Honors Testimonials: CUNY Macaulay Honors College

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.

Born in Kolkata, India, Raj Basak (’15) spent his childhood in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. While he is a physics major, he chose to study photography in Italy as a study abroad option through the Macaulay Opportunities Fund and to volunteer on a sustainable farm in Oregon. The Horace W. Goldsmith Scholar is also a pianist and vocalist in the Macaulay Musicians’ Collective, a jazz-pop ensemble. This creative side fits squarely with Raj. As a high school senior, he performed at the International Fringe Theater Festival in Scotland.

Raj speaks five languages: English, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and the universal language of music. “Academically, I am most proud of co-authoring two peer-reviewed scientific articles as an undergraduate,” he says. “Outside of academics, I am very proud of founding the Macaulay Triplets and making it a self-sustaining musical ensemble.”

The best part of my Macaulay experience has been interacting with a truly remarkable group of students who are incredibly intelligent, passionate and well rounded.
Both of Raj’s parents are physicians and while at Macaulay, Raj worked at the Columbia Medical Center in an Immunobiology Lab where he studied malarial drug resistance. To further his studies, he also interned in a Biochemistry lab at Brown University for a summer.

At City College of New York, he was awarded the Ward Medal in Physics. While he immersed himself in science, as a Hertog Scholar, Raj also dove deep into classical works of literature and explored critical questions related to culture, politics, and society.
Yet, as Raj says, “although I have thoroughly enjoyed all my classes, research and New York City, the best part of my Macaulay experience has been interacting with a truly remarkable group of students who are incredibly intelligent, passionate and well rounded.” He adds, “getting to know these students and developing lasting friendships with them has been a gift

Originally from Quito, Ecuador, Paula Garcia-Salazar (’15) came to the United States when she was just seven years old. Now she has turned her experience navigating the U.S. immigration system into a career.

Her four years at Macaulay, including her participation in CCNY ‘s honors pre-law program as a Skadden Fellow, set in motion Paula’s vision of becoming an international human rights lawyer. Proudly, she will be the first in her immediate family to become an attorney.

To lay the groundwork for her legal career, Paula credits the Macaulay Opportunities Fund with giving her the ability to pursue an unpaid internship at the non-profit Human Rights First. While there she helped asylum seekers and other immigrants traverse the challenges and barriers of immigration law. After graduation, she will begin a two-year fellowship at Immigrant Justice Corps providing direct legal services to underserved immigrant communities in New York City.

Paula’s vision of human rights doesn’t stop at immigration. She has been actively involved in organizing with labor unions and has interned at Housing Works and the Roosevelt Institute. While at the Institute, she worked on the book Women and Girls Rising: Progress and Resistance Around the World.

While Paula has made a difference in social justice, she has also flexed her muscles on the Quidditch field. Calling them her “second family,” she says she has been on the team since her first year. She is a Horace W. Goldsmith Scholar and Lisa Goldberg/Revson Scholar.

Jake Levin ‘16, Macaulay Honor College at Brooklyn College–Simply put, I would not be where I am today without Macaulay Honors College. As a member of the class of 2016 at Brooklyn College and as one of the few students from out of state, my experience has been unique and rewarding. As any New York City student knows, you are afforded many wonderful opportunities to complete valuable internship, research, and work experiences while you take classes. These opportunities were encouraged and augmented by Macaulay, an institution truly in and of the city.

From specialized seminars focused on different aspects of New York City to the rapidly growing number of intimate courses offered only to Macaulay students, the term “hidden gem” could not be more applicable. The advising is personalized and unique, with staff placed on your home campus to facilitate cross-campus communication and mitigate potential issues. CUNY’s resources are vast, and as a Macaulay Honors College student I was better positioned to take advantage of them.

Like many other universities, students are required to complete a study abroad, internship, or undergraduate research experience before graduation. Unlike many other schools, Macaulay provides students with the direct financial support to make those experiences a reality. The Opportunities Fund made it financially feasible for me to study abroad and conduct independent research in Havana, Cuba. As the founder of a large cross-campus initiative, I was encouraged and supported by the dedicated student affairs staff who often work long hours to ensure students’ needs are met.

I am the recipient of a Harry S. Truman scholarship, an award I would not have won without the advising apparatus Macaulay has developed to assist students with personal statements and applications. I have never once heard of a student idea or initiative being denied, no matter how ludicrous. In fact, the more “out there” the idea the more likely you’ll receive Macaulay support.  Being a Macaulay Honors College student means finding a close-knit family in a system of 500,000; the community, accessibility of high-level administrators, high-caliber academics, location, and opportunities for personal and professional growth make Macaulay unbeatable.

Sara Louie ‘17, Macaulay Honors College at City College- I currently serve as the president of the Macaulay Scholars Council, Macaulay’s undergraduate student government. Macaulay provides a challenging, nurturing environment for students to grow as scholars and leaders. For me, that’s meant funding study abroad through the Opportunities Fund which challenged my understanding of the global water crisis (my academic focus) and included an honors course in the Dominican Republic that altered my intended academic major.

Macaulay has also placed me into an incredible network of passionate, driven students from a wide range of fields. It’s inspiring and motivating to work with my classmates in our New York City honors seminars and clubs. Being part of the Scholars Council has allowed me to follow my passion in helping others, while also getting to know the incredible staff at Macaulay. I’ve seen how they truly care for students and how hard they work to develop new opportunities for us.

I attribute much of my success to my advisors who truly take the time to know students well so that they can offer tailored opportunities and advice, both personally and academically. Because my advisor is not tied to a specific major and has been with me since freshmen year, she has given me very open-minded information, support, and advice about my majors and extracurricular activities. With her help, I’ve been able to devise two independent majors in sustainable development and digital media. The latter, I discovered after interning in the field, an experience supported by a Macaulay specific grant.

Also, Macaulay’s full tuition scholarship has allowed me to explore my interests without financial burden, including covering the costs of summer and winter courses. I cannot imagine a better way to study at a large urban university system, while also enjoying the close-knit community of a small college.

Kelly L. O’Donnell–I have been a part of the Macaulay community since 2013 and it has been a real privilege to be able to teach and interact with our wonderful Macaulay students. In the classroom, Macaulay students always fully engaged with whatever task is put before them. They are determined to explore every angle of a problem and come up with creative solutions and their genuine curiosity is inspiring. I can come into class and make reference to a discover in the plant world that is not related to that day’s content and by the next class meeting at least one of my students will have researched the finding and come in with questions to discuss. I will often have multiple students stay after class to ask insightful scientific questions and discuss how these topics relate to their fields of interest. It is truly a delight to be in the classroom with them.

Because our students are of such high quality and are so willing to be engaged, Macaulay Honors College is a great place to develop new and innovative educational programs. One such program, Science Forward, allows our students to explore multiple fields of science with an eye to the skills that all scientists use when they do their work. This curriculum has our students fully engaged in the scientific process from collecting data at our BioBlitz (a 24-hour species diversity survey of a park in NYC) to asking questions of those data and performing data analysis to presenting their original results at a college-wide scientific poster conference. It is always rewarding to watch my students interact with each other and other faculty as they present their excellent work.