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Students in a lab

Our Programs

Undergraduate Research Program

Real-world research opportunities

Junior Scholars Program

Professional development, advising, tutoring, career exploration & more

Transfer Together Program

Transfer seamlessly from CUNY community colleges

Our Impact

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800+
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Undergraduates who participated in PRISM
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90+
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PRISM alumni admitted to graduate programs in STEM, health & more
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4x
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Increase in STEM graduates since 2006
Daniel Aguilar
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Daniel Aguilar
Daniel Aguilar ’23 Secures Mount Sinai Research Job

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Toxicology
Program: PRISM
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Career aspiration: Toxicologist

“My goal is to be a toxicologist whose work helps create change—promoting equity, shaping policy, and increasing awareness on the harmful effects of drugs and chemicals. After interning at a research lab at Mount Sinai Hospital, I was excited to be offered a full-time position at Mount Sinai where I’ll continue to conduct research that advances environmental medicine and public health.”

Why John Jay?
I’ve always enjoyed the sciences, and, like many of my peers, I was a fan of shows like CSI. Because of that, I was drawn to John Jay and its STEM programming. Once I was at the College, I joined PRISM, and through the research projects I conducted, I grew to really like toxicology and decided to major in the field.

How did PRISM make your John Jay experience fulfilling?
Being in PRISM opened my eyes to what was possible with research. PRISM not only reinforced what I was learning in the classroom, it also put me in spaces where I could meet new people, work closely with professors, conduct exciting research, present my work, and find supportive mentors like Dr. Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín and Dr. Marta Concheiro-Guisan. While at John Jay, Dr. Ed and Dr. Concheiro-Guisan guided me, shared their expertise, and encouraged me to strive for more.

How did your internships affirm your career aspirations?
Before interning at Mount Sinai, I interned as a Tri-Institutional Minority Society Summer Scholars Research Program Scholar at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and at Alliance Laboratories, a clinical toxicology lab. All these internships gave me valuable hands-on experience in the sciences. I was able to conduct biomedical research, do forensic work, and see science’s impact on society.

How did your research with Dr. Marta Concheiro-Guisan enhance your education?
Getting to research with Dr. Concheiro-Guisan has been a top-quality experience. As a first-generation college student, being mentored by someone who has worked in a government agency, earned her Ph.D., has a pharmaceutical degree, and is also supportive of her students has been very motivating.

We studied synthetic enzymes and the breakdown of opioids in urine to improve testing detection. Our hope is that a better screening test could enable doctors to more effectively monitor a patient’s use of opioids. Given the current opioid crisis, I was excited to present this project at the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program Regional competition and thrilled when I won first prize.

In 10 years, where do you see yourself?
After earning my Ph.D., I’d like to be working in toxicology at a public health institution, medical school, or pharmaceutical company. I also want to be a mentor and resource to future STEM students. Helping people—especially students of color—is really important to me.

Finish this sentence: Because of John Jay…
I can proudly and confidently call myself a scientist. I didn’t feel comfortable saying that a few years ago, but after the research experience I’ve gained at John Jay, there’s no doubt that I am a scientist.

 

Daniel Aguilar
Daniel Aguilar ’23 Secures Mount Sinai Research Job
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Tyra Volney
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Tyra Volney
Tyra Volney ’23: Hands-On Research Points to MA & Scholarship

Major/Degree: Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
Concentration: Criminalistics
Programs: PRISM, CUNY Justice Academy, Math and Science Resource Center (MSRC)
Hometown: Castries, Saint Lucia
Career aspiration: FBI Forensic Examiner

“My dream is to work for the FBI in a position where I can solve crimes and conduct research that furthers the agency’s investigative goals and initiatives. I hope to build on the experiences I gained at John Jay while earning my master’s degree in forensic science. I’d love to publish research papers and work with forensic scientists across the globe.”

What was life like before John Jay?
I was born in New York but raised in Saint Lucia. After I finished my secondary education, I knew I wanted to go to college. I also knew that meant additional costs for my parents. Luckily, my family encouraged me to go after my dreams. I took a leap of faith, moved to New York, and lived with a family friend. I began my college journey at Queensborough Community College before transferring to John Jay through the CUNY Justice Academy.

Why John Jay?
One of my favorite genres to read growing up was crime fiction—I always found that world fascinating. As I did my research on colleges, John Jay and the forensic science program stood out. Before I applied, I met a John Jay alum, and they had nothing but great things to say about the College. That gave me the green light to go for what I wanted. Being at John Jay has felt like a dream come true.

How has PRISM made your John Jay experience fulfilling?
PRISM has given me the opportunity to get real hands-on research experience, make friends, and discover my passion. From the moment I transferred to John Jay, Dr. E. (Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín) has been there, suggesting scholarship programs, research projects, and learning opportunities. He continually encouraged me to apply for internships, fellowships, and jobs. It’s because of PRISM that I had the chance to participate in the McNair Scholars Research Program at Clarkson University last summer, where I examined saw-mark evidence on bones. Because of John Jay and the PRISM program, I got accepted into three forensic science graduate programs at Sam Houston State University, Syracuse University, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Were there any fellowships, internships, or research opportunities that helped shape your career aspirations?
Research has played such an important role during my time at John Jay. It’s affirmed for me that I’m on the right path. During my time at the College, I’ve had a research paper published and had the opportunity to present at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences—which was unbelievable.

For the last two years, I’ve conducted research on pesticides with my mentor, Dr. Shu-Yuan (Demi) Cheng. We specifically focused on the pesticide propazine and the effects it has on human cells. Dr. Cheng encourages flexibility, ambition, outside-the-box thinking, and independence in the lab. She’s made me feel more comfortable in the research environment. As a future forensic scientist, being able to think about the different possibilities is vital and can be a game-changer in any investigation.

What advice do you have for incoming John Jay students?
Do not let fear stop you from saying “yes” to an opportunity. Before I came to John Jay, I was shy and would avoid participating in anything, but John Jay and PRISM changed all that for me. The opportunities presented to students at the College can lead them to accomplish amazing things and reach their goals. This fall, I begin a master’s degree in forensic science program at Sam Houston State University, with a financial aid package worth $14,000 a year. Because of John Jay and the CUNY Justice Academy, I’m on the path to making my dreams a reality. One day, I know I’ll become an FBI forensic examiner.

Tyra Volney
Tyra Volney ’23: Hands-On Research Points to MA & Scholarship
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Kimberly Nuñez
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Kimberly Nuñez
Real-World Research, Three Internships Steer Kimberly Nuñez ’23 to Biology MA

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology
Minor: Chemistry and Environmental Justice
Cohort: PRISM, Macaulay Honors
On-Campus Role: Tutor at Math and Science Resource Center
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Career aspiration: Marine Biologist and Environment Policy Advisor

“I always dreamt of working as a marine biologist and helping shape environmental justice policies,” says Kimberly Nuñez ’23, a PRISM and Macaulay Honors senior who is earning a bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology. “It’s why I came to John Jay and joined PRISM, because I knew it would put me on the path to career success. This fall, I get one step closer to realizing my dream as I enter the marine biology master’s program at University College Cork, Ireland.

How did PRISM help prepare you for graduate school?
It’s made me more confident in my research abilities and helped me realize I belong in science. PRISM was the first time I came up with my own project ideas and drove my own research forward with the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Anthony Carpi. The program opened up a world of opportunities for me—including an internship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the country’s best marine science research facilities—and ultimately led to my decision to go to grad school.

How did Dr. Carpi’s mentorship help shape your goals?
Dr. Carpi is an amazing mentor who goes out of his way to reach out and help his students succeed at John Jay and beyond. For my research on the effect of water on the transport of mercury in soil, he connected me with scientists who could help me bring my research to its highest potential, he ensured I was on track to meeting my goals, and continually encouraged me to pursue a post-graduate degree. Having him as a mentor demonstrated to me the type of mentor I want to be: forward-thinking, supportive, kind, and persistent.

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Nuñez with her mentor Dr. Anthony Carpi
Nuñez with her mentor Dr. Anthony Carpi

 

Tell us about your internship at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 
It was a three-month internship last summer, where I worked with my mentor, Kristin Meyer-Kaiser, researching how communities on the sea floor in the Arctic are changing. Part of my role was image analysis, where I identified different species, counted their numbers, and gathered data. It was such an eye-opening experience because I was able to see all the good that can be done in the world with a science degree.

What made you decide to pursue a master’s degree at University College Cork?
I’ve always wanted to study abroad and learned that University College Cork had a top-notch marine biology master’s program. Since I’m coming from John Jay, where my background is in cell and molecular biology and environmental justice, I wanted to make sure I enrolled in a master’s program that would provide me with a broader view of the marine biology field. I’m excited to learn about marine mammals and marine organisms, conduct research, be in the marine environment, and work on a boat.

Ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
I hope to be an established marine biologist, researcher, and advocate. I would love to help advance policies aimed at conserving our oceans and planet. The goal is to have worked on meaningful research and, using that research, inform and educate elected officials so that they can create environmental policies that improve the health of our world.

What will be going through your mind when you cross the stage at Commencement?
My mom and my sister. They’ve been my biggest supporters, so I’m dedicating this accomplishment to them. My mom raised us as a single mother while working full-time and going to school full-time to earn her degree. Throughout my life, I’ve seen my mom’s ambition and drive to succeed daily. She inspired me to never give up on my dreams.

 

Kimberly Nuñez
Real-World Research, Three Internships Steer Kimberly Nuñez ’23 to Biology MA
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Shanelle Shillingford '16
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Shanelle Shillingford '16
Dr. Shanelle Shillingford ’16: Yale Ph.D. & Analytical Chemist

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
Hometown: Dominica; Queens, New York
Cohort: PRISM

“At John Jay, I grew as a scientist, built up my resume, and learned that with hard work, laser-focused determination, and a bit of patience, I could accomplish amazing things. I went on to graduate with a Ph.D. from Yale University, and today I’m working for the global healthcare company Merck where I help bring innovative animal health products to market. John Jay changed my life. It was the launching pad for making my career dreams come true.”

What was life like growing up?
I was born and raised in Dominica. My dad moved to the U.S. when I was young, and my mom and I soon followed when I was 15. From the age of seven, I knew I wanted to be a scientist. I loved learning—especially math and science—and excelled in school. I also watched a lot of crime shows and loved seeing people in the lab working to find answers to questions.

Why John Jay?
Back home in Dominica, the highest degree I could earn was an associate degree. Since I was determined to be a scientist, I knew I couldn’t stay there. When I moved to New York, I enrolled in high school and immediately began looking at colleges that could put me on that path to becoming a scientist. Because I came from a low-income household, I didn’t have many options. Luckily, my dad suggested I look at John Jay. Not only did the College have a prestigious forensic science program, it was also commuter friendly and incredibly affordable. All those factors made John Jay the perfect place for me.

How did PRISM enhance your college experience?
PRISM was instrumental to my success and getting into Yale University’s Ph.D. chemistry program. The research I conducted in PRISM made me a scientist. It made me more comfortable in a lab setting, fostered critical thinking skills, and offered transformative learning opportunities.

The PRISM faculty were essential to my education. From the moment I entered the program, Dr. Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín kept me informed on all the scholarship, research, and internship opportunities available. He also motivated me to apply to grad school and made sure I met every application deadline. My research mentor, Dr. Gloria Proni, saw my potential and took me under her wing. She encouraged me to think beyond my limits and prepared me for grad school. She was one of my biggest champions, advocating for me, building my confidence, and writing letters of recommendation. Because of the encouragement from Dr. Ed and Dr. Proni, I interned at the Scripps Research Institute and got into Yale.

How did the Scripps Research internship shape your career?
It was an amazing hands-on experience that gave me a glimpse into my future in research. I worked in an organic chemistry lab under well-known and respected chemist Dr. Donna Blackmond. In the lab, I performed experiments with graduate students trying to demonstrate the use of “green chemistry” in organic transformations. The internship affirmed I had a real passion for research, especially in a lab setting, and that I was on the right path.

What was your experience like at Yale?
Honestly, the first year was tough. I definitely had imposter syndrome. At times, I was the only Black student in the classroom and felt like I didn’t belong. But Yale’s Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity was very supportive. With the help of the office, I felt grounded and centered. While the research work remained challenging, I knew I could succeed.

What do you work on at Merck?
I work on drug product development for animals, primarily for veterinarians to use when treating animals for diseases, so things like medications and topical creams. As an analytical chemist—my technical title is senior scientist—I work with a large team of formulators. My primary role is to conduct tests and ensure that the product is stable and contains all the correct attributes so that it can attain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and be brought to market. Every day, we’re conducting innovative research that advances science and improves the lives of animals. 

What advice do you have for John Jay students hoping to follow in your footsteps?
You can accomplish any goal but understand that it will require work, patience, and flexibility. If you’re going to grad school, know that you may have to pivot, and that’s okay. Be open to change and adjust.

Dr. Shanelle Shillingford ’16
Dr. Shanelle Shillingford ’16: Yale Ph.D. & Analytical Chemist
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Dr. Samuel Reinfeld '15
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Dr. Samuel Reinfeld '15
Dr. Samuel Reinfeld ’15 Is a Fierce Advocate for Mental Health Care

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Degree: B.S. in Forensic Science
Program: Honors, PRISM
Mentor: Dr. Artem V. Domashevskiy, Dr. Nathan Lents, Dr. Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín
Medical School: New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine
Residency in Psychiatry: Stony Brook University Hospital

What was life like before John Jay?
Growing up, I went to Yeshiva schools where there wasn’t much in the way of diversity. While in high school, I came across John Jay professors who were experts in their field. They talked about their work analyzing forensic evidence, trying to comprehend the minds of system-impacted individuals, and the intricacies of working as a medical examiner. Hearing about their research piqued my interest in forensic pathology and led me to John Jay.

Were there any specific people at John Jay who helped put you on the path to success?
I had great mentors in Dr. Artem V. Domashevskiy, Dr. Nathan Lents, and Dr. Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín, who all played pivotal roles during my time at the College. It was evident that they all cared about their students’ futures. I worked with my mentor, Dr. Domashevskiy, on his pokeweed antiviral protein research. Through my work with him, I gained valuable real-world research experience, critical thinking skills, and confidence in my abilities as a scientist.

Dr. Lents was a fantastic educator. The way he explained biology was fun and clear. As a student, you could see his passion for the subject, which was contagious. Being in the classroom with a professor like that motivated me to study science. Since graduating from John Jay, I have published several clinical psychology papers. My thought process for producing these papers stems from being in the classroom with Dr. Domashevskiy and Dr. Lents.

During my junior year, Dr. Ed really paved the pre-med route for me. He saw my potential and was such an incredible support systemhelping me put my application for med school together, and supporting me through my MCATs. It’s because of his encouragement that I am where I am today.

What John Jay programs and experiences helped shape your career?
Coming to John Jay was like a breath of fresh air. The community was diverse and welcoming; everyone had their unique story. When I became a math and science tutor in the SEEK program, I learned about the College’s rich diversity on a personal level. Working one-on-one with students from different backgrounds was eye-opening. It made me more aware and sensitive to the experiences of others, which helps me today as a psychiatrist. I incorporate my patient’s cultural background into my assessment before diagnosis because what may be abnormal in one culture may be completely normal in another. Seeing and understanding the cultural framework of a patient’s upbringing helps me better diagnose and treat them.

What is your mission at PsychiaTreat?
I’m the co-founder, chief medical officer, and psychiatrist at PsychiaTreat. We opened the practice in July 2023, the Monday after I graduated from the residency program at Stony Brook University Hospital, with the goal of creating a comprehensive mental health organization that offers greater accessibility to mental health services for any person who is struggling.

The current state of mental health care services is challenging and inaccessible for many people. It’s tough for patients to get therapy appointments. There are long waiting lists, limited resources, and unaffordable prices and copays that insurance won’t cover. In many cases, a psychiatrist’s hands are tied because there are so many hoops to jump through. At PsychiaTreat, the goal is to improve accessibility by increasing the number of patients we treat, both in person and via telehealth, while also staying at the forefront of cutting-edge treatment options. My dream is to be able to give everyone access to mental health support because we all deserve to feel our best.

Dr. Samuel Reinfeld ’15
Dr. Samuel Reinfeld ’15: Fierce Advocate for Mental Health Care
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PRISM Alumnus Is a Scientific Rising Star

John Jay’s Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Math (PRISM) left a lasting impression on James Parziale (B.S. ’15), who credits the program for his newfound passion of scientific research. As important, it is likely to have played an important in his winning acceptance to the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

“Before being actively involved through PRISM, I knew nothing about how to apply any science knowledge outside of a question in a textbook or on an exam unless told,” said Parziale. “PRISM allowed me to think more critically about the material, which helped make material I encountered in class a bit easier to understand.”

PRISM served as a conduit for Parziale to cultivate his interests and inspired him to pursue his passions, prospering from the resources made available to him and learning to utilize his time in the lab effectively. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Parziale has taken part in decoding the pathway and regulation of genes and proteins to understand their contribution to blood cell growth. “Through understanding the mechanism and effect of one gene and protein on another, it becomes possible to explore further if the mechanism can then be manipulated for therapeutic effects,” he explained. The results were promising, and his work was published last year in the Journal of Cellular Physiology.

More recently, Parziale has been researching to “find a function for time of death based on microorganisms present in the ear and nose with respect to time and temperature for forensic purposes.”

Along with a solid work ethic and immense dedication that is virtually a requirement for any participant in the PRISM program, Parziale has maintained a sense of balance among his many commitments, as well as a positive mindset. He advises others to “always strive for things within reach,” and he celebrates small successes before dabbling in bigger endeavors, so that he is better equipped with the right set of skills. He also believes it is important not to feel awkward seeking out assistance or advice when needed. “Even if people have differing opinions, hear them out anyway,” he urged.

The PRISM program has proven helpful to Parziale on a number of levels and introduced him to many beneficial opportunities. He has worked with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the New York Stem Cell Foundation — experiences that he says “gave me the chance to learn under multiple research mentors in an area of cutting-edge science that interested me, but I would have otherwise not been exposed to firsthand.”

Chalk up another success for the PRISM program. 

James Parziale (B.S. ’15)
James Parziale ’15: PRISM Alumnus Is a Scientific Rising Star
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About Us

The Program for Research Initiatives in Science & Math (PRISM) supports science and math students by preparing them for success in college and beyond through academic and pre-professional guidance.

Our goal is to help our students see themselves as scientists and future professionals and to expose them to opportunities for further training and growth. The National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences and CUNY all recognized PRISM as a model of excellence for improving the number of students from underrepresented communities the STEM pipeline.

Contact

Edgardo Sanabria-Valentín, PhD, Associate Director, prism@jjay.cuny.edu