NYC Public High School Grads Soar at CUNY

Kirk Haltaufderhyde, York College 2012, Bayside H.S., Seeks Ph.D. at Brown University.

Umussahar “Sahar” Khatri was just 5 when she and her mother left Pakistan to join her father in Queens. As the oldest of five children in a traditional family, she tutored her siblings and was a bridge between countries and cultures. At Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, she earned college credit through CUNY’s College Now program, which offers courses at more than 350 city high schools.

Now, with a 2012 B.S. in mathematics from CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, she is becoming a New York City public high school teacher with the help of a $100,000 Math for America (MƒA) Fellowship.

The private MƒA selected 22 talented mathematics graduates from across the country, including four from CUNY, to strengthen instruction in city secondary schools. Each will receive $100,000 over five years, a tuition-free master’s degree in education at City College of New York and ongoing support; this package encourages MƒA fellows to stick it out through the early years of teaching, when many new teachers quit. Starting this year, City College replaces New York University and Bard College as MƒA’s host institution.

For city public high school graduates like Khatri, the lure of City University of New York has never been more rewarding – if the trove of prestigious grants and scholarships that they’re capturing is any indication. This year’s award-winners include six National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows, six Fulbright Fellows and a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar.

They reflect a surge in academic excellence during a period of unprecedented growth. Between 2001 and 2011, full- and part-time enrollment at CUNY’s 24 campuses grew by more than a third, from 197,000 to 270,000 — and many students were at the top of their high school class. Last fall, the University accepted 20,200 applicants with averages of 85 or above. That’s 7.8 percent more high-achievers than in fall 2010 and 104.5 percent more than in fall 2002. Seventy-one percent of CUNY students come from city public schools.

Among public school CUNY graduates who won $126,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows grants are:

  • Andrew Goldklank Fulmer, pursuing a Ph.D. in animal behavior at the CUNY Graduate Center, researches social bonds among chickadees. He attended Hunter College High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Hampshire College.
  • Kirk Haltaufderhyde (York College, B.S. in biotechnology, 2011) seeks a Ph.D. at Brown University. He probes photoreceptors in the skin, which convert light into electrical signals that register in the brain, allowing everyone — even blind people — to awaken with the sun and keep a 24-hour cycle. He went to Bayside High School.
  • Christopher Donald Hue (Macaulay Honors College at City College, B.E. in biomedical engineering, 2008) is earning a doctorate at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. With traumatic brain injuries rampant among soldiers, he explores how explosions damage the brain. He went to Francis Lewis High School.
  • Stephen Ma (Macaulay Honors College at City College, B.S. in chemical engineering, 2011) won an NSF grant to develop a light-activated, self-healing plastic. But, before doctoral qualifying exams at the University of Delaware, he is first researching reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesives. He attended Bronx High School of Science.
  • Christie Anne Sukhdeo (City College, B.S. in biology 2011) starts a doctoral conservation biology program at the University of New Orleans this fall, looking at human-caused fragmentation of biomes in Madagascar. She attended Martin Van Buren High School.
  • Vincent Xue (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, B.A. in computer science, minor in biology, 2012) begins doctoral work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall. Intending to do both laboratory and computer analysis of the genome, he asks: Since most solid cancer tumors create oxygen-starved areas that resist oxygen deprivation better than healthy tissue, could you kill tumors by turning off this ability? He went to Bronx High School of Science.

Benjamin Rudshteyn (Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, 2013) won a $7,500 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the premier federal undergraduate science scholarship. Heading toward a doctoral program in theoretical chemistry, he explores whether sulfur-based life could originate on other planets. He went to Midwood High School.

Other CUNY students from public high schools won federal Fulbright Fellowships, which aim to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the world. They include:

  • Ilirjan Gjonbalaj (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, B.S. in biochemistry, 2012) intends to become a pediatrician after his Fulbright teaching English at a high school in Kosovo, which borders his parents’ native land, Montenegro. He went to the High School of American Studies at Lehman College.
  • Kayhan Irani (CUNY B.A. in theater and social change, 2008) has trained Afghanis how to use theater to transform their society. With her Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship, she will return to the Parsi Zoroastrian community in India, where she was born (before moving to Queens at 3½), to gather material for a play. She attended LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and the Performing Arts.
  • Patrick Lee (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, B.A. in biochemistry, 2012) postponed enrollment at SUNY Upstate College of Medicine to teach English at a university in Macau and perfect his Cantonese. (He was born in Brooklyn to Chinese parents.) He went to Stuyvesant High School.
  • Susan Tsang (CUNY Graduate Center, Ph.D. in biology, expected 2014) travels to the jungles of Indonesia to research the distribution of flying foxes. These bats with up to six-foot wingspans can fly between islands, making them perfect carriers of infectious diseases. After Hunter College High School, she earned a bachelor’s at Skidmore College.
  • George Vourderis (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College and CUNY B.A. in Iberian and East Asian studies, 2012) is considering a Foreign Service career. This summer he is a student ambassador at the USA pavilion at the 104-nation Living Ocean and Coast Expo in Yeosu, South Korea. His upcoming Fulbright research looks at employment opportunities for foreign graduates of Korean universities. He went to Townsend Harris High School at Queens College.
  • Marcin Wisniewski (Hunter College, B.A in music, 2010, M.A. in music performance, 2012), a guitarist, will research the emerging field of sound therapy, which uses music and other sounds for healing. One use is with tinnitus, the perception of ringing in the ears. He attended Fort Hamilton High School.

These and many more CUNY graduates will give back to their country, city and community. But few have the impact of public school teachers.

Khatri calls high school “transitional for everyone,” but following 9/11, “for me, it was finding my identity as both Muslim and American. Most schools where I’ve studied, observed and done fieldwork are so multicultural, it helps.” At Queens College, she was active in the Muslim Students Association and the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding.

As a senior, she taught sixth- and eighth-grade math at I.S. 499 (the Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology) and geometry at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical High School. “I didn’t realize how much work went into being a teacher,” she says.

Khatri, who graduated with state teacher certification, adds: “I am determined to not only be a teacher, but also someone who inspires students to reach their full potential.”


For the Class of 2012, CUNY is publishing an expanded list of its many high-achieving graduates, including winners of National Science Foundation, Math for America, Fulbright, Clarendon Fund, National Institutes of Health, and Salk Scholarships, as well as students who have won other top awards or are headed to prestigious graduate schools. The newly created web page — Pride of the City CUNY Class of 2012 — tells the story of this year’s top graduates through profiles detailing their achievements and plans.  They dream of studying the brain, working for social change, unraveling the mysteries of TB, as well as other ground-breaking research. More students and their achievements and awards are listed in one comprehensive location.

For more info about our award-winning students, please visit