HS Student Studying Brain Tumors at CSI Moves to International Competition

Six years of diligent research work coupled with steadfast support and encouragement from faculty and students at the College of Staten Island (CSI) has landed a local Staten Island Tech High School student a spot at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competition next month in San Jose, CA.

The project, entitled “Inhibiting Brain Tumor Progression Using Targeted Curcumin,” was performed by a student from Staten Island Tech High School performing research in the laboratory of Dr. Probal Banerjee, Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Neuroscience at CSI.

“Enthusiastic judges from various backgrounds have placed this project at the top of the “Biochemistry and Molecular Biology” category at the New York Science and Engineering Fair (NYSEF), which caused this project to move to competitions at a higher level,” reported Dr. Banerjee.

Staten Island Tech student, Sneha Banerjee, performed organic synthesis in CSI’s laboratories and then used targeted derivatives of the food component curcumin to perform elaborate studies on cancer cells. Both Drs. Qiao-Sheng Hu and Krishnaswami Raja of the College’s Chemistry Department, along with CSI doctoral students Phyllis Langone and Sukanta Dolai, contributed heavily to this project by assisting in further moving the research into the area of in vivo studies.

These studies in tumor-implanted mice showed decimation of brain tumors and rescue of sick mice by antibody-targeted curcumin, a spice component that preferentially kills cancer cells but protects normal cells. Since high school students cannot be involved directly in animal studies, Sneha Banerjee actively participated in imaging of the tumors, all organic syntheses, spectroscopic analyses, cell culture studies, microscopy, data interpretation and literature analysis.

Highlighting the role of the CSI doctoral students in this accomplishment, Dr. Raja added that “Sukanta was instrumental in supervising and executing the synthesis [with Sneha]” adding, “he is the backbone of my research group.”

“This is an impressive achievement for our institution and for Sneha Banerjee. CSI continues to seek new ways to promote and support more of these kinds of opportunities for high schools students,” said E.K. Park, Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at CSI.

Doctoral student Phyllis Langone (left) and Sneha Banerjee (right) are shown at a biological safety cabinet station.

"Clothes the Deal" Helps Students to Prepare for Job Interviews

“Clothes the Deal” Helps Students to Prepare for Job Interviews

“Clothes the Deal,” an annual student/faculty fashion show and dress for success event recently took place at the College of Staten Island, and, once again, the event was a success. Sponsored by the Career and Scholarship Center and the Marketing Association of CSI, the event drew in more than 125 students.

Joan Dimeo Lyons of the Career and Scholarship Center, who coordinated the event, gave a brief talk on the importance of internships. Following this, the first portion of the fashion show began as the eight staff and faculty models walked out onto the runway individually, each displaying one flaw in their business attire that the student audience was asked to point out. When a student identified the flaws, which included white socks, too much jewelry, no sports jacket, and a tie that was “too busy,” he or she received a prize.

Jill DeSena-Shook, author of Just Tell Me How to Get Hired, was then introduced as the guest speaker. She began her presentation by discussing the importance of CSI’s Career and Scholarship Center, and how students should take advantage of the services offered. Next, she explained to the students the differences between the words “polished” and “professional,” and followed up by making suggestions on what and what not to wear on a job interview. Aside from just having the proper attire, she stressed to the students the importance of smiling and having a positive attitude when trying to impress possible employers, which demonstrates enthusiasm about working for the company and being a part of a team.

After the speech, the student models were introduced wearing business attire from the Men’s Wearhouse and Annie Sez, walking down the runway one at a time. This ignited a huge response from the crowd, as all of the models were greeted with a loud roar upon emerging from the closed curtains. The models served as an example of how one should dress when attending a job interview.

At the conclusion, the President of the Marketing Association, Michael Levine, and the Vice President, Esmeralda Xheleshi, raffled off gifts to the students who attended.

By Matthew Santasiero

CSI Students Awarded Scholarships through HACU

College of Staten Island undergraduates Marybeth Melendez and Ismael Gonzalez are the proud winners of scholarships offered by The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), an organization representing nearly 450 colleges and universities committed to Hispanic higher education success in the United States, Puerto Rico, Latin America, Spain, and Portugal.

Supported by corporate sponsors such as Lockheed Martin and GM, HACU offers multiple scholarships, for which students from member institutions across the country may apply.

“I congratulate Marybeth Melendez and Ismael Gonzalez for earning this well-deserved accolade in their respective fields of Psychology/Sociology and Mechanical Engineering. Ms. Melendez and Mr. Gonzalez are the College’s first winners of HACU scholarships, and we couldn’t be more proud,” commented Caryl Watkins, Director of the Career and Scholarship Center at CSI.

Marybeth M. Melendez, the oldest of three children, was raised in the tight-knit and culturally rich community of Spanish Harlem where, to this day, her pride and roots still lie. Following high school graduation, Ms. Melendez was employed in the legal field. In the late 1990s, after the birth of her children, Ms. Melendez began to rapidly lose her sight due to a genetic disorder known as Retinitis Pigmentosa, a progressive disease that destroys the retinal muscle of the eye rendering those afflicted with blindness. Ms. Melendez’s illness forced her to retire from her job in a law firm in order to focus on raising her children as a visually impaired parent. Thereafter, her vision began to quickly deteriorate, and she struggled to find a balance between parenting, surviving, and going blind. She became involved with the Martial Arts, where, as a student, competitor, and instructor of Tae Kwon Do and Judo, she began to find the balance, peace, and strength to go forward in life. Currently a full-time student completing Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Sociology with a Minor concentration in Disability Studies, Ms. Melendez hopes to pursue a career as a Clinical Psychologist.

The HACU award should go a long way toward helping Ms. Melendez realize her goals, as she notes: “The HACU Scholarship was both a blessing and an honor. It gave me the opportunity to maximize my education, as it not only covered the cost of my tuition for the Winter Session, but also the costs of my textbooks and supplies. I was fortunate enough to purchase a digital recorder and a talking scientific calculator, both of which are the much-needed tools that a blind student, such as myself, uses to be successful in the classroom. I am honored, blessed, and thankful that I was selected to receive this award.”

Ismael Gonzalez is a recent immigrant to the United States. Mr. Gonzalez grew up in Cuenca, Ecuador. In late 2006, he received the opportunity to come to New York, and shortly thereafter began taking classes at the College of Staten Island. Mr. Gonzalez is a full-time student in the Mechanical Engineering program. His eventual career goal is to work on designing computer hardware components.

To learn more about award opportunities such as the HACU Scholarships, please Click Here to visit the College of Staten Career and Scholarship Center online or contact Dr. Geoffrey Hempill, Scholarship and Fellowship Coordinator, at 718.982.2301.

CSI undergraduates Marybeth Melendez and Ismael Gonzales are both winners of HACU scholarships.

CSI Named a Top Military Friendly School

G.I. Jobs announced the release of its 2010 list of Military Friendly Schools. The list honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools that are doing the most to embrace the United States of America’s veterans as students.

The College of Staten Island, a senior college of The City University of New York, was recognized for its commitment to serving the needs of students with military experience, and its wide array of services specifically designed for current, new, and future Veteran students.

“The Office of the Registrar and Student Veteran Center currently uses a ‘One-Stop’ approach to assist with the transition from soldier to student,” said Vito Zajda, Deputy Registrar at CSI. “The services offered include individualized workshops with each student to discuss benefits, advisement, financial aid, registration, college life, and a detailed graduation plan.” He added that the College also has a Veterans student club, as well as an Armed Forces Club, where students can meet, network, and plan activities.”

Zajda, who is also the Veterans Advisor Certifying Officer and a Transfer Evaluation Specialist, adds that CSI is “anticipating an enrollment of over 200 Veterans this semester.”

These students also have the resources of the CSI Student Veteran Center, which is available online at www.csi.cuny.edu/veterans. Services include confidential personal and academic assistance provided by a professional counselor, sensitive to veterans’ issues. The Center also works closely with many other campus departments providing readjustment counseling, academic advisement, and educational and financial aid benefits, along with information and referrals to disability and mental health services, academic support, health and wellness services, academic and vocational counseling, and various community resources.

To further serve the increasing population, CSI will be offering a required general education course called Core 100, which will be specifically designed for Veterans for the first time this fall. Zajda will be teaching this section and serving the Veterans in the dual role of administrator and faculty member, providing the students with ready access to information pertinent to veterans’ affairs.

“I am very pleased that CSI has been honored by being named a Military Friendly School. This is in no small part due to the efforts of Vito Zajda, Rose Meyers, and Urszula Echols, who have worked so hard to make CSI a welcoming place for returning veterans,” commented Donna Scimeca, the Core Program Coordinator at CSI. “Our new course, Core for Veterans, will also provide an informal student support network and is designed to help make the transition to civilian life just a little bit easier for these brave young people.”

“Veterans need a trusted friend to help them decide where to get educated. The Military Friendly Schools list is that trusted friend,” said Rich McCormack, G.I. Jobs publisher.

The list was compiled through exhaustive research starting last May during which G.I. Jobs polled more than 7,000 schools nationwide. Methodology, criteria, and weighting for the list were developed with the assistance of an Academic Advisory Committee (AAC) consisting of educators and administrators from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Toledo, Duquesne University, Coastline Community College, and Lincoln Technical Institute.

A detailed list of Military Friendly Schools will be highlighted in the annual Guide to Military Friendly Schools. A new Web site, www.militaryfriendlyschools.com, will launch in September with interactive tools and search functionality to assist military veterans in choosing schools that best meet their educational needs.

CSI has been selected for inclusion in the G. I. Jobs 2010 list of Military Friendly Colleges.

Student Wins Award at Eastern Colleges Science Conference

Sherry Browne, a Biology major at the College of Staten Island who graduated with honors last May, has recently been awarded an Excellence Award at the Eastern Colleges Science Conference [ECSC] that took place at Wagner College.

Saying that she feels “extremely proud and accomplished,” Browne’s winning poster was entitled “Dynamic Studies of Alzheimer-Like Pseudophosphorylated Tau Proteins and Microtubles.” Explaining the research, Browne’s mentor Dr. Alejandra del C. Alonso,
Associate Professor in the Department of Biology and Program in Developmental Neuroscience, says “There is a protein that gets modified because of disease, which destroys the structure of the cell. In the cells, there are structures like train tracks that take things from one part of the cell to the other and when this modified protein appears in the brain, then those tracks get destroyed. [Sherry] wanted to see the process while it was happening, so she made the cell express this modified protein and she made the modified protein express light so she could videotape that and see the process as the tracks were getting destroyed in the cell.” According to Dr. Alonso, Browne’s was one of approximately 180 posters at the regional undergraduate research conference.

Browne notes that she feels that her experience at CSI contributed to her winning this award and, in particular, she credits Dr. Alonso. “CSI allowed me the opportunity to work with Dr. Alejandra del. C. Alonso. She has been so patient, informative, and inspirational. Without her, I would have not experienced such success.”

Looking toward the future, Browne comments that “I plan on traveling the world and participating in as much volunteer work as possible.”

According to the conference Website, “The first [ECSC] was organized in 1947 by undergraduate Pauline Newman at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. The aim then, as now, was to stimulate interest in undergraduate research in the sciences and related fields and to provide a lively forum for the presentation of research papers…Over the years interest has increased in the conference and over 50 colleges and universities have attended this annual event. Over time the range of subject matter has also expanded and now covers computer science and behavioral and social sciences, as well as the original areas of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and engineering.”

Sherry Browne poses in front of her award-winning poster at the Eastern Colleges Science Conference.

CSI Student Gains Acceptance to Prestigious Combined Degree Program

CSI student Jason Ford has recently received some great news. He has been accepted into the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Medical Science Training Program, a National Institutes of Health-funded MD/PhD program, where he will seek his PhD in Biochemistry and Cell Biology.

“I owe much of my success to the excellent education, support, and mentoring opportunities offered to students at the College of Staten Island,” says Jason, who just graduated from the College summa cum laude in 2008 with a BS in Biology with minors in Chemistry and Biochemistry, and is currently enrolled in the CUNY MS in Neuroscience program, studying under Dr. Probal Banerjee. “After reviewing the medical and graduate school curricula, which are done simultaneously, I can see that I have been extraordinarily well-prepared for these arduous yet immensely rewarding endeavors in academia and clinical medicine. I will always remember the great things that CSI has done for me, and will always advocate CUNY education as I progress through my career.”

Jason’s interest in biology budded at an early age, but his interests shifted a bit after he arrived at CSI. “I took organic chemistry and fell in love with it, which is surprising, considering that I was a Biology major. I loved organic so much that I ended up taking three courses in biochemistry with Dr. Fred Naider and Dr. Banerjee. After learning the subject well, I came to realize that biochemistry is really the cause of cell and molecular biology, anatomy, and physiology. Since then, I’ve been very interested in biochemical research, and that’s really where the focus of my research initiatives has been.”

After more time at CSI, Jason also found an interest in neuroscience. “I got into neuroscience in a rather roundabout way. I took physiology and histology with Dr. Charles Kramer and Dr. El Abdeslem Idrissi. I very much enjoyed these courses and I really benefited from their expertise and knowledge base. Out of all the topics in both courses, I absolutely loved the anatomy, physiology, and histology of the nervous system. Every time I read about a certain part of the brain or the spine, I became very interested and excited about it. It was almost as if I knew right after physiology that I wanted my medical career to involve something with the brain and/or spinal cord in one way or the other. I ended up taking neuroscience classes in the year while I was applying for MD/PhD programs.”

As a result of his well-rounded interests, Jason has had the opportunity to conduct research aimed at improving the environment, an investigation of how chromatin structure affects gene expression, synthesizing peptides with applications for agriculture and the development of an HIV-1 vaccine, and a molecular study of the antipsychotic drug clozapine, in an effect to gain insight into the treatment of schizophrenia. Of his research, he notes, “CSI students have a tremendous opportunity to pursue biomedically relevant and intellectually stimulating research. In my time at CSI, I had my own projects and I had the chance to work independently and confront the problems that I encountered in the laboratory.”

Now that he has been accepted into the MD/PhD program at Albert Einstein, what does the future hold for Jason Ford? “It’s quite hard for me to say what my plans will be after graduating with my MD and PhD degrees,” Jason says. “However,” he continues, “above everything else, I hope to get a stellar education as a physician-scientist, which will allow me to integrate both aspects of my training. I know that while I am at Einstein, I will utilize every opportunity available to me in terms of learning how to do great research while being a sound clinician. While I am precisely unsure of the medical specialty I will choose, I would like to pick research and medical specialties which are intertwined, allowing me to bring my findings from the laboratory bench into the clinics and hospitals to benefit patients. Some of the medical fields that I am considering include neurosurgery, plastic surgery, dermatology, and pediatric oncology, but I still have some time to decide.”

Dr. Probal Banerjee and Jason Ford, who was recently accepted into a prestigious MD/PhD program.

“Dress for Success” Gives Women Students a Much-Needed Edge in the Job Market

Women students from the College of Staten Island had a unique opportunity to get a jump on the competition in the job market at “Dress for Success,” an event hosted by the CSI Career and Scholarship Center, in partnership with the Women’s Leadership Council and the SEEK for Excellence Club.

Kay Pesile, a City University of New York Trustee, who spoke at the event, said that “Dress for Success” was important for the attendees because the College “is showcasing its future leaders of commerce, public service, and education.” She added that the College’s approach to helping CSI students to enter the job market successfully is two-fold, “one from the classroom to guide the students and the other is to show them that there are other people from the professional environment who are here to offer assistance, guidance, and mentoring.”

Click Here to view the CSI Today photo gallery.

In the opening remarks, Career and Scholarship Center Director Caryl Watkins encouraged the students to meet with the women professionals in attendance and ask them questions, using those conversations, and the vast resources of the Center to gain the necessary insight and expertise to find meaningful careers.

In addition, in recognition of the first-ever partnership between the Career and Scholarship Center and the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), Center Career Coach and emcee Christopher Carbone presented Paula Coyle, Director of the WLC, with a plaque of appreciation for the Council’s support of the College and its students.

Miriam Perez-Lai, Faculty Advisor for the SEEK for Excellence Club, also awarded plaques of appreciation to three SEEK students, Babatunde Adekanbi, Rewieda Othman, and Bilikisu Hassan, whose hard work helped to make “Dress for Success” a reality.

Trustee Pesile offered advice to the women, giving them pointers on how to conduct themselves in an interview and, as a source of inspiration, she ended with a story of a Staten Island woman who braved a snowstorm to get to a job exam in Manhattan. When she arrived after a three-hour trip to be informed that the business was closed, she insisted that the only person there give her the exam, anyway. That company rep was so impressed with her drive and determination that he hired the woman, who turned out to be Pesile’s mother, on the spot.

After the introduction and opening remarks, the students had the chance to enjoy lunch while they networked with the business professionals on hand. During the luncheon, CSI President Dr. Tomás Morales stopped by to talk with the students and thank the Career and Scholarship Center and the SEEK for Excellence Club for hosting the event and providing assistance to CSI students. Dr. Morales also discussed the value of community service and of students giving back to their community as well as how the College also gives back to students through events like this one.

After lunch, the attendees went to the West Dining Room to browse through a rack of pre-owned business suits that had been donated to the College. Each student was able to take a suit, as a first step toward jump-starting her career wardrobe.

L-R: Miriam Perez-Lai with SEEK students Babatunde Adekanbi, Rewieda Othman, and Bilikisu Hassan.

Senior Accepted to Prestigious Summer Medical Program

As summer quickly approaches, many students are wondering what they will do over break. CSI Senior and Chemistry/Mathematics double-major Eric Rios-Doria doesn’t have that problem, as he has been accepted into the University of Iowa Summer Undergraduate Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and Research (SUMR) Program, an intensive eight-week summer program where he will be exposed to MD/PhD training that includes performing biomedical research as well as shadowing a physician-scientist.

Regarding his acceptance, Rios-Doria says, “I am very excited to participate in this program…The academic program at the CSI Chemistry Department is one I have very much enjoyed and am glad I have met such great professors… I would also like to thank Prof. [Krishnaswami] Raja for allowing me to perform research in his laboratory and work on an independent project.

Rios-Doria is also a recipient of a scholarship from CSI’s STEAM (Science & Technology Expansion via Applied Mathematics), a comprehensive, National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded program that expands and supports undergraduate education in all areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “STEAM has provided both academic and monetary support,” he notes “and I am most appreciative.”

In addition, he is on the Dean’s List, and is an LSAMP research scholar and CSTEP student. LSAMP is short for Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, an NSF-funded program with the goal of increasing the quality and quantity of students successfully completing Bachelor’s degrees and gaining access to graduate programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The C-STEP program at CSI aims to increase enrollment and graduation, among historically underrepresented students, in undergraduate and graduate programs leading to professional licensure or to careers in the fields of science, technology, and education.

Admitting that he has been interested in medicine since he was young, due to bouts with severe asthma that led to frequent hospitalizations when he was a child, Rios-Doria transferred to CSI in 2007. He recalls that he has “found so many more opportunities here than at my previous institution. The programs available to the students are invaluable …The opportunities that have been provided through [the College] have allowed to me to become a better researcher and attain invaluable skills both inside the classroom and laboratory and outside the classroom and laboratory. As an example, CSI has given me the opportunity to present my research at local, regional, and national conferences.”

After his arrival at CSI Rios-Doria began research in chemistry with Prof. Raja. Saying that Dr. Raja “has guided me and taught me how to become a better researcher,” he is now working on an independent project that will eventually become his senior thesis. Explaining the research, Rios-Doria states that “I am currently working on synthesizing a liquid crystal that will have photovoltaic applications. An example of such an application would be the cost-effective use for solar cells. It is looking very promising and should provide exciting results.”

Hoping eventually to gain acceptance into an MD/PhD program with the hope of practicing medicine while conducting further research, Rios-Doria credits CSI and the programs available to him at the College for his current success. “The education I have received at CSI has been fantastic. All the professors I have had have shown genuine interest in the students and have allowed for my proper scientific thought process to be established. With the offer from the University of Iowa, I believe the education provided by the fantastic instructors at CSI has prepared me for the challenges ahead in the summer and has also placed me at an advanced level of understanding difficult concepts being learned in universities nationwide.”

Eric Rios-Doria has been accepted into a prestigious summer program at the University of Iowa.