Superstar Scholars

April 7, 2011 | CUNY Matters

Two CUNY seniors have won $100,000 Math for America Fellowships to pursue careers teaching math in New York City’s public schools, while one graduating senior and two CUNY graduates won coveted National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships and outstanding students secured other leading academic awards, making this a banner spring for award winners.

The other top awards include two $30,000 Harry S. Truman Scholarships for graduate study leading to careers in government or public service and four $7,500 undergraduate Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships to encourage careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Ten undergraduates have won Jeannette K. Watson Fellowships. And earlier this school year, a CUNY student won the top academic honor: a Rhodes Scholarship.

“CUNY students are winning more highly competitive awards and scholarships than at any time in our history,” said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. “The University is attracting an ever-growing number of outstanding students systemwide, and that’s particularly due to our Macaulay Honors College, which is home to many of this year’s winners. These successes demonstrate the quality of CUNY students, assisted by a world-class faculty.”

Math for America (MfA) is a privately funded nonprofit organization whose generous stipends and continuing support separate it from other organizations that encourage people to go into public school teaching. In New York City, MfA teachers receive a $30,000 stipend plus full-tuition scholarship for a master’s degree in mathematics education in the first year; the remaining $70,000 is paid over the next four years, when fellows also earn a regular teacher’s salary.

“I’m ecstatic,” said winner Ann Marie Alcocer, a Lehman College senior. ”I was encouraged by the fact that other Lehman students have won it.” Indeed, she is the fourth Lehman student to earn an MfA Fellowship. “Maybe by teaching students in middle school, I can give them the skills they need to succeed in high school,” she said.

Said Lehman mathematics and computer science professor Katherine St. John:  “Ann Marie really wants to teach, and she has earned the best scholarship in her field.”

CUNY’s other MfA winner, Jian Liu of The City College, will receive a B.A. in pure mathematics with minors in secondary math education and physics this spring. “This is an incredible honor,” he said. “It’s an extremely competitive program and a major boost to my plans to become a math teacher.”

A Chinese immigrant who arrived in New York six years ago speaking only basic English, he will attend either Bard College or New York University – MfA’s two collaborating math education master’s programs – starting this summer. He has been a teaching assistant at Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, The City College Academy of the Arts, the Mott Hall School and A. Philip Randolph Campus High School.

CUNY had three winners of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, which support research-based master’s and doctoral degrees with an eye toward assuring the vitality and diversity of America’s scientific and engineering workforce.

Lina Mercedes Gonzalez (Hunter College, 2009) is earning a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University’s Institute of Technology. Mathematician Arthur Jacob Parzygnat (Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, 2010), is at the CUNY Graduate Center, exploring topological quantum field theory, homotopy theory and higher category theory. Anthony Pang, a City College senior, intends to study aeronautical and aerospace engineering at Stanford University.

The two Truman scholars are Ayodele Oti of Macaulay Honors College at The City College of New York and Gareth Rhodes of City College and the CUNY Baccalaureate program. Both are graduating seniors.

Oti is majoring in international studies and focusing on sustainable development and environmental public health. This spring, she is in Costa Rica, studying Spanish, tropical marine biology and Latin America under a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Her career goal is to advise governments in developing countries about public health programs, particularly to improve maternal and child health.

Rhodes, who earned his baccalaureate in three years, studies political economy and public policy. He is a Colin Powell Fellow and is in the Skadden, Arps Honors Program in legal studies. He interned with Andrew Cuomo, both as attorney general and as governor, the White House scheduling office and Rep. Charles Rangel’s Harlem office. “From these internships,” he wrote, “I have gained an appreciation and interest in the role of government and public policy in the livelihoods of ordinary Americans.”

The University’s four Goldwater scholars, all class of 2012, intend to enroll in doctoral programs. They are:

  • Mark Barahman of the Macaulay Honors College at the College of Staten Island (also a Horace W. Goldsmith scholar). A biochemistry major, he grew up in Israel, where as a teen he worked for an emergency medical organization. In college, he worked first with professor Abdeslem el Idrissi on neuroscience and now with professor Alan Lyons on superhydrophobic (extremely water-repelling) surfaces. He constructed and programmed a 3-D printer now used by other researchers to fabricate surfaces with special properties.
  • Joseph Cammarata, of the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College (also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar). Majoring in biological sciences with a minor in chemistry, he intends to pursue a Ph.D. in synthetic biology. Last summer he studied with Dr. Zach Lippman, a plant geneticist at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. At Hunter, he works with biophotonics professor Diana Bratu.
  • Celine Joiris, Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College (also a Horace W. Goldsmith scholar). Majoring in psychology and concentrating in neuroscience, she received a Harcourt Fellowship for undergraduate science research this spring. She studied the effects of stress on kinase Mz, a protein linked to learning and memory, under Hunter professor Peter Serrano and a collaborating lab at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. At Johns Hopkins University last summer, she researched neural systems. She now studies with Dr. Michael Long at the NYU Smilow Neuroscience Center, examining the neural mechanisms that govern the timing required for intricate motor skills, using the song of the zebra finch as her model.
  • Johnson Shiuan-Jiun Ho, Macaulay Honors College at City College. Majoring in biomedical engineering, he intends to improve clinical intervention in neuropsychiatric disorders. Since 2008 he has worked in professor Marom Bikson’s neural engineering laboratory. He now is on a team that, in part, investigates mechanisms of electric field effects on synaptic plasticity in the rat motor cortex. He is named as a team member on two of Bikson’s patent applications, one for a method of reducing discomfort during electrostimulation and the other for a method of neurocranial electrostimulation.

CUNY’s seventh Rhodes Scholar, Zujaja Tauqeer, a history major at the Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College (2011), won her award last December. She also participates in Brooklyn Colleges’ combined B.A-M.D. program with the New York State Downstate College of Medicine. For her Rhodes study, she plans to pursue an M. Phil. in the history of medicine, concentrating on the relationship between state and science in her native Pakistan. Her parents, both physicians, sought asylum in the United States after her father was arrested and vandals destroyed her parents’ free, rural clinic because they belong to the Ahmadi sect of Islam.

In addition, CUNY freshmen and sophomores won 10 of the 15 Jeannette K. Watson Fellowships, which provide freshmen and sophomores with three years of paid summer internships for professional and personal leadership. They are:

  • Kyle Athayde (2013), Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College. With broad interests in English, political science and finance, he aspires to work in politics, writing or education.
  • Esthena Brutten (2013), Brooklyn College. A participant in the college’s peer mentoring program with interests in creative writing and Spanish literature, she works with freshmen, discussing topics like financial aid, plagiarism and study skills. She intends to pursue a career in childhood education or psychology.
  • Michelle Chan (2013), Macaulay Honors College at Queens College. Her interest in becoming a public interest lawyer arose last summer, when she worked on a community health initiative for school-age children in Chinatown. Fluent in English and Cantonese, she is majoring in English.
  • Agnieszka Gugala (2014), Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College. Fluent in English and Polish, she volunteers at a Polish supplementary school and tutors math at East Side Community High School. She is considering majoring in math, psychology, art and political science.
  • Elizabeth Kelman (2013), Macaulay Honors College at The City College of New York. A premedical student, she aspires to a career in medicine, public health, public policy advocacy and/or political activism. She helped organize the City Agriculture Network and a community kitchen garden at CCNY.
  • Nicholas Macaluso (2014), Macaulay Honors College at The City College of New York. An engineering major, he intends to work as an engineer for a not-for-profit or nongovernmental humanitarian organization.
  • Katelyn McQuater (2013), Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College. She won a coveted editorial internship at Penguin Books last summer, one of 40 interns chosen from 2,400 applicants. She aspires to a career involving writing.
  • Paul Olivier (2013), College of Staten Island. He has strong interests in international studies, creative writing and English. He hopes to become a Navy SEAL and then to work as a diplomat or defense analyst.
  • Sophia Perlaza (2013), Lehman College. She plans on double-majoring in Italian and political science, with an eye on law or teaching English as a second language. She volunteers with We Are New York, teaching English to new immigrants in the city. She also worked to increase the college’s activity fee in hopes of developing a more vibrant extracurricular life for students.
  • Jose Esteban Rodriguez-Alverio (2014), City College. He hopes to major in theater, film or political science. While in high school, he participated in the All Stars Program “Youth on Stage” and “Young Producers” projects, as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Young Film Critics Program.