68th Commencement Celebrates the Class of 2017

The 68th CSI Commencement took place on the Great Lawn.

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.

 

 

 

Palwasha Syar ’17: CSI Valedictorian Never Loses

Palwasha Syar poses at Commencement.

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.

Palwasha Syar delivering her Commencement speech.

“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!”

CSI Shines in CSTEP Competition

Monique Johnson and Norhan Sobhi at the CSTEP Conference

Three College of Staten Island (CSI) students and one alumna claimed impressive wins in the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) 25th Annual Statewide Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) Student Science Competition. Jemima Kadima ’16, Monique Johnson ’18, Saleh Smadi ’17, and Norhan Sobhi ’17, all participants of the NYSED CSTEP program, were winners in oral and poster presentations.

The CSTEP competition attracts students from all over the state who compete in various categories relating to science and technology. CSI students took home three awards.

Debra Evans, Project Director for CSTEP, commented, “Our CSTEP students are truly amazing; watching their transformation from challenging their fears to witnessing the various levels of growth, is a reward in itself, and I am honored to have a part of their development.”

The students are mentored by Department of Biology Professors Abdeslem El Idrissi, PhD; Alejandra Alonso, PhD; and Nancy Liu-Sullivan.

Saleh Smadi stands beside his poster presentation.

Sobhi, a Verrazano School student, and Johnson, a Macaulay Honors College student, both placed first in the field of medicine in the oral research competition. Their project, “Exploring GBM-Targeting Drug Synergism Using 3D Cell Culture Model System,” took a look at Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), which is a form of brain cancer that has no known cure and a high mortality rate. They suspected that the signaling pathways that allowed the growth of GBM were the cause of the aggressiveness. Guided by Dr. Sullivan, their research aimed to try to block these signals using “a 3D cell structure system.” They also used two different methods and plan on reporting their findings on tumor growth and signal disruption soon.

Sobhi and Johnson are Medical Technology majors and Dean’s List students. Their findings will potentially help find possible solutions to manage GBM and decrease its high mortality rate.

Smadi placed second in the poster competition in the Biology 2 category. His project “Gestation Exposure to DBP in the Etiology of Autism” looked at the exposure of dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and its role among genes associated with autism. Preliminary findings suggest that “gestational exposure to low doses of DBP causes neuro behavioral abnormalities” as stated in the CSTEP Conference Journal. This abnormality causes a domino effect where the gestation inhibitors malfunction and the result is a developmental delay. Under the supervision of Dr. El Idrissi, Smadi hopes to link these findings from their laboratory test on mice to humans.

Jemima Kadima presenting at the Conference.

Kadima also placed second in the poster competition, but this time in the Biology 1 category. Her project was titled “Investigation of the behavioral effects of Alzheimer-like pseudophosrylated TAU in young mice.” Supervised by Dr. Alonso, the research was aimed at connecting  the reaction between two genes to TAU phosphorylation. These genes affect how severe or early Alzheimer’s can begin to. Currently, there have been no distinct differences between the genes. According to Kadima’s report in the CSTEP Conference Journal,  her research can help “lead to new treatments, which will aim to prevent or reduce the chances of an individual developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

 

 

CSI Student Marilyn Owusu-Sekyere ’18 Wins Soroptimists Award

Marilyn Owusu-Sekyere '18 (center) at the Staten Island Soroptomists Ruby Awards luncheon at the Vanderbilt.

College of Staten Island (CSI) student Marilyn Owusu-Sekyere ’18 is the recipient of the Soroptimists of Staten Island’s Ruby Award.

“Marilyn, despite her youth, has already done some extraordinary work in support of women and girls, and is certain to accomplish much more once she graduates from college and can devote herself to activism and advocacy full time, as she plans,” commented Alyson Bardsley, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of English and Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Director of the Bertha Harris Women’s Center.

In just one example of this student’s charitable and selfless efforts, the young woman co-founded a non-profit organization called “The Bethesda Project.” Owusu-Sekyere was inspired after a trip to the Dominican Republic where she witnessed the devastating poverty of the small country. Using social media, she was able to help raise more than $10,000 dollars, which was sent to the Dominican Republic.

“While extraordinarily modest and shy about speaking on her own behalf, Marilyn is beginning to find her voice as she works to communicate and accomplish her goals,” said Dr. Bardsley, who also commended the Soroptomists for their continued support in such CSI events as “Take Back the Night.”

CSI’s Got Talent Brings the Heat, and the Tears

The top 12 finalists pose on stage.

“If we’re all brought together by music, that’s all that matters.” These poignant words came from Xavier Santiago ’21 as the “CSI’s Got Talent” winner proudly accepted his $2,250 prize at the Center for the Arts. The sixth annual event took place on April 26, as 12 hopefuls duked it out to see who would take home the top three prizes. $750 went to runner up Taronuhi Hacjana and $250 for third place winner Kristiana Tattos.

The night kicked off with a slew of laughs as Staten Island natives Sal Vulcano of truTv’s hit show Impractical Jokers, and Jay Miller of Midevenings with Jay Miller, joked, “If you lack skill it’s going to be curtains for you!”  Prior to the talent hitting the stage, the event (funded by WSIA-FM, Student Government, and the Campus Activities Board) rules were explained as follows: five points for creativity/originality, skill, stage presence, and audience reaction, and ten points for performance. Joined by judges Alan Hoffner, Richard Krystoforski, Serena Medina (Winner of 2016 CSI’s Got Talent), Frances Melendez, Emanoil Shafik, and Alexis DiBenedetto, the audience sat anxiously awaiting the night’s shining stars.

With these rules in mind, the top 12 rose beyond everyone’s expectations. Performers Joe Grahek and Olivia Angioli started the night off with serenades, smoothly singing through their renditions of “If I Could Dream,” and “Secret Love Song, Part Two,” respectively. Jennifer Hernandez and her partner raised the temperature in the building with their Columbian-inspired dance number “La Bella,” while Rachel Waldman left judge Shafik “speechless” with her cover of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.”

Jordan Corman passionately strummed his way through the soft punk ballad “Drowned,” which Desiree Sanchez followed with an upbeat performance of Meghan Trainor’s popular summer hit “Me Too.” With the audience on a sonic high, Xavier Santiago melted hearts with his emotionally drenched version of “Everything I Do.” Ramzi Braktia offered a humor-filled dance routine titled “Wolfstein.” GeGe Ahmed belted out a soul filled “Who’s Loving You” that would have arguably made Michael Jackson himself proud, and Kristiana Tattos offered a beautiful and vulnerable “Medicine,” which cured any doubt in the crowd of this campus’s talent.

Xavier Santiago took home the grand prize.

Rounding out the top 12, Ariel Lontac bravely took on Adele’s “One & Only,” while Hacjana stood as the only contestant to perform an original song, “Wonder.” With the immense talent filling the room, it was clear that the judges had a lot to debate before choosing the top five.

After a brief intermission, the hosts kept the good energy going with countless punchlines referencing their “favorite band” Coldplay, and an impromptu skit featuring the “unsuspecting,” audience member Tim, who was duct-taped to a chair for most of the remainder of the show. With everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, the top five finalists were revealed in no particular order. Jennifer Hernandez, Rachel Waldman, Xavier Santiago, Kristiana Tattos, and PYOR, advanced to the competition’s final round, and they came to win.

Jennifer and her partner were “hot! hot! hot!” with their second dance routine of the night, which left just about everyone in the room reaching for something to fan themselves. Rachel Waldman followed up with a chilling interpretation of “Hallelujah,” while Tattos concluded her second live performance in four years with “Burning House.” As the show ended, Hacjana debuted another original tune with “Close,” bringing audience members to their feet. However, it was Santiago’s performance of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” which stole the show, and judge’s hearts. Placing a single rose on the judge’s table, Santiago’s vocals filled the Williamson Theatre as the crowd couldn’t help but cheer and scream.

After a lengthy deliberation in which the hosts treated the crowd to a comedic cover of “It’s Raining Men,”—the judges made what was arguably the toughest decision of the night. Coming in third, Kristiana Tattos gracefully accepted her prize, while runner up Hacjana thanked the crowd for the “best part,” their cheering.

After collecting his first-place grand prize, Santiago proudly held his earning over his head as he gazed out into a crowd of chants.

Perhaps the most touching moment of the time came in the form of solidarity. Despite their differing ages, races, genres, and talents, every performer repeated a single phrase that could have strung together to form a song, “Good luck to the other contestants, and congratulations.”

CSI Student Abigail Brown ’20 Wins Motorola Competition

Abigail Brown was on the winning team at the Motorola competition.

College of Staten Island (CSI) student Abigail Brown ’20 may have been “intimidated” when she first arrived at the Motorola headquarters in Chicago. However, that sentiment changed when it was announced that Brown’s team was one of only two grand prize winners in the Motorola Moto Z – Moto Mods Pitch competition.

Her team, MACAY Labs©,  one of 13 teams competing, founded MACAY Labs​© TrueSound HiFi©. They will receive up to $1 million in investment funding from Lenovo Capital and were offered enrollment in the first class of Motorola’s new Moto Mods Accelerator Program. MACAY Labs​© is comprised of five founders: three Staten Island Technical High School (SITHS) students; Brown, a SITHS alumna; and one Stevens Institute of Technology student.

“When we found out we won the investment, we were almost in tears. At first, I was too shocked to react, then people were coming up to us and shaking our hands. We were dumbfounded. Full-grown professionals were thanking us, teenagers, for sharing our time with them. They were congratulating us. It was a surreal experience,” exclaimed Brown, who notes that she was one of the youngest competitors and the only woman. The student first worked with CSI staff through the 30,000 Degrees initiative, when SITHS reached out to the Staten Island Small Business Development Center at CSI as well as the CSI Tech Incubator to assist Brown.

“30,000 Degrees brings together educators from P-12 and college settings to support student aspirations and success. In Brown’s case, the CSI team of business experts who helped her and her teammates prepare for the Chicago competition were palpably excited by Macay Labs. Given the impression she and her teammates made on the group, I am not at all surprised by the outcome of the Motorola competition,” declared Kenneth M. Gold, PhD, Founding Dean of the School of Education

Currently taking non-degree classes in order to focus on the Motorola project, Brown will be a full-time student at CSI in the fall, majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The Bay Terrace resident has worked as an instructor at the Staten Island Hebrew Academy’s Intro to Lego Robotics course, an Engineering counselor at SITHS’s Summer STEM Camp, and an IT/Media Consultant at Lifestyles for the Disabled. She is also trying to start an independent Intro to Engineering course for kids.

Brown plans to pursue an undergraduate and then graduate degree in her field, with future plans to have her own consumer electronics company, and eventually teach engineering to high school students “to impact their lives like my teachers impacted mine.”

Read more about the competitors and their products on the Motorola Blog.​

View the video on NY1.

 

 

Rachel Furhang ’17 Takes on Research and Much More

Rachel Furhang working in Dr. Alonso's Lab.

Not only does Rachel Furhang ’17 have a white belt in jiu jitsu, she has certainly reached “black belt” status in the academic arena. The College of Staten Island (CSI) Macaulay Honors College (MHC) student is a recipient of the impressive Rosemary O’Halloran Scholarship. The Biochemistry major, who is minoring in Mathematics, is also working on an honors thesis in Biochemistry with Alejandra del Carmen Alonso, PhD, focusing on understanding the tau protein’s pathogenic state.

A graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshivah High School in Teaneck NJ, the 21-year-old has always had a “clear vision” of what she wants to accomplish.

“When you are working toward a goal, all your choices become easier to make. That said, a goal is just the road map. Hard work will take you the rest of the way,” said Furhang, a Bulls Head resident, who was born in Manhattan.

She is grateful to Dr. Alonso who “has been helping me understand the components necessary to drive forward a research project and has very generously spent time guiding me through my honors thesis.”

“I was lucky that Rachel chose my lab to work in. From the beginning I noticed that Rachel is a special student. While we were discussing the research project, she not only was able to follow the research objectives, but she was jumping ahead and asking questions on how to answer unsolved problems. She designed her research actively. Not too many students have that capacity that requires another level of abstraction. Rachel is making excellent progress, and I am sure she will leave us with more pieces to build our proposed mechanism of neuronal disruption in Alzheimer disease,” noted Dr. Alonso.

In addition to her busy academic life, Furhang is also a note-taker for the Center for Student Accessibility, has served as Vice President of the Pre-Medical Pre-PA club, and was a part of the CUNY Service Corps, placed at the Institute for Basic Research.

Rachel Furhang in Zion National Park, Utah.

Furhang studied in Hong Kong in fall 2015, tutoring students in English and Biology, learning Mandarin Chinese, and taking in the local culture. She calls the experience “one of the most memorable parts” of her time as an undergraduate.

“Studying abroad was fun, but it also taught me many skills about learning across different cultures,” said the student, who also spent a summer at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine studying the PTEN protein, which is implicated in cancer and autism.

As a student in Charles Liu, PhD’s, Science and Technology seminar, Furhang continued to impress with her broad interests and pursuits.

“Did you know that Rachel’s also a talented painter and digital artist?” asks Dr. Liu, Director of the Verrazano School and Macaulay Honors College. “Whether it’s science, art, culture, or anything else, Rachel is unafraid to push limits and bend boundaries – and we in the CSI community are all enriched by her uplifting audacity.”

Furhang plans to pursue an MD and PhD dual degree and become a medical scientist, focusing on the fields of neurodegenerative diseases, bacterial evolution, and the genetics behind both. Naturally, her plans include obtaining that black belt in jiu jitsu.

 

 

 

Michelle Kushnir ’17: Student Success On and Off the Court

Michelle Kushnir playing a doubles match during the CUNYAC Women's Tennis Championships in 2015.

As a star athlete, tech expert, and Macaulay Honors College (MHC) student, Michelle Kushnir ’17 may appear to have a full college plate. However, being captain of the College of Staten Island (CSI) Women’s Tennis Team, winning the 2015 CUNYAC Sportsmanship Player of the Year Award, and conducting data visualization research are just a few of this Computer Science major’s accomplishments.

Kushnir, who is minoring in Business and Mathematics and maintaining a 3.7 GPA, was also a member of the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), and has studied abroad and interned extensively.

The 21-year-old held a research assistant position for the CUNY High-Performance Computing Center, working with Michael Kress, PhD; Jonathan Peters, PhD; and Nora Santiago on analyzing public data such as taxicab and land use data. She is currently a research assistant for the Engineering Science and Physics Department, working with Dwight Richards, PhD, on improving the audience experience at cyber defense competitions using data visualization.

With the ELP, Kushnir volunteered at food drives for Project Hospitality and the CSI Food Pantry. She also traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, taking a course in Danish Greenspace, and recently studied Japanese business and culture in Tokyo, Japan.

The Eltingville resident’s internship experience includes positions at Princeton SciTech as a Website developer, and at UBS as a Technical Business Analyst in the Business Intelligence Department, where she will return to this summer.

Michelle Kushnir studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Take every opportunity handed to you. Even if it doesn’t fit exactly what you want to do, take it, because you’ll never know who you’ll meet or where that opportunity will take you next, “commented Kushnir, who graduated from Tottenville High School, where she was a student in the Classics Institute.

Born in Brooklyn, Kushnir plans to pursue a graduate degree in Information Systems Management, with concentrations in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics.

“Students in college should always explore a wide range of interests; Michelle has explored – and excelled – about as widely as anyone possibly can! She’s intensely driven to succeed in everything she does – while at the same time being fun-loving, deeply thoughtful, generous, and kind.  It has been a privilege to have her as a student in my class and as a member of the CSI community,” said Charles Liu, PhD, Director of MHC and the Verrazano School. Kushnir was a student in Dr. Liu’s HON 223 seminar, “Science and Technology in New York.”

“I am grateful to the Macaulay Honors College staff, specifically Lisa French, Anita Romano, and Dr. Charles Liu who all provided so much guidance for me throughout my four years at CSI. They truly care about their students, and were there for me whenever I needed their help,” said Kushnir.