Meeting of Inspired Minds

POWERING THE CITY’S FUTURE. Chancellors Dennis Walcott of New York City Public Schools, left, and CUNY’s Matthew Goldstein spoke at a December summit on STEM education, produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with CUNY and the Daily News and held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – also is at the heart of the University’s 2013 calendar, “Inventing the Future,” produced in cooperation with LaGuardia Community College, the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives and The New York Times (see

HAVE YOU HEARD?  What community college is the nation’s first to be designated a national landmark? How you can lose more weight — enjoyably? Which CUNY institution has started an academic press?  AN EARLY FIRST: Sometimes history’s “firsts” are hard to verify, but thanks to the University’s Dominican Studies Institute, the world now knows that the first immigrant to spend a night in New York City was one Juan Rodriguez, a merchant/sailor who in 1613 left his native Dominican Republic and settled in the Big Apple. According to institute Director Ramona Hernandez, Rodriguez holds title to several other firsts: He was the city’s first non-Indian, first Dominican, first Latino and first person of African blood to become a permanent resident. To honor him, the city recently decided to rename the mostly Dominican area of upper Broadway, from West 159th Street in Washington Heights to West 218th Street in Inwood, Juan Rodriguez Way. And in May, the city will hold a celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of his arrival.

MAKING HISTORY: Bronx Community College has become the first community college in America to be designated a National Historic Landmark. The status was awarded to five Beaux-Arts buildings designed by architect Stanford White: The Gould Memorial Library, The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, the Language Hall, the Philosophy Hall and Havemeyer Lab.

A MATTER OF DEGREE: More than 600 people turned out recently at Hunter College to see the Dalai Lama receive an honorary doctorate in liberal humanities. The degree was awarded in recognition of his work for world peace. Afterward, he joined a panel with Hunter professor Ming Xia and associate professor Ho-Fung Hung that was moderated by professor Peter Kwong.

RED FOR GREEN: In the quest to build a “green” lithium-ion battery, City College professor George John and postdoctoral researcher Subbiah Nagarajan have turned to the ruby-red dye extracted from rose madder, which since ancient times has been used to color textiles. The two say that the dye, whose molecules are similar to electrodes and are a good match for lithium, can be substituted for the ores in the batteries, which run practically every electronic device in everyday use.  They believe that a commercially viable alternative will be available within a decade.

BREAST CANCER GRANT: Debra Auguste, associate professor of biomedical engineering at City College, has received a $1.5-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study personalized therapies to inhibit breast cancer. Her work will focus on four populations: black women, white women, women older than 40 and women younger than 40. Her goal is to use biological information to deliver drugs that can target an individual patient’s tumor.

OFF TO ENGLAND: Nicolas Montano, a senior in the CUNY Baccalaureate program at John Jay, is the college’s first recipient of the British Marshall Scholarship to study in the United Kingdom. After he graduates this spring, he will begin graduate programs in Liverpool and London. Montano, whose studies have focused on youth and community justice, plans to earn a doctorate in research and academia.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Bronx Community College and Lehman students are getting a taste of healthy eating through a community-supported agriculture program that brings fresh produce to BCC’s school cafeteria. The program is designed to be affordable for cash-strapped students:  Shares are bought weekly instead of monthly, and participants can suspend membership when budgets are tight. The site is run by Corbin Hill Farm, a Harlem-based organization that gets fruits and vegetables from a network of 14 upstate farms. Things also got greener at LaGuardia when it hosted a greenmarket during Food Celebration Day in November. The event, which was attended by hundreds, also included student visits to classrooms, cooking demonstrations and a table that charted the sugars and fats in popular snack foods and soft drinks.

LOSE MORE: If you want to lose weight, find a partner for your crunches and calorie-crushing crusade. So says Baruch assistant professor Angela Pinto. According to her latest study, which followed 141 overweight and obese adults in three randomly assigned groups, commercial weight-loss programs and clinical programs carry equal weight – as long as the participants buddy up. She found that the support people got carried great weight: Although the total weight lost was about the same in each group, those who were enrolled in the Weight Watchers program lost 10 percent or more of their starting weight compared with the others.

WASTE NOT: Lehman has gotten down and dirty about composting ever since it added The Rocket to its arsenal. The device, manufactured by Tidy Planet in the United Kingdom, composts the 120 pounds of waste produced daily from the college’s on-campus food preparation. Before Lehman got The Rocket, it was only composting gardening waste because the food waste was attracting small animals.  The waste decomposes quickly in The Rocket’s odor-free closed container, and the compost is used to fertilize the campus soil.

‘RAIN GARDENS’: Queens College got into the environmental act by opening three rain gardens that will help divert almost 1 million gallons of stormwater annually and help preserve water quality in Flushing Creek. They were built with $386,000 from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program.

WINGING IT: Mothers do all sorts of clever things to keep their children under their wings, but the Australian fairywren starts the protection process while its chicks are still in the egg. According to a new study by Hunter College professor Mark Hauber, the mother bird begins teaching its unhatched chicks a secret password to chirp so she can identify them as hers even before they emerge — essential because the opportunistic cuckoo often lays eggs in another bird’s nest hoping it will hatch them, too.

3-D VISION: NYDesigns, an economic development program at LaGuardia, is taking a leading role in New York’s Next Top Makers, a city contest to develop products using the 3-D printing technology of Shapeways, the Dutch company that recently moved to Long Island City. The contest, which runs through September 2013, is set up to choose six products – five by the city and one by the public – that will be further developed. NYDesigns is providing equipment and mentorship as well as studio space for the contest.

GET IN THE PICTURE: Brooklyn College is using family photos to tell its rich history through a new campus project called the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion. The pictures, from students, faculty, administrators and alumni, are online at

‘A’ FOR ACTIVITIES: Many CUNY students have outside jobs and interests, but Amar Chugg certainly has to be one of the busier on any campus. The Baruch College student, who is pursuing a degree in finance, is also an entrepreneur, CEO, disc jockey, model, music producer, web developer, tech blogger and social media guru. His startups — so far — include Chugg Search, the technology blog Spruse, and the online shopping site He also finds time to swim, dance, play billiards and network. And presumably do his homework.

REMEMBERING VIETNAM: Queens College celebrated its 75th anniversary with “Posters as History: Teaching History, Politics and Art with Primary Sources,” an exhibition of more than 30 Vietnam War posters donated and created by alumni. The exhibit, which also included photos and archival materials, was inspired by professors Jack Zevin and Michael Krasner, who received a grant from the Library of Congress for the project. Their idea was to show how objects depict history and stimulate conversation.

A MEMORIAL: When CUNY alum and East Harlem activist Carmen Villegas died on Dec. 5, more than 100 friends, family and fans held a memorial outside the locked doors of Our Lady Queen of Angels, the Roman Catholic church she tried unsuccessfully to save from closing during a 37-hour protest in 2007.  Villegas, an adjunct professor at Touro College, was a longtime member of Community Board 11.

BY THE BOOK: The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, in partnership with independent publisher OR Books, has launched an academic press that will release three to five journalism-related books a year. Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers by former New York Times chief counsel James Goodale is one title slated for 2013.

History Lesson: WE SHALL OVERCOME: Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at a 1965 voting rights march in Alabama. This picture was part of a photo essay by Stephen Somerstein, now a physicist and documentary photographer, who covered the civil rights protests as student editor in chief and photo editor of the City College evening newspaper, Main Events.

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