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Student Features

Our University Scholars students are diverse in their backgrounds, studies, and experiences. Here are a few of our exceptional students who have accomplished wonderful things thus far. 

 

Jordyn C. feature 

1. Jordyn Christophides,
compiled by Elijah Fajardo

“It wasn’t the Mamma Mia! experience some people thought it was,” Scholar Jordyn Christophides said while reminiscing about her time in Skala Sikamineas, Lesvos. “If I could describe it in two words, I’d call it both heartbreaking and inspiring.” 

More than one hundred years ago, Jordyn’s great grandmother had to flee the Western border of Turkey in order to escape the violent raids perpetrated by the Ottomans. One of the many Greek islands refugees fled to was Lesvos, an island off the coast of Turkey. Jordyn would often make trips there to see family and distant relatives while volunteering for different humanitarian programs in high school. After 2015, however, history proved to repeat itself. 

Her vacation hotspot soon became the center of an international tug of war for the lives of Syrian and Afghani refugees  — with the demarcation line between Turkey and Greece at its epicenter. Watching the footage of refugees trying to flee to a town she so often visited, it felt as if she did not just need to be there — but that she simply had to. Her calling to be there was not just born from necessity, but out of her burning desire to help those in need. For Jordyn, “This wasn’t like it was happening in a faraway place — it was like, I ate dinner there once! It made it more real, and I don’t think that’s special to me. I think if anyone saw that happening in a place that they had been, it would make the situation much more real to them.”

Jordyn’s sense of obligation led her to act as a Greek interpreter and EMT to those in need in Lesvos. She would often do “Spotting”, which would involve her scanning the horizon for refugees within thirty minute cycles throughout the day — her favorite parts however, involved talking to the refugees in Farsi in the northern campsite. Jordyn had originally planned to return to Lesvos last April but “obviously, COVID happened, so that nicked my plans right there.”

Alongside everyone else, Jordyn had to adapt her lifestyle to the changes presented by the pandemic. Jordyn had always felt restlessness before doing an assignment. Her experiences were that when she sets a day aside to work  “while you’re vibing and going on Instagram, you can’t even enjoy Instagram because, you know, it’s kind of your work day. And then you start doing work and tell yourself, ‘Well I’m kind of relaxing and I wasn’t planning to work right now, I can just work on this later’ — and so you can’t enjoy relaxing and you can’t get anything done with your work. The next thing you know, it’s Friday night, and you’re like ‘rest in peace, I can’t’.” 

In these unprecedented and isolating times, the motivation to do work alongside hardworking peers is at an all time low. However, Jordyn was able to bounce back from this studious rut by adding structure to her life, thus allowing her to regain a sense of accomplishment. “Let’s say I schedule to work on my reading for two hours and finish it. Instead of doing things only when you want to, you’re able to get that relaxation period if you schedule your work time. In a time when nobody’s giving you a pat on the back because it’s just you alone in your room, you need to learn how to make your schedule in a way that you’re going to give yourself a pat on the back.” 

After the pandemic, Jordyn plans to volunteer in Lesvos again; while furthering her studies in political science and linguistics to become an asylum lawyer. Jordyn plans to help refugees not just through physical means but also through the system. “I live in New York, I’m smart enough to go to school, and can pay for it. I have all those [opportunities] available to me, and not many of those who want to help, do.” Jordyn went on to state how her boots-on-the-ground experiences were logistically challenging - “How many kids can we fit into one tent? How can we feed all these people with six meals? And then, we’re just left dividing in the air, and we get told that a hundred more people are coming and we’re moving people...it was like living out a math problem.” With these kinds of challenges, there seems to be a need for a systematic solution for the math problem she had lived through -- a solution which Jordyn hopes to be able to provide. University Scholar, Jordyn Christophides, is certainly a woman to watch out for in the years ahead. 


 

Ryan Tam feature

2. Ryan Tam, 
compiled by Annie Lin

“Work hard, play harder.” It is a phrase most often used to describe the work-life balance many hope to achieve in their lives. For University Scholar Ryan Tam, it is the motto that runs his life and is reflected in all that he involves himself in. From Staten Island, Ryan came to Stony Brook initially drawn to the architecture of the Wang Center. After spending a few years here, he attributes his gratitude in choosing Stony Brook for his undergraduate studies to the unconditional support by many he has met throughout his college journey.

When normal life was uprooted by the pandemic, Ryan searched for ways to give back to his community. He used his technical background in BME to engineer PPE; he made cards for frontline healthcare workers. Most importantly, he learned to truly value and appreciate the support of SBU staff and faculty that pushed him to further his involvement in campus organizations from Alpha Eta Mu Beta International Biomedical Engineering Honor Society to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, especially during unprecedented times. 

It is this sensitive balance between campus involvement and personal development that has pushed Ryan to greater achievements while being able to see positivity in the ways that the pandemic has changed his life. On campus, he was able to make significant progress in his Senior Design project with the support of BME faculty, continue serving as a Resident Assistant, and lead local outreach efforts for his BME honor society. Meanwhile, he found the time to figure out what study habits work for him: Making sure he budgeted and allocated time in his day for assignments, extracurriculars, and all his other priorities, he was able to minimize distractions and use his time effectively. In realizing the difficulty of being able to see and interact with friends, as he once did on campus, it fostered a greater appreciation for his close relationships. As a result, he has been keeping in touch with friends and family through game nights, movie nights, and FaceTime or Zoom calls. As he looks forward to the days where he can return to Stony Brook as an alumnus for traditions like the Strawberry Fest and Roth Regatta, it is comforting to know that there is still great opportunity for personal and professional growth.

For Ryan, being a University Scholar incited greater opportunities for self-growth and the development of lasting relationships. The Program connected him to his first mentor at SBU, and introduced him to friends and Advisors that he knows he will keep in touch with moving forward.

As an expected graduate this semester, Ryan reflects on his undergraduate work and studies with pride and a sense of satisfaction. Indebtedly grateful to those who have guided and supported him— many of those being fellow University Scholars— he hopes to encourage further mentorship and inspire those around him to reach out and lean on a community willing and ready to support one another.




Maya Hasegawa

3. Maya Hasegawa,
compiled by  Elijah Fajardo

“That’s a forte! You need to play that note loudly — like this!” Maya’s piano teacher exclaimed, fervently slamming her finger through the piano key. A four year old Maya Hasegawa who was tensed up from being unable to produce the note, flinched at the sound of a whip cracking midair. The piano string had snapped. After a moment of silence, they both started to laugh about it. “Well, it’s broken! But that’s kind of what I want you to do,” she explained. “I don’t care if you break a string. I want you to be confident and hit that note.”

Maya was always adept at music; she performed in front of audiences small and large, emphasizing grace but falling short of illustrating an equal intensity. In high school, she would attend a piano camp where the same problem cropped up again. First it was the posture, then it was about bringing the shoulders back, then it was all on the technique of her hands, and so on and so forth. But she was still tense — or rather, afraid. By the end of camp, she still struggled to utilize that full dynamic range of sound. As Maya began to practice more on the fortissimo sound on her own, she found that, “When [she] started to really focus on it  — ‘cause I had never focused on it because I was afraid of it — I was like ‘It shouldn’t be hard to bring a fortissimo out of the piano.’ It’s very nuanced — I can’t just hit the piano otherwise I’d get a harsh sound, but I can do it. I may be a small person but that does not mean I can’t get that sound out of a piano.” Maya began to think about the kind of loud she wanted in each piece— would she make it triumphant? Brassy? Or perhaps even violent? With that focus and consideration, she began to play a piece in front of her teacher after a year of practice, and both of them stood still for a moment when she played her fortissimo perfectly. After celebrating making her first fortissimo sound in a piece, she began to think of her life as a whole. 

“This wasn’t connected to music at all — I began to think I wasn’t participating enough in school. I wasn’t really putting myself out there friends-wise. And I started to become more confident and ask more questions in class, talk to the teachers, and be a little more confident in places that I wasn’t before. And at the end of that whole thing — I realized that these two things began to converge.” Maya was always fascinated with intense things but was never able to enact that same intense confidence within her life. She realized that being confident wasn’t her forte. But that didn’t stop her from trying to be confident and trying to put herself out there. “I realized that I can put my mind to it and that I can get to my goal.” 

For University Scholar Maya Hasegawa, this is where her story truly began. She began to become a more involved concert master, joined clubs, played varsity tennis, became a black belt karate instructor in East Coast Black Belt Academy, learned a new language, became more involved and organized in school, and has now become a University Scholars Fellow. Although she has done so much after her decision to focus and change, this didn’t stop her unease and tensity from going away. Maya says that she never considered herself an outgoing person, “I think the most important thing I learned from this was that I am capable of overcoming my fears. Submitting my application to the Fellows Program was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done in college, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made and I’m so glad I did it. Things like joining a club or going to office hours was daunting to me, but I’ve had so many positive experiences that came from jumping into things I was scared of. I hope people who are in the same boat I was in can see that Stony Brook offers so many opportunities, and taking advantage of them can only be a good thing.” 

As important as piano was to Maya, there was something more that she wanted to give to the world. In high school, Maya’s family friend fell ill many times from cancer. She’d always send him recordings of her performances or her practicing pieces, which gave him a sense of tangible comfort. Maya, however, still felt obligated to do more than just play music for him. She said that she wanted “to do more, I want to tackle the problem at the root — at the disease, at the cancer. I want to have a more direct impact.” 

Maya is a biology major keeping her career avenues open, but is currently focusing on becoming a physician. Taking the hard road may not have originally been Maya’s forte. Despite the past, the hard road ahead has become a song University Scholar Maya Hasegawa will play with full dynamic brilliance — and with focus and discipline, one in which she is able to hit the note she needs in every step of the way.