School Ties

Rescue's Routine for this Hudson Hero

Rodriguez, far left, and in the water near downed plane with partner Michael Delaney.

As a member of the NewYork City Police Department's Harbor Unit, Det. Robert Rodriguez is used to saving lives. But who expects to save people from a commercial plane that plops out of the sky into the Hudson River?

On Jan. 15, 2009, with 155 people aboard, US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the icy waters of the Hudson after both engines lost power following a collision with birds.

Rodriguez, 37, was at the harbor unit's Floyd Bennett Field headquarters in Brooklyn when the rescue bell went off around 3:35 p.m. He dashed towards the unit's helicopters.

"They said it was a plane in the river so I knew that we had a big job ahead of us," Rodriguez, a graduate of Kingsborough Community College, says. "All I kept thinking was, 'We need to get to the plane, we need to get to the plane.'"

Seven minutes later, Rodriguez and his partner, Det. Michael Delaney, spotted people on and near the wing of the plane, who were trying to get to the ferries that had sped to the scene along with U.S. Coast Guard, and police and fire department boats.

One woman was clinging to the side of a ferry. Rodriguez and Delaney jumped out of the helicopter and swam toward her. After rescuing her, they spotted a woman who had fallen off a rescue raft.

"The two women were in the water for five to 10 minutes at that point and not aware of their settings," Rodriguez says. "They both screamed, 'Please help me!' and the one hanging on to the ferry was afraid that she was going to get run over by the ferries. But we assured her and helped both of them out of the freezing water."

Rodriguez says it was the biggest and most satisfying job he's had in his eight years with the NYPD.

A native New Yorker, Rodriguez always loved the water. "My playground was basically the beach," he says. Yet despite that pull, initially he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. But he knew he needed an education.

"My mother always stressed that education is important," Rodriguez says. "She used to take me to her alma mater, LaGuardia Community College, so that I could get into the college environment."

Rodriguez went to LaGuardia and Baruch College to study finance before he realized his love for the water was too great. He set his sights on the NYPD, with the goal of getting into its elite harbor unit. He enrolled at KCC to earn a degree in Maritime Technology.

Rodriguez wasn't the only KCC graduate on the job that day. Police Officer Brian Brody was distributing rescue equipment and John Kodetsky worked security at the aircraft the next day.

Following KCC, Rodriguez graduated from the New York City Police Academy and spent four years as a street cop in East Harlem's 23rd Precinct, before finally joining the NYPD's scuba team.

As part of the team he does regular security dives, including counter-terrorist bomb sweeps, when he's not on rescue missions. The work can be dangerous but, Rodriguez says, "I don't think of myself as a hero. This is my job and I know I'm the only one that can do it."

Study LinksTV Food Ads, Obese Kids

Television commercials for fast food restaurants have contributed to the staggering obesity rate among American children, according to a groundbreaking study co-authored by a CUNY professor.

"We combined data on kids' weight with both the number of hours they spent watching TV in a week and the number of fast-food restaurant ads that were aired in their area," says Michael Grossman, distinguished professor of economics at the Graduate Center. "The kids who watched these ads were more likely to be overweight."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of America's children are obese or overweight. They spend more time than normal-weight children watching TV and playing video games instead of getting physical exercise, according to the centers.

Grossman has been a research associate and program director of health economics research for the National Bureau of Economic Research at the Graduate Center since 1972. His study "Fast Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and its Influence on Childhood Obesity" was funded by a federal grant and published in the November 2008 issue of The Journal of Law & Economics.

Although it has long been suspected that too much television contributes to childhood obesity, Grossman's is the first national study to show that fast-food commercials also play a part by getting children to buy the fast food.

The study was based on several years of government data dating from the late 1990s that included in-person interviews with thousands of families. It also found that a ban on fast-food ads would reduce the number of obese children by 18 percent and decrease the number of obese older children by 15 percent.

Iraqi Journalist's Base Now NY

Alaa Majeed, reporting from Times Square.

It was only two years ago that journalist Alaa Majeed was one of five women who were dodging bullets and gingerly navigating around land mines to report on the Iraq war for the McClatchy newspaper company's Baghdad bureau

Covering a war is never easy. Majeed recalls a demonstration by Mahdi Army supporters during the 2004 Battle of Najaf, where many were killed in the crossfire. Witnessing countless such shootings made it hard for her to do her job. "These are people that look like your brother, your sister, yet you watch their blood being shed," says Majeed, who is a student at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism. "A journalist's duty is to report objectively - it was impossible.

But Majeed persevered, and she and her colleagues received the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2007

Born and raised in Baghdad, Majeed came from a middle-class family and is the oldest of seven children. She earned a degree in English at Al-Mustansiriya University in 1998

"I wanted to use English to travel, not to become a journalist. Journalism was not on my agenda," Majeed says. But a few months after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, she found herself covering the war

It began when she volunteered for a group that sheltered children who had lost their parents or had become disabled during the war. There she met a European journalist who was writing about the group. "I was translating for the journalist and became very interested in the field.

Majeed spent a year translating for the McClatchy newspapers, and when it became too difficult for foreign journalists to move around in Iraq, she was promoted to reporter

Now living in the Bronx in a one-bedroom apartment with her husband and two young sons, Majeed is the graduate school's second International Journalist in Residence. The fellowship was created by the CUNY Journalism School and the Committee to Protect Journalists to establish links between the American journalism community and international journalists forced to leave their countries

"I am getting a lot of experience here and a lot of skills that I'm very proud of," she says. "The courses and the professors are really some of the greatest.

She also loves the freedom of being able to socialize with friends without worrying about the dangers of war

With all that she's accomplished, Majeed doesn't know what her future holds. But she does have one hope that is common to many New Yorkers: "I just want a two bedroom apartment," she says.

It's the Look, Not Taste that Counts

Gold medalists Louise Hoffman and Jean Claude with their team trophy. At left, abstract sugar sculpture entry.

In the world of culinary art - emphasis on art - the Marc Sarrazin Trophy is akin to a Pulitzer Prize or perhaps an Oscar. The award is bestowed on the best overall entry at the Salon of Culinary Art, conducted annually by the Société Culinaire Philanthropique, an organization started by French chefs in America in 1865

In this culinary competition, it's not about how the food tastes but how it looks. And over the last half-dozen years, it has boiled down to a duel between The Culinary Institute of America and the less celebrated but perhaps hungrier New York City College of Technology. City Tech took the trophy in 2008, its third triumph over the CIA in five years, with a table of visually arresting culinary offerings.

At one end was the savory: dishes such as a duck leg galantine with orange parfumé pistachios and dry cherries. At the other end was the sweet: an abstract sugar sculpture based on Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. It was "a complete buffet where you kind of go back to the old rules, the way it was in the 1800s," says Louise Hoffman, one of the City Tech team's faculty coaches (and an individual winner for a piece of "dough sculpture.")

"It doesn't matter if it tastes bland," says Jean Claude, another City Tech faculty coach. "The focus is on the appearance. It needs to be presented as a showpiece."

The entries must be as creative and elaborate as possible while also paying serious respect to the classical French techniques that the Société Culinaire is pledged to preserve. So the prep work starts before anyone enters the kitchen - with research. "It has to be a technique that was used 150 years ago," says Claude. To win over the judges, "you must make the case for authenticity."

After deciding on Times Square as their theme for the 2008 competition, the City Tech pastry arts students took photographs and made sketches then went back to Brooklyn and dreamed up pieces such as a New Year's Eve cake featuring a top hat made from sugar that they heated and pulled as if blowing glass.

Traditionally, decorative presentations are the work of a garde manger, "keeper of the food" or pantry manager. For the students, though, today's world will not be so elegant: a modern garde manger usually is in charge of the salad. "They'll never do any of this again," says Hoffman, but they will be better chefs for the experience. "Garde manger is all about exactitude and orientation to detail."

In kitchens of every level, that will never go out of style.

Finding Harmony in Dual Careers

Violinist Daniel Phillips took his first bow at age 2.

Daniel Phillips was 2 years old when he received his first violin. It was a wooden toy made by his grandfather, a luthier. For Phillips, professor of violin at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, it marked the beginning of a successful career in classical music.

"Until I went to nursery school, everyone I knew played an instrument," says Phillips, who in 1987, along with his brother Todd Phillips founded the Orion String Quartet, one of the most sought-after ensembles in the United States. "Our home was a music conservatory."

Over the years, the Orion earned an enviable reputation for its interpretations of Beethoven's string quartets and recently recorded the complete quartets, a collection of eight CDs, for KOCH International Classics. The final installment of the Beethoven quartets is slated for release this year.

"Beethoven's quartets are the backbone of our repertoire," says Phillips, who also has performed as a soloist with many of the country's leading symphonies and toured and recorded in a string quartet for SONY, with Yo-Yo Ma, Gidon Kremer and Kim Kashkashian. "It's a culminating goal for a quartet," he says.

This season, the group will perform in England, Taiwan, South Korea and Norway. Philips hopes the Orion will be able to record the quartets of Bela Bartok, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

Each year the Orion spends nearly 80 days on the road, and serves as Quartet-in-Residence at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and New York's Mannes College. As does Phillips, the other members of the Orion also enjoy careers in teaching.

"When you've amassed what you know, it's a great responsibility to pass it on," says Phillips, who's been teaching at Queens College since 1989. "When you teach, you tend to be more clear to yourself because you have to be clear to your students."

Phillips is particularly clear when it comes to advising his students about music. "You should only pursue it in a serious way if you really don't want to do anything [else]," he says. "If you are interested, for instance, in medicine, keep music as your cherished part of life. If you choose music as your career, the work itself needs to consume your interests. It's a hobby, it's your professional career, it even engages you on a physical level, like being an athlete."

CUNY Reaches Out to Mexican Immigrants

From left: Hershenson, Consulate General of Mexico Ruben Beltran Guerrero, community activist Joel Magallan.

Quietly, as if tiptoeing into a new home, Mexicans have been establishing themselves as a presence in New York City.

Today, in a population explosion that has occurred largely off the radar, there are some 290,000

Mexicans living in New York City.

If demographic trends continue Mexicans will surpass Puerto Ricans to become the second largest Latin national group behind Dominicans in 2022, according to the University's Latino Data Project.

The University has distinguished itself among public institutions by reaching out early to the Mexican community.

Four years ago, Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Jay Hershenson chaired a task force aimed at finding ways to strengthen the educational opportunities for the new immigrants. Since many move to the U.S. as unskilled migrants with little education, Hershenson worried their growing numbers would result in an "educational catastrophe."

In collaboration with the Consulate General of Mexico, the task force created several initiatives.  These include dropout prevention sessions, community leadership programs designed for Baruch College students to assist staff and volunteers in community- based Mexican organizations and CUNY College fairs co-sponsored by prominent community organizations where potential students also learn about financial aid, scholarships and citizenship services.

The University has created a Spanish website with information about the colleges and sent mobile Mexican Consulate units to some campuses. And for large number of immigrants working in the food service industry, the New York City College of Technology is encouraging study of management and business ownership in the hospitality fields.

The Little Company that Could

Park Bench group with leader Michael Lissauer, third from left.

It's not easy to find an internship in the corporate world right now so Haider Mehmood, a business major at Baruch College, feels pretty lucky he landed a spot at the Park Bench Marketing Group.

At Park Bench, he's promoting Helix, a new sport fashion watch made by a subsidiary of Timex. And he didn't have to go to an office building for the experience.

Park Bench is a Baruch-based marketing group created and led by professor Michael Lissauer, former executive vice president of marketing and business strategy for Business Wire. Mehmood's office is a computer workspace in the marketing lab at the college library.

"I'm getting real-world experience," says Mehmood, who along with four other students is designing a low-cost viral marketing and Web campaign that would draw potential customers to the Helix website. "It's a multimillion-dollar corporation and we're learning a lot by working in a corporate environment. I'm making lots of contacts and I'll know which channels to take when I'm ready to promote my own business."

Nine undergraduate and three graduate students make up Park Bench, and they work closely with

Lissauer and Kapil Bawa, professor and chair of the marketing and international business department at Baruch, and David Luna, associate professor of marketing, on a variety of marketing campaigns.

Lissauer, who retired from Business Wire in 2007, established Park Bench last year to help students get real-world marketing experience. He picked the name to honor Bernard Baruch, financier, statesman and the college's alumnus, who spent a lot of time thinking and discussing government affairs on benches in parks in Washington and New York. Lissauer is also a member of the Executives on Campus program at Baruch, a one-on-one mentoring program, and says he's doing it all because he wants to give back.

"The interaction with students keeps you young," says Lissauer. "They are hard working, focused and they don't think the world is given to them."

The group's next big project focuses on creating a public relations campaign for "We are New York," a half-hour TV show aimed at immigrant families. The nine-episode series, scheduled to premiere on Channel 25 in late 2009, was designed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office and CUNY.  It demonstrates how viewers can access vital city services and other helpful resources. The group plans toget the word out through the city's ethnic newspapers and during ethnic parades and local street fairs.

"This is a little company and the key is to sustain it by getting more projects and by attracting new students," says Lissauer. "We're doing a big push at the school to get more students. It's a real thing."

A New Spin on Local Reporting

Student reporter Mick Reicher, center, and the Times' Andy Newman talk with local resident Karen Tappin Anderson about Fort Greene.

It's no secret that the business of journalism is in turmoil. Newspapers are closing across the country, and news executives are brainstorming to try to figure out how to provide information on the Web and still make money.

Now CUNY, partnered with The New York Times, is trying out a new Web-based model for community coverage. The pilot program - The Local - will have Times reporters and students from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism covering local news while also teaching residents the basics of reporting and the use of interactive media.

Residents will be able to post news stories and contribute community information including creative work, real estate information, restaurant reviews and volunteer opportunities.

Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of interactive journalism program at CUNY's Journalism School, says the "hyperlocal" model is the future. "News will be created through collaborative networks that are part of their communities, with journalists and community members working together and possibly expanding the reach of news," he says.

The program has launched in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood with plans to expand to Clinton Hill in Brooklyn and three communities in New Jersey - Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange.

The Local brings together the journalism school's ongoing New York Hyperlocal News Project and reporters and editors at the Times who are trying to engage their readers in new ways.

"We thought it would be an interesting idea and that it would be a good challenge for both the Times and CUNY to figure out how to work together" said Jim Schachter, editor for digital initiatives at the Times.

The reporters will be covering the everyday life of the communities, including crime, school issues, government services and transportation. "At CUNY, we are training every student in the skills of all media and are also preparing them for new roles as journalists - aggregators, curators, organizers, even educators, " says Jarvis, who blogs about media and news at

He also hopes to get students from Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business partnered with the Times to figure out how to make The Local sustainable with ad revenue.