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Dear CUNY BA Community,

Welcome to the Spring 2021 semester! We are energized and looking forward to the new year, and we hope you are too. Current students: If you are interested in getting involved in the CUNY BA Student Leadership Council, or if you would like to contribute to a future issue of the CUNY BA Community newsletter, please send an email to the CUNY BA Fellows at


Kim Hartswick, Academic Director of CUNY BA

Warren Buffet has stated his best investment has been a lifelong acquisition of knowledge, not only for personal satisfaction but to pay it forward so that others may benefit from his wisdom. Another lifelong learner, Thomas W. Smith, who is the benefactor, for more than 25 years, of CUNY BA’s most prestigious academic scholarship, has always said his best investment has been supporting students in their pursuit of a college degree.

Several days ago we welcomed, at a virtual orientation, students for Spring 2021. This new cohort represents the beginning of the fiftieth year of CUNY BA and, at the same time, my final cohort, after fifteen years, as the Academic Director.

Since I was six years old I have spent my life as a student, professor, scholar, and administrator. In each of these roles my goals have remained the same: a lifelong pursuit of learning, teaching, and supporting others — whether in the classroom, in publications, or in my directorship of CUNY BA — in achieving their personal and professional goals.

The 2021 cohort, as all the others, stands on the shoulders of those who came before. They will soon be part of the more than 8,000 CUNY BA alumni, who are doing their part in making a more just, compassionate, safe, happy, and exciting place for themselves, their families, their communities and, indeed, the world. I am truly grateful in having played a part in their pursuit of a college degree and, regardless of where their journeys may lead, I hope everyone continues to be lifelong learners and teachers.


We are thrilled to announce our three new CUNY BA Communications Interns for the Spring 2021 semester. Please join us in welcoming them!

Minat Sherriff

--- Minat Sherriff is an undergraduate student at Brooklyn College, majoring in Communications and minoring in Television, Radio, and Emerging Media. Minat says: "I plan to do my best and give my best work as an intern for CUNY BA."

Phylicia Thomas

--- Phylicia Thomas is an aspiring visual director born in Jamaica and raised in Jamaica, Queens. She will graduate from Brooklyn College at the end of the semester with her B.A. in Communications (Visual & Media Studies) and a minor in Television, Radio, & Emerging Media. Outside of school, Phylicia spends her time freelancing as a creative director and brand consultant with clients across the globe.

George Ramirez

--- George Ramirez is a student at Brooklyn College majoring in Communication. He focuses on visual and media studies and has spent time working at the radio stations WKRB and WBCR. These experiences led him to an interest in video. In his time with CUNY BA, he hopes to develop additional skills. George tells us: "I’m excited to see what is in store for us here and I hope to meet some of you along the way."


On Monday, February 8, 2021, CUNY BA will begin accepting applications for the following scholarships:

- Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
- Memorial Scholarship
- Barbara Sproul Scholarship
- Anne Duncan Somsen Memorial Fund (for new students only)

Click here for more info and to apply. Please direct any questions to Applications are due by Monday, March 15, 2021 at 5pm.


Current students, did you know that you can earn up to 15 academic credits for knowledge and experience gained outside of a traditional classroom? To learn more about the life experience credit evaluation process, visit our website and consider registering for one of our Spring 2021 seminars:

- Wednesday, February 17: 2PM
- Tuesday, March 16: 3PM
- Wednesday, April 14: 12PM (noon)


The Humanity in Action Fellowship brings together international groups of current college and university students and recent graduates to explore important issues around liberal democracy, pluralism, human rights, and social justice. Fellows participate in a virtual group program and implement individualized Action Projects to promote democratic values and social justice in their own communities. Apply here by February 14, 2021.


--- Interested in graduate studies? Visit the Events and Workshops forum on the CUNY BA Community Site (in Blackboard) for information about events hosted by the CUNY Office of Graduate Studies in February.

--- Are you a current CUNY BA student looking for a faculty mentor? We can help! Join the CUNY BA Graduate Fellows and Advising Team for a workshop on finding a faculty mentor. There will be two opportunities to attend the workshop: February 18th at 2pm and February 24th at 5pm. Register here.

--- Our second annual Student Showcase will take place virtually on May 18, 2021. We look forward to amplifying the work of CUNY BA students, for whom this will be an opportunity to connect with the wider CUNY BA community, share the fruits of your hard work and intellectual passion, and place your research into conversation with your peers. Students, take the opportunity to present your research. Faculty mentors, please encourage your students to submit an application! The deadline is February 26. Apply here.


In this edition of CUNY BAnter, we introduce you to current CUNY BA student Victor Preuninger (Psychology and Philosophy of Mind, Hunter College '23).

Victor Preuninger

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a 38-year-old, first-time undergraduate who left middle school at age 9 and never went back. I spent years learning an eclectic mix of life-skills and pursuing personal intellectual interests. A couple of years ago I decided to challenge myself to go to college and get my degree. At home I have a rock star wife, a strong 16-year-old son, a charming 2-year-old son, an adorable five-month-old son, one loveable dog, and two scrumptious but somewhat devious cats.

What captured your attention about CUNY BA when you first heard about the program?

Above all, the flexibility to design one's own major and take classes offered across the CUNY system. I came into school with a diverse but fairly well-developed set of interests, yet the connective thread could not be defined by any traditional major. I had planned to attain multiple degrees in fields that most closely mapped my interests, but this would have entailed spending time on topics that didn't interest me. When I heard that CUNY BA would allow me to create my own interdisciplinary major, I was eager to pursue the opportunity.

What are your academic and/or professional goals?

My specific areas of interest are behavior and consciousness. Although most of what we understand about behavior pertains to either species-specific psychology or physiology, what we understand about consciousness lies on the border between them. There are important, unresolved philosophical issues in contemporary discussions around artificial intelligence, human consciousness, and ethics – I am pursuing a degree in cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind to help uncover them. In the future I hope my unique background will prepare me to serve as a cognitive behavioral therapist.

How does being a CUNY BA student contribute to your goals?

Having a faculty mentor and a CUNY advisor has been incredibly helpful. As a father of three boys, the youngest of whom is an infant with special needs, my life is full of complexities, all of which are compounded by the pandemic situation. Without the help of my mentor, Professor Justin Garson (Philosophy, Hunter College), and my advisor, Kate McPherson, I wouldn't have been able to get to this point in my academic career.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself!

I have a bunch of weird talents and acquired abilities. For example, I hold a blackbelt in Aikido, and as a competitive powerlifter I once deadlifted 605 lbs. I taught myself to juggle somewhat competently during the pandemic, and my whistling is the stuff of legend.

Are you interested in being featured in a future CUNY BAnter? Let us know at


Current Student Updates

Elizabeth Soto--- Elizabeth Soto (Biotechnology and Neurodegenerative Diseases, City College '21) recently founded the non-profit Together, For Others. Its vision and mission are to provide patient-friendly educational resources to Hispanic/Latinx patients suffering from neurodegenerative disease. The organization advocates for better inclusion of the Hispanic/Latinx community into current and future interdisciplinary research studying neurodegenerative disease, closing the gap between clinical research, basic research, and accessible education.
Andrea-Maria Black--- Andrea-Maria Black (Music and Media Performance Through Technology, Brooklyn College ‘21), recipient of the Thomas W. Smith Award, appeared in and produced "Angels," a music video dedicated to frontline workers and those who lost loved ones due to the Covid-19 pandemic. "Angels" can be viewed online here.
Denise Penizzotto

--- Denise Penizzotto (Artistic Dimensions of Religion, Hunter College ‘21) participated in Collective Pause, the fall exhibit of the Openings interdisciplinary artists' collective. For the exhibition, artists were invited to paint ephemeral murals and display them on the fence outside the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in midtown Manhattan, leaving the art exposed and vulnerable to the elements and the city. Denise's contribution to the exhibition, titled "The Blinding Moment of Chaos," can be viewed on the Openings website here.

Faculty Updates

--- Ravi Kalia (History, City College) has recently published "A Tale of Two Steel Cities: Jamshedpur and Pittsburgh," in Jamshedpur: 100 Years and Counting (The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, 2020). Professor Kalia's edited book, Pakistan's Political Labyrinths: Military, Society and Terror, was published by Routledge UK in 2017.

Alumni Updates

Vasudevan Panicker--- Vasudevan Panicker (Contemporary Music Studies, Queens College '10) is a full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) candidate at the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley. After graduating from CUNY BA, Vasu went on to pursue graduate piano performance and music composition studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. With plans to forge a career as a creative freelance professional, he ultimately dedicated his career to building and leading a unique contemporary music performance and composition program for teenagers: Face the Music at Kaufman Music Center. Under his leadership, Face the Music achieved critical success with its NYC public concert series and expanded into new music education programs. Vasu credits CUNY BA with urging him to question assumptions about what it means to build a meaningful and impactful career. Now, Vasu plans to use his business experience to synthesize connections across the public and for-profit sectors.
Siera Whitaker

--- Since graduating with magna cum laude honors last January, Siera Whitaker (Business Content Strategy, City Tech ‘20) has launched her own start-up, Affirm Noire. Affirm Noire is a digitally-driven enterprise affirming the self-care, culture, creativity, and distinctive stories of indie and underground creatives of color. The company will launch its SELF-CARE = SELF-LOVE Collection, a line of eco-friendly and unisex self-care merchandise tailored to BIPOC and the LGBTQIA+ community, next year. Siera has also recently published a personal narrative, "Sometimes It Takes A Letter," in midnight & indigo.

Michael Hattem--- After serving two years as a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Knox College, Michael Hattem (History of Colonial and Revolutionary America, City College '17) recently accepted a permanent position as Associate Director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools. His book, Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution, was published by Yale University Press in July.

Do you have an update to share with the CUNY BA Community in a future issue of our newsletter? Let us know here! And if you're interested in contributing an article, interview, or any other feature to a future newsletter, send an email to the CUNY BA fellows at

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