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.