Award Winning BMCC Students Stand Out at CUNY Research Scholars Program Symposium

CRSP poster presentation 2019
CRSP student researchers participate in conferences, faculty-led research and poster presentations (above, 2019 BMCC CRSP)

August 12, 2021

Twenty-four Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) students and alumni delivered cutting-edge research presentations at the 2021 CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP) virtual symposium held July 26, July 28 and August 2. Of the 174 presentations from across all the participating CUNY campuses delivered at the event, just three were selected for the Top Presentation Award. Of those three, two of the top awards went to BMCC students.

CRSP funds year-long research experiences for associate degree students at all seven CUNY community colleges and three comprehensive schools. Students receive 320 hours of mentoring from faculty members and participate in biweekly workshops, public speaking and poster preparation. Students receive stipends for their participation and present their work at a university-wide symposium each July.

At the annual symposium, both live and recorded presentations were judged by doctoral students and postdocs recruited from the CUNY Graduate Center and the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center.

Alumnus Oneil Mahoney (Biotechnology, ‘21), mentored by Science Professor José A. Fernandez Romero won the Top Presentation Award for his work on the research project “Antiviral Activity of Aframomum melegueta Against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronaviruses,” while Computer Science major Zhenchao Xia, mentored by Computer Science Professor Hao Tang, was also a Top Presentation Award winner for a presentation on the “Mixed Reality Cane.”

Four other BMCC students were named Presentation Winners. They include: Science major Christopher Clouse (mentor Science Professor Miguel C. N. Fiolhais) for “Spin-orbit Gravitational Locking – an Effective Potential Approach,” Computer Science major Ahmad Soliman (mentor Computer Information Systems Professor Mohammad Azhar) for “American Sign Language Education in Virtual Reality Environments for Deaf Communities”; Psychology major Janee Jones (mentor Sociology Professor Sheldon Applewhite) for “Covid-19 Effects on the Mental Health of Community College Students” and Science major Shannon Brown (mentor Science Professor Joanna Giza) for “BDNF Met Prodomain Changes BDNF Signaling.”

Eighteen BMCC faculty mentors work with 32 students in BMCC’s CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP) each year. The BMCC CRSP is led by Director of Research Siddharth Ramakrishnan and Administrative Specialist Venita Andrews. The program’s coordinator is Marawan Elzoeiry.

Ron Nerio, Director of Research Programs at the CUNY Office of Research said BMCC’s faculty mentors provide their students with guidance, skills and self-confidence. He said one of the highlights from his summer thus far, besides planning for the symposium, was to interview alumni from the CUNY program.

“Among the interviewees were students who have gone on to Harvard Medical School, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and Yale,” said Nerio. “Almost all of the interviewees told me they never expected to conduct authentic research as associate degree students.”

As BMCC Science Professor and CRSP mentor José A. Fernandez Romero notes, a student’s participation in research projects enhances the skills required for successful entrance and completion of a graduate program in the STEM field.

“It provides a platform to stimulate leadership, teamwork, verbal communication, problem-solving, critical thinking and hands-on research,” said Romero.

Top Presentation Award Winner Oneil Mahoney’s research focuses on antiviral activity of seed abstracts

Top Presentation Award winner Oneil Mahoney, who graduated from BMCC in Spring 2021 and enters Columbia University this fall, said he has always had an interest in science and scientific research.

At BMCC, he excelled in the classroom, was elected president of the Science Club and credits Science Professor Lalitha Jayant who helped connect him to research opportunities at the college.

“I would encourage all students interested in research to make an impression upon any of the professors or researchers they would like to learn from and work with,” said Mahoney. “Always advocate for yourself in any environment.”

Mahoney explained that the research he worked on evaluated the antiviral activity of seed extracts from Aframomum melegueta, an African spice, against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic. The research confirmed the antiviral activity of Aframomum melegueta, previously predicted through computational models by others, and identified 6-gingerol as a potential active ingredient in the seed extracts.

Mahoney plans to bring an awareness of social equity issues to his research as he moves forward in his academic career.

“My goals are to continue to expand my knowledge of scientific information so that I can establish programs and have influence that impacts change in the world, towards a more equitable and sustainable future,” said Mahoney. “As a New York City native, I am focused on improving my community here.”

Award Winner Zhenchao Xia’s research on a mixed reality cane

Top Presentation Award winner Zhenchao Xia is a computer science major who will be transferring in Fall 2021 to Stony Brook University (SUNY). Xia’s presentation centered on the Mixed Reality Cane project.

“The Mixed Reality Cane allows the visually impaired to receive orientation and mobility training (O&M) on a mobile phone,” said Xia. “The training has been developed by our research lab since last year. An iPhone mounted on a selfie stick is used to simulate a white cane to explore an unknown environment in Virtual Reality.”

Xia appreciates the opportunities provided by the BMCC CRSP.

“During my time in this program, I not only gained research skills and knowledge in computer science, I also learned the importance of collaborating with other team members,” Xia said. “Thanks to this precious research experience, I decided to develop my career in the field of computer vision and I’m eager to get a master of computer science.”

Social science researcher Janee Jones examines Covid-19’s psychological impact on community college students

Although CRSP started out as a STEM program and is largely still focused on STEM research, over the past 12 months campus directors have been encouraged by CUNY to add more social and behavioral students according to Neiro.

That said, among BMCC’s four Presentation Winners was Psychology major Janee Jones who delivered a presentation focused on “ Covid-19 Effects on the Mental Health of Community College Students.” Jones, who graduates BMCC in Fall 2021, plans to transfer to Pace University and major in nursing.

Jones said the research focused on the effects the coronavirus is having on the mental health of community college students by analyzing gathered data from 278 community college students who were asked a series of 75 questions.

“Our conclusion from data analyzed revealed students more likely experienced increased financial hardships during the pandemic,” said Jones. “This increased stress, anxiety and depression from the spring semester 2020 through the spring semester in 2021.”

Although collecting and analyzing the data was difficult at times, Professor Applewhite taught her the skills she needed to make the research a success, she said.

“The mentors and program directors in the CRSP work hands-on with students answering questions and teaching how to start research projects step by step,” said Jones “My goal is to continue research and establish a background in neuropsychology.”

Over the next ten years, Jones said her goal will be to work as a traveling psychiatric nurse specializing in the mental health of women and children. She also hopes to expand her nonprofit organization called F.I.R.E Lady Inc. (fierce, independent, responsible and educated).

NOTE: The faculty-mentored student research and presentation in this BMCC News story relates to BMCC’s Strategic Goals, including Goal 6. Read the BMCC Strategic Plan 2020-2025 to learn about college-wide initiatives, priorities and goals.

  • Twenty-two BMCC students present faculty-mentored research CUNY symposium
  • Two of three top recognitions at symposium go to BMCC students
  • CRSP students receive 320 hours of mentoring and participate in workshops, public speaking and poster presentations

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