Monday, August 10, 2015

Tayla Lugo (Class of 2017) received a Verrazano School Study Abroad Scholarship to take a class on the Medieval Renaissance in Florence, Italy. She spent a month extracting everything she could out of her experience, including traveling well beyond Florence.
My name is Tayla Lugo and I am a Verrazano Student and a double major in English Writing and Literature at the College of Staten Island. This summer I had the privilege to study abroad in one of the most amazing cities in the world: Florence, Italy. I went on a one month long Faculty-led program to learn about the Medieval Renaissance.
I learned about the Medici’s, who were one of the wealthiest families during the Renaissance period, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Savonarola, Brunelleschi, and many other prominent figures. My class and I went on many site visits, which included the Academia, the Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, a city walk around Florence, the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the Horne Museum, and a visit to a Preschool in Florence. At the Academia I was able to view Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the David. The Uffizi, which is one of the oldest and most famous museum in the world, showcased Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and The Primavera, as well as many other works by Raphael and Giotto. My favorite museum that we visited as a class was the Horne Museum because it is a secret treasure that is extremely undervalued. This museum once belonged to the Alberti and Corsi families and contains antique furniture and famous artworks.

Florence and beyond!
While in Italy I visited Pisa, Siena, Capri, Ana Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Venice, Murano, Burano, Rome, and Paris. Every city was different in its own way, which allowed me to have a greater appreciation for Italy. Studying abroad not only opened my eyes to the endless possibilities in the world, but has also allowed me to escape my comfort zone. I can honestly say that I have matured during this unique experience and my passion for traveling has awakened. I have made true, genuine friendships that will last a lifetime. Florence became my home in an instant and I cannot wait to someday return and maybe even study there again! I am forever grateful to the College of Staten Island for this amazing opportunity and for everyone who contributed to my dream of studying abroad. I hope that my experience will allow other students to inquire about studying abroad and open their minds to the many possibilities that are out there!

Monday, July 27, 2015

All roads lead to Rome. . .

Tayla Lugo (Class of 2017) reports from a very busy summer in Italy. While her course is based out of Florence, she has taken advantage of the opportunity to explore more of Italy with friends.
Ciao! My name is Tayla Lugo and I am studying abroad in Florence, Italy. This weekend ten of my friends and I traveled to Rome, Italy to discover the history of ancient Rome.
The first site my friends and I visited was the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, it is being restored but I was still able to throw some coins into the fountain and make a wish. Later on we went inside the Colosseum, which felt so surreal. I still cannot believe that I was there, standing in a huge stadium where gladiators once fought. My friends and I also visited the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, and Sistine Chapel. When I walked into The Sistine Chapel my jaw dropped and I could not believe my eyes. After studying Michelangelo in class and learning about the Renaissance, it was a treasure and a gift to view Michelangelo’s work. I am so happy that it is forbidden to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel because no amount of pictures would ever be able to do his work justice. 
Tayla Lugo takes advantage of a summer study abroad class in
Florence to head further afield and explore Rome.
After our visit at the Vatican Museum, my friends and I watched a previous Mass by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square and took a plethora of pictures. We ate delicious pizza at Campo de Fiori and enjoyed each other’s company in Piazza Navona. I also raced my roommates up the Spanish Steps, which was a little hard considering there were over two thousand people there.
Rome was truly an unforgettable city where I was able to fulfill my goal of being in two countries at once: Italy and Vatican City. I am so thankful for this opportunity and for being able to travel all around Italy to places I always dreamt about when I was a little girl. I will always remember this amazing journey to Rome and all of the memories that were made here. As I write this blog I am realizing that I only have five more days in Italy. I plan on making the most of my time here while continuing to indulge in the Italian culture and cuisine!

Tayla Lugo

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Steven Arriaga (Class of 2017) has just joined the Verrazano School Honors Program. A study abroad experience changed his life and led him to more travel, and to Verrazano. In addition to studying English with a linguistics concentration, Steven will earn a minor in French, and some serious travelling credentials! 

A CSI/Italy Connection
My name is Steven Arriaga, a Verrazano student and Linguistics major at the College of Staten Island, and I’m currently studying abroad in Italy! Enrolled in an Italian Food, Culture, and Society course at Florence University of the Arts, this is officially my second time attending an overseas program (Vive la France!). Before arriving to Italy, I had the pleasure of traveling with my college mentor, Professor Tortora, where she presented our research project at the University of Iceland. Soon after, I enjoyed some time in my home country of Spain, anticipating a huge Barcelona soccer game among the Catalonians (nevertheless, Hala Madrid!). Aiming to visit ten countries before turning 21, I’ve been to Mexico, France, the UK, Belgium, Iceland, Spain, Italy, The Vatican (this totally counts), and will be going to Austria and Denmark before ending my journey in the City of Light. Although I return home in about 3 weeks, this trip has been nothing short of amazing. A unique program, we traveled during our first week throughout Italy before reaching the beautiful Firenze. Having visited various places including Rome, Viterbo, Populonia, and Viareggio, every city helped me appreciate the traditions that Italians so proudly represent. Although I have an utmost passion for French culture, Italy definitely gives them a run for their money and as an avid photographer, I’m making sure that I capture every breathtaking moment. We also cook and taste different Italian food and wine in class, so what’s not to love? I’ve had the pleasure of meeting students from other CUNYs as well as other states including Massachusetts and Tennessee. Best of all, however, is the fact that I’m slowly but surely picking up Italian as my fourth language! It greatly complements my major and goal to become a college professor, so this trip has already been worthwhile to say the least.

Travel is bliss.
      Studying abroad has definitely been the highlight of my college career and after working as a peer advisor at CSI’s Center for International Service for a year, my desire to continue traveling is greater than ever! I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve grown since I’ve begun traveling, but I can definitely say that I’m a more than twice the person I was a year ago. Europe is the place where I grew passionate for soccer, fine art, photography, literature and surprisingly, fashion, so it’s easily been the most influential time in my life. My future goals include winning a Gilman scholarship to return to Europe for a full semester before applying for a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship and there’s no doubt in my mind that these feats are possible! I could continue writing for hours about how life-changing Europe is but I have to start packing now for Vienna before going out for some amazing focaccia and gelato. Ciao!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Studying Abroad in Florence, Italy over the Summer

Tayla Lugo, Verrazano Class of 2017, has been waiting anxiously for this day since March. That's when she learned she had received a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to attend a CSI course taught in Florence, Italy, over the summer. Read on to share her anticipation!
            My name is Tayla Lugo and I am a Verrazano Student at the College of Staten Island. This summer I am accomplishing something I have always dreamt of doing since I was a little girl: I am studying abroad. I am leaving on May 27, 2015 to study abroad in Florence, Italy.
            I have never been more excited about anything in my life. I also have never been out of the country before and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Thankfully, my excitement trumps my nervousness and I look forward to embracing this amazing experience. This is my first step in pursuing my dreams of traveling the world. I plan on traveling all over Italy and also to Paris, France while I am abroad. If you saw my room, you would know how obsessed I am with Paris because of all the pictures I have hanging on my walls.
            It is very important for me to experience the different cultures, languages, and traditions while learning about myself along the way. I hope to come home with a better understanding of the world and a deeper respect for the Italian culture. I cannot wait to get down with my Italian roots and learn more about where my family came from.
I am beyond grateful to the College of Staten Island, the Verrazano School, and everyone else who helped to make this journey possible for me. I am counting down the hours until I am in the land of pasta and gelato. This opportunity will shape the rest of my life and I cannot wait to share it with all with you!
The next time I will be writing to you all is when I am in Italy. How insane is that? I still cannot believe it. Someone needs to pinch me. By the way, packing for a month was such a challenge that I finally conquered after repacking a good three times. I am a girl and I tend to over pack when I go away for a week, let alone a month. I took pictures so you can all see how my wardrobe failed me and threw up all over my room. It was not pretty.
            I hope it will give you a good laugh!
Tayla Lugo


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mathematical Finance: A Verrazano Course Enrichment Project

Michael Siozios, Verrazano Class of 2015, did a special Verrazano course enrichment project in an upper-level mathematics course during the fall semester.  Read below to hear from Michael about what he learned from the course and the project.

Michael Siozios, Class of 2015
Hello, my name is Michael Siozios, and my majors are Mathematics and Finance. I am part of the Verrazano Class of 2015.

My Fall 2014 semester was awesome to say the least. I had a research experience unlike any other, in which I was lucky to witness, in action, all of the mathematics I’ve had exposure to my entire life. Thank you to the Verrazano Program for making this possible. I interacted directly with mathematical finance, utilizing the mechanics necessary for future study in financial engineering. My course material and the research project made me aware that the depth of knowledge necessary to be fluent in this field is vast.

I was able to see and understand a beautiful derivation of the Black and Scholes formula used to price options available for sale in the financial markets. The techniques used to price options are amazing. My favorite part of pricing options is that the methods financial engineers and banks apply hedge an option that writers position to be risk neutral in theory.  Hedging, in investment terms, means that investors use strategies and instruments to try to reduce or offset risk as much as possible. I see why the options market has grown over time to be a tremendous industry.

The course strategy was amazing and taught with passion, giving the class a great perspective on the material. We obtained a thorough understanding of the discrete elements of the course, and by employing methods learned in continuous probability, we were able to move into the continuous, and thus more realistic, world nicely.

Programming was a focus of my research outside of the classroom, and I analyzed and compared models designed to price options appropriately.  A “correct” option price eliminates arbitrage opportunities.  Arbitrage is when someone buys in one market and, at the same time, sells in another market without much, if any, financial risk. I learned that after many instances of time accounted for discretely using the binomial option pricing model, one may price options nicely. Otherwise, one may use the Black Scholes formula. Why am I interested in this material? It’s simple: options have been a key component in finance for a long time, and they allow individuals to hedge their investments. It has even given rise to other practices like option trading. These are business opportunities available to everyone, making it possible for individuals to have a diversified portfolio and a varied source of income.

An important lesson learned in my research experience is that there is no upper limit to the knowledge of programming I should obtain. Many individuals prefer some languages over others; however, knowing multiple programming languages can be extremely beneficial to someone in the field of financial engineering.

All in all, although the demands of my courses and research combined were extensive, this experience was excellent. I have far more knowledge than previously, and I’ve acquired information necessary for my future career.

Exploring The City: 2014 VELA Highlights

One of the ways that Verrazano students learn outside of the classroom is by participating in Verrazano Extracurricular Learning Activities, or VELAs.  These are fun, interesting, and informative events that help students expand their knowledge, connect them with opportunities, prepare them for the future, and give them a well-rounded undergraduate experience.
Off-campus Double-VELAs are the highlight of the VELA calendar, and they allow students to get connected with the incredible resources and rich history of New York City.   In 2014, Verrazano students participated in a number of off-campus VELA excursions.   These included trips to the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, the Steinway Piano Factory, the New York Transit Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and walking tours with Matt Postal - an architectural historian.  See some of the highlights below!

Steinway Piano Factory Tour  
Astoria, Queens


Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
Brooklyn Navy Yard

Recent Developments of Lower Manhattan with Matt Postal, architectural historian

New York Transit Museum
Downtown Brooklyn

Museum of the City of New York
East Harlem

Joseph Inigo, Verrrazano Honors Class of 2013, has completed his first semester of a PhD program in Molecular Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics. He reflects on how earning a biochemistry degree and Verrazano honors at CSI, has prepared him for this next stage of his career.

Hello friends,

Just a month ago, I completed the first semester of my PhD program in Molecular Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The winter break has given me time to reflect upon my experiences and I wish to share some of them with you. As I ready to type, with coffee in hand and a wintry view offered by the window beside me, my memory shifts to the previous spring. I was actually away for a conference where I was due to present my research on brain tumors, when I received an email from the Roswell Institute. They seemed pleased with my recent interview and more importantly, they had offered me acceptance into their graduate program. I welled up with great excitement and could not believe what I had just read. In fact, the next day I frequently looked for that same email just to make sure that it was not a dream I conjured the previous night.
Joseph Inigo on campus (during the day!)

Fast forward to the fall where I had just moved into my first apartment in downtown Buffalo. It was quite an adjustment that I had to make. Now in a new city filled with strangers, I felt as if I were starting my life from scratch. Although this stirred up a sense of apprehension, along with it came feelings of excitement and joy. I resolved to approach this new phase of my academic career with the utmost enthusiasm and vigor, in the same manner that one of my heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, would have (To my great surprise, the Theodore Roosevelt inaugural site is only a block away from my apartment!). On the first day of student orientation I rose earlier than normal. And as I arrived at the auditorium, I pushed through the doors with eyes beaming and bellowed a hearty “hello” to what awaited me on the other side. I was greeted with a flickering light and an empty room. This was when I came to realize that perhaps I was a bit overzealous in my arrival; I was over an hour early to the event and the sun had barely risen.
                Yet for the months to come, I aimed to face each day with the same degree of enthusiasm and fervor. As a newcomer at Roswell, I was well aware that my colleagues and superiors would be years ahead in terms of knowledge and experience pertaining to oncology. There were many aspects of the field I had yet to uncover and it was quite a shift. Although I had previously delved into cancer research, my primary training was in neuroscience. However, looking back I now realize that I was more than ready to face any challenge that was to come my way due to my years at the College of Staten Island.
During my time at CSI I had the honor of working with Dr. Probal Banerjee and his lab for several years.  One of the greatest assets at CSI, I realized, is the opportunity for students to work closely with faculty members and perform high-level research. I took advantage of this environment and along the way, I gained many skills through my involvement in various projects. For example, I was trained to record electrical activity of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex with the aim of discovering effects elicited by drug-receptor interactions. I learned to work with cell lines, perform animal surgery, and synthesize drug compounds during my work in combating brain tumors. Equally as important, I was also taught how to think like a scientist, which involves the ability to analyze data while detecting the most minute of details, to assemble facts and form theories, and to question the prevailing dogma. This ultimately brought forth from myself a great appreciation for the sciences and it prepared me well for what was to come at the Roswell Institute.
I was then able to quickly integrate myself into my current lab environment at the Roswell Institute because of the mindset and practical skills I came armed with. Within the past few months, I have been able to further broaden my skills, allowing me to research prostate and pancreatic cancer as well as aging and genetic damage. I have been able to greatly expand my understanding of cancer biology, in terms of how it originates at the cellular level and what novel techniques are available for battling this disease.  And along the way, I have met some quite interesting personalities and made friends with some spirited individuals.

Going forward, I feel that I can make an impact on the world at large and make my dreams into a reality. And I will forever be grateful for the staff, colleagues, and friends at CSI who provided the lessons and experiences necessary for me to reach this point in my life. A life in which I am able to realize my passion and purpose.

Au Revoir France

Veronica LaManna, a member of the Verrazano Class of 2016 studying International Business with a minor in French, spent the Fall 2014 semester in Nice, France.  Returning home has given her time to reflect on the experience.

Returning back to the United States was extremely bittersweet.  I was so excited to see my family and friends again after four months, but so sad to leave the country that I was able to call home for those months.  In those four months I was able to experience so much through education and socialization.  Everyday I really learned so much in and out of the classroom.  As I stepped off the plane and back into New York I even experienced a little culture shock to hear everyone speaking English again.  I had been so accustomed to all the language barriers and picking up more and more everyday on the French language that my own first language sounded strange to me.  After being jet-lagged and freezing, due to the extreme climate change, for two weeks I am slowly getting used to life back here in New York.  It is good to be back, but I cannot begin to explain how much I miss living in Nice, and not just for the incredible weather.
            As soon as I returned home my family immediately wanted to see all 3,000 pictures I had taken while I was abroad.  While I was studying abroad, I was able to visit three different countries other than France.  As I talked about in previous blog, I had been to Morocco and Italy.  The last country I traveled to was Switzerland, which was another incredible experience.  I am so fortunate that I was able to see so much while I was abroad.  Studying abroad gives you the opportunity to travel to many countries while you are on a strict budget.  In Europe the flights are affordable and there are so many student discounts that are offered.  If I had not studied abroad I would have been less likely to have ever seen these countries.  I have made so many memories and have met so many amazing people during my travels, which makes me so happy that I took advantage of this opportunity. 
            While I was abroad, I began working on my research paper to graduate with honors in my major of international business. My educational experience in France highly encouraged my topic choice and my basis of information when I wrote my abstract.  Being able to study in an educational system that is completely different from the one that I am used to was the most challenging thing for me.  The challenge was definitely worth it because I learned so much from it. Studying abroad has taught me how to learn in an entirely different way.  I learned how to apply what I learn differently then how I would in my courses here.  Also after studying abroad the first time it gave me the idea to pursue my master’s degree in France. 

            Overall studying abroad was a positive and enriching experience.  I have so many memories and now have friends in almost every country.  I have grown and matured through this experience by living on my own, learning about different cultures, and meeting new people.  After coming back I really do not feel like the same person.  Now I am able to handle more responsibilities without stressing out as much.  I learned so much and I am so happy that I was able to have this incredible opportunity.  Nice will always have special place in my heart and will always feel like home. Jusqu’à la prochaine fois

Friday, January 30, 2015

From The Director's Desk - Verrazano Travels in 2014

Professor Charles Liu, Verrazano Director, did some traveling in 2014 as part of his academic work.  Below, he shares some of his observations about the places he visited.  Note the Verrazano t-shirt worn proudly, and be sure to bring your Verrazano t-shirt on your next adventure!

The Verrazano School is still young - just finishing our seventh year of existence - and not everyone has heard of us yet.  That’s changing, of course, as Verrazano alumni increase in number and continue to do great things that carry our reputation far and wide.  Meanwhile, I am happy to spread our name wherever I go.  In the tradition of Verrazano students sharing their study abroad experiences, I’ll describe a few touristy highlights from some of my 2014 academic travels:

Vindobona ruins
Vienna, Austria - At the height of the Roman Empire, Vindobona was a thriving fortress and settlement.  Today, the great city of Vienna is built on Vindobona’s foundations, and one branch of the Vienna Museum (free admission on the first Sunday of every month!) is dedicated to that history.  The ancient Romans welcomed a diverse population that brought a wide variety of languages, religions, and cultural practices into its domain, while it propagated its government and technology outward.  (Read on to see what I mean...)

Bratislava, Slovakia - Either by boat along the Danube River or by commuter bus along the highway, it’s almost easier to travel from Vienna to Slovakia’s first city than it is to go from Staten Island to New Jersey.  So I went!  Bratislava is a relatively small city, yet rich with history, culture, and art.  It was a great half-day sojourn to amble around this Eastern European capital, once behind the Iron Curtain and now a vibrant, growing free economy.  Have some bryndzové halušky - super-delicious traditional Slovak dumplings with sheep cheese and ham - when you go.

Masada and the Dead Sea
Masada - This UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Israel is far more than just an opulent ancient Roman palace and fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.  The Roman siegeworks that surround the palace, occupying some 700 acres, are the best-preserved of its kind in the world.  Although the palace towers more than a thousand feet above the desert floor, the Dead Sea basin is so low that the palace’s highest point is less than 200 feet above sea level - half the height of Todt Hill.  It was particularly remarkable to me that many of the architectural features of the palace, including its heating and plumbing systems, looked exactly like the features I saw in Vienna’s Vindobona ruins, 1,500 miles and a continent away.  Pretty amazing, those ancient Romans.

Rawabi in the West Bank
Rawabi - In the West Bank, 15 miles north of Jerusalem and 15 miles south of Nablus, is a residential community under construction that is being modeled after American-style planned communities like Reston, Virginia.  When completed, Rawabi will have schools, shopping, an amphitheater, and 6,000 family homes.  It felt to me as if I were touring a new subdivision being built on Staten Island - complete with model homes, showrooms, and construction vehicles rolling around and beeping from all sides.

In all my travels, what struck me most was the commonality of the people I saw and met - all of our shared hopes and aspirations, all of us doing the best we can and trying to do the right thing, and all of us making the most of what we have to make the world a better place.  The leader of the development at Rawabi said it well; he told us that he grew up in Nablus, just a few miles away, and when he visits he sees his childhood friends and acquaintances still there - many of whom are more gifted and talented than he - who never left their hometown, and never explored beyond the limits of what they’d known since birth.  He counted himself so fortunate that he had the chance to go to the United States, to live and get an education here, so he could learn and see all the amazing things that exist in this world, and then embrace the opportunities he saw to make a good life for himself, his family, and his community.  Sometimes the world can feel a little too big, or crazy, or intimidating; if we can remember, though, to ground ourselves in what really matters, as one human being to another, then all that other stuff will seem much less daunting as we strive to do the best we can, one day at a time.      

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

First Annual Verrazano Alumni Reception

In December, The Verrazano School Honors Program hosted the first annual Verrazano Alumni Reception.  It was a fun, festive evening of conversation, refreshments, and connections!  

Verrazano alumni networked with people from various class years, reconnected with former classmates, and shared what they’ve been doing since they graduated. Some are completing graduate programs, and others are working full-time in their respective fields.  Alumni remarked that the activities they participated in as undergraduates - especially study abroad and internships -  made them strong candidates during their job search.  About fifteen alumni attended, along with their guests, and represented undergraduate majors ranging from nursing and psychology to business and English.  There are just under 200 members of the entire Verrazano alumni community, so it was a great turnout for the first event!  

The food was generously sponsored by the College of Staten Island Alumni Association.  As a highlight of the evening, Professor Charles Liu, the Verrazano Director, facilitated a wine tasting to accompany the hors d’oeuvres.  The tasting was a big hit and a great learning experience, and it was unofficially the first VELA for alumni! 

The alumni who attended were enthusiastic about attending future Verrazano alumni events, and we look forward to hosting the second annual Verrazano Alumni Reception next fall.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bella Italia: Preparing For A Winter Intersession in Florence, Italy

Jennifer Giordano, Verrazano Class of 2017, has been awarded a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to help support her winter study abroad experience in Florence, Italy this January.  Jennifer is a History major with a minor in Italian Studies.  Below, Jennifer shares why she decided to study abroad and how she hopes to grow through the experience.

Jennifer prepares to spend the winter in Florence, Italy.
For the past two years, I have been told the same phrase multiple times and although it was said by different people, it always sounded the same: “You will only grow when you step outside of your comfort zone.” I could not understand why everyone was under the impression that I needed to step outside of my comfort zone in order to grow. I have always disagreed with the implication that I needed to be uncomfortable in order to transform myself. I knew long before college that I wanted to study abroad. I had always been intrigued by the cultures of other countries and how people live their daily lives. I intended to travel to Italy in the most comfortable way I could possibly think of, and that was with a reputable program associated with my college with the company of a few of my good friends.

At first, I considered studying abroad for the whole semester. I tried to recruit as many people as I could. I brought it up so often I noticed people were starting to avoid me. I took this as an indication that most people weren’t as willing to leave their lives for a whole semester as I thought they would be. When I really thought about it and considered my own disposition, I realized that traveling for a whole semester wasn’t what I was comfortable with either. Now, naturally, I had this internal battle with the whole comfort zone situation. Was I limiting myself? Was I challenging myself enough? In the end, I decided that winter intersession was the perfect medium. I would feel comfortable enough to allow myself to be uncomfortable, because I had some great friends to travel with and a beautiful language and city to look forward to.

The winter intersession fits the profile of who I am and what I want to accomplish as a sophomore college student. After declaring history as my major and Italian as my minor, Italy was the perfect place to achieve exploring both of my passions. For the future, my experience in Florence, Italy will be transformative on a whole new level. Although I’ve been to Italy before, studying abroad is a very different type of experience. Traveling alone, studying alone, and being a part of the daily Italian lifestyle will provide me with a whole new outlook. Spending this winter abroad in Florence, Italy will be a truly wonderful experience. I intend to use this experience to fully explore myself, my studies, and to represent The Verrazano School Honors Program.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Verrazano Computer Science Students Visit Google In NYC

Professor Fred Johnson teaches Introduction to Computer Science for Verrazano freshmen as part of a learning community each fall.  In December, he brought his class on a special visit to the Google headquarters in New York City.  Read below for reflections by two students who participated in the class trip.

Shannon Milone, Verrazano Class of 2018
My name is Shannon Milone and I am a student in the Verrazano Honors Program class of 2018. I am currently working towards a Computer Science degree, and my classmates and I recently visited Google in New York City.  For many years I have heard stories about Google offices, but actually seeing this with my own eyes was incredible. The atmosphere is completely laid-back and creative. Employees are trusted to lounge, play video games, or eat at any time they desire. This environment does not stunt production but increases it by letting employees come up with their own ideas on their own time. The positive energy and intelligence was felt as soon as I walked into the company doors. This trip heightened my passion for computer science and really showed me that although it is hard, a job in this field is both rewarding and satisfying.

Dakota Paxton, Verrazano Class of 2018
Verrazano class at Google in NYC.
Google was beautiful. My Introduction to Computer Science class went on a trip to the Google offices in New York, and boy was it something! Even before entering the building, I was intrigued as to how monstrous it was and what could be contained inside. Upon entering, we were given visitor passes with out names on it (that we sadly had to give back at the end of the tour) and were introduced to Andrew (our guide) and his peers. They all seemed very nice and open to any and all sorts of questions we wanted to ask about Google or how to get a career there! The first “exhibit” we looked at was the donated computers that our professor most likely used in his era; they all looked amazing.
Then as we went along with the tour we passed by a game room containing multiple entertainment machines that everyone wanted to try. However, we moved along and were confronted with multiple “mini bars” that were customized with a specific theme! There was a Pac-man, subway, Lego and other themed snack bars, all of which looked amazing. The Lego area was probably my favorite place because co-workers were able to create their own pieces of art and place them on the wall, which is a unique touch to customize the office.

As we continued onward, we were finally able to meet the “cafeteria.” They had personal chefs and baristas as far as the eye could see! I got sushi, but there were so many other choices tempting me. As we sat down we were given an opportunity to speak with members of Google. I spoke with one man who worked on Google Maps who discussed his purpose and their goals; it was all very informative. I also learned about all the quirky easter eggs that are included within Maps.

After lunch, we were brought to a conference room where Andrew presented a PowerPoint to inform us what a Software Engineer does and how they function in the workplace. These were things a majority of us already knew, considering we’re planning to go into the field, but the included jokes within the presentation were nice. All in all, it was great to see where they actually conduct meetings and such.

The tour was really awesome. Our group actually got to see what goes on inside of Google! It was kind of like finally understanding a trick that the magician did that you never knew how to do before. I feel that if given the opportunity, anyone should go visit Google. Lastly, I definitely know where I want to be interning next year!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Semester Abroad: Learning and Growing in Nice, France

Veronica LaManna, a member of the Verrazano Class of 2016 studying International Business with a minor in French, spent the Fall 2014 semester in Nice, France.  Veronica checked in during the month of November to let us know how she was doing.  Look for her final blog post in the next few weeks!

Coucou! I am currently at the halfway point of my study abroad experience in Nice, France.  It has been a long journey full of memorable experiences.  In the past two months I’ve had the opportunity to experience life in a different country, study in a French university, meet some incredible people, and explore two other countries.  Although it has only been two months, I feel myself becoming a different person.  I am forced to be out of my comfort zone every day, trying to speak a language that is different from my native, and trying to conform to the cultural differences.  I think that I have matured and have created this into a positive experience.

One of the things that took me a while to get used to was the University here in France.  I am studying with other Erasmus, exchange students, so we are all from different countries.  Back in the states, the majority of students in my class was born in the United States and has a similar way of studying and getting work done as I do.  Here, since we are from different countries we have learned different ways of approaching studies.  Some nationalities will work extremely hard while others prefer to sit back and relax.  Most of my assignments consist of group work, which forces us to bring our different work ethics together and try to find a happy medium.  It is not so easy, so it takes longer for the job to get done.  After two months we are starting to find the right balance even though we still have some disagreements. 

Since I’ve been living in France, I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel to two other countries.  Without my Verrazano scholarship I might not have been financially capable of having these two experiences.  I was able to explore Morocco and Rome and some cities in the south of Italy.  My experience in Morocco was the most memorable, and it's truly a country I can never forget.  Some of the Erasmus students and I found a tour hosted by a young man from Morocco. There, I rode a camel through the Sahara, spent one night sleeping in the desert under the stars, and explored the beautiful and historic city of Marrakech.  This was my first time in Africa and it was completely different from Europe and The United States. The city of Marrakech is beautiful, but it also is developing.  This means that there is still some poverty, which was something that I saw for the first time in person.  The experience in Morocco really taught me to appreciate everything I have after seeing how happy they were with having so little.  

Another city I visited was Matera in the south of Italy.  This city has been declared to be the European Cultural Capital for 2019 and was where Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of The Christ, was filmed. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and was settles during the Paleolithic era. I also found this city very memorable, because I got to experience it with one of my Erasmus friends who lives in this city and also because it had such a rich culture and history.  This historic city was one of the most beautiful I have seen.

Even though I am only halfway through my study abroad journey, I have already experienced so much.  Every day I am learning something new and having a new experience.  I am looking forward to the rest of my study abroad experience and being able to share all of my stories.  C’est toute pour le moment!