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.

[video] With tuition costs hammering families, College of Staten Island offers enticing alternatives

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE — Divina Wiley’s dream college was Boston’s Northeastern University, but even with a partial scholarship, she realized she’d have to take out a sizeable student loan.

Marika Matheson, Dr. Charles Liu, director of the Macaulay Honors Program and the Verrazano Honors School at CSI, Rosina Christian and Carissa Mazzeo. (Photo by: Staten Island Advance/ Jan Somma-Hammel)

So when she applied to the College of Staten Island, and was accepted into CSI’s Macaulay Honors program, she said she “just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to graduate debt-free.”

The CSI senior hasn’t regretted her decision; in fact, as a psychology and Spanish major, she even had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain, something, she said, she likely wouldn’t have been able to afford to do at another school.

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CSI senior Michael Jachcinski, an accounting major and Tottenville High School graduate, is the oldest of three children.

He transferred to CSI from Rutgers when out-of-state tuition costs at the New Jersey state university got to be too much to afford for his family. Now he attends CSI tuition-free, thanks to financial aid and a part-time job.

While Staten Island parents and students worry about the rising cost of college tuition and college loan debt, one of the best values in higher education may be right in our own backyard.


CSI, the borough’s only public college, funded by city and state tax-levy dollars, enrolls just over 7,000 full-time undergraduate students, ages 17 to 21, the majority of whom are recent graduates of borough public and parochial high schools.

An astonishing two-thirds of those students attend classes at CSI’s Willowbrook campus tuition free, most of them through the state’s Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP), that was created to assist middle-class families with tuition costs at colleges and universities in New York state.

According to CSI, nearly six in 10 full-time undergraduate students attend tuition-free.

Nearly five in 10 Staten Islanders attend tuition-free.

Seven out of 10 students graduate debt free.

According to the college, a “typical CSI undergraduate student” minimally receives:
—$11,760 in state and federal financial aid.
—Pays $6,030 in tuition and $480 in mandatory fees.
—Has about $5,000 left over for related costs such as books, supplies and transportation.

Even for students whose families pay full-tuition, with books and fees the cost comes in under $7,500 a year, a relative bargain when compared with tuition at private colleges, and even colleges within the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

Additionally, students accepted into CSI’s elite Macaulay Honors program — about 160 students are enrolled — also attend tuition-free, receive laptop computers, and a $7,500 grant for expenses, which most students use to study abroad.

The data is in line with City University of New York figures in general, although CSI arguably is the most suburban among CUNY’s 24 colleges in the five boroughs.


Mary Beth Reilly, who has served as CSI’s vice-president for enrollment since 2001, said that over the last decade the college has consistently attracted an “academically higher quality” of applicants from public, private and Catholic high schools to its full-time programs leading to a baccalaureate degree, which she attributes, in part, to concerns about rising tuition costs and student loan debt, the the poor economy, and a change in “perceptions” about the college.

“In the 14 years I’ve been in this position, I’ve seen the attitude, the perceptions Staten Islanders may have had of the college, change 180-degrees. We’re no longer perceived as just a ‘local school’ or as a ‘safety school’ or as a ‘last choice’ school, and our data backs this up,” she said.

High school students admitted directly to baccalaureate programs have an average grade of “B” or better. Students admitted to the Macaulay Honors program this year had a high school grade-point-average of 93.6 and a minimum score of 1329 on the SAT, according to CSI data.

The college is also starting to see more second-generation students, with one or both parents who are CSI alumni.

CSI sophomore Carissa Mazzeo, a Tottenville High School graduate from Eltingville majoring in education, said both her parents are alumni, “so I knew already the school was a good value.” In addition to academics, she cited the school’s athletic programs and facilities as a plus; she is a member of CSI’s cross-country team.


Lucinda Zawadzki of Great Kills and Shenuque Tisera of Rosebank will graduate this year from the College of Staten Island's Macaulay Honors program. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

Staten Island Tech graduate Lucinda Zawadzki of Great Kills, a senior in the Macaulay Honors program, said she opted for CSI so she could save for graduate school tuition. She hopes to earn her doctorate from Cornell.

“CSI has a great campus, plus the professors are very supportive and accessible to undergraduate students, and that’s important. And the tuition I am saving, and the chance to graduate debt-free, will be a big help with graduate school,” she said.

Shenugue Tissera, a graduate of St. Peter’s Boys High School, had the same thought. A senior and economics major, the Macaulay student and Rosebank resident is also going to go for his doctorate degree at Northeastern and anticipates the money he saved at CSI will help him defer tuition costs there.

He credits one of his high school teachers at St. Peter’s for encouraging him to apply to CSI. “A lot of us thought of the college as a ‘safety school’ until he took some of us to visit the campus,” he explained. Tissera recalled being impressed with CSI’s High-Performance Computer Center (HPCC), which he has since used many times to do statistical research.

Macaulay junior Naomi Edwards of Livingston, a graduate of Curtis High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, is majoring in political science and plans to go to law school. “Like anything else in life, your college experience is what you make of it,” she observed. “If you decide to put in the work, CSI has some great opportunities.”


The borough is also home to two nationally recognized private colleges.

Wagner College, Grymes Hill, has consistently scored high marks in the annual Princeton Review survey of the nation’s top colleges and universities.

Grymes Hill is also home to the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University, which recently announced it would slash campus tuition by $10,000 in response to concerns about rising tuition costs and student loan debt.

By Diane Lore. © 2015 Staten Island Advance and SILive.com. Reprinted here with permission.


CSI Graduate Justin Giles Prepares for a Life of Law

Recent CSI graduate Justin Giles will be studying Criminal Law at Fordham University this fall.

Justin Giles scored in the 99.7th percentile on his LSAT and is preparing to study Criminal Law at Fordham University this fall after graduating from the College of Staten Island last May.

Giles, who graduated cum laude, is one of many great success stories coming from this year’s crop of CSI graduates, explained that his current success is due in no small part to his PreProBono Fellowship during the summer of 2012. Giles put in about “30 hours a week of work, mixed between classroom meetings with the other fellows and watching explanatory videos at home.”

Justin chose Fordham Law for several reasons, not the least of which is “their dedication to serving their fellow man” which, he said, resonates very strongly with him since, “I am very interested in pursuing a career in public interest law and using my skills to help people.”

He claims that one of his reasons for studying law is that a law degree is “one of the highest academic pursuits and it grants you access to an elite club of people who argue at an incredibly high level.”  He explained that one of the things that interests him most about criminal law is that it “allows two people to view the facts of a case or a situation and create a narrative, each arguing their client’s perception (since there really is no “truth” in an objective sense, merely our perceptions) and through their argument, they come to somewhere in the middle, the closest thing to what “really” happened.”

Justin’s less “selfish” reason, as he put it, is that pursuing a career in law helps to ensure that “the truth truly does come out and it allows me to participate in shaping the outcomes of legal cases, one at a time, so that the outcome is the best for everyone involved.”

CSI will leave him with only fond memories as he said that his experience at the College was “very enjoyable. I always found the other students to be friendly and willing to help whenever I needed to get the information about a class I missed or fill me in on a reading.”

He also credits the faculty, naming Professors Katharine Goodland and Steven Monte of the English Department and Professor and Pre-Law Advisor Michael Paris, for all pushing “me to work harder to really refine my arguments” and who have each “introduced me to some of my favorite writers as well as new and exciting ideas.”

A Staten Island native who went to Tottenville High School, Justin believes that his background had a great deal in effecting his decision to study law to help others. “My mother and father are both firm believers in helping people whenever you can,” he said about his upbringing. “That attitude was instilled in me in a big way and is why I want to help the people who need it most.”

CSI Student Service Learning Marketing Research Projects Provide Valuable Insights

On-Point Marketing Research members (L-R:) Jeffrey Drouillard, Lorna Wilson, Susan Fenley (Executive Director, Sundog Theatre), Gideon Omagbemi

Four teams of upper-class marketing research students presented the results of their semester’s marketing research projects to representatives of the Sundog Theatre, Richmond County Orchestra, Riverside Opera Company, and the Little Cupcake Bakeshop recently at the College of Staten Island’s Center for the Arts.

On-Point Marketing Research members Lorna Wilson, Jeffrey Drouillard, and Gideon Omagbemi gave a 20-minute presentation on their findings to the Director of Sundog Theatre, Susan Fenley.

Elite Entertainment members (L-R:) Katie Kapitan, Melissa Castellanos, Maestro Alan Aurelia (Richmond County Orchestra/Riverside Opera Company), Sandy Tang, Shannon Clark, Kiki Kosmidou, Vincent Cannone

Student researchers from Elite Entertainment including Katie Kapitan, Kiki Kosmidou and Sandy Tang presented their results to Maestro Alan Aurelia of the Richmond Country Orchestra as did C3 Research, Vincent Cannone, Melissa Castellanos, and Shannon Clark with their segment on the maestro’s Riverside Opera Company.

NEKS Level Research members (L-R:) Sagi Alkobi, Kristie Draper, Nelson Ortiz

Market research for a CSI alumni member’s Little Cupcake Bake Shop in Brooklyn, a for-profit business, was presented by NEKS Level Research team members Sagi Alkobi, Kristie Draper, and Nelson Ortiz.

These Student Service Learning presentations were executive summaries of information gleaned from their marketing research projects. Each team met with their client to determine the problem areas; define the research objectives, constructs, and measurements; and to develop a questionnaire. The questionnaires were completed electronically and manually by a convenience sample of both organization supporters as well as Staten Island Chamber of Commerce members who agreed to participate. The students’ data were then analyzed via SPSS, a statistical software application, and then crafted into a final report and PowerPoint presentation. Each team was able to demonstrate new and surprising insights to each organization from their support base as well as Chamber members, and provide real-world suggestions for cultivating future donor/supporter involvement and market expansion potential. This year the students added their first for-profit client.

Past research projects from CSI marketing research students have included a study for a St. John’s University continuing education program; SCORE, Staten Island branch; The American Cancer Society, Staten Island division; and COAHSI, Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island.

Maestro Aurelia commented, “I learned a lot about how we can reach more people on Staten Island and what our general audience is thinking. The teams of students you selected to work on this report were fantastic to work with. I also learned from the other teams’ remarks during their presentation.”

Susan Fenley added, “Thank you so much for allowing Sundog to be part of this wonderful program. I think it was a completely win-win situation, with everyone benefiting.”

Professor Thomas Tellefsen, Chairperson of the Business Department at CSI, acknowledged, “The feedback has been great. It’s particularly gratifying when real managers speak well of our students.”

Jeffrey Drouillard, a student who worked on the Sundog Theatre project noted, “I wanted to thank you for allowing me to be part of something [in which] a select few students get to participate. I have learned so much in this quick semester-–this class gave me an insider look into the real business world–-late nights and very early mornings…Thank you for the learning experience – I will hold it with me wherever I go in the future.”

The client-sponsor for Little Cupcake Bakeshop was not able to attend the presentation because of holiday business issues but stated in an email, “Your students very much impressed me and I know the work will be stellar!” He will receive his report after the holidays.

Bill Dubovsky, Adjunct Lecturer in Business, welcomed the audience with a brief presentation on how marketing research can be used by non-profit organizations to build capacity (audience and supporters) and video-recorded the presentations for future marketing research classes. “Our community client-sponsors all came away with useful information and learned from each other’s presentations. It’s gratifying to see students excited about doing real research and then see their results put to practical use by real organizations,” stated Dubovsky, who thanked them all for their time and support of the students.

Each attending client-sponsor received a copy of the research report, data, the PowerPoint presentation, as well as a PDF copy of Non-profit Marketing – Capacity Building Workshop Participant Workbook to act as a guide in developing marketing strategy from the data.

Alumni Mentor Students in the Art of the Business Meal

Kristian Gargasz chats with students at the Business Etiquette Luncheon.

In today’s fiercely competitive job market and economy, today’s graduates need every skill they can acquire to get an edge on the competition. Toward that goal, the College’s Career and Scholarship Center and the CSI Alumni Association teamed up last Friday to present “The Business Etiquette Luncheon.”

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The two-hour event gave a capacity group of 58 CSI students the opportunity to enjoy a five-course professional business lunch, while a CSI alumni member at their table offered helpful suggestions on the proper way to conduct themselves during a real-life business meal situation. Beyond the one-on-one interaction with alumni, who are seasoned business professionals, the attendees also enjoyed a presentation from the Career and Scholarship Center’s Nina Long, who, between courses, shared more valuable information regarding the proper behavior in such a scenario.

Francesca Navarro, a junior studying Business Management with a minor in Corporate Communications, was one of the student attendees. When asked what she hoped to get out of the luncheon, she said, “I hope to develop the ability to go to an interview and present myself adequately, and if it is a dinner, so that I can have good communications skills and not offend anyone in the process.”

Another student, Michael Wallace, a sophomore majoring in Biology, added that, when he eventually faces a potential employer, he wanted to be able to “have a good interview and get a good job.”

Explaining the importance of the luncheon, Joanne Hollan, Associate Director of the Career and Scholarship Center, commented that “The business dinner and the interview that takes place along with it are the latest trend in how students are recruited into today’s job market. Many of the larger companies are now holding this kind of ‘Interview Day’ where students are invited to the company for the entire day to conduct a series of interviews with staff including the business interview luncheon or dinner. It can be a deal maker if done correctly. It can also be a deal breaker if students are not well prepared on how to conduct themselves during the business interview meal. In order to help our students be as competitive as possible, especially in today’s job market, The Career and Scholarship Center wants to provide students with these “career building” skills that will set them apart from other college graduates conducting a job search.”

As for the CSI alumni who were on hand to share their expertise, the general goal was to help prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s job interviews.

Frances Melendez, PhD ’80, ’94, the Deputy Director of the MA in Mental Health Counseling program in the Psychology Department, who received an AA in Liberal Arts and Sciences and a BA in Psychology from CSI, noted, “I think, as a CSI alumna, that it’s important that students see that CSI alumni can be successful. It’s also for them to understand what the real world is like–how to interview, what the etiquette is, how they should prepare themselves, to empower them to do a good job on an interview.

Joe Ricciutti ’94, President of the Staten Island Yankees and a Foundation Board Member, who CSI graduated with a BS in Business Management, commented, “Being a CSI graduate and a member of the business community, any opportunity that I can give back, even if it’s just a little advice, I’m happy to do it. Given how competitive the job market is, it’s tough enough getting a good job, nevermind being right on the cusp and losing it because you did something [wrong] at an interview.”

Another alumnus was Kristian Gargasz ’06, who received a BS in International Business from CSI, eventually launching Grand Prix America, the North American offset of Grand Prix-Trading House, the European Dance and Fitness Apparel Company. He explained that “As students… we were educated very well, [but] as far as circumstances in the real world, we had little practice. When it came time to face real people in business we didn’t have the proper scenario in order to speak and articulate with those whom we were going to work with in the future. This [event] gives [students] an opportunity to practice and step forward into the professional world.”

Also on hand was Carole Gervasi ’02, Vice President of Online Degree Programs for the College Bound Network and a CSI alumni Board member with a BS in Communications from the College, who said, “CSI has definitely given my company a lot of interns over the years…I’m here not only to get an idea from the students in terms of what their opinions are of the outside world, but also how I can help them by bringing all of my expertise and experience, and see how I can recruit some more potential interns into my company because we’ve had such success with them in the past.

For the last seven years, the Business Etiquette Luncheon has been a part of the many events and services offered by the Career and Scholarship Center to help students succeed in the job market, and the event seems to draw more student participation every year. With that in mind, although, as Hollan mentioned, this is an usually an annual event, she said that “We had an overwhelming response to this event [this year] and would like to do another one in the spring, if we can.”

For more information of the many services that the Career and Scholarship Center has to offer, visit their Website at http://www.csi.cuny.edu/career/index.html or call them at 718.982.2300.

CSI alumni who are interested in participating in future Etiquette luncheons should contact the Alumni Relations Office at 718.982.2290.

This event was generously funded by the Campus Activities Board with Student Activity Fee funds.

[video] CSI Supports SIEDC Health and Wellness Expo

President Morales (back row, center, smiling) poses with CSI student Expo attendees yesterday.

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The College of Staten Island mobilized its staff, students, faculty, and its President in support of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation’s Annual Health and Wellness Expo, which took place yesterday at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Under the theme, “Plan to Be Healthy,” the Expo featured classes and seminars on healthy eating, the latest exercise regimens, men’s and women’s health issues, living fully with disabilities, and other opportunities for increasing one’s well-being and health. The event was sponsored by Councilman James Oddo and the Northfield Bank Foundation, and hosted, in part, by CSI.

President Morales (back row, center, smiling) poses with CSI student Expo attendees yesterday.
President Morales (back row, center, smiling) poses with CSI student Expo attendees yesterday.

CSI President Dr. Tomás Morales, who served as Expo Ambassador, underscored the crucial importance of the event and the College’s participation in it. “Health care and wellness are some of the major challenges on Staten Island. The Commissioner of Health for New York City this morning gave us a very startling statistic. While Staten Island has the highest per capita income, we also have the highest mortality rate, the highest rate of diabetes, the highest rate of smoking of any borough in New York City. Given that the College of Staten Island is the only public institution on Staten Island, we serve the public good, and so to be involved, myself as Ambassador, and of course our Nursing and Physical Therapy departments and our students and faculty, it really demonstrates that we are indeed committed to health and wellness here on Staten Island.”

Other College representatives included the Office of Recruitment and Admissions and the Alumni Association, who staffed tables at the Expo, as well as CSI Health and Wellness Services and the Nursing and Physical Therapy departments, who provided health screenings and co-hosted (with Wagner College and St. John’s University) a seminar entitled “College Health: Health for a Lifetime.” The two academic departments also hosted the “Finding Balance in Your Life” seminar, an interactive approach to helping seniors avoid life-threatening falls.

Commenting on the latter seminar, Dr. Jeffrey Rothman, Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, noted that “The second leading cause of death in people over the age of 65 is falls. So what we’re trying to do today, between [the] Physical Therapy and Nursing [departments] is to present some strategies and some things for people to do to maintain their fitness level so that their balance and coordination are improved or are not in a situation that will allow them to fall and suffer an injury.”

Students from CSI and other colleges were well-represented at the Expo and some of them were appreciative of the efforts to address college-age wellness issues, such as the “College Health” seminar.

Gloria Lopez, a senior Nursing major, said, “This was a great interactive fair for all college students and for Staten Island [residents]. I think that it touched a lot of topics that college students need to be exposed to.”

Jessica Ng, a senior Psychology major, also valued what she learned at the event. “I think the Expo today is a great and interactive way to promote wellness throughout the entire borough.”

Beyond the informative aspects of the Expo, Alexis Garcia, a junior Psychology major, enjoyed the social dimension of the event. “You make a lot of connections, you network, and interact with other college students and figure out how to get the whole community together [regarding health issues].

Other CSI representatives agreed that the Expo was a success, as it brought the community together to address important health issues.

Dr. Mary O’Donnell, Chair of the Department of Nursing, commented, “Health is the major concern of all of nursing, and health and wellness are among our target goals…I think that anything that exposes the public to healthy lifestyles is going to be a plus for all of us.”

Maureen Becker, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, drew attention to CSI’s role in the community. “I think the College has a great influence on Staten Island because of the number of students [who attend CSI] and that so many of our students are going into the health care profession. So if we all can be role models, we can help our patients and the community more.”

Linda Conte, Director of the CSI Health and Wellness Services, focused on the importance of student health as a key ingredient to success. “College students are so much a part of the culture on Staten Island and if we expect our students to succeed, there is no way that they’re going to do that without attending to their health and wellness. Health and wellness is intrinsic to anything anyone does. So, if they want to do anything well, they need to be in a good place physically, as well as emotionally.”

Finally, Donna Garambone, Alumni Affairs Coordinator, emphasized the social connections that the Expo fostered, especially among alumni. “The CSI Alumni Association needs to connect with our alumni. Over half of our alumni live locally on Staten Island and many of them are in the health care professions.”

Connections were certainly made at the Expo, as attendees had the opportunity to hear celebrity guests Lisa Oz and Joseph T. Bonanno, who shared their knowledge on healthy living. Other aspects of the Expo included demonstrations and classes taught by fitness experts from the JCC, YMCA, and other organizations; health screenings for glaucoma, hearing, and brain tumors, and more; onsite mammograms; raffles; free massage therapy; a blood drive; more than 100 vendor tables; healthcare counseling; and even a farmers’ market.