Presenters with President Daisy Cocco De Filippis at the HRC Mini-Conference.

On Tuesday, May 14, Hostos Community College held its first-ever Hostos Research Center (HRC) Mini-Conference. Hosted by Director of Research Programs Sofia Oviedo, the half-day event showcased the work and experiences of HRC-funded ADELANTE and IDEAS grantees and included two panel discussions and a special keynote from Dr. Anthony DePass.

The Hostos Research center was established at the College in 2022 as one of the Ms. MacKenzie Scott’s Gift: President’s Initiatives to advance the development of new faculty and staff-led research projects, faculty-student mentorship and the creation of student research internships. The HRC’s mission is rooted in the desire to foster a culture of research and grants development and enhancement of students’ access to professional experiences.

Supported by the Hostos Committee on Sponsored Programs and Grants (CSPG), the HRC offers two internal grants in alignment with the College’s mission to provide opportunities for intellectual growth and lifelong learning — the ADELANTE and IDEAS project awards. ADvancing Excellence in Liberal Arts, scieNces, Technology and Engineering (ADELANTE) awards range between $6,000-$10,000 and support proposals that address research, need-based, and/or transformative interventions in all disciplines including the Arts and Humanities, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Additionally, ADELANTE projects engage students as research assistants to promote faculty-student mentorship, providing students with hands-on career-building experiences. Innovating, Developing and Executing Actions with Success (IDEAS) project awards support proposals addressing institutional needs and/or current research questions. IDEAS projects receive an award ranging from $1,000-$2,000 as seed funding to develop a grant proposal that can later be submitted to an external funding opportunity. Between 2022-2023, 22 ADELANTE and 15 IDEAS grants were awarded to 38 faculty and staff members, and over 30 students engaged as research assistants. 
President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, whose vision shaped and spurred the development of the HRC, set the tone for the day, celebrating continued personal and professional growth through academic exploration and research in her opening remarks. “We are forever on the cusp of becoming,” she said, paraphrasing a poem by Nicanor Parra. “If we are alive, if we have an open mind, and if we are ready to continue to be curious and to be humble to know.”
She continued: “There’s no better lesson than faculty teaching our students to be curious, to investigate, to research.”
President Cocco De Filippis praised the work done at the HRC.

Provost Shiang-Kwei Wang echoed President De Filippis’ excitement and sentiments, reflecting on how the ADELANTE and IDEAS-funded projects support the College’s mission to nurture continued learning, and Professor Yoel Rodríguez, HRC Co-Director, reflected on the Center’s mission and effectiveness in his remarks. “What was a dream a couple of years ago, today is a fact,” he said. “Our Hostos Research Center, a first of its kind among CUNY community colleges, is determined to continue advancing knowledge and excellence in education at a two-year institution.” 

Professor Yoel Rodríguez during his remarks.

Dr. Antonios Varelas, Professor in the Behavioral Sciences Unit, moderated the first segment of the conference, a panel discussion with ADELANTE and IDEAS grantees Dr. Helen Chang, Political Science professor; Dr. Anna Ivanova, Chemistry Professor; Dr. Tram Nguyen, English Professor; and Sheryce Woolery-Balgobin, Student Success Coach, discussed the research projects and initiatives funded by their respective grants and how they leveraged the internal grants to apply for and obtain external funding. Professor Ivanova, a recipient of the ADELANTE grant, used the award to fund the “Connections, Community, Careers — Enhancing the Educational Experience of LAS-AS Students at Hostos Community College” initiative, which aimed to improve the educational experience students in the College’s Liberal Arts and Sciences, A.S., degree program and help them connect the program with career goals. “We were able to have about 11 workshops, two presentations, and eight field trips — with the last one being to Princeton University — and the “Welcome to LAS-AS'' orientation event,” she shared, adding that a majority of the students who participated in the initiative were very engaged in and appreciated the activities.” Looking ahead, Ivanova said she’d like to get a better sense of the program’s impact on retention and transfer rates.
For her part, Professor Chang was awarded an IDEAS grant in 2021 for her research project titled “Redefining Democracy at the Local Level: Rank Choice Voting in New York City.” Chang, a political science professor, used the award to look at the implementation of the rank-choice voting system in New York City in 2021 and its impact on candidates and voters. Although the data available at the time was “not the strongest,” the experience led to a “cascade” of other opportunities. Chang used the seed grant to develop a proposal for a PSC-CUNY grant, which she was awarded. She was later awarded another PSC grant that turned into “a successful CUNY faculty fellowship publication program application.”

Sheryce Woolery-Balgobin discussed the IDEAS-funded “Academic Completion Initiative — Achieving Student Success” project, which sought to utilize peer mentors to conduct outreach to students on academic probation and get them to successfully complete necessary assessments and connect them with College-Life Balance workshops. The initial award enabled the program to hire two peer mentors and became the launchpad for further growth. In addition to hiring another peer mentor through the Jobs on Campus Mentor-Mentee program, Woolery-Balgobin, in collaboration with Associate Dean of Student Development and Enrollment Management Althea Sterling, successfully applied for and was awarded external funding from the CUNY College Completion Innovation Fund (CCIF) for the “Hostos Community College: Learning from Student Decision-Making Patterns to Improve Degree Completion” initiative. The program builds off of the retention efforts established by the IDEAS project. 

In her reflection, Professor Tram Nguyen discussed how applying for the IDEAS grant to fund the “Multi-Generational Engaged Storytelling: A First Year Seminar Curricular Unit at Hostos Community College” project allowed her to become a better grant writer, and provided her “the space and the time to conceptualize,” and “think through and figure out the methodology.” She advised others interested in applying for internal or external funding to consult with someone with grant-writing experience and collaborate with others. “I think we’re such a supportive community that you shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out to people to help you achieve your grant goals,” she said.

The conference also included an informative keynote presentation on navigating the external funding space by Anthony DePass, Biology Professor Emeritus at Long Island University and Principal of DePass Academic Consulting. DePass, a grant writing expert, discussed the importance and value of grants for institutions and educators, including enhanced institutional resources, more meaningful engagement with students, and the potential translation of evidence-driven practices. He also shared valuable insight into preparing successful grant applications, advising would-be grant-writers to engage with grant committees regularly, track the success of previously funded projects and share findings, and apply often and resubmit applications when possible. He also seconded an approach used by some of our IDEAS and ADELANTE grantees, which is to leverage previous proposals and applications.

Keynote speaker Dr. Anthony DePass.

The conference continued with an insightful panel discussion among research assistants moderated by Sofia Oviedo. “Providing student research experiences is a core pillar of the Hostos Research Center, and the way that we do that is through the ADELANTE research projects that we fund. We require that applicants include a student research assistant in the submission of proposals and allocate $3000 to pay that student to assist them in conducting their research,” explained Oviedo.  “Undergraduate student research is a high-impact practice and we want our students to learn aside from faculty members and be engaged in learning quantitative and qualitative research skills and also the process of developing a research project.”

Students Altagracia De La Rosa, Susan Hu, Marilin Rodríguez, Joshua Wiggan, Manny Vivas, and Jannis Tyson shared how their ADELANTE research experiences helped broaden their horizons and open their eyes to new possibilities and skills. Rodríguez shared she used hands-on research experience, but through her work reading journal articles for her project became a more discerning reviewer and sharpened her referencing skills. Hu was a research assistant for Professor Vladimir Ovtcharenko’s taxonomical project with the American Museum of Natural History, for which she helped organize specimens collected by researchers. She said the experience opened her eyes to a deep interest in working with insects. The panel concluded with advice from Tyson, who encouraged students interested in gaining research experience to make meaningful connections with professors, beginning on the first day of class. Those connections, he reminded, can create networks that lead to experiential opportunities like the ADELANTE research assistantship.

Student presenters after their panel.

As the conference drew to a close, following a vibrant poster exhibition that showcased a diverse array of grant-funded projects, it became overwhelmingly clear that the ADELANTE and IDEAS grants have had a transformative impact. The shared experiences and articulated aspirations from yesterday's event not only underscore Hostos’ steadfast commitment to academic excellence and collaborative innovation but also vividly highlight the profound and far-reaching influence these initiatives exert on both our faculty and students alike.