtube][/youtube] During this time, with her passion and artistic skill reaching new heights, she studied at the Lorenzo de Medici Art Institute in Florence, Italy. At the age of 84, she returned to Florence for another six-week course.

Honoring her Italian heritage and her husband, Margaret established the Margaret and Frank Riccciardi Scholarship fund at CSI. With her support, students travel to Florence Italy, experiencing international education as she did years before. Margaret also provides an annual award to a graduating Studio Art major.

“Ricciardi combines classical elements with an expressionist’s palette,” notes Professor Weil when discussing the exhibit. “Figurative marble pieces sit alongside canvases bright with vitality and movement. Evocative of Bonnard, these paintings convey Ricciardi’s deep study of art history.”

A reception for the artist at the National Arts Club’s Gregg Gallery, 15 Gramercy Park South, NYC, is planned for Tuesday April 1 from 5:00 to 7;00 p.m. The exhibition includes over a dozen Ricciardi oil paintings and seven stone carvings created over a period of 30 years.

The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, March 31 to April 12, 2014, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and by appointment by calling the National Arts Club at (212) 475-3424.

For more information about the artist and to view Ricciardi’s work online, visit

Brown University awaits…

Kanika Khanna '13

Brown University awaits the College of Staten Island’s Kanika Khanna ’13, who has gained acceptance to the Taubman Center for Public Policy.

“I’m very excited about going to Brown,” said the Brooklyn-born Political Science major, recently selected to participate in Harvard University’s Latino Leadership Initiative at the Kennedy School of Government, and a guiding force behind mentoring Latino students at John Jay College. Fueled by her interest in journal¬ism, Kanika also started the Macaulay Messenger, a prize-winning electronic newsletter and website that took second place in the 2012 National Collegiate Honors Council’s contest for best student-run e-newsletter.

Kanika began problem-solving for New York while still an undergrad, working to provide supportive housing to the homeless through A. Larovere Consulting, where she’s been employed for the last two years. In addition to a roof over one’s head, the group arranges job training, edu¬cation, counseling, health care and other services. “Mentally ill adults need help making the transition to lead a stable life,” she remarks. “And the places where we build housing need services. There are neighborhoods that don’t even have a supermarket to go to, and they don’t have effective small businesses.” The group delivers an assortment of resources, including education. “Education is so transformative,” notes Kanika, who has witnessed how homeless people’s lives improve when they gain access to classes and teachers. “If you have it in places that are overlooked, it would be so much better.” Increasing access to education in underserved areas is a passion, and residents of New York are already benefiting from Kanika’s remarkable dedication.

“From exploring the Renaissance in Florence to immersing myself in the realm of public policy, my experience as a Macaulay Honors student has offered me more opportunities that I could have imagined,” added Kanika. “Before Macaulay, I didn’t know I would find a community of students and faculty that fostered my personal growth and success so close to home.”

Alumni Association Hall of Fame Inducts Three New Members

Several members of the CSI faculty, staff, and their friends and families were in attendance as the College of Staten Island Alumni Association (CSIAA) honored three of its members at the annual Alumni Hall of Fame Luncheon on Saturday, October 5 in the Atrium of Building 1A.

After CSIAA President Dr. Arthur Merola welcomed all of the attendees, CSI Interim President Dr. William J. Fritz offered several remarks about the 30-year existence of the CSIAA and its important role in the College community.

The CSIAA has represented more than 60,000 alumni from Staten Island Community College, Richmond College, and CSI, and Dr. Fritz noted, “the dynamic life-changing experience the College was for these students.” The CSIAA Hall of Fame was established in the early 1980s to honor alumni for their outstanding achievements to CSI and the community.

The 2013 CSIAA Hall of Fame honorees are:

Donna Gerstle ’84, Director of the Center for Environmental Science, a 1986 Hall of Fame inductee who was honored with the 2013 Outstanding Alumni Service Award for her contribution to CSI and the community through her work with the Staten Island Breast Cancer Research Initiative (SIBCRI).

According to Gerstle, who, earlier in the day, coordinated the Third Annual CSI Breast Cancer Walkathon, the SIBCRI is examining breast cancer on three fronts: “The first is an epidemiological case-control study, which looks at female mortality due to breast cancer on Staten Island from 1980 to 2006. Researchers will examine lifestyle and risk factors. The second is to evaluate how environmental factors actually influence breast tissue development. Mammary tissue will be exposed to a set of known environmental carcinogens that exist in the Staten Island air. Finally, we are doing a community-based outreach breast cancer educational program that will work with health care providers, community-based organizations, elected officials, and schools.”

Manuel Gonzalez ’05, Coordinator of Special Events, was honored for his tireless dedication, commitment, and contribution to CSI. He is known for his exceptional ability to pull together disparate elements to create and conduct events that make the College proud.

Elena Solitario ’83, an Italian native who, while working toward a degree in economics, opened “Pilo Arts,” a full service salon and day spa in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Elena’s desire is to bring harmony and love to her colleagues and staff.  Achieving this has enabled her to have satisfied clients and a successful staff, which she believes are the building blocks for continuous growth.

[photos] College Community Participates in SI Black Heritage Family Day

The College community, including the CSI Dolphin, took part in the Third Annual SI Black Family Heritage Day.

Members of CSI’s faculty, staff, and student body participated in the Third Annual Staten Island Black Heritage Family Day.

The Day included a Kick-off Ceremony at the intersection of Vanderbilt Avenue and Targee Street, the  “We Are Family Festival,” the “People Parade,” and the “Twilight Concert” at Tappen Park.

The parade showcased and celebrated the rich and diverse cultures of people of African descent who call the Borough of Staten Island home. Its organizers also worked to commemorate the 150-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50 years since the March on Washington with the Festival’s slogan being, “We’ve come this far by faith.”

Students from the CSI C-Step , Emerging Leaders, and Liberty Partnership programs, as well as many members of CSI’s staff, including CSI Interim President Dr. William J. Fritz and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Salvador Mena, carried the College’s banner along the 1.1-mile parade route that extended from Vanderbilt Avenue to Targee Street.

Mena commented, “Events like the Staten Island Black Heritage Family Day are critical for celebrating the Island’s diversity and affirming the various communities of people that make Staten Island home. As the only public institution of higher education on the Island, it is also important for CSI to participate and be visible as the college of the people of Staten Island. Furthermore, it was a great opportunity to march in the parade and to see some of the neighborhoods that our students come from and to be cheered by alumni of the College who lined the parade’s route.”

A surprise hit of the parade was the loveable CSI Dolphin mascot, played by CSI student Jeremiah Aky, who danced and high-fived his way along the parade route.


Long Artistic Journey of Award-winning Alumnus Leads to a New Book

Richmond College alumnus Andy Fraenkel has published a new book.

Andy Fraenkel was among the first incoming class when the new Richmond College opened its doors at St. George. He enjoyed reading and writing, and was one of the founders and editors of the College’s first literary magazine, Dying Gardens. Spending a good deal of time in the College library, he  discovered an old book, The Indian Story Book (1914) by Richard Wilson, about India’s ancient stories, which included some from the epic Mahabharata. The book jumped out at him–an old collectable that started him on a journey that he continues to this day. Fraenkel, majoring in Theater, turned one of the Mahabharata stories into a one act play. His theater class decided to use his piece as one of four plays they performed for elementary schools on Staten Island.

After graduating in 1970, Fraenkel left New York and over the years was involved with several regional theater groups, including the long-lived Broom Street Theater in Madison, WI. In the  early 1980s, he formed his own group, the Theater of Understanding, and staged stories from world cultures. Eventually, Fraenkel made several trips to India, which helped shape a full-length, two-man Mahabharata drama that appeared Off Broadway in 1987 at the American Theater of Actors in Manhattan.

After suffering a heart attack, Andy transitioned to dramatic storytelling, became a member of the National Storytelling Network, and began offering multicultural storytelling programs and workshops in schools, colleges, libraries, museums, and special events. He was to receive a West Virginia Artist Fellowship Award for his work. Information about his professional programs is available online.

Now, with the recent publication of his book, Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest, Andy Fraenkel has come full circle since the time he first discovered The Indian Story Book.  He had started working on his Mahabharata manuscript in 2000. He explains the intent of his rendition was threefold, “to deliver the story as good literature, to give it a cinematic slant, as potentially the basis for a film, and to keep it at a length that could easily be studied in college classrooms.”

Since he doesn’t read Sanskrit, his primary source was Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s monumental, first-ever, complete English translation, completed in 1896 in 12 volumes. “Writing Mahabharata was like going on a journey,” says Fraenkel. “Sometimes it was exhilarating. Sometimes it was discouraging. I wondered if I could really pull it off successfully. I would stop writing for months at a time and go on to other projects. Ever so gradually, the manuscript came together. I tried to find the unique elements of each part of the story. Over the years, writing Mahabharata has been a wonderful meditation for me. An old Hindu monk in India told me, ‘Once you let the story into your heart, it will never leave you’.”

To learn more about his book, visit the Mahabharata Project Website.

Poetry, music tributes at College of Staten Island’s Sept. 11 ceremony

Stephen Flannery, a student at CSI, punctuated the ceremony with an acoustic guitar selection. (c) Brian Wong

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE — The College of Staten Island held a 9/11 remembrance with interim President William J. Fritz and another 150 CSI alumni, officials and students.

The noon program at the World Trade Center Memorial on the Willowbrook campus included a somber acoustic guitar performance and an emotional poetry reading with speeches noting the tragedy.

Cate Marvin read an unpublished poem about the challenges of writing in the aftermath of 9/11, and Stephen Flannery punctuated the ceremony with a serene acoustic guitar selection.

The school’s memorial was the first in the country to be erected using actual steel debris from Ground Zero.

Victims were remembered, including the 27 CSI alumni killed 12 years ago in the attack.

“It does not seem possible that twelve years have now passed since the tragic events of 9/11,” Fritz said. “Time stands still as the memories of that day and its aftermath remain eternally close to our hearts — eternally in our minds. We will never forget those whom we lost. We will never forget the families, friends and loved ones who continue to heal from this indescribable tragedy.”

This article originally appeared in the Staten Island Advance and and is reprinted here with permission.

The College of Staten Island World Trade Center Memorial Garden features a granite stone engraved with the names of 27 Alumni:

Joseph Agnello 1990
Laura Angilletta 2001
Jane E. Baeszler 1981
Paul V. Barbaro 1988
Greg Buck 1995
Kenneth J. Cubas 1975
Beverly LaVerne Curry 1999…
Scott Matthew Davidson 1991
John DiFato 1984
Lisa DiFato Cannava 1993
Donald Joseph DiFranco 1979
Carole Beth Eggert 1990
John Rudolph Fischer 1978
Thomas P. Hannafin 1990
Lee C. Ludwig 1972
Richard Miuccio 1978
Troy E. Nilsen 1994
Brian Nunez 1999
William S. O’Keefe 1976
Mark James Petrocelli 1995
Edward F. Pullis 1992
Michael T. Quilty 1979
John F. Rizzo 1977
Lisa L. Spina-Trerotola 1985
Larry Sumaya 1981
Darryl Anthony Taylor 1981
Jeffrey P. Walz 1986