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Two Queens College Students Win Prestigious CUNY Salk Scholarships for Medical School

-- Danielle Cohen, Who Conducted Cognitive Neuroscience Research, Will Attend Hofstra; Christos Mouzakitis, Bound for SUNY Upstate, Performed Cancer Research and Studied How Culture and Ethnicity Affect Health --

FLUSHING, NY, May 24, 2016 – Among the eight City University of New York graduates receiving the prestigious Jonas E. Salk Scholarships in 2016 for medical study were two from Queens College, Danielle Cohen and Christos Mouzakitis. Both were members of the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at QC.

CUNY awards the Salk Scholarships annually in recognition of the students’ outstanding scholarship and research, and their likelihood of making significant contributions to medicine and research in their future careers. Each Salk Scholar, who receives a stipend of $8,000 to help defray the cost of medical school, is selected on the basis of original research papers undertaken with their scientist-mentors. The scholarships are named in honor of Jonas Salk, a 1934 City College graduate who developed the life-changing polio vaccine in 1955.
 
Danielle Cohen followed her interest in science and medicine both on and off campus. She majored in neuroscience and minored in chemistry, with a concentration in Honors in Math and Natural Sciences.

Her research, conducted in the laboratory of Prof. Justin Storbeck (Department of Psychology), examined how emotional states interact with the ability to function cognitively. “I looked specifically at the cognitive function of inhibition, which is what allows us to focus on one thing while ignoring other distracting information that may be fighting for our attention,” she says. “I created a task to see how well people were able to perform this function while in different emotional states-- happy, sad, and fearful-- and found that people in a happy mood were the best at inhibiting distracting information.” 

Despite the demands of this research and her heavy course load, Danielle found time to volunteer throughout her college years at New York Presbyterian-Queens Hospital.
 
“I assisted the hospital staff at the welcome desk, the blood bank, the maternity ward and the ER,” she says. “In the ER I had the most patient interaction, and learned a lot about patient care and the hospital system.”
 
As a certified personal trainer, Danielle worked at fitness centers at the college and a New Jersey hospital, as well as with private clients. This work reinforces for her the important role that physical activity and proper nutrition play in promoting good health. Bound for Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, Danielle hopes to practice medicine in the New York area.  
 
“I am very grateful to have attended Macaulay Honors College at Queens College,” she says. “The program provided me with excellent opportunities, such as an incredible Study Abroad session I attended in Florence.”
 
Christos Mouzakitis, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up in Queens and attended public schools including the Bronx High School of Science—and will soon be studying at SUNY Upstate Medical University. He has set his sights on becoming a cardiovascular surgeon, having been deeply influenced by his experience with his father’s stroke and open-heart surgery and his mother’s coronary artery disease. “Millions of Americans are afflicted by or at risk for heart disease,” he points out.
 
“My father had escaped a life of poverty in rural Greece to become a contractor,” Christos says. Although this occupation provided financial stability for the family, Christos described its downside: long working hours for his father, great stress, lack of exercise and, at the end of an exhausting day, a fast food meal. “At the time, I didn’t understand how this behavior precipitated the stroke,” he says.
 
A major in neuroscience-biology and a double minor in chemistry and psychology, Christos also chose to study anthropology to better understand cultural behaviors that influence health.  
 
As a physician, I believe that my cultural sensitivity will foster a deeper understanding of my patients that will lead to more effective communication. My coursework has not only honed my analytical skills by encouraging a holistic approach to every situation, but also cultivated a genuine desire in me to learn more about people’s roots. Using this approach in patient care will prove invaluable, as an understanding of medical history often reveals a diagnosis.”
 
Christos was president of the Biology Honor Society and a neurobiology teaching assistant. He also volunteered as a biology instructor and as an SAT verbal coach for Let’s Get Ready, an organization devoted to helping low-income high school students prepare for college. 
 
Researching DNA damage and repair in the laboratory of Prof. Wilma Saffran (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry) not only helped further Christos’s understanding of cancer cells, but also provided him with mentoring. “I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Saffran for her invaluable guidance and support,” he says.
 
“This scholarship will give me peace of mind by alleviating my financial burden and allowing me to focus on meeting the challenges of my coursework in medical school,” Christos says.

About Queens College
Located on a beautiful, 80-acre campus in Flushing, Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Learn more at www.qc.cuny.edu
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