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!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship - Coming Soon!

If you've been thinking about studying abroad, here's another exciting reason to start moving forward on those plans in 2015!  The Center for International Service and The Verrazano School Honors Program have partnered on a new scholarship initiative for Verrazano students.  Starting in Fall 2015, all students in good standing with The Verrazano School Honors Program and who participate in CSI-sponsored study abroad programs will automatically be eligible to receive a Verrazano Honors Study Abroad Scholarship to help defray the cost of participating in a study abroad program!  

Verrazano Honors Study Abroad Scholarships will first be allocated for students who apply during Fall 2015 for Winter or Spring 2016 programs. Verrazano students who participate in summer or winter CSI-sponsored study abroad programs will receive $500, and students who participate in CSI-sponsored semester-long programs will receive $1000.  This includes CSI faculty-led programs, CSI programs, and CSI Exchange Ambassador Programs.

Our goal is to increase the number of Verrazano graduates who participate in a study abroad experience.  Studying abroad helps you explore your academic interests, develop professional goals, strengthen communication and problem-solving abilities, interact with people from different cultures, improve your language skills, experience personal growth, and gain new perspective.  It can, and probably will, change your life.  Get out there and explore the world!

Center for International Service and Verrazano staff members

Eligibility Criteria:

In order to receive the Verrazano Honors Study Abroad Scholarship, Verrazano students must:

·       Be in good standing with The Verrazano School Honors Program.

·       Have been a member of The Verrazano School Honors Program for at least two semesters.

·       Complete their yearly VELA and community service requirements before participating in the study abroad program.

·       Apply for the CSI-sponsored study abroad program by the posted application deadline.

·       Notify The Verrazano School Honors Program of their application for a CSI-sponsored study abroad program.


How can I learn more about study abroad options?

CSI offers many wonderful study abroad opportunities for students.  To learn more, visit the Center for International Service website, attend a study abroad info session, attend a study abroad VELA, read about student experiences on the Verrazano Voyager and Dolphins Across the Seven Seas, or go to study abroad advising hours in 2A-206.  You can never start the planning process too early!

How do I know if the program I plan to apply for is a CSI-sponsored program?

You can first check the Center for International Service website to see the list of study abroad opportunities offered directly through CSI.  If you’re still not sure, contact the Verrazano office (718-982-4171) or a study abroad advisor in the Center for International Service (718-982-2100) to confirm the program’s eligibility for the scholarship.

How do I know if I’m eligible to receive the Verrazano Honors Study Abroad Scholarship?

Eligibility requirements are listed above.  However, if you’d like to confirm your good standing in The Verrazano School Honors Program and be sure that your VELA and community service requirements have been completed before participating, you can check with the Verrazano office (718-982-4171).

How will I know that I’ve been approved to receive the Verrazano Honors Study Abroad Scholarship?

As long as you’re in good standing, you’ll be approved!  Your study abroad program bill will be credited either $500 for winter/summer programs or $1000 for semester-long programs.

Can I receive the Verrazano Honors Study Abroad Scholarship more than one time?  

No, students can only receive this scholarship one time.  However, you’re encouraged to study abroad again if you’re bitten by the travel bug!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Director's Blurb of Happiness

Welcome to the Director's Blurb of Happiness by Professor Charles Liu - our venerable and enthusiastic director, a gifted professor, and a genuinely nice guy.  We're fortunate to have him at the helm! 

The best job in the world!  That’s what, as director of The Verrazano School, I am so privileged to have.  For me, I can think of no better work to do than to be able to meet,
Professor Liu at the Verrazano Senior Convocation
interact with, teach, and learn from remarkable and inspiring young people - and every single Verrazano student perfectly fits that description.  Hooray for you all - and thank you for the joyous and humbling honor of being your director.

It can sometimes be easy to forget why we professors engage in higher education at all.  Sure, it’s a living - it’s a job.  Why, though, does this job matter?  How does this job affect us - our lives - our society? Luckily, I am reminded all the time by my students.  You are why my job matters!  When I share with you the little bit of understanding that I might have about life, or society, or Earth, or even the whole universe, I add value to what matters most.  Even better, you share with me your energy, enthusiasm, and education - you teach me far more than I teach you for sure!  You give my work meaning, and I am grateful.

The Ice Bucket Challenge
Here’s something, on the other hand, that I will never forget.  The biggest reason the Verrazano School is such a wonderful thing is the Verrazano School staff!  For the past seven years, it has been my great pleasure and privilege to work with Katie Geschwendt, our associate director, and Cynthia Palumbo, our office assistant.  When they started here, the Verrazano School was just a fledgling program - a great idea with an undefined path.  From that starting point, Katie and Cynthia have made the Verrazano School into the fully grown honors program it is today - embodying the highest national standards, and ensuring that you all are able to get, right here, the very best college education anywhere.  Just as important, Katie and Cynthia have infused The Verrazano School with its heart, its spirit, and its soul.  Why is The Verrazano School great today?  It’s because of them!  And as Katie departs from Staten Island to start the next chapter of her life back in her native New England, let’s express to her our deepest gratitude and wish her all the best.  You’ll never be a stranger, Katie!  See you again soon.
Professor Liu, Katie and Cynthia.

As the new year approaches, I have one more thought to share.  Whenever I hear statements claiming that the younger generation compares unfavorably with older generations like my own, I immediately counter them with one excellent, shining example after another - you all.  Because of knowing you, I rest assured that the future is in good hands.  Thank you all so much!  I look forward to our many happy times to come.