Thursday, March 28, 2013

Learning Through A New Volunteer Experience

Sarah Ahmad, Verrazano Class of 2015, is a Medical Technology major with a Biology minor.  Sarah is a volunteer mentor for Families Helping Families on Staten Island.  Read about Sarah's experience in her own words.
I have been volunteering with the organization called Families Helping Families.  This organization helps families of those with special needs children.  I admire their hard work, dedication, and commitment.  I heard about this organization when I was in high school, however I didn’t volunteer at any events until December 2012.  I volunteered at their New Year’s Eve party, and this was a different experience for me since my previous volunteer experience has been at a hospital.  At the party, I was able to interact with the kids and their families and we spent the day playing games and dancing.  It was an amazing feeling to see the smiles on their faces and was a wonderful experience. 

In January, I began volunteering as a mentor at social skills group.  At first I was a little nervous because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the kids or that they wouldn’t be comfortable sharing their problems and stories with me.  But I soon realized that that wasn’t a problem.  A typical day of volunteering at the social skills group starts by meeting with Andrea, the CEO and Program Director.  At this meeting she tells us what topics will be discussed or should be addressed.  Then we’ll greet the kids and ask about their week or day at school.  As we talk about any problems that came up in their classrooms with their friends or peers, we will complete an arts and crafts project.  We make sure to address the “theme” of that day and listen to their opinions on how to solve the problem. 

I decided to volunteer with Families Helping Families because it was something new and different for me.  I feel that we should have experiences outside our comfort zone because it allows us to be more aware of the world around us and helps us become more open minded, diverse, and mature as people.  Working with others and meeting new people is always a great opportunity.  With this particular service, we have to be able to not only work and associate with the kids but also take their concerned loving parents into consideration.  I think the most unique thing about this opportunity is being able to interact with the kids; as a mentor, we are able to share our advice and opinions about something that they value.  As a mentor, we are able to let them know we’re there for them.  I think what most people don’t realize with these children is that they aren’t any different from any other person; they’re all smart, wonderful, and beautiful children.  I think that many people underestimate these children and never give them the chance to show their wonderful qualities.  Volunteering with Families Helping Families has helped me to view the world around me and become open minded, it allows me to not be judgmental.  I have always wanted to become a pediatrician and working with these children is a wonderful experience.  It’s a great feeling to be able to connect with them, share a story, and give them advice. Not only are they learning from the mentors, but we learn so much from them. 

To learn more about Families Helping Families, please visit,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kudos To Verrazano Student-Athletes

Congratulations to all of the Verrazano student-athletes who were named to the Fall 2012 Student-Athlete Advisory Commitee (SAAC)/Athletic Director (AD) Honor Roll and were included in this article in the Staten Island Advance!

The Verrazano student-athletes who received this distinction are:

TENNIS: Sabrina Bragerton-Nasert (Class of 2016), Madiha Mulla (Class of 2016), Nicholas Zikos (Class of 2013), Edward Ruffe (Class of 2016)

SWIMMING: Joanna Irizarry-Zaraza (Class of 2014),Caitlin McLoughlin (Class of 2016), Kelly Walsh (Class of 2016)

VOLLEYBALL: Yan Mei Nie (Class of 2016)

CROSS COUNTRY: Kubra Shirazi (Class of 2013), Michael Wallace (Class of 2013)

SOCCER: Michael Massa (Class of 2014), Krysta Percaccio (Class of 2016), Amanda Percaccio (Class of 2013), Stephanie McNichol (Class of 2014), Ashley Albanese (Class of 2015). 

CHEERLEADING: Abidemi Komolafe (Class of 2014)

BASKETBALL: Olivia Tiero (Class of 2013)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New York Union Semester: Gaining Experience And Academic Credit

Nicole Wallace, a double-major in Political Science and Economics in the Verrazano Class of 2013, is participating in the New York Union Semester this spring.  This is an internship opportunity where students work with an NYC union while studying the labor movement and economic and social policy issues.  Read below to learn more about Nicole's experience applying for this opportunity and her first few weeks at the internship - in her own words.
Nicole Wallace dressed as the grim reaper for her internship.
After interning at the New York City Comptroller’s Office in the labor law department this past summer, I knew I wanted a career in the labor field. However, I wasn’t quite sure how to get involved in that kind of career area. After my internship ended, I took a position as a Contracts intern at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. However, something was seriously missing in my life. I wanted to get back into the business of helping people fight their employers who were seriously underpaying them. While scrolling through my emails one afternoon, I came across one from the School of Professional Studies. It was advertising for their labor studies/labor union program, called New York Union Semester, at the Joseph A. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. The email said that accepted students would be interning 32 hours a week at a labor union and taking four courses in labor studies at the Murphy Institute. CUNY students would be able to get an e-permit and apply those four courses to courses needed at their home college. In addition, all students would receive a certification in labor studies after completion. As I continued reading the application details, happiness and joy filled my heart. It was the perfect opportunity for me and exactly what I had been yearning for.

After completing the application, sending my transcript, and nailing a phone interview with the coordinator, Naomi Fatt, I secured a position with the program. I was excited and couldn’t wait to begin my journey. After a four day orientation at the end of January, all the interns had the opportunity to interview with 7 labor unions. The next day each of the interns would be assigned to work for one of the unions. I was nervous because I desperately wanted to work for the Transit Workers Union (TWU). My father was a bus operator and I have immense respect for all transit workers because of that. My interview with TWU went well. I spoke clearly and slowly and was confident when answering their questions. 

The next day I sat patiently with the rest of the interns, one of whom has been my best friend since I was eight and a member of the Macaulay Honors Program at CSI - Kelly DePietro. She wanted badly to be assigned to the Communication Workers Unions. We waited for Naomi to come back into the orientation room with the news. Soon she came in with little slips of paper. Of course having the last name Wallace, I was the last person to receive my slip. I opened it slowly and then looked down at the small slip that read:

Nicole Wallace
Transit Workers Union Local 100

I jumped up with joy and smiled at my friend who was also assigned to her first choice union. After, we all went out to celebrate with some food and drinks (non-alcoholic of course). It was Friday, and Monday would be my first day.

My first week was comprised of the usual - working on projects, attending meetings and making phone calls to union members. Although my boss felt bad that he was assigning me what he felt to be menial tasks, I was so excited to be a part of an organization that fought for transit worker’s rights that I did not mind the work one bit.

As my second week approached, my boss thought I may be interested in a campaign they had been working on. The TWU was trying to campaign to get support for their three point plan on how to reduce incidents and fatalities on the train tracks. Since January 1, 2013, seventeen customers had been pushed, shoved, fallen or jumped onto the train tracks. The TWU was not only concerned their customers but also about the transit workers who were suffering severe psychological issues after having hit someone on the tracks. I was very interested in the campaign they were working on. Their main goal was to get the MTA to have workers slow down to 10 mph as they approach the stations. As my boss was explaining the campaign, I was thrilled he has asked me to be a part of it. I was eager to start making flyers or perhaps he would even let me write an article for the Union newsletter. Then all of sudden he asked “So would you like to dress up as the grim reaper and hand out bloody metro cards at city hall?” I was stunned. He explained that they weren’t real bloody metro cards, but fake paper metro cards with fake blood stains on them. The back of the cards had three bullet points with information that promoted their three point plan. I immediately agreed and thought to myself, although I never expected I would be doing this, "I am always up for new adventures."

The next day I dressed up as the grim reaper and handed out the metro cards to hundreds of people. Newscasters swarmed the area and a lot of people were eager to take pictures with me. Even though I was on cloud nine because I felt like a celebrity, I realized the reason I was so happy wasn’t because everyone wanted my picture. It was because everyone was interested in the cause I was fighting for. Several people stopped to ask my how they could help more and what they could do to lend their support. I informed people that they could go to the local100 website and sign the online petition. Many people agreed to do so and I felt like the campaign was a success. Through my first two weeks at the TWU, I learned an important life lesson. One person alone can’t make a difference, but together we can. And if standing outside for three hours in the cold dressed as the grim reaper means saving just one life, then I’d take on the task any day. 

To learn more about the New York Union Semester and access the application, please visit: 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Expanding Scientific Knowledge Through A Summer Fellowship

Syeda Hussaini, a triple major in Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry in the Verrazano Class of 2013, is an aspiring optometrist.  She participated in a summer research-based fellowship at Systems Biology Center of New York and learned a lot from the experience.  Read below for more about Syeda's research experience.

Syeda Hussaini (far right in the first row)
Systems Biology Center of New York (SBCNY) offers a 10-week research-based opportunity at one of the well-known institutes in New York.  It is located in one of the Mount Sinai buildings in Manhattan, New York. The program is for undergraduates who are entering their junior or senior year within CUNY.  Students majoring in these areas: Biological, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences are encouraged to apply. This is a summer fellowship that rewards students who have an interest pursuing a PhD or PhD/MD with a unique experience and stipend. 

I found out about this opportunity during my sophomore year in 2010. The poster was on one of the walls of the 6S building at the College of Staten Island.   I wrote down the website and decided to check it out at home.  After reviewing the website I decided to apply, and when I was accepted that spring semester I was caught off guard.  I was extremely excited for this opportunity, especially since I was going to be part of the Mount Sinai community for 10 weeks! During the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to work alongside exceptional researchers and professors who worked at the Medical School. Although I had researched with a couple of professors at the College of Staten Island in inorganic and organic chemistry labs, this research fellowship was different.

Instead of doing my usual saline and catalytic reactions and obtaining their respective products, at Mount Sinai I had to construct a computer model of a signaling pathway. I learned so much thanks to my mentor, Dr. Susana Neves. She helped me through my entire fellowship experience.  Dr. Neves was nice enough to show me around the building, which was amazing. I learned step-by-step about her research on how dopamine and glutamate have an effect on the signaling pathway in the cell. I also learned how to use the bio-modeling program called Virtual Cell (Vcell). 

Our department had weekly seminars where everyone would gather in the conference room and listen to and observe speakers talk about new findings and/or graduate opportunities. We got a chance to meet with other PhD professors and researchers as well as enjoy delicious Thai food that was ordered for us during the meetings. I also got a chance to meet other undergraduates from different CUNY schools who were there for the fellowship. I still keep in touch with one of them. We helped each other out on understanding how to use the computer program when our mentors were busy.

With Vcell, I was able to construct what was actually happening inside the cell in presence or absence of the specific substrates Dr. Neves was experimenting with. The title of my research was, “Temporal Integration of Dopamine and Glutamate Inputs into the Striatum”. My research was based on the various levels/amounts of input of both stimulants: Dopamine and Glutamate. These neurotransmitters are involved in producing reward-dependent learning. I had to make a model of the effects of these two substrates in the striatum of the mouse brain where many diseases are seen, such as Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction and schizophrenia. I produced graphs that showed the trends of dopamine and glutamate (increase or decrease) when they were at higher doses and lower doses. I also produced charts that showed their affect on second messengers/ions such as: DAG, IP3, cAMP and cyctoplasmic Ca++. For more information about my research, here is a link to my abstract:

Towards the end of the summer, the summer fellows, including myself, presented at a poster presentation. Here, we talked about the research and our posters and answered questions. This certainly boosted up my confidence, especially since it was the first research conference I had presented at.  Plus, I received a 2,500 stipend that summer as part of the program.  The stipend has actually gone up to $4000 dollars since I participated!  I did not continue my research there, but I did learn a lot about Dr. Neves' work and so much about biochemistry. This prepared me for the biochemistry class I took a year later. I was relieved to have some background knowledge on what I was learning.
The fellowship with SBCNY was a great experience, and I encourage my fellow undergraduates to apply for this opportunity. I think everyone should want to be a part of the Mount Sinai community, even if it is for one summer! You can definitely return to continue on your own research there alongside the faculty.

Finally, here's a little about myself.  Right now, I am looking forward to the end of this semester, which will be my last.  It's sad to see myself leave CUNY, CSI, and the Verrazano Honors Program, but at the same time I am super excited to step into the real world. Right now, my goal for real world is to pursue a Doctor of Optometry degree and do research in the field.  I've had two interviews so far and have two more to go.  We'll see what happens!  Don’t forget to check out the SBCNY summer research program website; the fellowship is a great opportunity.

Link to SBCNY summer opportunity: