Home College: College of Staten Island
Faculty Mentor: Prof. Leonard Ciaccio, Biology, College of Staten Island
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship
CUNY BA-Memorial Scholarship
Daniel E. Smith Returning Woman Scholarship
In her CUNY BA application, Ella Viola wrote, “When Robert Frost talked about ‘two roads’ diverging in a yellow wood, he wasn’t kidding when he said the one less taken was ‘grassy and wanted wear.’ My own unusual path towards a bachelor’s degree has been twisted, narrow, overgrown and barely visible at times – but I’ve kept walking. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a passion for animals and dreamt of a career working with them. Being young and in love, I took a detour, but with hard work and a stubborn determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, things are falling into place. After high school I got married and needed a job. I enrolled in Grace Institute, a vocational school, and quickly became a very young and inexperienced member of the adult workforce. I got a job as an administrative assistant with a podiatrist; the work was oddly intriguing. It stoked my curiosity for science and convinced me that it was time to return to school and pursue my passion.”
When Viola had two young children she decided to become a nurse for animals. LaGuardia Community College became her second home, the professors a second family. She took a job as a teaching assistant, first in the laboratory and later in the classroom. Pregnant with her third child, she graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science and a Veterinary Technician’s license. Then her family moved to Staten Island and the daily commute to Queens became too much. With regret, she gave up her position and began the search for job closer to her new home. While working part-time at an animal hospital, she met some people who introduced her to the Staten Island Zoo. She applied and was accepted for an instructor position. The zoo combined her love for animals with her passion for teaching. Over time she was promoted to her current position, Director of Education. Now she hires and trains education staff and volunteers, and designs curricula for school groups, teachers and families using the zoo’s animal collection. A Bachelor’s degree in Zoology became her essential next step.
Viola is completing her degree with undergrad and graduate courses in Biology and Environmental Science from the College of Staten Island (CSI). She included an Independent Study with Prof. Lisa Manne, Biology, CSI, on the activity of moths in the fall months and the potential effects of climate warming and pesticides on their reproduction season. She conducted her research in Blue Heron Park, Staten Island and in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She benefitted greatly, she says, from the hands-on experiences she gained in Field Biology, the environmental lessons learned in her Biosphere and Our Species course, and her Tropical Biology class, which studied in the Virgin Islands over the winter.
In spring 2011, Viola received a grant from Time Warner to conduct a nature program for middle school children at the Staten Island Zoo. She named it “Habitreking” and it involved nature hikes and lessons about different ecosystems; Time Warner was extremely pleased with the results. This semester she is presenting her original work, Cold Tolerance and PesticideUse in Fall-Flying Moths at the CSI Undergraduate Research Conference.
Viola has been accepted to the Master’s in Biology at CSI for fall 2012. “My path is still winding and probably never finished; I love to learn,” she says.