Empowering Her Students to Build Cultural, Linguistic, and Geographical Capital
They were birdwatching at Oakland Lake—Dr. Counihan and her students that is.
“You’d be amazed at the variety of wildlife there, water birds included. In just one afternoon we spotted mallards, wood ducks, northern shovelers, swans and geese.”
Dr. Counihan explained that she and her colleagues Susan Lago, composition and literature, and Dr. Robert McAlear, writing and literature, infused the curriculum with nature walks to take place three times per semester.
“This is a valuable resource that goes beneath the surface of a nice walk. Our students are learning to identify small details within different species as well as the value of peer-to-peer experiences in a setting away from everyday stimulants such as traffic noise. They combine their experiences with research, reading articles in outlets such as The New York Times, which is an open educational resource for all CUNY students, on the proven links between good mental health, sharpened cognition and communing with nature.”
Dr. Counihan offers enriched experiences inside as well.
She launched the Welcome Read in fall 2021 in partnership with English professors Sybil White and Ilse Schrynemakers, and Bonnie Flaherty, CUNY Start. The Welcome Read is for first semester students in Accelerated Learning Program (English 101), CLIP, ESL, and CUNY Start. Participants read a selected book and participate in related activities.
The program launched with March: Book One, March: Book Two and March: Book Three, a first-hand account of the life and struggles of the late civil rights activist and former United States Representative, John Lewis. The graphic novel trilogy was co-written by author Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell who guest appeared on a special zoom event attended by students and faculty. The last of the series: March: Book Three will take place in fall 2023.
“Students were stunned by this book, by their discovery of this legendary figure who blazed a trail for social activists today, learning how he became a leader in the civil rights movement starting when he was a college student, just as they are.” Counihan expressed her gratitude to the Kupferberg Holocaust Center for their support to help make the Welcome Read possible.
In Fall 2021, students went on a pilgrimage to Manhattan when the trio of statues of John Lewis, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were unveiled in Union Square.
“I encourage students to take advantage of all of New York City -- to empower themselves and build connections with other people through cultural, linguistic and geographical capital.”
Counihan reflected, “What I love about teaching is its serendipitous nature. It’s a joy to see students’ eyes light up and guest speakers, instructors and peers get inspired by our students and by one another.”
Her love for teaching at Queensborough goes back 20 years. She has lived on the Lower East Side in Manhattan since 1992 and regularly commutes 2 hours each way from her apartment to campus.
“I may originally be from New Jersey, but I embrace being a New Yorker. I take advantage of all the City has to offer—Broadway, Galleries, Dance performances. There is also a wonderful bakery in my neighborhood that’s been there even longer than me!”
Computer Systems Manager
Office of Information Technology
Ralph began his career at Queensborough 26 years ago. (Monday, June 24, 1996, to be exact).
He clearly remembers this exact date because it marked major transitions in his life, both professionally and personally.
“It was a trifecta of events. I had left my job at Hunter College when I was hired at Queensborough and hoped for a short break before starting but was asked to change plans to meet the timing of the fiscal year. So, I hit the ground running at Queensborough while we were in the process of closing on our new home. I had just caught my breath when my wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child, Jessie.”
If this were a non-fiction short story about Ralph, that would have been the introduction.
In the Beginning
“Back in the 90’s, Queensborough had virtually no computers. Our job at that time was to help the College computerize all the administrative offices from mainframe to desktop computers. It was an enormous undertaking for the whole team. I was also the training liaison involved in the changeover to CUNYfirst—the ticketing system and portal landing page. I was a resource for the major pillars of CUNYfirst.”
No Looking Back
“COVID of course turned everything upside down for all of us but there are no words to describe the deep pride I have for our team during this challenging, uncertain time. They worked long hours—morning to night—making sure staff and faculty had laptops during remote work. Our team also distributed laptops to students who had no access to technology at home. It was an enormous undertaking during and after COVID when people returned for ‘in person’.”
“I did this in conjunction with an incredible team,” He laughed. “I’m just the traffic cop. I bring things together correctly and make sure the process is seamless.”
During this period, George Sherman retired, and Ralph stepped in as Administrator in Charge.
“We are a forward-facing office. I need to set the tone for a positive student experience, one that shows empathy and compassion. It's not just technical needs. It’s the emotional need to acknowledge and be attuned in order to provide a full service. The pandemic has caused these needs to multiply. Stress at home, job loss, or learning issues. We need to lend an ear.”
Ralph described a recent connection with a young male student who asked for help logging into CUNYfirst.
“It was nearing the end of the semester, so I knew he wasn’t looking to register for classes, so I asked, ‘Why are you looking to log into CUNYfirst’?”
He said, “My work schedule has changed, and I need to drop classes. I tried to switch but everything is closed.” I suggested he go to those departments and tell them what his conflict is and ask whether a professor can overtally him in classes that are available.”
“The student didn’t know this option existed. It’s important to ask WHY.”
“It’s the same with directions. Sometimes students look uncertain or lost. I don’t just give directions; I ask why they need to go to a certain building and then take them to the right people who give them the information and support they need. And there are so many wonderful people all over campus standing by to help students—they are all C.A.R.E.S. Award winners to me.”
A typical day for Ralph starts around 7AM.
“I go through email, set the schedule, respond to people with technical issues, or problems, or requests. Then I make my rounds saying hello to everyone in the department. Then it's off to meetings, and I help cover when we are short-staffed and take calls. It’s a full day!”
“I'm Mr. Coffee. Once I’m charged with caffeine, I head over to work in my garden. Over the years it’s really been a source of joy to me. The flower beds are prairie-like. I even encourage weeds such as clover and dandelions to grow because they are welcoming to bees and butterflies. My philosophy is to let nature do her work. If the pests get out of hand, I let the lady bugs loose on them!