Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Building Community at the College of Staten Island Through The Peer Network Engagement Internship

Mitchell Harris, Verrazano Class of 2016, is serving as a Peer Network Engagement Intern with Hillel on campus during the 2012-2013 academic year.  Read more about how Mitchell got involved and how his experience at a summer conference prepared him for this leadership role. 

Mitchell Harris
When I started at the College of Staten Island in the spring semester of 2012, I knew that if I wanted to meet new people I needed to get involved with a club on campus. On the first day of the semester, I walked around the campus center to learn about the clubs and opportunities that C.S.I. had to offer. Since I have been raised in a Jewish household within a Jewish community and had gone to Jewish private schools until this point of my life, I felt comfortable walking into the Multi-Faith Center, especially because I noticed a big blue and white sign on the window that had “Hillel” written on it.  Hillel is an organization and club that promotes Jewish life on campus.

From the moment I walked into the office the director, Amy Posner, made me feel very welcomed and comfortable. After that day, I went to almost every event the club put together and became very involved. The first event I went to was a tabling fundraiser, around Valentine’s Day, for “Save a Child’s Heart Foundation, " during which we sold hearts on glass as well as pink and red cupcakes. Another event that I went to was a showing of a movie called The Syrian Bride.  This movie portrayed some of the difficulties of arranged marriages and afterwards there was a group discussion. After I attended multiple events and spent a great deal of time in the Multi-Faith Center, Amy Posner asked me if I was interested in interning for her as a P.N.E.I., which stands for Peer Network Engagement Intern. At first I was hesitant to accept, but after I let the idea sink in I realized what a great opportunity and learning experience it would be. The application process for this internship was straightforward; I needed to fill out some basic information about myself and then I wrote a required essay from three choices of prompts.  I chose to write about a time that I reached out and built a relationship with someone new.

One of the requirements to become a P.N.E.I. was to attend a five-day conference over the summer at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. At the conference the objective of the internship was explained, but Amy Posner had scheduled a couple of meetings before the trip to prepare me so I already knew the purpose. The primary goal of being a P.N.E.I. is to build relationships and form new networks. The secondary goal is to then have these new relationships attend Hillel events and make the new networks connect with a bigger one. To help with this goal, the organization gives me money to create my own events and capture the interest of students in a way that I feel would be successful. At the conference, which had hundreds of college students involved with Hillel from around the world, there were many events, including lectures on how to approach or interact with people and discussions on how to organize events along with two-college interaction simulations. In the simulations, each person was given a different role to play and had to accomplish specific goals within a given amount of time.

At the conference, the event that I found to be most meaningful and beneficial was called “Be Interested, Not Interesting."  From this group exercise, I learned that in certain situations, such as the ones I will be in for this internship, it is more important to show interest in my college peers by asking them more about themselves than it is to let them know about myself. However, this does not mean that I should interrogate everyone that I meet, but rather the conversation should be focused more on them. I was also reminded the importance of being a good listener. Not only is it good to listen, but it is important to listen without interrupting someone while they are still expressing their thought, idea or input. This is especially important when something is being said that is a shared experience that may cause an urge to express approval or similarity right away.   In addition to the program itself, I learned more by just interacting with the hundreds of people that were at the conference than anything else. I find that there are many things in life that can be taught, but ultimately the experience is what contributes to education; of course the training is crucial as well.

My goal as an intern is to interact with as many students as possible and try to have events that are educational in an enjoyable way. One of the events that I plan on organizing this year is a trip to Dialog In The Dark in NYC.  In Dialog in the Dark, visitors are led through a series of New York City environments by blind and visually-impaired guides in complete darkness.  I visited a museum like this in Israel a few years ago and remember how it was such an incredible way to learn appreciation for eyesight.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Hillel Club please feel free to contact me at MitchellDeanHarris@gmail.com.  I'll be more than happy to answer your questions to the best of my ability.  Additionally, anyone is always welcome to stop by the Multi-Faith Center in 1C-202.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Verrazano UNCF/Merck Fellow - A Summer Research Experience

Evelyn Okeke
Evelyn Okeke, a Biology major in the Verrazano Class of 2013, was named a 2012 UNCF/Merck Undergraduate Science Research Fellow.  One of the benefits of this prestigious fellowship is the opportunity to participate in a summer internship at a Merck facility.  Evelyn shares more about her experience working at Merck this summer.

Through a research scholarship from UNCF/Merck, which I was awarded for the 2012-2013 academic year, I had the opportunity to research alongside scientists at one of the Merck facilities here in the United States.  Merck is one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in this country.
Research at Merck was a different experience for me.  During the academic year I conduct my research at the College of Staten Island in the neuroscience lab of Dr. Abdeslem El Idrissi, and last year during the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to research in the Robinson lab at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology. With my nearly two years of research experience in an academic setting, I've learned that most of the research in academia is for nonprofit.  In contrast, Merck is a private company and seeks to make a profit with their research efforts.  I was a little hesitant to accept this opportunity because I was unfamiliar with how research is conducted in a profit driven environment.  However, right away it was obvious that I had made the right decision to accept the UNCF/Merck scholarship and participate in the required internship at Merck.

Evelyn on the UNCF/Merck Fellows Day
I found that Merck is a wonderful place to be. There are a vast number of opportunities to grow professionally.  “Whatever you want to do, you can do it at Merck” was the motto I came up with, and it is really true. You don’t necessarily have to be a scientist to work there; but, if you are a scientist, doing your research at Merck is like being in heaven. They have laboratories with state of the art equipment and everything a scientist can dream of that helps you move along fast.  The research there is so much faster than in academia.  The overall atmosphere at Merck is great. The company offers a great package to its employees, and everyone who works at the Merck Research Laboratories is truly talented when it comes to their subject of expertise.
I spent the ten weeks of my summer internship In the department of Protein Sciences at the Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, Pennsylvania.  I was working with a one-armed robot called “Piccolo."  This machine is a fully automated system for protein expression, cell growth, and protein purification. It was quite amazing to work with such a delicate and amazing piece of equipment.   In my project I had to optimize the recovery of HIS, GST, and AVI-tagged proteins using Piccolo, and at the end of my internship I had to give a presentation in which I presented my findings. While I was working on my project, I was able to expand my set of skills useful for working in the lab. For example, I learned how to culture cells, to induce protein expression, and to purify proteins.  This is everything Piccolo can do, but one can truly appreciate the robot if one knows what it takes to do it without the robot.
Forensic Science Fair

Evelyn (right) and colleagues
Starting from the first day of my internship, my mentor and my supervisor encouraged me to take advantage of everything Merck has to offer, and I really did.  Besides all the great department lunches and BBQs hosted by the Merck Research Laboratories, I visited the Merck Headquarter in Whitehouse Station, NJ.  I also requested to spend a day at their Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility to gain a deeper insight into the fields of Structural Biology and Chemistry. Furthermore, I had the chance to volunteer with other Merck employees at the Northen Children Services in Philadelphia, at which we hosted a Forensic Science Fair for the children in needs.
Overall, I had a great summer during which I expanded my knowledge and skill set.  I got to meet and work with great people, and this was an opportunity I am glad I took advantage of before I graduate.

To learn more about the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative, please visit http://umsi.uncf.org/sif.