Out of the lab and onto the dance floor for this pair

SUNY Upstate

Upstate students Andrew Banas and Kayla Crouch prepare for Saturday's ballroom dancing competition at Binghamton University.

Upstate students Andrew Banas and Kayla Crouch have less than five minutes to prove themselves to a panel of judges this weekend at Binghamton University.

But they’re not presenting a research poster or giving a talk about their discoveries in the lab.

Kayla and Andrew have to show their skills on the dance floor. They’re competing in Dance Revolution 2015, sponsored by the Binghamton University Ballroom Dance Association.

Kayla is a first-year student in the Medical Technology bachelor’s degree program, and Andrew is a first-year PhD student in the College of Graduate Studies.

At rehearsals in a Weiskotten classroom, they go through several dances while YouTube selections play in the background – anything from Henry Mancini to Frank Sinatra to Van Morrison.  They discuss steps, turns, posture and form.

This is Andrew’s first competition, Kayla’s third. Since they’re relatively inexperienced, they’ll be in the “Newcomer” division and perform at least three 90-second dances in the “American Smooth” category. They’ll waltz, tango and foxtrot and could advance to further rounds in any of those dances.

SUNY Upstate ballroom

Kayla Crouch and Andrew Banas

They won’t know the specific songs until they step onto the dance floor, but they’ll know the beat. “It could be Frank Sinatra or Katy Perry,” Andrew quipped at a recent rehearsal.

The pair connected last semester when Andrew put out the word that he wanted to start a ballroom dancing club on campus. He received a lot of responses, but not enough to gain momentum for a club – yet. Kayla suggested entering Saturday’s competition, and the pair began practicing.

Andrew credits his older sister Elizabeth for his interest in ballroom dancing.

“She was moving away to college and I was still at home (in Michigan) and it became a way for us to still stay connected,” Andrew said. “Her interest remains, and we still dance at social events when I am home for the holidays.”

Kayla started dancing salsa at age 8 while growing up in the Bronx. As a student at Binghamton University, she joined a Latin dance team and a ballroom dancing club.

“You can’t have all work and no play,” Kayla said. “Dancing is definitely my time to relax and have fun, whether it be practicing for a competition or a night out for social dancing.”

Andrew said dancing provides a nice change of pace from the laboratory. “A change from recording data to moving to music creates a contrast that helps keep me going in my academic pursuits,” said Andrew, now studying Cell & Developmental Biology.

Kayla and Andrew plan to continue after the competition, when they’ll work on getting the ballroom dancing club off the ground. They’re part of a group planning to practice together on campus and take weekly lessons at a Syracuse studio.

“Based on a survey I sent out last year, there were about 70 people interested,” Andrew said. “I am not sure of how regular the attendance would be, but based on the response I estimate I could have anywhere upwards of 10 people at any given time in attendance. For the downtown lessons, I have 30 people (Kayla and myself included) signed up.”

One of them, first-year graduate student Mike Jaskolka, shows up occasionally to watch Andrew and Kayla practice. Mike has no plans to enter competitions, but just wants to do something different to take a break from studying and working in the lab.

He’s never done any ballroom dancing, but would like to have some skills on the dance floor. “I’d like to get to the point where I don’t have two left feet,” he said.


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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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