Students Display Their Talents at Second Annual Graduate Research Conference

Rosita Harris presenting her research.

Graduate students at the College of Staten Island (CSI) had the opportunity to share their research with a larger audience at the Second Annual Graduate Conference on Research and Scholarship. The Conference also spotlighted the one-on-one mentoring relationships between CSI faculty and students, which is a critical component of an education at the College.

This year’s program consisted of four oral presentations (moderated by Professor Wei Zhang) and 54 poster presentations by more than 67 CSI students.

One participant, Rosita Harris in the Social Work Department, who is studying with Nafees Alam, appreciated the chance to share her research. “It’s a great opportunity. You don’t get to do this every day.” Another poster presenter, Omri Schick, a current high school teacher who is studying Education with an emphasis in Biology under Professor Irina Lyublinskaya, emphasized the importance of research and collaboration at the Conference. “It’s very important for me to participate in research for my professional development as a teacher. Research allows us to see different methods, different approaches, and we can learn from each other.”

Omri Shick presenting his research.

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Gary Reichard, PhD, discussed why the event is beneficial to CSI’s graduate students, and the College. “In its second year, the Graduate Research and Scholarship Conference afforded our graduate students the chance to share the results of their research and collaborations with our faculty with a broader audience, from both on and off campus. Their work, showcased in both posters and live presentation, provided outstanding evidence of the quality and breadth of CSI’s master’s and doctoral-level programs. Like the College’s longer-established Undergraduate Research Conference, the Graduate Conference has already become one of our signature programs.”

Beyond the poster and oral presentations, the Conference also featured a Plenary Session with music provided by William Bauer, PhD, of the performing and Creative Arts Department; comments from Mel Pipe, PhD, Associate Provost for Graduate Studies, Research, and Institutional Effectiveness, and CSI President William J. Fritz, PhD; and a keynote address, “My Life with Peptides: Shmoos, Food, and Drugs,” by Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Fred Naider, PhD.

CSI Orchestra Performs with SI Philharmonic and Rutgers String Quartet

Dan Auerbach playing violin and Maria Zakharycheva '19, soprano, with James Minenna conducting at the CSI Orchestra performance.

The College of Staten Island (CSI) Orchestra performed their spring fundraiser concert at the Springer Concert Hall at CSI. Joined by musicians from the Staten Island Philharmonic, as well as the Rutgers String Quartet, the performance celebrated the unique collaboration between CSI and Curtis High School, where students receive college credit through the College Now program. Since its inception, the orchestra has grown to include other Staten Island area schools, as well as various community members. The co-directors include CSI Professor Dan Auerbach and Curtis High School representative James Minenna.

“The College is very proud of the collaboration represented by Dan Auerbach and James Minenna, who work with so many talented local high school musicians to produce the CSI Orchestra concert series on campus.  The fruitfulness of this collaboration was fully in evidence at the recent spring concert, where the young musicians successfully tackled a varied and interesting program.  CSI looks forward to the continuation of this collaboration and these wonderful concerts,” noted CSI Provost Gary Reichard, PhD, who attended the performance.

The Orchestra performed a diverse selection of classical repertoire, including the lamenting G Minor symphony No. 40 by Mozart, the lighthearted “Spring” from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, as well as two baroque selections: Bach’s Erbarme Dich from the St. Matthew Passion, with CSI student soloist Maria Zakharycheva ‘19, as well as a concerto grosso by Geminiani with the Rutgers String Quartet.

The concert was made possible by the Frank & Lydia Bergen Foundation through a generous grant, which enabled the students to work with professional musicians from the Staten Island Philharmonic, as well as rehearse with members of the Rutgers String Quartet.

“Such dedication on the part of both the professional musicians and students is what enabled the students to be able to master the difficult repertoire,” commented Auerbach.

Additional sponsorship came from Valpak of Staten Island and Greater Brooklyn. This company has been a generous contributor, supporting the Strings Competition at CSI, bringing talented Staten Island high school and middle school students on campus for a chance to win prize money and a guest solo spot with the orchestra. As this was a fundraiser event, the Orchestra is grateful to the many community members, staff, faculty, and generous parents who purchased tickets, thereby giving financial support and helping to fund future concerts at CSI.

Professional musicians gather after the concert.

Zakharycheva ‘19, a voice student of Professor Elena Heimur, performed an elegant and lyrical rendition of Bach’s famous aria, Erbarme Dich, accompanied by orchestra co-director Auerbach, and alongside concertmaster Isabel Bruschi, who provided the additional solo violin part.

Auerbach and Minenna agreed that, “The orchestra did a wonderful job of maintaining a subordinate role to the soprano soloist.”

Auerbach performed “Spring” from The Four Seasons, guiding the orchestra through this programmatic work and ensuring that students played in a stylistically authentic manner. Curtis High School student soloist, Skivon Hardy, concluded the concert with My Shot! From Hamilton. Additional selections in the program included a Geminiani concerto grosso with the Rutgers String Quartet.

“The orchestra ably supported the quartet, conversing with them in dialogue fashion, demonstrating their knowledge of proper performance practice. All throughout the concert, the professional musicians made sure to aid the students without overshadowing them. This was also the case in the first work on the program, Mozart’s G Minor symphony, No. 40. That the students were able to tackle some of the more demanding passage work is a testament to the level of professionalism exhibited by students and professionals alike,” said Auerbach.

The CSI Orchestra plans to continue collaborating with professional musicians after this initial successful partnership. Looking forward to the next concert, Auerbach plans to expose students to the diverse world of 20th century music, as well as enable students to experience diverse programming in the same vein as noted above. The fall 2017 CSI Orchestra concert on December 10 will feature an inaugural performance by the winners of the CSI Performance Competition for Strings, an annual event initiated by Auerbach to help support Staten Island middle and high school string students and their teachers.



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.”

MSW Student Chandra Keller ’17: Big Plans for Positive Change

Chandra Keller '17 (left) and her "bestie" on a cruise in 2016.

Chandra Keller ’17 has ambitious plans and a very workable strategy: The College of Staten Island (CSI) student wants to change the world, one life at a time. Keller will graduate this spring with a Master’s of Social Work as an advanced-standing student. 

“This degree that specializes in Disability Studies is the only one of its kind in the country, and I know that it will open so many doors for those of us who are fortunate enough to possess it. It will allow us to change the face of social work as we know it,” said Keller, who plans to explore the possibility of a PhD program as well as opening a clinic for people with disabilities that will be located near underserved communities.

“I desire to empower people to know that they can do and be better. I want to be that person that they can come to with their problems and together we can find solutions,” commented the Bronx native, who is a vice president with Local 420 for DC 37, a Local 420 Delegate, and a Behavioral Health Aide at Bellevue Hospital. She is also interning at New York Foundling, a foster care agency, while she finishes her degree. 

An active member in her church, The Love Fellowship Tabernacle, The Kingdom Church, located in Brooklyn under the leadership of Senior Pastor Bishop Hezekiah Walker, Keller sings in two choirs and is a member of the Steward committee, visiting sick and bereaved individuals in the community. Keller is also a member of the Women of Excellence and a street ministry team, The Crusaders for Christ. 

Keller (middle) at a picnic in 2016.

As vice president, Keller assists the 1,400 members of the union to resolve issues, and as a DC 37 Delegate for Local 420, she travels the country advocating for hospital workers. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Lehman College in 2013.   

The dedicated student attributes much of her academic success to the faculty and staff at CSI. 

“I believe that we learn something from everyone who comes into our lives, and there are many people at CSI who have helped and encouraged me along the way. Some of them never knew it,” commented Keller, who, in particular, was greatly motivated by Vandana Chaudhry, PhD, who showed her “the true meaning of perseverance.” 

“Chandra is a determined and hard working person that never gives up. I am happy and proud for her accomplishments, and wish her all the best in her endeavors. She will make a fine contribution to disability and social justice causes,” said Dr. Chaudhry.

She is also grateful for the tutelage of Professor Constance Stafford for “having patience with our class and really making us think and put to use the things that you were being taught” and to her peer Ilyssa Silfen for “returning every phone call, always being there for me, and for going out of her way to always find any information that I requested.” 

“Chandra Keller encapsulates the essence of social work professionalism.  Ms. Keller’s professional identity ensued from her commitment to social justice and her educational undertaking to facilitate changes in the lives of children, families, birthmothers and foster parents through her internship at the Bronx Foundling agency.  After 12 years of employment as a Behavioral Health Aid at Bellevue Hospital forensic psychiatric unit, and now equipped with the core set of values underpinning social work, I welcome with confidence  Ms. Keller to the profession of social work,”  said Professor Stafford, Manager of Professional Student Services and Assistant Director of Field Education in the Department of Social Work.

Keller’s advice to college students is to, “stay focused, never give up, keep a positive attitude, ignore the distractions that keep us from moving forward, don’t be afraid to ask for help, keep pressing forward, live fearlessly, and shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”

CSI Students Teaching with Technology

Dean Gold (far left) and Dr. Lyublinskaya (far right) with CSI students holding their completion certificates.

While approximately 5,379 miles lie between the College of Staten Island (CSI) and Russia, that did not stop ten CSI students from collaborating with students at the Pedagogic Institute of Vladimir State University in Russia on the “Development of Elementary School Technology-based Geometry Curriculum and Field Testing of Materials with Pre-Service Elementary School Teachers” Project.

Made possible through a $40,000 grant from the Eurasia Foundation U.S.-Russia University Partnership Program funded by the U.S. Department of State, the project was comprised of several components. First, CSI Education students worked with their Russian counterparts via Skype on learning how to use and effectively teach with an app called GeoGebra. Once adequately trained through a series of Saturday workshops, students then applied their new skills, teaching elementary school children using the app at three Staten Island schools: PS 31, 45, and 48.

Led by Irina Lyublinskaya, PhD, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at CSI, the initiative is a partnership between the School of Education at CSI and the Pedagogic Institute at the Vladimir State University. As part of the project goals, Dr. Lyublinskaya and Dr. Svetlana Tikhomirova, her counterpart at Vladimir State, also developed curriculum materials for an elective short course for pre-service teachers during their student teaching experience. This course provides professional development on teaching geometry with computer technology in elementary schools.

Dr. Lyublinskaya also provided the expertise in technology, integrating mathematics teaching and learning, with Dr. Tikhomirova, Professor of Mathematics at Vladimir State.

“While the U.S. education system is well known for the implementation of inquiry-based approaches to teaching and for using educational software for student explorations and learning, the Russian education system is well known for its rigorous approach to mathematics content starting as early as elementary school, and for strong foundations in mathematics teaching methods. Combining expertise from both countries will lead to an enhanced experience for pre-service teachers in both universities,” said Dr. Lyublinskaya.

The project culminated in a ceremony when participating students received completion certificates from Kenneth Gold, PhD, Founding Dean of the School of Education, and also small gifts that Dr. Lyublinskaya brought back from Russia. Professor Ruth Silverberg, Chair of the Department of Educational Studies; Deirdre Armitage, PhD, Director of Fieldwork; and Margaret Berci, PhD, Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction were also present, engaging in introspective questions with the students regarding their confidence in teaching mathematics with technology.

“My students loved working with the iPads since they do not get to use technology too often in the classroom… Incorporating technology really made it a fun learning experience. I will definitely be using GeoGebra in my future lessons,” noted CSI student Ermina Dragovic ’17.

“Working with GeoGebra was a rewarding experience. Not only did I gain confidence in integrating technology into my lessons, but also feel more comfortable teaching mathematics. The students, with all different learning abilities, all did equally well on the activity. I am going to continue using this APP in future mathematic lessons, while also researching about other APPS to use for literacy, too!,” said Emily Arredondo.

“The most enjoyable aspects of the workshops were being able to collaborate with student teachers in another country, working together as a group to participate in this research, and learning more about the use of technology in the classroom though mathematics,” commented CSI student Gabriela Belfiore ‘17.

“I am so pleased that students benefitted from an outstanding exchange program without having to leave their home country.  This was very much a project of the 21st Century.  Through technology, Russian and U.S. students collaborated on the teaching of mathematics with technology,” noted Kenneth M. Gold, PhD, Founding Dean of the School of Education.

The U.S.-Russia University Partnership Program (UPP) is an initiative for mutual cultural and academic collaboration that connects higher education institutions in Russia and U.S. with one another, and supports the launch of new bilateral partnerships. UPP is implemented by the Eurasia Foundation (U.S.) and the National Training Foundation (Russian Federation) with funding from the U.S. Department of State.


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.”