Alumni step up in a time of crisis
When you graduate from a school whose ethos includes the directive to put your skills to use for the good of society, it’s not surprising that you’d look for ways to be of service during a public health crisis. As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on day-to-day life for many, these alumni have found ways to harness their skills and passions to lend a hand.
Gabriel Avgerinos (’73)
Since 2010, Gabriel Avgerinos has helmed Energy Mentors International, a consulting firm that helps its corporate, academic, and governmental clients transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources; collaborates with the U.N., NGOs, and think tanks on sustainable development goals; and runs workshops for clean-energy startups. He has been working in the global clean energy business for more than 40 years in total, and as though those activities don’t keep him busy enough, he makes time to teach a Tandon graduate course, Energy Policy and Environmental Regulatory Constraints, which also provides an insider’s look at NYU’s underground cogeneration power plant and ACRE, a clean-energy incubator located at Tandon’s Urban Future Lab. Additionally, he serves as a mentor to current students and recent graduates entering the sustainable energy sector.
Since the COVID-19 crisis hit, Avgerinos has redoubled his efforts, not only with Tandon students but with those from Stern (where he earned his MBA in International Business in 1977) and other universities throughout the country and overseas. No longer able to hold in-person sessions, he is meeting with his mentees and clients via Zoom and through emails and telephone calls. “We started that all the way back in February, very early on in the crisis,” he says. “Many of my clients operate in China, so as soon as word began filtering out from them, we took extra precautions.” Lately, Avgerinos and his mentees are discussing COVID-19 data and public health impact awareness, as well as sustainable energy transition and climate change mitigation, but he is happy to follow wherever their interests take them. With one student, he is working on a community-based initiative involving electronic voter-registration and mail-in voting for NYU students — a boon if in-person voting remains hazardous. “We will all get through this difficult time by working together and helping each other any way we can,” he says.
Gabriella Cammarata (’18)
When Gabriella Cammarata was a student, earning a master’s degree in Integrated Digital Media (IDM), she was an integral part of a project to create custom-fitted orthotics for kids with cerebral palsy, who often outgrew their devices quicker than insurance companies were willing to pay for them. Taking precise measurements by means of a mobile app and employing the 3D printers in Tandon’s MakerSpace, Cammarata and her fellow students provided the orthotics to young patients at NYU Langone and were gratified to see them being used successfully.
Now, Cammarata, who returned to Tandon to work as the IDM program’s studio research coordinator, is pitching in with the school’s COVID-19 response. Although like most people, she is working right now far from Brooklyn, when NYU Langone medical staff and faculty in the Clinical Engineering Department reached out to the MakerSpace with a problem, she quickly helped devise a solution.
Langone had received a desperately needed shipment of powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) to be used as protective devices for doctors and nurses, but the hoods featured clips that broke easily. Unable to quickly acquire replacement clips from the manufacturer, they sent a few of the original pieces to the MakerSpace, where measurements were taken and sent to Cammarata. Working backward, she was able to create accurate 3D models to print the needed replacements.
“I want to help in any way I can, although it never feels like enough,” she said, “especially in light of how much the healthcare professionals on the frontlines are doing.” Some of those frontline heroes are now wearing secure, protective PAPRs, and that’s directly thanks to Cammarata and her design skills.
Christina Coscia-Turturro (’01, ’04)
“Pandemics are one thing that Poly did not have a course on back in my day,” Christina Coscia-Turturro says, “but I knew there must be a way to put my tech skills to work and help my family and neighbors during this challenging time.”
Coscia-Turturro, who hails from a traditional Italian family, hit upon a course of action by combining her tech skills with another passion: food. “Living in New York at the epicenter of the crisis and sheltering in place, we are at the mercy (and blessing) of food delivery services,” she says. “I realized that there were probably many older people who had never set up an Instacart or Fresh Direct account and who wouldn’t have any idea of where to start. Once I showed my aunt what to do with Instacart the first time, she was able to do it herself the next time.”
Word spread via social media, and Coscia-Turturro soon found her skills in hot demand. Her thoughts turned then to those without money to purchase food for themselves, and she began encouraging her circles to donate to Branches Long Island, a local 501c3 organization that helps connect families with what they need in times of crisis, and to donate to area restaurants providing meals to healthcare workers. “I do that myself with every paycheck because I’m one of those lucky enough to be working from home and still earning a salary,” she says.
Her employer, Zebra Technologies, she explains, is a socially responsible global company that put actions into place to keep their employees, partners, and customers safe while still maintaining business and making monetary donations and product contributions to those in need. “My degrees from what was then known as Polytechnic University prepared me to work for such a wonderful company, so I’m very grateful for that.”
Her efforts, she says, are modest, but they help her feel that she can make a difference in this terrible time. “Love can be expressed through food,” she asserts, “so this is about making people feel loved one grocery order or meal at a time.”
Paul Dillon (‘66)
Paul Dillon — who earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry at what was then known as the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn before attending NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — is a member of the Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) Collaborative. The nonprofit network aims to promote communication and partnership amongst patients and physicians in order to advance understanding of the causes and mechanisms of ILDs and improve their management and treatment. Serving as a patient advisor, Dillon recently gave an informative Zoom presentation, COVID-19 Testing: How It’s Done and What It Means, a topic of enormous interest to patients with ILDs, many of which cause progressive scarring of the lung tissue, affecting the ability to breathe.
His service during the pandemic does not stop there. A biostatistician who currently chairs the Westchester Chemical Society (part of the American Chemical Society), Dillon is also working to develop a protocol for an at-home device intended to reduce the need for hospitalization for newly diagnosed Covid-19 patients.
For more than a century the family-owned business Thomas has served as a source of B2B information for buyers and sellers. Originally published in hefty, hard-copy manuals, the company now lists more than 500,000 commercial and industrial suppliers in its massive, online database (thomasnet.com), along with product catalogs for more than six million industrial products, from adhesives to zinc.
While you might expect a firm of that age and size to be tradition-bound and slow to pivot, when the current pandemic hit, everyone there, including Peter Mooney, who studied mechanical engineering at the Farmingdale campus in the 1990s, sprang into action.
They immediately created a resource hub for Covid-19, available at help.thomasnet.com/covid-19-resource-hub, which allows hospitals and other organizations in need to efficiently source such vital items as N95 respirators, surgical masks, ventilators, disinfectants, air filtration units, and more. Whether it’s a California-based sewing contractor able to produce large quantities of any sewn mask design or an Illinois-based metal fabricator that can quickly manufacture component parts for personal protective equipment (PPE), they are listed on the easily searchable hub.
“We've also been contacted by the White House to help with industrial sourcing of critical Covid-19 related products,” Mooney explains, “and I’m happy to be playing a small part in a very important mission.”
Leonid Vayner (’95)
Cybersecurity is a pandemic-proof profession, as Leonid Vayner points out to the college and high school students he mentors. In fact, he says, in times of crises, which pose increased opportunities for scammers to ply their nefarious trade, the need for cybersecurity experts is even greater, and during the current COVID-19 outbreak, cyber-professionals have been deemed essential workers by the government.
These days, Vayner is doing his career mentoring online, and this month he visited Tandon via Zoom to host a talk and Q&A session with the Tandon Cybersecurity Club. He has also found it gratifying to help Brooklyn nonprofits comply with New York State rules on risk assessment and action plans, and he’s currently raising funds that will aid South Brooklyn’s first responders.
In addition to all that, iMishpacha, a grassroots group in which Vayner holds a position of leadership, is working on the ground to get food to the elderly and vulnerable in South Brooklyn, a massive initiative involving Borough President Eric Adams, the NYPD’s 60th Precinct, and other stakeholders. “There are many other Poly alumni involved in the group,” he says, “and it’s good to work together to help our borough.”