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MICHELLE KARIM

In depth stories on the Long Island community

Spending the Holidays Away From Home

By: Michelle Karim

As the lights in the Tabler Black Box theater dimmed, the dance floor was bathed in flecks of red and green disco lights and the latest pop music blared from the speakers.
A handful of 20-somethings danced to Bachata music. In ten minutes, the entire floor was occupied with tapping feet and moving arms.

Small circle tables for six covered both sides of the theater and people were swarming in, some hanging their coats in the corner and a lot of them getting in line for some pie, soda and rice pudding.

(Click on the link to view the slide show)

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Every year, the International Student Organization at Stony Brook University organizes its annual Thanksgiving feast to make students who live thousands of miles away from their homeland, feel welcome in the community.

“I feel homesick sometimes,” Patricia Jin, 21 ,president of the ISO said. Patricia’s parents are from China but she was born and brought up in Portugal.
“For New Year’s and other events, I wish I could go back home because we cook a lot of food and the whole family gets back together.”

Patricia organized the event to help instill the spirit of Thanksgiving in students. “It’s a season to be thankful- for family, friends and life,” she said.

According to the U.S State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the percentage of international students increased to over 70 percent over the past 15 years.

The evening was a ritualistic display of Thanksgiving decor and food- the roasted turkey, mac and cheese, cranberry and pumpkin pies and apple cider. Even the napkins had large, robust turkeys printed on them.

For a lot of students, campus events like these make all the difference and for others , it makes them feel a little closer to the Stony Brook community.

“I’m generally not homesick for some reason and whenever holidays come, I just do whatever I want,” Liyun Li, a junior Computer Science major said. “I don’t miss home as much when I’m here.”

A lot of the students had never experienced the Thanksgiving holiday and to a lot of them, it was a pretty fun way of learning about history and the American culture.

“We don’t have this holiday in Russia,” Alexandra Didenko, a Political Science graduate student, who is a Fulbright scholar from Russia, said. “I can see how people are excited about this holiday.”

Didenko will not be going home for New Year’s this year. “I will miss home but I have my friends with me and there is a lot to do here,” she said. Didenko usually makes it to the on-campus events as much as possible. “It keeps me busy.”

For some, the culture shock is not as great as it seem, albeit something new.
“Here, people are very nice and the college is very diverse,” Lucy Yang, a sophomore Sociology major said.

Yang has never felt left out and she likes it here. She would like to start a new life in America someday. “People here are more open to different races and different cultures so I really like it here.”

 Read it on The Most Wonderful Times

The Merchandising of Star Wars

By : James Grottola and Michelle Karim

As the crowd at the local Target in south Setauket died down, only a handful of people were left, milling around the store. A man was browsing the toy section and stopped in front of a large darth vader figure. He picked it up and after contemplating for a moment, put it down and walked away.

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On September 4th, which was called, “Force Friday,” by realtors, stores partnered with the Walt Disney Corporation opened at midnight to release merchandise of the seventh film in the series. Stores such as Walmart, Toys ‘R’ Us and the Disney Store gave eager fans the first chance to grab the first round of toys and collectibles based around “The Force Awakens.”

“Science Fiction is the hottest genre that we have,” he said.

As he works on his business, currently in the form of eBay auctions and a website instead of a physical store, Ken Farrell, a 65 year-old nostalgia buff, talks about the science fiction bubble of valuable popular culture memorabilia. The most notable franchise of which is Star Wars.

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Farrell, a Huntington native, runs a business that has specialized in selling popular culture memorabilia from the 1930s to the 1980s. His business, Just For Kids Nostalgia, has been open since 1978.

Star Wars works a little differently than older science fictions franchises, Farrell said, that older science fiction franchises disappear from both media and current popular culture spotlight as the original audience ages. But that just wasn’t the case with Star Wars.

“The kind of thing with Star Wars is that it’s not really typical,” Farrell said. “Star Wars just gets reshown, rehashed and merchandised. The series is just so valuable that they keep bringing it back.”

Star Wars is currently the most valuable movie franchise of all time, raking in nearly $28 billion from the combined sales of its merchandise and film revenues, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute.

However, the majority of this money, $18 billion of it, comes from the merchandising alone.

While the movies steal the spotlight, fans love other products in the franchise as well.

“I’d much rather watch the movie than buy the merchandise,” Tony Ortiz, a sophomore Economics major at Stony Brook University, said. Ortiz owns all the copies of almost every star wars video game and is an avid movie enthusiast. “I will probably buy the new game when it comes out too.”

The general consensus is that it’s the fans’ love for this spectacle of a franchise that drives them to buy memorabilia, whether it manifests itself in the form of toys, video games or household objects with the character’s faces or the series’ logo imprinted on it.

“Star Wars- The Force Awakens” broke a sales record as more than 200,000 tickets were bought by eager fans within the space of 24 hours, according to a report released by the Guardian.

In another report released by the Hollywood Reporter, the sale in merchandise for the popular movie franchise is expected to garner a profit margin of at least $5 billion.

“The memories of watching a movie are more long lasting than merchandises,” Andrew Mahabir, a sophomore Biology major said. However Mahabir did say that he would spend as much as $65 on video games. “I think they are worth it. They are that good.”

Stony Brook Rowing Pushes through the Tide

By Kyle Barr and Michelle Karim

As the sky turned from black to navy blue, a group of eleven people shuffled out of their cars parked near the Port Jefferson Yacht Club. Their bodies wrapped in hoodies and spandex leggings slowly gathered in front of the rack of long rowing boats. A couple of them carried out the oars first. A young woman put on a pair of headsets and gave directions to the groups of fours trying to haul the boats to the water. Their breath steamed in the air as they giggled and laughed while their legs trailed through the freezing water of Port Jefferson harbor.

Stony brook Rowing team was founded in 1961 when the university was known as the State University of New York, Long Island Center, in Oyster Bay. Since then the club has had a rocky history of maintenance and leadership, as generations of rowers treaded the waters before graduating.

The team had raced in New Rochelle last week and one of the three crew from Stony Brook won second place while another won third. This semester, the team has dedicated more of their time to practice than participating in tournaments, which they attribute to having to provide maintenance on their boats and the lack of a head coach.

“I am pretty much the only coach here,” Walker Bradshaw, the assistant coach of the crew, said. Bradshaw is a senior Applied mathematics major and has helped coach the Rowing Team for the past three semesters. The head coach left the crew in the summer of 2015 to coach a high school rowing team.

“Somebody has got to do the job of a coach,” Bradshaw, the assistant coach, said. “It’s a very technical sport. The timing and the rhythm of movement is very important.”

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“Our team was the first varsity sport Stony Brook or Long Island ever had. It’s a weird sport, its only NCAA for women,” Sean Kreitzer, 21, President of the Rowing Team said. The crew club has been allocated $29,501.45 for the 2015-2016 academic year by the Undergraduate Student Government.

“USG supports club sports based on their needs to further their mission statement,” Elmer Flores, assistant to the Vice President of Clubs and Organizations at Stony Brook University, said.

Flores provided the example of the ice hockey team who require “an exorbitant amount of financial support” due to their rental contact with a private ice hockey field company. The ice hockey team was allocated $99,146 for the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Also, the perks of being a NCAA are far superior than what USG could ever offer to a club sports considering the amount of resources and funding they get through Athletics,” Elmer Flores said.

Before practicing in Port Jefferson harbor, the team practiced in a high school in Smithtown. “We didn’t have any support from them. They didn’t really let us build anything and made us walk a mile to get to the boats,” Kreitzer added.

One of the team’s biggest struggles is that they are competing as a club in a sport tailored for Ivy league schools who often receive a huge amount of funding. Schools such as Princeton University will hand out rowing scholarships.“The club teams are different than the varsity teams. The fours cost something around $15,000 and the eights cost somewhere between $30,000 to $40,000,” Bradshaw said.

A four boat can hold four rowers and a captain, and an eight boat can hold eight rowers plus a captain. “It’s an expensive sport,” Bradshaw said.

“We also have been working on our website which has not been updated since 2013 so people can submit new rower interest forms so we can get new members,” Talia Brown, the vice president of the crew, said after the morning practice.

“People know rowing and they think that it’s cool, but when we tell them that we practice at like 6 a.m., they walk away. Usually the people that stick with us are people who want to find a group of people to hang out with,” Kreitzer said.

The team is on the lookout for a new head coach, as it gears up for the Frostbite Regatta and Braxton Regatta on Nov. 7-8 in New Jersey, where they will compete against Princeton and other college teams.

“Dedication is the number one thing. I don’t care if they are the worst rower, but if they show up and put their work in, I’m happy,” Kreitzer said.

When Faith Meets Fashion

By Patricia Soberano and Michelle Karim

As the girl in the blue Hollister hoodie entered the Muslim Student Association prayer room, she took off her shoes and picked a black scarf from the closet. Covering her hair, she kneeled down to pray. A second girl walked in wearing a utility jacket, black slacks and already had her hair covered in a shiny headscarf that brightened the dull colors of her outfit.

For the first time in history, a Muslim woman in a traditional Muslim scarf was portrayed in the mainstream media in an H&M advertisement as part of its fall fashion campaign this year.
However, some feel that the change in ideologies and perspectives, is far off.

“I think it’s gonna be a while because people are not always open to change and America is on so many different standpoints,” Jennifer Islam, 20, a senior Women’s Studies and Sociology major at Stony Brook University, said. Islam feels that representing Muslim women in the media is a stepping stone towards broadening the society.

“I think that there will be change but it will be slow,” Islam said.

“I usually shop for hijabs at H&M, Forever21 and Charlotte Russe,” Siddiqua said. For Siddiqua, a sophomore Health Science and Business major, the hijab is the first element that she picks out for her outfit everyday. She also noted that one can never go wrong with an all black hijab.

“I decided hijab was for me in the middle of high school,” said Siddiqua “Not only is it mandatory in my religion, I like the fact that it gives me an identity.”

Verdah Ahmad is a sophomore Sociology major and says that the hijab has grown on her.
“It’s an expression of my faith and obviously it’s a very outward expression because it’s the first thing people see and notice about me when they meet me,” Ahmad said.
“So I think it’s great for people to understand that the first thing that they know about me is that I’m a Muslim because that is the most important part of my identity. It’s a huge part of who I am not just the hijab but also my faith.”

“I believe that with the world being connected ever more [globally] that women around the world, will come to see the Hijab as something that can surely be seen as part of fashion and that the women who wear it can be seen as empowered, perhaps, as a result,” Catherine Marrone, a Sociology Lecturer at Stony Brook University, said.
Marrone believes that showing women wearing hijab in many fashionable ways could be used to positive effect.

“I think —and hope–that showing women wearing the hijab in fashionable ways –makes a statement–that the look is not necessarily one of oppression and instead, for many, may even one of expression,” Marrone said.

Nassau County Creates Access Highway, Community in Discontent

By Michelle Karim and Jakub Lewkowicz

As a lone FedEx truck trundled down the narrow road, the traffic light turned red and the vehicle came to a screeching halt. The street was aglow with incandescent light pouring from the tiny windows of the houses lining both sides of the street. A lone man walked on the opposite side of the street which is now barren except the neatly mowed grass by the pavement.

The light turned green and the truck sped off along South Oyster Bay Road.

“I came from Manhattan [one day] and every tree had white spray painted ‘X’ on them,” Tanya Lukasik remembered. The marked trees were lined down the South Oyster Bay Road. This detail set off sirens in her head, and Lukasik began to look into the matter over the summer, this year. Today the trees are gone from South Oyster Bay Road.

Lukasik established a group named “Operation STOMP” to push against legislation that would get rid of trees lining the South Oyster Bay Road and broaden it in order to designate it as an access highway. The efforts were fruitless.

Trucking activity has picked up in the last few months, and about 200 trees were cut down along the road, according to Lukasik’s independent findings.

Access highways allow 48-foot truck limit to exceed to allow 53-foot trucks and tandem trucks. And residents are worried about potential environmental and noise pollution.

“Residents in the community, educational and religious institutions, as well as the town and county governments are against this,” Rich Murdocco, a digital marketing analyst for a Long Island-based Credit Union who also writes regularly about regional land use issues said.

“All of our group is within the area of town of Oyster Bay. We documented every single tree and took pictures of every slab of sidewalk. The County is home to 480 miles worth of county roads, many lined with decades-old trees,” Lukasik said, adding that all the STOMPers were taken aback at the conversion of road into a highway.

While residents are opposed to the idea of the highway, some are more concerned about the removal of trees.
“I don’t think it’s much of a problem because it is closer to route 135 and the traffic is much slower,” Norman Rubin, 54, a resident of Nassau County, said. Rubin heard about the conversion of the South Oyster Bay Road into an access highway on the news. “I am a tree lover. It was a horrible loss, a horrible bloodbath. They didn’t respect the character of the community,” Rubin said.

Federal Express applied for the access highway designation for South Oyster Bay Road with the New York State Department of Transportation in December 2014.

Malcolm Bowman, a distinguished service professor of the Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences pointed out that this incident is “part of a bigger problem” of overdevelopment in areas. “We are lucky where we are. Nicolls Road is a Suffolk county road and it has got foliage on both sides and we should never take that for granted,” Bowman said.

Between September and October of last year, Lukasik took the issue to the court, but the case was pushed back multiple times.

Lukasik’s “Operation STOMP” is set to become a non-profit organization and has gained around 1400 members on Facebook. “We are definitely working together with local officials and municipalities to preserve the greenery across the county at risk, and advocate for tree planting and sustainable infrastructure. We have also taken on the access road highway fight,” Lukasik added.

Construction Fire

By Michelle Karim

Legionella Scare Moves from the city to Long Island

By Michelle Karim and Christopher Leelum

Two water cooling towers in Smithtown East and West high schools were deactivated and cleaned after Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease, was found in them last week.

“Upon notification of the sampling results, the cooling towers were immediately brought offline and … an online disinfection/decontamination of the cooling towers was performed by a professional licensed commercial pesticide applicator,” Superintendent Dr. James Grossane said in a letter to parents of students at Smithtown East and West.

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Since July of this year, an outbreak in South Bronx has led to the deaths of 12 people. “[Legionella] is often isolated from water and wet areas in the natural environment such as creeks, hot tubs or hot springs, seawater, wood chips, mulch and soil. The bacterium is also present in cooling water systems,” Maurizio Del Poeta, a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology said.

There is a greater risk of severe disease in persons aged 50 years and over, regular smokers, and immunosuppressed persons,” Professor Del Poeta said. “Legionnaires’ disease does not affect children,” he added.

The letter confirmed that there have been no confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease at either high school, and that “follow-up monitoring” will be performed to prevent future outbreaks.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the symptoms for the disease begin two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, but could appear within the first two weeks.

“There are two symptoms of Legionella, one is called walking pneumonia. It’s one of those that you have but don’t know it yet,” Yolinda Huang, a senior Clinical Laboratory Science major said. She spends her time in the lab researching preventative methods of combatting diseases and studying different strains of microorganisms. “The other strain is the one which has an 80 to 90 percent mortality rate. This is the one people are scared about in the Bronx and what caused all those deaths,” she added.

“What surprised me most about the situation in the Bronx, and throughout the rest of the boroughs, was how many companies took advantage of the situation,” Peter LaRocco, an apprentice for New Tech Mechanical, a Long Island heating and air conditioning company, said. LaRocco explained how HVAC companies would charge “four to five times the amount they normally would” for inspection purposes, after Mayor De Blasio required all building and company owners to issue inspection of their cooling towers.

“What was originally an $800(ish) inspection, became a $4500-$5k inspection,” LaRocca said, in an email interview. “And when the fines by the city for not getting a cooling tower inspected could cost in between $10,000 – $20,000, getting up-charged 4 to 5 times the amount you normally would for a cooling tower inspection really isn’t that bad,” he added.

Initially, LaRocco thought that he had contracted the disease, after his doctors prescribed him antibiotics when they learned he works in HVAC.

“When we had the outbreak this summer, I was presenting most of the symptoms that qualified me for pneumonia. I thankfully didn’t have it, but was out of work for three days,” he said.

Enriching the Next Zuckerbergs With School

By Michelle Karim and Patricia Soberano

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Students in a Finance class at Stony brook University, about to take an exam. Photo Credit : Patricia Soberano
Jobs in the technology sector has risen to 33% in New York City, according to a report released by Office of the New York City Comptroller on February 2015.

Only 44% of jobs in the New York City tech industry require a Bachelor’s degree, a recent statistical report released by HR&A  advisors, an economic growth advising company for vast communities stated.

The only foreseeable setback of not graduating  college may be the re-entry in the academic system, Slater Victoroff, Indico’s CEO and co-founder said. Indico, a data analysis and programming company was founded by Victoroff and three colleagues almost two years ago in Massachusetts. Only one of the founders graduated from college.

“I’m very happy having not finished school,” Victoroff, who wished to become a lawyer, said.“I think that despite the fact that I hadn’t finished, the amount that I got out of my education was still incredible. I spent three years there and I think the amount I would get out of the fourth year is not worth a year of my time,” he said.

Columbia University launched a Columbia Startup Lab last year to support growing startups and encourage them to take advantage of interdisciplinary collaboration.

“In the six years I’ve been involved in this program, only two students have dropped out,” Christopher McGarry, the Director for Entrepreneurship and Columbia Alumni Relations and Development for Columbia University said.

McGarry also supports the idea of graduating college because of the networking opportunities provided by different university programs in varying fields and the ability to bounce off ideas in an intellectually safe environment.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ data, the college dropout rate decreased from 12 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2013. HR&A Advisors also reported that 11,600 jobs in the tech industry do not require a bachelor’s degree.

“As Indico started and the more I started working, my grades significantly dropped.,” Diana Yuan, COO and co-founder of Indico, said.

“Obviously because I spent my time not at school but working on our company which has more significant value,” she added. Diana Yuan graduated from Babson College this year, with a B.S. with a concentration in Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Design.

In 2015, Stony Brook University’s Long Island High Technology Incubator has launched more than 70 companies with an economic activity of $2.5 billion dollars, according to Accelerate Long Island status report.

To be successful, one must have the vision for a need of a particular innovation in the society, Dr. Gerrit Wolf, an industrial and organizational psychologist and Director of the Innovation Center at Stony Brook University said. Wolf has focused 20 years of his career on entrepreneurship.

“A student who has more experience in the real world is more likely to discover needs out there,” he said.

Shoreham Solar Project Fights Carbon Footprint

Sod farm in Shoreham, Long Island. Photo credit : Jakub Lewkowicz

By Michelle Karim and Jakub Lewkowicz

A 24.9 megawatt solar farm is set to open in Shoreham, Long Island but is involved in a dispute around the installation which will be decided in five days.

The farm will be built by Invenergy, a Chicago based clean energy company, and the panels will cover 150 acres of land on a the Tall Grass golf course, including the sod farms north of it. The site will include between 100,000 to 110,000 solar panels and according to the Invenergy website, will create 175 jobs in Shoreham and the surrounding region.

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Just this year, Riverhead built its own solar farm in 126 acres of land owned by Calverton Links golf course.The prospective land in Shoreham is currently under the residential and agricultural zoning but Invenergy officials are looking to change it to a private sector.

And some have already voiced their opposition to the plan.

A group of town locals collectively named Shoreham Wading River Advocates for Justice motioned against Invenergy to stop the company from installing the panels, a motion which the court denied at an August 3rd hearing this year. According to acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti, the residents failed to offer testimony or “scientific justification” for their case.

If we destroy natural areas to build solar panels, we might as well destroy them for shopping malls and roads. From a wildlife and nature standpoint, destruction is destruction,” Carl Safina, a marine ecologist and a visiting professor at Stony Brook University, said.

At the golf club, many are also resisting the change.

“Everyone is against it- the members, the employees. Everybody will lose their jobs.” John Semmig, a manager at the golf course said. Semmig also added that the Invenergy officials are giving them a “couple of different answers” regarding the solar panel project.

The firm is set to build the second largest solar power plant in Long Island and in the State and will power 3,500 homes in the Shoreham area. It was picked as the ideal site because it will help achieve New York’s new clean energy goals – cutting the Long Island Power Authority’s carbon footprint in the Brookhaven area by 50%, according to the Shoreham Solar Commons website.

Invenergy officials could not be reached for comment even after multiple attempts.

“It takes away from the fossil fuels and there is lesser carbon footprint,” Ryan Maloney, an employee at Vivint Solar, said. “The only downside for the solar field would be the fact that they are being used for crops,” Maloney added, referring the sod fields in Shoreham.

Vivint does not deal with large scale commercial projects but caters to the residents in the Long Island area.

Even though this project is set to create a clean environment and jobs, according to the Shoreham Solar Commons website, a lot of residents are not happy with the prospect. “Everyone wants to benefit but no one wants it by their house,” Corrine  Dureau, a resident of Shoreham said.

When asked to comment about the solar project, councilwoman of the town of Brookhaven Jane Bonner refused to comment. “This particular subject is under litigation and she cannot comment on anything,” Kimberly Farley, the legislative secretary, said.

“Absolutely, I think it’s a great idea,” John Repucci, a resident of the retirement home Leisure Knowles in Ridge, said. “I have solar power now and in our community we have had 30 to 35 houses equipped with solar panels in the last two years. It reduces the annual cost tremendously and it’s the best investment you can make,” he added.

The solar panels are to replace “greenhouse gas emissions” by taking the place of five fossil fuel producing plants in the surrounding area, according to the Shoreham solar commons website. The community at Tall Grass course will hear on the status of the bid for the land on September 30th.

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