Celebrating the Winners of the 2023 WSAS Faculty Excellence Awards

In preparation for Weissman’s upcoming annual Faculty Excellence Awards, we’d like to celebrate our extraordinary 2023 winners.

Min Xiang (Toby) Gao, Technology Assistant

Winner of The Gary Hentzi Award for Excellence in Staff Contribution and Leadership

Gao is recognized throughout Weissman for his extraordinary patience and calm demeanor, especially during the challenging times of the pandemic. As many faculty members struggled with extreme tech anxiety, Toby was a pillar of support, helping them navigate new technologies without ever losing his cool. His ability to answer all questions, regardless of how basic or ontological – even explaining what a desktop is – exemplifies his dedication to his work at Baruch. Toby’s gift for this kind of patience has been a boon to faculty all across the spectrum of tech-savviness.

Amanda Becker, Administrative Coordinator

Winner of The Gary Hentzi Award for Excellence in Staff Contribution and Leadership

Becker, herself a Baruch alum, is the other recipient of this award. Her intimate knowledge of the institution, stemming from her personal journey first as student, then as staff member, has made her an asset of incalculable worth in the Dean’s office. Amanda is universally praised for her kindness, generosity, and patience, qualities that ceaselessly enhance the working environment and community at Weissman. Her willingness to assist and work with everyone on tasks far beyond her basic job description speaks volumes of her sincere commitment and leadership qualities.

Elizabeth Edenberg, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Winner of The Award for Excellence in Teaching for Full-Time Faculty

Faced with a sudden vacancy in the fall semester, the Philosophy Department was in urgent need of a capable faculty member to teach an upper-level course on ethics, economics, and the business system. Professor Edenberg stepped up to the challenge without hesitation, demonstrating her commitment to the department and its students.

Professor Edenberg’s teaching style is dynamic and engaging. Her ability to teach large roomfuls of students with the kind of attentiveness usually associated with smaller sessions is particularly noteworthy. She incorporates various interactive methods, such as paired activities and group work, making the learning process both effective and surprising for students.

Her contributions have significantly elevated the standards of teaching within the department, pushing her colleagues to strive for more thoughtful and interactive pedagogy.

Rebecca Salois, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Winner of The Award for Excellence in Teaching for Part-Time Faculty

Dr. Salois, a longtime Adjunct Assistant Professor, and now full-time Assistant Professor, has been a distinguished member of the Weissman faculty for years, sharing her expertise across multiple disciplines including Black and Latino Studies, English, Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, and Sociology and Anthropology.

Dr. Salois’s introduction of podcasts as a pedagogical tool exemplifies her forward-thinking approach, allowing students to engage in community based research projects. Her dedication extends beyond the classroom, encapsulated by her role in launching the “Latinx Visions Podcast,” which has gained significant attention for its storytelling, substantial listener numbers, and expanding her scholarship beyond traditional boundaries.

Furthermore, her contributions to the Black and Latino Studies (BLS) department have been invaluable. She played a pivotal role in building the major, designing new courses, and actively participating in the transformative learning in the humanities initiatives spearheaded by the Center for Teaching and Learning. Her efforts far exceeded what is expected from a part-time faculty member, reflecting her extraordinary dedication to the institution and her students.

The excitement surrounding Dr. Salois’s award is amplified by the fact that she has now finally transitioned to a full-time position which started this Fall 2023, a move that has already benefited the BLS program and the broader Baruch community.

Jonathan Gilmore, Professor of Philosophy

Winner of The Award for Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Activity for Full-Time Faculty

Professor Gilmore’s academic pursuit addresses the complex relationship we have with art—how we emotionally engage with the fictional characters and worlds we encounter in movies and novels. His exploration of whether our emotional responses to fiction should be judged by the same standards as those in the real world has led to surprising insights, culminating in his celebrated monograph, Act Imaginings: Feelings for Fictions and Other Creatures of the Mind.

Published by Oxford University Press, this work has been recognized with the American Society of Aesthetics Prize for outstanding monographs for 2020-21. In his book, Professor Gilmore challenges the widely held “continuity thesis” and presents his theory of “normative discontinuity,” proposing that our emotional reactions to fictional narratives deserve their own set of evaluative norms.

With a prior publication by Cornell University Press, over two dozen articles in some of the field’s most selective journals, and his recent appointment as Co-editor of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism—one of the most prestigious journals in aesthetics—he has undeniably left his mark on academic discourse.

David Jones, Professor of Political Science

Winner of The Award for Excellence in Institutional Leadership or Service for Full-Time Faculty

Professor Jones, who served as chair of the Political Science Department for two terms set the bar high with his organization and leadership. His tenure was marked by his tireless advocacy for faculty members and the department as a whole, demonstrating an exceptional command over the department’s workings, as well as its place in the broader dynamics of the school and college.

Known among his peers as a champion for the Weissman School, Professor Jones’s commitment extended to the student body, especially during the challenging times of the pandemic. In his last semester before a scheduled fellowship leave, he went above and beyond to maintain a sense of connection within the department. His leadership was instrumental during this period, as he led a faculty and student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) focused research project that critically analyzed course syllabi to better understand the messages being communicated to students.

This project was not only crucial for department morale but also became a cornerstone for its sense of purpose during a tumultuous time, predating the critical events of May 2020, and showcasing his longstanding commitment to inclusivity and understanding.

Harold Ramdass, Lecturer of English

Winner of The Award for Excellence in Student or Peer Mentorship for Full-Time Faculty

Joining the full-time faculty during the pandemic, Harold Ramdass has been an integral part of the Baruch community for many years as a part-time faculty member. His most notable accomplishment, the creation of an extensive mentoring program for adjunct faculty within the department, has made a significant impact on its feeling of community.

Understanding the importance of supporting the substantial contingent of adjunct faculty, Ramdass saw the need to help these underpaid and overworked educators secure full-time and more stable positions. He initiated this mentoring program in Spring 2022, which has since become a resounding success, contributing to the professional growth and development of his colleagues.

Together with his peers, Ramdass assembled a comprehensive database and guide for applying to academic positions, which includes examples of documents and detailed guidelines about the job application process. His innovative pod-based mentoring structure divides adjunct faculty into smaller groups for bi-weekly and monthly job market training sessions. This initiative has already borne fruit, with two of the twelve members securing full-time positions and at least one becoming a finalist for multiple job openings, attesting to the program’s effectiveness.

Ramdass’s dedication to mentoring his colleagues goes far beyond traditional expectations, embodying the spirit of collaboration and support that is central to the mission of the College itself.

Gary Hentzi Takes On the Mysteries of the Beat Generation in Literature and Film

Postwar America is often remembered as a time of domestic peace, prosperity, and repopulation following the horrors of the Second World War, a period of conformity and social conservatism. But the late 1940s and ‘50s also saw the beginnings of the counterculture – the Beat Generation and its contemporaries who in different ways pushed back against the mainstream with an eruption of art, music, and poetry, eventually spreading their style and message around the world. Although their work varied greatly, they had in common a determination to shun social conformity in favor of the power and significance of individual thought and feeling, often expressed through a stream of unedited lived experience without academic or societal constraints.

“American culture really does have many of the characteristics attributed to it by its critics. It’s about ideological manipulation. It’s about selling things. It’s about distraction – giving people conventional genre narratives that don’t take them out of their habitual realms of thought and feeling. But it’s not quite the closed enterprise that it’s sometimes made out to be. The counterculture demonstrated that culture is more of a battleground.”

The 1950s first brought this battleground into sharp focus, and many of its conflicts resonate today. Professor of English Gary Hentzi explores this resonance in his latest book, On the Avenue of the Mystery: The Postwar Counterculture in Novels and Film (Routledge, 2023).

“There’s a general acknowledgement that we’re living in the wake of the global counterculture, but it’s hardly something that’s been laid to rest and is more than just an academic concern. That’s one big issue. Another is how new narrative forms have been made possible by technology. Film and television have eclipsed literature as the dominant forms of storytelling in modern culture. This is such a big development that it’s often compartmentalized or just ignored.”

The co-editor of The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism, Hentzi brings his expertise to bear on 20th century literature, social criticism, and film, offering a fresh perspective on the period. His book is a study of eight major novels of the postwar era (1945-65) and the films they inspired in the following five decades. It’s a vibrant mix of cultural history and critique, that explores how the interpretation of the counterculture when the novels were written has transformed over the intervening years.

Hentzi’s readings are informed by his keen explorations of the movement’s major intellectual and aesthetic influences, which are viewed through the prism of mystery: “a sense of the unknown, an intimation of something hidden and as-yet unnoticed, a feeling that there may be more to the world than meets the eye.” It’s a theme that slowly, surprisingly – and fittingly – revealed itself to him as he worked.

“I didn’t really know what book I was going to write. But as I thought about it, I realized how pervasive the idea of mystery is. Suddenly it began turning up everywhere. It’s a feature of the period that is easily caricatured nowadays – people sitting around getting stoned and having visions – something that’s been outgrown and looks a little silly. But that’s a caricature of the idea that obscures the real thing. It has to do with the complexities of human relationships, with the way we experience our own lives and each other. And with technology too.”

This isn’t just a history. Hentzi highlights a specific period of cultural transformation that is, in many respects, still with us. The ways that mainstream culture can be countered have indeed changed, but the countercultural impulse isn’t something that simply disappears.

“There’s a whole set of themes dating from the period of the counterculture that are still with us, that are still ripe for use. Many areas were violently opened up and have since been assimilated. But my feeling is there’s always room for a capable artist to do something special.”

This is a book for cultural historians, literary critics, and artists alike, and perhaps a source of inspiration to those who – like the Beat generation and their fellow travelers – have grown weary of the artistic and social status quo. Content-creators, activists, and intellectuals take heed: if Hentzi’s research is to be believed, there’s still plenty of mystery and plenty more to be done.

Buy On the Avenue of the Mystery: The Postwar Counterculture in Novels and Film here.

MA Corporate Communication Student is one of PR Daily’s Top Women In Marketing

Alana D. Visconti, a current student in the Baruch College Weissman MA in Corporate Communication program, has been recognized as one of Ragan Communications and PR Daily’s Top Women In Marketing for the Class of 2023. This honor underscores the strategic acumen and innovative spirit that Visconti embodies, traits that have always distinguished her among her peers in a competitive industry.

Attributing her success to the robust foundation laid by the Corp Comm program, she is especially thankful to Professor and Program Director Caryn Medved for the nomination that has led to this recognition.

Read more here.

A Message from Dean Jessica Lang

Dear All,

I write to welcome back returning faculty and to welcome, for the first time, 40 new full-time faculty—the largest cohort of new faculty ever to join the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at one time. Their expertise in a wide array of research disciplines and teaching will deepen and broaden our ability to advance our mission.

On Friday we also welcomed approximately 2600 first-year students and 1500 transfer students. Many Weissman faculty attended orientation meetings with these students and their peer mentors—their excitement in starting their Baruch careers is palpable!

I want to share with you some exciting updates involving Weissman: the Mathematics Department has won a National Science Foundation S-Stem grant of nearly $1 million. This grant will offer meaningful financial and academic support to a cohort of new majors each year for its duration and further solidify Weissman’s reputation as a math destination.

Congratulations to Professors Pablo Sobreron-Bravo, Guy Moshkovitz, and Tim Ridenour for this fabulous win!

I also want to congratulate Professor Lisa Blankenship (English) on her new role as Interim Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). A growing area of interest for the CTL is the use of AI and its potential role in the classroom. Keep an eye out for its upcoming series of workshops about incorporating and responding to AI in the classroom.

In the coming weeks and months, the College will be sharing our new Strategic Plan. In Weissman, we will use the launch of the College’s Strategic Plan to kick off our own WSAS Strategic Planning process. I look forward to collaborating with faculty, staff, and students as we gather input on our collective priorities for the next five years.

This is truly a time of change and transformation in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences and in higher education. I feel so fortunate to be part of a community known for its productivity, generosity, and dedication. I look forward to the year ahead.

With my very best wishes for every success,

Jessica 

Jessica Lang, Dean
Weissman School of Arts and Sciences 
Baruch College, CUNY

Prof. Katrin Hansing Wins NEH Grant to Document Untold Stories of Cuba’s Involvement in Angola Civil War

The echoes of war reverberate long after the final shots are fired, and for the more than 450,000 Cubans who participated in the generation-long Angolan Civil War from 1975 to 1991, some are just now being heard. Recognizing the significance of the many untold personal narratives from this conflict, Katrin Hansing, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Baruch College, and her colleague Maria de los Angeles Torres of the University of Illinois, have embarked on an unprecedented undertaking: the process of collecting and disseminating them. With the generous support of a prestigious and highly competitive grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, they will be able conclude their research project and manuscript, “Democratizing the Past: Cubans Remember the Angolan Civil War.”

“Our project delves into memory at the individual level, countering the state’s dominant racialized and heroic war narratives with grassroots testimonies gathered both in Cuba and its diaspora. These accounts will offer a more intricate and contradictory understanding of the war and its remembrances,” Hansing said.

The Cuban state’s official narrative proudly recounts a tale of heroism and sacrifice to settle the debt of slavery and assist in ending apartheid in South Africa. But Hansing, a South African who has extensively researched Cuba over the past 25 years, often encountered anecdotal fragments from Cubans during her visits to the island that challenged this tidy historical saga. And it astonished her that despite the involvement of nearly half a million Cubans – an impact on almost every other Cuban family – an eerie silence still broods over the topic on the island and abroad. 

“As someone from a country with a violent and complex history, I firmly believe that confronting and understanding our personal, familial, societal, and national memories is crucial to prevent history from repeating itself,” Hansing emphasized.

With the grant’s assistance, Hansing and Torres will travel on a final journey to Angola to complete additional interviews, followed by the development of an academic book, organizing exhibitions, and conducting workshops and talks. The project aims not just to shed light on a suppressed chapter of Cuban history but to initiate broader conversations about war, trauma, memory, and their impacts on society.

“Look at the war in Ukraine,” Hansing said considering the project’s timely resonances. “We have a war raging right now in the middle of Europe. In the end, Nations win or lose, but the people on the ground are the ones who experience a lifetime of collateral damage. And not just the generation that went through it. It’s still there for the second, the third, and beyond.”

For many Cuban war veterans, this project may provide a long-awaited platform to give voice to their experiences, replacing the authority of a singular war narrative with a rich tapestry of personal accounts. As Hansing says, “It’s about time these stories are heard. Especially now, before they disappear forever.”

Professor Zachary Calamari Shows Us Just How Much You Can Learn from a Skull

This award-winning scientist’s new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History opens new horizons for understanding mammalian morphology.

Photo by Paige Ehrl

In an exciting development in the ever-changing field of evolutionary biology, Assistant Professor Zachary Calamari of Baruch College’s Department of Natural Sciences has unveiled a captivating exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Titled “Mammals with Headgear,” the exhibit explores the appearance of horns and antlers in hoofed mammals and delves into the mysterious evolutionary origins of these cranial ornaments. Professor Calamari’s cutting-edge research in this area has also been recognized with the prestigious Beckman Young Investigator award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, providing $600,000 over four years to support his studies.

Horns and antlers, particularly in ruminant hoofed mammals, constitute the primary focus of Professor Calamari’s investigations, the appearance of which can be traced back 15 million years. One challenge in understanding their evolutionary origins is the lack of ancestral structures in the fossil record. “There’s no sort of nice, rudimentary, ancestral-looking thing that has a little bone bump,” Professor Calamari said. “There’s no halfway point between horns and no horns. Maybe it’s out there somewhere, but the fossil record doesn’t always give us what we want.” This absence has sparked a century-long debate in the scientific community about whether horns and antlers emerged independently on multiple occasions or whether they have a single origin.

To shed light on this evolutionary riddle, Professor Calamari’s research employs a combination of genomics, shape analysis, and modeling techniques. As fossil RNA is not viable for sequencing, he uses modern genomics to examine gene expression in living hoofed mammals and correlates it with the shapes and patterns of horns and antlers observed in extinct species. This research aims to uncover the genes that allow the development of these cranial ornaments and understand precisely how they influence the diverse forms now on display throughout the natural world.

The “Mammals with Headgear” exhibit, part of the Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Collections Core, showcases this research and provides visitors with an interactive experience. The exhibit features information on the distinguishing characteristics of horns versus antlers and allows visitors to explore 3D models, view photos of RNA extraction from tissue samples, and gain insight into the pathbreaking techniques employed in Calamari’s research.

Beyond the exhibit, the Beckman Young Investigator award will allow Professor Calamari to expand his research further. His project involves three key components: single-cell sequencing, RNA sequencing coupled with epigenetic analysis, and the application of machine learning to map gene expression data onto 3D morphology. These techniques could potentially lead to advancements beyond the world of evolutionary morphology and aid in our understanding of diseases like bone cancer. Additionally, unraveling the genetic underpinnings of horn development in livestock may lead to improved breeding practices and animal welfare by minimizing the need for physical horn removal, a procedure that currently causes pain and stress to the animals.

Perhaps most exciting, the grant also supports paid summer research experiences for Baruch College students, offering valuable hands-on training in scientific inquiry, and equipping them with essential experience in science writing and data collection. Professor Calamari reflected on the transformative role that such paid research experiences have had on his own life. “I was a first-generation college student. I didn’t really know what I was doing getting into academia, and one of the things that really made pursuing lab research feasible is that I got paid to do it. This grant is going to make that possible for the next generation of Baruch students.”  

Class of ’23 Baruch Graduate Lelani Pacific-Jack Wins JUSFC Grant and Embarks on a Journey to Japan

Amid the festivity and flying confetti of Tuesday’s Commencement Ceremony at the Barclays Center, one of 2023’s more accomplished graduates was conspicuously missing. Rather than passing the tassel across her mortarboard, Lelani Pacific-Jack, a political science major with a minor in Japanese, was crossing the Pacific. This spring she was awarded the prestigious Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission (JUSFC) grant, which has given her the opportunity to travel to Washington DC, then onto Japan, for the very first time. Pacific-Jack’s journey is a testament to her passion for Japanese culture, her burgeoning interest in international relations, and her estimable dedication to learning the language.

A Brooklyn native and first-generation college student who grew up helping support a single mom and five younger sisters, Pacific-Jack’s interest in Japanese culture started when she discovered Japanese comic books, referred to as manga, after being brought to a bookstore in her neighborhood. She would soon find herself spending hours reading and exploring, inaugurating a lifelong obsession with the world of Japanese storytelling.

“Those adventures and those distinct cultural differences that I read about affected my imagination really deeply,” she said. “I guess I started to realize how much I liked reading about people different from me. I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of diversity when I was really young. For me, It was so interesting to read this combination of fantasy and reality and not be able to tell the difference between the two. I just went completely down the rabbit hole.” 

In high school, Pacific-Jack studied French for four years. However, it was in Baruch College’s growing Japanese Program, housed by the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, that she finally had the opportunity to learn Japanese. Pacific-Jack describes learning the language as the hardest thing she has ever done, but despite the difficulties her all-out enthusiasm for the culture has allowed to persevere. In her final semester at Baruch, she completed her fourth Japanese class and is well on her way to advanced proficiency.

A journey to Japan has always been a dream of hers, but the obstacles sometimes seemed insurmountable for someone from her background. “The financial burden and the time commitment required to go to Japan are pretty intense,” she said. However, thanks to the support and guidance of her Professors Shige (CJ) Suzuki and Yukie Yamaguchi-Callahan, whom she refers to as her “sensei,” and Sandy Kupprat of the Starr Career Center, she discovered the JUSFC Summer Institute program, which unites her interests in international relations and her love for Japan. “I applied. I never thought I’d get it. But, I got it.”

The JUSFC Summer Institute, an organization that supports scholarly, cultural, and artistic activities between Japan and the United States, covers all expenses for Pacific-Jack’s trip, including flights, accommodation, and provides a daily stipend. As part of the program, she will have the opportunity to meet experts in Japanese studies and international relations, such as Professor Ian J. Miller, a historian of Japan from Harvard University, and Sheila A. Smith, Japanese policy expert from the Council on Foreign Relations.

But, for Pacific-Jack, this journey to Japan is not just about personal growth and cultural exploration, it’s also about representation and creating opportunities for others. One of the few Black women studying Japanese in her classes, Pacific-Jack is passionate about promoting diversity and inclusivity within the Japanese community.

“I’ve always been the only Black girl in all of my Japanese classes. I do think that promoting diversity is really important, creating that space for other people to appreciate Japanese culture,” she reflected.

“When I started meeting with all the other students who got in I saw that there were a lot of Black women there. And I tell my mom, ‘I don’t know what to say. What do I say?’ Because I’m just so used to being the only one. It’s like, wow, there are other people just like me who are interested in the same thing as me and studying the same exact thing as I am. It was kind of a surreal moment for me. I thought, maybe things can change.”

When asked about her plans after graduation, Pacific-Jack says, “Japan. Just Japan. Going to Japan. That’s always been the end goal. I haven’t even gone yet and I’m already thinking about how I can get back there.”

Zicklin Students Can Now Concentrate in a Weissman Discipline

In a move towards further uniting Baruch College’s two largest schools, and in keeping with President S. David Wu’s recent reflection on the vital importance of the arts and sciences for every educational trajectory, Baruch students who major in a discipline housed by the Zicklin School of Business—whether it be finance, marketing, or real estate—can now complete a liberal arts or sciences concentration at the Weissman School.

This new path for students represents a timely opportunity for them to bring tailor-made combinations of skills onto their resumes and into the workplace. 

One such student is Cindy Espinoza Garcia. A native of Ecuador, Garcia is a first-generation college student who intends to become a Marketing major at Zicklin with a concentration in Graphic Communications in Weissman’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts. “In my senior year of high school, all my friends were applying to college except me; I felt confused and without a purpose,” she said. “I didn’t know what career to study or what to do for the rest of my life. I remember telling my family: ‘I just want to do something that would allow me to help people, do my best, and leave a unique mark on the world.’ By putting these two disciplines together, Garcia feels that she will now be equipped with the skills to bring her purpose to fruition.

With a family background in party planning, Garcia has recently started her own business, Soul and Balloons, which offers bespoke balloon design for events in New York City and the surrounding area. “When I started my business, I knew I needed a good understanding of the principles of marketing, but I also knew I needed to learn more about design from design experts. I got really excited when I heard about the new concentration option. Putting all these different ideas together is really going to help me create a business that feels like mine,” Garcia said. 

Strictly speaking, Baruch has never encouraged its students to focus solely on the humanities or business education. The College’s curriculum has long recognized that for the business innovators of the future, as well its creatives and communicators, leaders that the College is now famous for producing, training in the arts and sciences provides the very bedrock from which they spring. Because of this, every student at Baruch, regardless of their eventual major is educated in Weissman classrooms. 

Now with an official option for Zicklin students to add a Weissman Concentration, the College takes a more forward-facing stance, preparing students to think critically, creatively, and readying them to seize ahold of newly emerging career paths—many of which they themselves will create.

Learn More About Weissman Concentration Requirements

Weissman Grad Represents New York City Globally

When Aissata M. B. Camara (’11) came to New York City from the Republic of Guinea, West Africa, it was supposed to be a temporary thing. She was 13 years old, undocumented, and didn’t speak a word of English. Over the course of the next 22 years, she would become a vital part of the fabric of New York City political life.

She began to learn the language, culling a few phrases from children’s shows like Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer, and eventually earned her U.S. citizenship and two college degrees. She has since gone on to become the deputy commissioner for policy and strategic initiatives in the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs—making her one of the youngest deputy commissioners in the city’s history and the first Black African woman to hold that position in the office.

Camara cites her experience as an undergraduate at Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences as a crucial moment in her development.

“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the professors and advisors who poured their love and support into me,” she says.

Like many students who attend Baruch, Camara was initially attracted to the College’s reputation in the financial sector. But the economic recession of 2008 made her consider other directions.

She quickly pivoted to assembling an ad-hoc major within the Weissman School, combining coursework in Psychology, English, and International Affairs. During her time there she founded a nonprofit, the There Is No Limit Foundation, which strives to empower people living in extreme poverty especially women and girls, and people with disabilities.

After completing a Master’s degree at New York University, she happened upon a job opening in the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. Having worked on global issues for most of her career, Camara was intrigued by the fact that the office sat at the nexus of global and local issues. At the urging of a mentor who encouraged Camara to apply her expertise to the challenges facing New York City, she applied and landed the job.

Within the first three weeks of her tenure, she had already launched a new program, NYC Junior Ambassadors, which brings students from across all five boroughs to the United Nations and connects them to global issues through in-depth tours, talks, and classes. This award-winning program has impacted more than 4,000 young people and educators in NYC. She soon found herself promoted to deputy commissioner of her department—which she refers to as being “kind of like the State Department of NYC”—and has since been named chief of staff as well.

When asked why she is so passionate about helping young people, her thoughts turn towards Dr. Wendy Heyman, a psychologist in Baruch’s Starr Career Development Center for over 40 years, who passed away in 2018. Camara remembers that Dr. Heyman always took her dreams and goals seriously and was one of the first who encouraged her to seriously pursue politics.

Years later, Dr. Heyman attended an event that Camara hosted at the United Nations.

“I looked over and saw that, all these years later, she was watching me work alongside the mayor,” Camara says. “I’ll never forget it. She said she couldn’t have been prouder of me. “ 

Colgate-Palmolive sends Baruch College Climate Changemakers to the United Kingdom

L to R: Alexandra Acevedo, Nikala D’Aguiar, Professor Mindy Engle-Friedman, Jenny Ho, and Winnie Lin.

Three students representing Baruch’s Heat Island Resiliency Project were awarded $10,000 by the Colgate-Palmolive Company in order to present their original research at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) on April 5th and 6th at the University of Warwick, in Coventry, England. There, at a gathering that included over 70 colleges from around the globe, they brought data, both quantitative and qualitative, that offers a close look at New York City’s most vulnerable—those in neighborhoods most affected by a phenomenon known as the Urban Heat Island Effect—to the world’s stage.

Over the past two years, Jenny Ho, Nikala D’Aguiar, and Samia Alam (L to R), under the stewardship of Associate Professor Mindy Engle-Friedman of the Psychology Department, collected and collated data from several low-income neighborhoods including, Kingsbridge Heights in the Bronx and East Flatbush in Brooklyn. After analyzing several years’ worth of statistics, they created a detailed report that provides a real-time snapshot of these New York City communities, profiling in stark relief the ways that climate change is taking its toll. Taken together, their research shows that metropolitan areas, and particularly those occupied by people of color, are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas because of the wide use of asphalt, concrete, and buildings that are heat absorbent and a scarcity of trees; the absence of green spaces and cooling centers; and the need to improve local communication networks that provide information and enable residents to work together.

“Once you’re in areas where there’s asphalt, concrete, and buildings that are heat absorbent with very few trees, that is, once you’re in a highly urbanized setting,” said Professor Engle-Friedman, “you’re in a place where you are really vulnerable to being baked.” The research that these students have done shows as much, and aims to get a handle on local communication networks with hopes to develop tools that will help keep the families that people these communities safe.

With the Colgate brand found in more homes than any other in the world, and, as a leader in corporate sustainability strategies and support, the company began their relationship with Baruch’s climate change community in the fall of 2022, sending three of their executives to address the Heat Island Resiliency Team. Together, Sukhdev Saini, Global Toothbrush Packaging Lead Manager, Cecilia Coates, Lead of Global Sustainability, Climate, and Water, and DJ D’Agostino, Global Environment, Health, Safety, and Sustainability Manager, gave these students a unique glimpse of both the opportunities and the challenges presented by the prospect of integrating sustainability practices into all aspects of a business on a global scale. As a sign of Colgate’s continued commitment, Baruch’s inaugural “Conference on Climate Research, Teaching, and Collaboration” held on March 10, featured Sonay Aykan, Associate Director ESG & Sustainability at Colgate-Palmolive, as one of its esteemed final session panelists.

“This team of students has been doing such amazing work for so long,” said Professor Engle-Friedman, “and this is really a story of the kindness and collegiality of so many unsung people at Baruch that helped us get here.” The initial connection between the students and Colgate-Palmolive was made by Starr Career Center, and the Heat Island Resiliency Team was first given the opportunity to present their research, developing a poster session and an accompanying oral presentation, at the 2022 International Conference of Undergraduate Research after receiving funding from the Office of the Provost. It is this same evolving presentation that the students will now bring to the University of Warwick thanks to Colgate-Palmolive.

“Two of the three students have never even been on an airplane,” said Professor Engle-Friedman. “So, this partnership with Colgate Palmolive is making a huge difference in their lives.” But, as with much of the climate conversation at CUNY, the impacts stretch beyond the individual students and to the disadvantaged communities from which they come. 

“CUNY students are much more likely than other New York City college students to stay in the city and become its leaders of tomorrow. For Colgate-Palmolive to help them is a real contribution to these communities,” said Professor Engle-Friedman. “Our students have that feeling of investment that you can’t manufacture.” Though Baruch’s Heat Island Resiliency Project is Britain bound, in a way, they’re always on their way back home.