Two BMCC students, Pedro Raposo and Thierno Bah, are taking part in research projects at Princeton University this summer, thanks to a collaboration between Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the CUNY-wide LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) program.
“We wanted to develop something that would support LSAMP students majoring in a STEM area—science, technology, engineering or math—and who have the potential of eventually entering a doctoral program,” says Claude Braithwaite, LSAMP Project Administrator at City College, CUNY.
The participants are students from BMCC, LaGuardia Community College, the College of Staten Island, Lehman College and Brooklyn College.
“Being at Princeton will broaden their experience, their professional network and their sense of what is possible,” says Brathwaite.
“It also makes it more likely that they’ll consider Princeton as a place to pursue graduate studies or a doctorate some day. The thinking is that we need to start this process early on, way ahead of when our students would be considering a doctoral program.”
Where the road can lead
BMCC alumnus Pierre Bouzi earned his associate degree in computer science in 2003.
Next, he earned a bachelor’s and graduate degree in electrical engineering at City College, CUNY, and completed an exchange program at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.
This summer, after finishing up an internship at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, he will defend his dissertation at Princeton to complete a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, with a focus on quantum cascade lasers.
He’s come a long way since moving to New York from Haiti in 2001.
“I didn’t speak English; I spoke French when I came here,” says Bouzi. “I took an English language class at BMCC, before I actually started classes.”
He’s still in touch with his former math professor at BMCC, Dr. Barbara Lawrence.
“She was my calculus professor, and she was so rigorous in her class,” he says, and intends to look up fellow BMCC alumni Thierno Bah and Pedro Ramposo, when he’s back on the Princeton campus.
“It says a lot about their commitment, that they’re in the research projects,” he says. “This experience will take them in many important directions.”
From Guinea, to Brooklyn, to Princeton
Thierno Bah grew up in Guinea, West Africa and lives with his family in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“Even when I was in high school I was good at logic and solving problems,” he says.
At BMCC, he is majoring in computer science and has tutored fellow students in the math lab. He’s a member of Phi Theta Kappa, in the Programming Club and on the Dean’s List.
His exposure to research started at BMCC in an LSAMP-sponsored project led by Computer Information Systems professor Yan Chen, and culminated in a conference presentation at City College.
“We were coming up with software that detects plagiarism in student writing,” says Bah.
“It’s a problem now that you can get information from the Internet. Students change the structure of the sentences and we created an algorithm to detect that.”
This summer, he will work with Princeton computer science professor Ananda Gunawardena, researching ways to analyze users of an online platform, through their interaction profiles.
“Thierno will use well known algorithms and platforms such as wordnet, docuscope and topic modeling to develop a new system through which users of these online platforms can find each other for possible project collaborations in their respective fields,” says Professor Gunawardena.
Engineering a cooler environment
Pedro Raposo grew up with seven siblings in the Dominican Republic and New York City, and is majoring in engineering science at BMCC.
In addition to tutoring fellow students in the BMCC math lab, he has taken part in a number of research projects.
Led by engineering professor Mahmoud Ardebili, he helped design sensors to extract information from concrete, he explains, so that it can adjust to changes in temperature without compromising its integrity.
He also worked with science professor Chiaki Yanagisawa, “predicting sea level rise in relation to the earth’s radiative energy budget,” and with math professor Brett Sims, “We developed an equation to use in a project called ‘Action Potential in Excitable Tissue’,” he says, and looked at the properties of cell membranes.
At Princeton, he will work with civil and environmental engineering professor Sigrid Adriaenssens to help design a temperature-cooled pavilion space—without traditional walls or air conditioning.
“Pedro will be designing parabolic curved shelves that will be part of the 'shell structure',” says Professor Adriaenssens, adding that the project is in collaboration with Professor Forrest Meggers from the Princeton School of Architecture, and is funded by the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment.
The shelves will house a solar collector that uses evaporative cooling methods and radiant piping to cool the air inside the open structure.
“By adapting structure and form, and imbedding new materials and technologies, we will demonstrate a new type of cool space, one that will significantly impact the energy usage demand of buildings,” she says.
In that way, this type of structure helps create “urban resiliency,” or the ability to bounce back from disasters, she explains, and “could have a very large impact on the urban heat island affect, the unbearable street canyons that can occur in the built environment.”
Making a better place to live
“Engineering is not only about constructing new things, it’s about making a community a better place to live,” says Raposo, who was just accepted into Cornell University and plans to major in civil engineering, with a minor in environmental engineering.
“One of my dreams is to own a construction company that is energy efficient and environmentally friendly,” he says, while another goal is to work at NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and “be part of a team building the structural system for a rocket.”
Thierno Bah was just accepted at Stony Brook University, the State University of New York (SUNY), and plans to start in Fall 2014.
“I’d like to get a bachelor’s in computer science and specialize in software engineering,” he says.
“I’m thinking about working at Google, on web applications. Microsoft is also good. I like the innovation of those companies, and I want to design and develop software. I’m also interested in working on the Google car, which doesn’t need a driver and is better for the environment.”