International graduate students voice praise for Upstate

Seven international students in Upstate’s College of Graduate Studies sat down recently with Educational Communications producer-director Steve Garlock to talk about their experiences at Upstate.

The students in “International Voices” come from Bangladesh, India, Moldova, Nigeria, the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China. They are at Upstate pursuing doctoral degrees in the biomedical sciences.

The students talk about the unique challenges adjusting to a new environment in a new country — everything from language and cultural differences to upstate New York’s climate.

They credit the academic and social support from faculty and staff, fellow students and the International Student Association on campus.

As student Chinaza Egbuta of Nigeria says in the video, “I never imagined that three years from the time I moved here, I’d be able to call some of these people my sisters, my brothers, my friends.  That’s the ultimate thing I appreciate about Upstate.”

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Upstate medical student lands career development scholarship

SUNY Upstate medical university

Itamar Niesvizky-Kogan, second-year medical student, has received an American Society of Hematology Physician Scientist Career Development Scholarship. He'll take a leave of absence later this year to conduct cancer research.

Second-year medical student Itamar Niesvizky-Kogan
 has been selected for the American Society of Hematology’s Physician-Scientist Career Development Scholarship, and will take a leave of absence after sitting for the USMLE Step 1 exam in the spring.

Itamar will spend a year studying a genetic component of lymphoma at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, in Dr. Ari Melnick’s epigenetics and hematological malignancies lab.

“I’m excited because 10 years ago, few people ever heard of epigenetics,” he said. “There will be more and more discoveries, and I want to be a part of that.”

Itamar is no stranger to the laboratory.

As a high school student in New York City, he shadowed in Dr. Melnick’s lab, where he didn’t quite understand the specifics of what was going on but was intrigued by the research process.

“I could tell something big was going on,” he said.

He returned to Dr. Melnick’s lab last summer as a member of the American Society of Hematology Minority Medical Student Award Program, and dove deeper into lymphoma research – specifically, how changes in genetic code may affect the growth of cancer cells.

Many lymphomas are linked to a mutation in one gene (MLL), and Itamar worked on figuring out the mechanism behind it. He presented his research last month in San Francisco at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting

Itamar was born in Queens. His parents are from Mexico, and Spanish is the first language spoken at home in New York City. His father is a physician specializing in hematology-oncology, and his mother is a professional educator. He also has a sister who’s an undergraduate at Syracuse University.

Itamar went to Cornell University, where he majored in biology. He’s always wanted to be a physician, and he feels the research component of his training will benefit him even though it will delay his MD timetable by a year.

“I really do like all the cutting-edge science and going in-depth in one subject,” he said.

Itamar will return to Upstate in the summer of 2016 to begin his third year of medical school at the Binghamton clinical campus.

“I can’t say enough about how happy I am at Upstate,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, but when I talk to friends at other medical schools, they can’t believe how strong the community is here.”

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Campus raffle raises $1,344 for Community Giving Campaign

SUNY Upstate

Upstate Student Government and the Campus Activities Governing Board teamed up to raise $1,344 for Upstate's Community Giving Campaign and Vera House.

Upstate Student Government and the Campus Activities Governing Board joined forces to raise $1,344 for Upstate’s Community Giving campaign.

The money will be divided between Upstate’s employee-student emergency fund and Vera House, a Syracuse agency dedicated to stopping domestic violence.

Student officers and the CAGB sold raffle tickets for an iPad; second-year medical student Whitney Kukol had the winning ticket at the Dec. 5 raffle during the comedy show at the CAB.

Medical student Nicole Cifra is president of Upstate Student Government, and Physician Assistant student Robin LeClerc serves as vice president for the College of Health Professions.

Front row of photo (left to right): Della Laveck (Campus Activities administrative assistant), Robin LeClerc, Marisa Bryan (College of Nursing), Nicole Cifra, Olesea Cojohari (College of Graduate Studies), Julie White, PhD, Dean of Student Affairs.

Back row: Ryan Schiedo (vice president, clubs and organizations), Christina Sutphen (former assistant director of campus activities), Matt Cortese (College of Medicine), Hassan Naqvi (USG treasurer), Chuck Simpson, MBA, Director of the College Union and Campus Activities.

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CNYMPH student project empowers Syracuse refugees

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson took on a daunting task for her capstone project in the CNY Master of Public Health program – coordinating a photography project with eight refugees, only one of whom had ever used a camera.

Rozylnn Jakes-Johnson SUNY Upstate

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson

Next month, those “New Americans” will show off their photos to the public during a reception at the Northside CYO in Syracuse. But this project is about much more than photography.

Rozlynn is following the PhotoVoice project model, designed to build skills and empower people in disadvantaged and marginalized populations and to influence policy makers to address the needs of those communities.

“Their perception matters. Their voice matters,” Rozlynn said of the people in her study. “Not just to me, but to the larger community.”

Rozlynn has taught English as a Second Language to adults in the Syracuse City School District since 2009. The participants in the PhotoVoice project are students in her classes. The eight in the photo project represent six different countries and native languages.

Most of them live on the North Side of Syracuse, where Rozlynn also works with the city’s refugees in two community gardens — places, she said, that are not so much about nutrition, but a means for New Americans to connect with each other and with the larger community.

The PhotoVoice project is an extension of the bonds created in the classroom, Rozlynn said. Her students, ranging from their 20s to their 50s, worked with each other on their photography. They spoke in English because they don’t know each other’s native languages.

In September, Rozlynn purchased point-and-shoot digital cameras online and met twice a week with the students. They discussed the project’s theme of social cohesion, which focused on community, connection and belonging — and Rozlynn gave a crash course in photography.

The students spent a week taking photos, with the idea of capturing representations of three elements – community, connection and belonging. The students were told not to photograph faces of any people, but to look for representative images.

SUNY Upstate

A photo taken by a participant in Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson's PhotoVoice project.

As an example of how an image can serve as a metaphor, Rozlynn showed them a photograph of a red scarf to represent dance, and then explained how the scarf represented dance. (Rozlynn competed in semi-professional ballroom dance competitions as a teenager.)

The students then had to choose five of their photos and assign each image to either Community, Connection or Belonging. Rozlynn then tape-recorded the students explaining each photo. She transcribed their responses, which will accompany the photos when they are on display.

“I’m humbled and grateful,” Rozlynn said. “I’m in a different capacity, almost like a role reversal of teacher and student. It’s wonderful to be part of a creative endeavor like this.”

Telisa Stewart, DrPH, Rozlynn’s mentor in the CNYMPH program, said Rozlynn’s project is a good example of community-based participatory research, a method of qualitative research that empowers the subjects and can give them something in return.

“New Americans are often secluded and isolated,” Dr. Stewart said. “They’ve often gone through extreme lifestyle changes in the U.S.”

Dr. Stewart said PhotoVoice projects are demanding, and Rozlynn has been up to the task.

“She has such passion – she goes way out of her way,” Dr. Stewart said. “Her personal energy for this population is incredible. PhotoVoice takes someone who will persevere. It’s so much work, and you have to let go of your control as a researcher. You don’t know what you’re going to get back.”

Rozlynn, whose findings will be analyzed qualitatively for her spring capstone project, said the rewards come when the students say things like, “When I’m with people, my heart feels open.”

The project has given the New Americans ways to connect, Rozlynn said. “It’s gratifying to know what I’m providing to them gives them an opportunity to shine. They’re so excited, and I’m so excited for them.”

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s CNYMPH Capstone Project

PhotoVoice exhibit featuring photography by Syracuse refugees from Nepal, Ethiopia, Iraq, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Bhutan.

Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015

6 to 7:30 p.m.

Northside CYO, 527 N. Salina St., Syracuse

The exhibit is free and open to the public, and will feature music and refreshments.


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