Press Release: 2008 CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies Commencement Journalist John Hockenberry to speak

Time and Place: Monday, June 9, 10:30 am, The Great Hall at The Cooper Union, 7 East 7th St. at Third Avenue (the Foundation Building), Manhattan

Graduates:  250

Speaker:  John Hockenberry, three-time Peabody Award winner, four-time Emmy award winner and Dateline NBC correspondent; now co-host of an NPR morning news program, “The Takeaway

Faculty speaker:  Professor John Krinsky
, Associate Professor of Political Science, City College
Student speaker:  Easter Z. Wood (Area of Concentration:  The African Diaspora in the Americas)

The CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies (CUNY BA), administered by the CUNY Graduate Center, is a university-wide individualized bachelor's degree. This small program, with an annual enrollment of 600, is intended for self-directed, academically strong students who have well-formulated academic and career goals. Most are working adults, many of whom are raising families; 80% are over 25 years old (49% are over 35 years old); and a significant number are returning to school, often after a hiatus of anywhere from 5 to 30 years. Since its inception in 1971, over 6000 students have earned their degrees through this route; almost 50% have gone on to graduate school.

Four students have received major graduate school fellowships: Aaron Brower will attend Harvard Divinity School with a Presidential Scholarship – free tuition plus a $20,000 stipend; Sharif Corinaldi will attend the Univ. of California/Berkeley for a Ph.D. in Physics/Quantum Information and Computation with the Chancellor's Fellowship – five years of free tuition plus a $25,000 stipend; Corey Lamont will attend Howard University for a Ph.D. in English with the Frederick Douglass Fellowship - five years of free tuition plus an $18,000 stipend; Diana Kachan, a 2008 Jonas E. Salk Scholar, will attend the University of Miami School of Medicine for an M.D./Ph.D. with a Dean's Fellowship, covering four years of the medical degree.

One hundred and fifteen students will participate in the ceremony, during which several scholarships will be awarded.  Guests are coming from all over the U.S. including the Virgin Islands, as well as Antigua, Australia, Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Ecuador, England, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Israel, Jamaica, and Trinidad. The program generates many graduates with compelling life stories, a few of which follow.

CUNY Baccalaureate  for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies
Selected 2008 Graduate Profiles

George Farnum:  Black Literature in a Global Culture /  Creative Writing, B.A. June 2008, Magna Cum Laude; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Dean's List

In George Farnum's application essay to the CUNY Baccalaureate, which he entitled The Scenic Route to Academia, he detailed a rich personal history, beginning with his birth in Barbados in 1938. He always wanted to be a writer, but felt that career option was impossible in his homeland where Caribbean writers were rare and most available books were written by British authors. Inspired by stories he read, he wanted to see the world, so at the age of 17, he got a job on a freighter as a cabin boy, which took him to Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. For ten years he continued working on ships earning various promotions and by 1965 had visited almost 50 countries. He considered his journey fun and enlightening, while being "offended and angered by Apartheid in South Africa, the Caste System in India and racism in the U.S., protesting against them whenever" he could. All along the way, on various ships, he continued to write, especially poetry and song lyrics; some of his poems were published and some of his songs made it to college and commercial radio.

Farnum emigrated to the U.S. in 1966 and, needing to support a new family, attended school for dental technology, working in dental labs until 1970. His next position would be as a company trained auditor for the American News Company. In 1977, he and his brother opened a boutique in Barbados which he ran until 1979. Then he joined the Merchant Marines as a chef and later became an engineer/mechanic, retiring in 2003. Throughout his journeys "the desire to pursue a college education never waned."

He enrolled in the Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2003. "The environment and support provided me by the faculty, staff and diverse student body kept me hungry for knowledge and stimulated to learn." He entered CUNY BA, making Brooklyn College his home college and choosing Brooklyn Professors George Cunningham, Africana Studies and Roni Natov, English as his faculty mentors. With their help, he carved out two areas made up of advanced level work. His goal is to become "a good writer of fiction, memoirs, and hopefully an autobiography."  It should be added that before he won the Smith Academic Fellowship, Farnum was paying for college out of his pension; moreover, he never missed a single class. Farnum turned 70 in February.


Kelly Gola:  Psychology and Literature, B.A. June 2008, Summa Cum Laude; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellow; Nan Bauer-Maglin Prize for Literature; Dean's List

"My educational history has been a kaleidoscopic array of missteps and accidental fortune. I look back at all of my failures and accomplishments and occasionally indulge the inner self-effacing voice that laments, if I knew then what I know now. However, I would never know what I know now if I hadn’t screwed it up so much then."

Prior to applying to the CUNY BA, Kelly Gola was a hairstylist employed on fashion photo shoots for magazines such as W, Vogue, French Vogue, Italian Vogue and Bizarre, working with the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz and Muhammad Ali. "I looked into the face of Body Dysmorphia, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Substance Abuse…I saw how ugly beauty can be." On applying to CUNY BA, Gola was interested in studying writing "to get back," as she wrote "at the glitterati that had offended me. It was only later after a number of psychology classes that I realized that I was part of that set. I had quixotic notions about the fashion world that left me disillusioned and it begged the question, why? All this questioning and self-reflection washed me up onto the shores of Narrative Psychology — the psychological study of how we narrate our lives. This field speaks to both my love of story and my pragmatic nature. It combines them in a way that is no longer entirely introspective and selfish, but produces generativity that, after all my years in fashion, I suddenly thirst for." Working with Profs. Elaine Kauvar, English, Baruch and Suzanne Ouellette, Psychology, the Graduate Center, Gola's coursework has been done at Brooklyn, Hunter and the Graduate Center.

In winter 2007, Gola traveled to Argentina to learn Spanish and to study the country's rich history and social evolution. Since her return, she has been assisting David Frost in his dissertation research on the narratives of gays and lesbians in rural and urban areas.

Kayhan Irani:  Theater and Social Change, B.A. June 2008, Summa Cum Laude; Sumasil Foundation Scholarship; Diego Hidalgo Scholarship; FEZANA Arts Scholarship; ZAGNY Scholarship; Weston Community Engagement Fellowship; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Kaye Arts and Humanities Fellowship; Fali Chothia Charitable Trust Scholarship; Dean's List

Kayhan Irani considers herself an “artivist,” fusing theater with activism and social change to activate audiences and transform society.

After graduating from the H.S. of Performing Arts, Irani longed for a way to combine her passion for the theater with her desire to make the world a better place. She dropped out of college after her first year to try to find a field that would satisfy her. In 2003 she created a one-woman show, We’ve Come Undone, which highlights the lives of immigrant women post 9/11, combining contemporary performance with participatory theater to engage audiences in political and social change. She has performed the show nationally and internationally for universities, non-profit organizations and at theater festivals. In 2004 Irani led theater workshops in occupied Iraq with Childhood’s Voices and Happy Families, two organizations teaching and healing children through the arts. After this immersion in using the arts for social change, she decided to return to the university to integrate her experiences with scholarship and research.    While in CUNY BA she was awarded an Asia Pacific Performance Exchange Fellowship at UCLA where she worked with artists from Asia and the U.S. She was awarded a grant from the International Center for Tolerance Education to train ESL teachers in how to use interactive theater to support ESL learning. Working with The Point, a community organization and cultural center in the South Bronx, she wrote and developed a children’s play about asthma and civic pride called Jackie ‘n’ the Beanstalk which combines theater with circus and aerial acrobatics. She was part of a team of educators and artists working on a three-year project with the Barnard College Education Program that created a curriculum to teach about race and racism through storytelling and the arts. She has led theater programs at public schools, for community groups, at juvenile detention facilities, and for government agencies and is often invited to present at major conferences.

In 2007 Irani was awarded a certificate of recognition by Mayor Bloomberg as part of Immigrant History Week for her work in immigrant communities.

She recently co-edited a volume of essays entitled Telling Stories to Change the World: Global Voices on the Power of Stories to Build Community and make Social Justice Claims, about projects around the world that use storytelling as a way of creating social justice, to be released in May 2008 by Routledge. Currently she is a writer and the Director of Outreach for an ESL TV show produced by the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education and CUNY.

Irani's degree was constructed with courses in Theater, Political Science, Media Studies, Anthropology and Urban Studies at Brooklyn, Hunter and City Colleges and CUNY's School of Professional Studies, working with Profs. John Krinsky, Political Science, City College and Dale Byam, Theater, Brooklyn.    

Michael Jacobs:  International Relations, B.S. June 2008, Dean's Certificate for Academic Excellence; Brigada Internacional De Rescate, Mexico; Recognition in Promotion of Trade, Government of Mexico; U.S. Congress Citation; N.Y. State Assembly Certificate of Merit

Michael Jacobs left Queens College to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. Upon his return, he graduated in 1970 with an Associate's degree and received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1972. For the next 35 years, he built businesses, both domestic and internationally, employing thousands of people in the textile and apparel sector. One of his most significant contracts was for the manufacturing of uniforms for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team, judged best in the world in Barcelona. He has received numerous recognitions from private organizations and the U.S. and foreign governments for his civic work in Latin America in the promotion of trade and social relations, as well as his humanitarian efforts during the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Among many significant posts he has held as chairman or president of various companies and trade organizations, he is the former National Treasurer of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce where he co-chaired the NAFTA congressional forum. Along with Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the King and Queen of Spain, he sits on the International Board of Advisors of the Wheelchair Foundation, distributing thousands of wheelchairs globally to those in need. He is a former member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. and a former member of the U.S. Senate Business Advisory Group during the Reagan Administration.

All this without a bachelor's degree.

In his application to the CUNY Baccalaureate he wrote "I have interacted with Heads of State, worked on multi-national issues with our government and foreign governments, lectured on NAFTA, and participated in discussions on free trade and border issues in Washington, D.C., but in my resume of life, one component is missing: the completion of my education."

With the guidance of Peter Liberman, Political Science, Queens College/The Graduate Center, Jacobs has studied international relations at Baruch, Hunter and Queens. Of course, he received 15 credits for his extensive life experience. He writes: “I would recommend that anyone with time in the workforce chose the CUNY BA. The life credit portion gives one tremendous incentive as their work is recognized.” Jacobs hopes to teach as a CUNY adjunct in the future.

Tennessee Jones:  The Religious Dimensions of Social Justice in Literature, B.A., January 2008, Magna cum Laude; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Jacob Javits Fellowship; Dean's List

"I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee. Our water came from a creek spring, and my backyard was uncut wilderness. Three generations of my family lived on top of each other in a little holler, and my parents grew a tobacco crop to supplement their incomes as a sheet metal mechanic and seamstress. It was a place steeped in tradition, and though we lived on the top of the oldest mountains in the world, the horizon of opportunity was very limited." So wrote Tennessee Jones in his application to the Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship.

After he finished high school, Jones hitchhiked around the country and produced self-published magazines for four years; after exploring "every major city," he knew New York was where he wanted to make his mark. By the time he came to Hunter and CUNY BA, he had considerable accomplishments to his name:  publication of a book of short stories, Deliver Me From Nowhere (2005), praised in The New York Times Book Review and elsewhere, and a full-time job as an editor at Soft Skull Press. Soft Skull's publisher credits Jones with helping take the company from "a scrappy, hit-or-miss operation to one of the more culturally significant independent publishers in the U.S," adding that he was delighted to learn of Jones' plan to apply to the CUNY BA because he "would be a perfect individual for a self-directed plan of study."

Jones' concentration uses the lens of literature and the practice of creative writing to examine the dynamics of oppressed communities. Under the direction of Prof. Barbara Sproul, Religion, Hunter, his area was made up of courses in Africana Studies, Religion and English. He included an independent study in Religion and an individual tutorial with Prof Harriet Luria, English, Hunter; both were for work on his current novel in progress, an exploration of the lives of three working class girls in eastern Kentucky. Jones has been accepted to the MFA program at Hunter College.

Emily Kaplan:  Ecological Identity, B.A. June 2008, Summa Cum Laude, Dean's List

"No other CUNY program will allow me the flexibility and structure to build on my life experiences and create a specialized degree. My proposed field of study, 'Ecological Identity,' will integrate social and natural scientific approaches to current environmental and human crises."

Before applying to the CUNY Baccalaureate, Emily Kaplan had already worked with several environmental organizations in different bioregions around the world: a cross-border peace and justice organization in the Sonoran Desert in Tuscon, AZ and Nogales, Mexico, an international community practicing sustainable agriculture in a reforested Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest in rural South India, an educational "Eco-Village" in the fertile farming area of Western Massachusetts' Connecticut River Valley, and here in New York, with WildMetro, a growing environmental non-profit devoted to "protecting nature where people live," starting in this country's densest metropolis; her role with WildMetro at the time of her application was conducting research projects to protect the city's wildlife.

Kaplan has successfully completed her academic goal in the CUNY Baccalaureate, taking courses in Nature Writing, Sustainability, Environmental Politics, Animal Behavior, and Philosophy of Evolution at City and Lehman Colleges, as well as at Haverford College and the University of New Hampshire. Her mentor was Prof. Sherrie Baver, Political Science, City College/The Graduate Center. Once enrolled in CUNY BA, she also took many courses in Jewish Studies, focusing on Jewish film, music and mysticism. She has achieved a near-perfect grade point average. Kaplan has been active in two campus environmental organizations at City College: a coalition of clubs called Sustainable CCNY and the Global Planet Society, a hiking and camping group, as well as two campus Jewish organizations, Hillel and Chabad. Kaplan continues involvement with WildMetro as a volunteer, participating in clean-up projects and nature walks in the greater metropolitan area. Her vision now is to help New York City succeed as a model for large-scale sustainable design. Additionally, Kaplan has been published in both the City College literary journal, Promethean and the Hunter College literary journal, The Olive Tree.

Kaplan plans to work on a small-scale organic farm in the upstate New York area this summer, furthering her dream of sustainable agriculture along the urban-rural gradient. She is exploring a possible International Masters in Agriculture, Environment or Public Health through the Peace Corps, or a Masters in Sustainable Desert Ecology with AIES (Arava Institute for Environmental Studies) and Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Israel.

Krista Martocci:  Physics / Mathematics, B.A. June 2008 Magna Cum Laude; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Dean's List

Some day, electric cars may drive further and longer thanks to Krista Martocci's research with Hunter College Professor Steven Greenbaum. Her work might also give us deeper insights into the cosmos.   

Martocci returned to college to change her career from technical theater to physics. She writes "a few years ago, while working in the theater, I would run shows six nights a week and I began reading physics paperbacks. I became curious about the math behind all of the ideas, so I re-learned calculus, then I learned calculus-based physics." Martocci wants a career in theoretical physics focusing on general relativity and applying it to gravitation and black hole research.

At Hunter, her physics professor, Prof. Steve Greenbaum (who also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center), offered her a position in his lab. She has been working there 10-25 hours per week every since. The lab specializes in X-ray and UV Absorption Spectroscopy, researching ways to improve batteries for NASA projects and implantable cardiac defibrillators that will extend the range and life cycle of electric cars. Martocci conducts experiments there and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the National Synchrotron Light Source. She has been involved in several projects, all of which have papers published or in progress. The first is observing the atomic structural charge in silver vanadium oxide cathode material as it discharges lithium. These non-rechargeable batteries are used in internal batteries (e.g., pacemakers). Dr. Greenbaum and Martocci have published a paper on this in the Journal of Power Sources. The second is studying the mechanism of absorption of CO on platinum-ruthenium thin films to stimulate the contamination of CO on platinum and platinum-ruthenium alloy catalysts in fuel cells. Martocci’s abstract on this project was published by the Electrochemical Society and she presented the group's results at the 109th Electrochemical Society's Meeting in Denver in May 2006. One of her more recent projects involves looking at the structure of the cathode material of manganese nickel oxide batteries during its charge and discharge.

Martocci also works with the Gravity Group at Princeton University. One of her projects there was characterizing multiplexer chips for the Atacama Cosmological Telescope which is now in Chile. This telescope will detect cosmic radiation and dark matter. Now she is in charge of assembling the 32x32 arrays of detectors for the Millimeter Bolometer Array Camera (MBAC), the largest detector array ever built to observe millimeter wavelengths; the MBAC is the telescope component that collects and out-puts usable data about cosmic microwave backgrounds. A publication has just started being put together by collaborators from the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton about MBAC.

Her studies on the graduate and undergraduate levels were done at Hunter, City and the Graduate Center with Prof. Jane Matthews, Mathematics, Hunter and Steve Greenbaum, Physics, Hunter/The Graduate Center, who writes of Martocci, "She is a true renaissance person…a natural experimentalist…she participates at a level expected of experienced graduate students…she has all the skills and drive to become a successful scientist." Martocci has been accepted to the Ph.D. program in Physics at the University of Chicago.

David Morgante:  Terrorism Studies / International Crime, B.S. June 2008, Magna Cum Laude; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Harriet Brows Fellowship; Dean's List

David Morgante is a Marine Corps Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who chose the CUNY Baccalaureate to build his unique areas in Terrorism Studies and International Crime as a way to continue to protect the people of the United States through a career in federal law enforcement.

As a Marine, Morgante was stationed in a variety of overseas locations and developed a love of living, traveling and learning with people of different cultures. He received a Marine Corps Certificate of Commendation for his exceptional work building positive relations among American forces, Iraqi forces and Iraqi civilians. As a result, he desires a career with the U.S. Department of State, ideally as a criminal investigator. He says, "My studies include courses such as 'Terrorism and International Relations' and 'The United Nations and International Politics'; Special Agents make decisions based on foreign policy and knowledge of terrorism and so my academic preparation ties directly into my career goals."

Morgante's local and national community service started in high school when he volunteered with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office and the Lake Carmel Fire Department (where he continues to serve). The catastrophic events of September 11th inspired him to further service and so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Because of his high aptitude scores, he was offered a position in Security Forces and was deployed to Spain on anti-terrorist security missions.

Morgante's coursework has been in History, Government, Political Science and Interdisciplinary Studies at John Jay College under the direction of Profs. Peter Romaniuk, Government and Joseph King, Law and Criminal Justice, John Jay. He included a senior level seminar on Terrorism and two internships, one at the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector and the other with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Morgante plans to continue his education on the graduate level; he has already been accepted to the Master's program in Protection Management at John Jay College.

Morgante says ""I owe great thanks to the CUNY BA. Today I received my 'conditional offer of employment' from the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service. I could be heading off to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center as early as this summer. (I was also offered an internship with the Regional Security Officer in Skopje, Macedonia, but cannot do both, unfortunately.) This is my dream job. The CUNY BA has been nothing less than phenomenal.  I've been able to focus in on very unique coursework, and I've been able to progress with extreme efficiency. I couldn't have made a better decision with my education."

Roderic Williams:  Electro-Acoustic Music Composition, B.S., 2007; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Memorial Scholarship

Roderic Williams grew up in Detroit in the 60's and 70's, a time he calls “glorious," when the city’s remarkable music industry included the world-renowned Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a jazz scene to rival New York’s and, of course, Motown. "Every Christmas," he writes, "there was a Motown Revue. For $5 you could see Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the Miracles, all in one show." He got to "hang around these musicians, absorbing the music," and eventually he too became a musician, traveling the world and recording with famous artists. Along the way, he picked up a few credits here and there. In 2005, with credits from four different community colleges and two universities, Williams enrolled in Brooklyn College and the CUNY BA, knowing that what he really wanted was an academic degree that would allow him to become a music teacher—but also wanting to select his courses as he had before, a few here and a few there. Although he had taken some music courses previously, he was largely a self-taught musician and composer. And so, under the guidance of faculty mentor, Music Professor Timothy Polashek of Lehman College, Williams took courses at Brooklyn and Lehman, creating a unique area in Electro-Acoustic Music Composition. Not surprisingly, he received 10 life experience credits from the CUNY BA Program for his prior work in jazz. Now he is looking forward to graduate school (he has been accepted to Brooklyn College's new MFA in Performance and Interactive Media Arts), saying "Education means something different to me now. When I think of education, I sometimes feel the need to use other terms, because education doesn't just mean schooling. I mean the transmission of wisdom, the transmission of deep thought, the transmission of the ability to analyze and construct – that is what I mean by education."

Submitted on: MAY 1, 2008

Category: Press Room