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York Professor is Co-PI on $3 mil NSF Grant at Grad Center

York College is proud to announce that Dr. Yolanda Small of York’s Chemistry Department is one of five CUNY faculty who jointly won a $3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

The grant is intended to train students in Nanotechnology; and according to Professor Small, the NSF proposal was submitted in February 2021. The lead Principal Investigator (PI) is Prof. Rein Ulijn, director of the Nanoscience Initiative at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC). There are four co-PIs in addition: Prof. Ruth Stark (CCNY), Prof. Steve O’Brien (CCNY), Prof. Yolanda Small (York College) and Prof. Sharon Loverde (CSI). The amount awarded is $3M to be used over a five-year period.

In addition to her teaching schedule at York, her home institution, Professor Small also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center (the "Grad Center" or "GC"), but has another important role as well.

“In the heart of the pandemic, I have been serving as the Executive Officer (EO) of the Doctoral Program in Chemistry, Dr. Small explained. “Because of the structure of the GC, the role of Executive Officer is like that of a department chairperson at all other CUNY campuses, with a three-year term. In this role I oversee the graduate program in chemistry in all facets from recruitment, program planning, curriculum development, mentorship as well as placement with dissertation mentors; course scheduling and milestone monitoring.”

The busy scholar added that while the schedule may be busy, it is gratifying.

“In essence,” she says, “I have the rewarding opportunity to look after the graduate students in chemistry from before they apply to the program, all the way to signing their dissertation approval before they deposit their theses, the final step before their PhD is awarded.”

Asked how much of the non-York role accrues to York, Small implies that quite a bit of direct benefits come to her York students.

“With my role as EO, I have the shared responsibility of selecting students from the chemistry PhD program to be funded by this NSF grant," she said. "Moreover, with my dual role as Associate Professor of Chemistry at York College, where my research is strongly aligned with nanoscience connected to life, undergraduates from York College will engage in research that will be directly related to the goals of this NSF grant. Under my mentorship, the York undergraduates in my lab will be a part of the population that this NSF initiative is motivated to recruit.”

Dr. Small, says that with this new NSF grant, faculty associated with the Graduate Center and at its Advanced Science Research Center, are launching a program, NRT-URoL: Nanoscience Connected to Life, to ready diverse students for careers that integrate aspects of life sciences with nanoscience. These include opportunities in biomedical engineering, biotechnology, food science, forensics, materials science, robotics, and clean energy.

“The comprehensive program provides funding, research training and mentorship, and professional development to select students aligned with the Graduate Center’s Ph.D. programs in Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Physics,” she said.

In depth, Dr. Small illuminated that in areas of bio-inspired nanoscience, students “will gain expertise in their own disciplines and will benefit from working in cross-disciplinary teams to address urgent societal challenges related to environmental instabilities and health crises.”

Small added that career development and networking activities are designed to prepare students for roles in industry, startups, academia, government, and nonprofit organizations.

“An overarching goal is to create a learning community of systems thinkers who can exchange knowledge and communicate across unfamiliar concepts, cultures, and methods,” said Small. “To bring diverse students into the Graduate Center’s science Ph.D. programs, [program] faculty will work closely with Admissions to recruit underrepresented minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community from CUNY, from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions like York College.”

Dr. Small, who has always sought opportunities for her students at York College, such as visits to Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), a research institute in Upton, New York. She has published articles and given numerous presentations and lectures in her specialty fields of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry, Quantum Mechanical/Molecular Mechanical Methods, Classical and Molecular Dynamics.

Professor Small has also received numerous grants over the years, including more than half million dollars from National Institutes of Health-MBRS SCORE SC2, Controlling Optical Properties of Silver Nanoclusters with DNA Scaffolds, in 2017. 

Learn more about the CUNY Graduate Center Center’s NSF win. And  awardsresarch 

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