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Igniting the Creative Spark

Igniting the Creative Spark

Igniting the Creative Spark

Through her fellowship program, Florence Cohen Rosen ’59 helps inspire students to design projects that will give them unique real-world experiences and set them on their career paths.

In less than a decade, the Rosen Fellowship has funded the out-of-classroom adventures of 84 student projects, which have included anthropological fieldwork in the American West, beekeeping in Greece, swimming with (and studying) sharks in the Bahamas, and completing a law firm internship in Israel.

Conceived of by Florence Cohen Rosen ’59 in 2011, the program provides a stipend of up to $5,000 to Brooklyn College freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who self-design an experience or project that will promote their creative or career advancement.

“It gives them real-world experience and insights into things they probably would not have run across until later into their careers,” says Rosen, the president of Rosen Associates Management Corp., which manages and develops shopping centers and other commercial properties throughout the United States.

Rosen joined the Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn College Foundation in 2007. She has also served on the board of directors of Roundabout Theatre and the board of trustees of Fisher House Foundation, Inc. With her husband, retired Rear Admiral Robert A. Rosen, she founded the Florence and Robert A. Rosen Family Wellness Center for Law Enforcement and Military Personnel and Their Families at Long Island Jewish Hospital.

The Rosens attend semiannual meetings at the college at which the students present their projects. From eight to ten fellowships are awarded annually. When it comes to selecting fellows, Rosen is quick to emphasize that a high grade point average is not the criteria, that it is the quality of the projects, the diversity of learning experiences that are taken into account. “I’m glad that we’re giving these young people a chance,” she adds.

“Florence has an intuitive nature about forming relationships and making things happen that will morph into something bigger,” says Evelyn Guzman, director of scholarships and honors recruiting at Brooklyn College. “One of the things we did from the start was to hold a post-selection dinner for new fellows so that they could meet one another. The next year she said, ‘Let’s do it again, and let’s invite the students from the prior group.’ Over the years, it’s become a tradition of new fellows meeting former fellows.” The most rewarding takeaway, Guzman says, comes out of conversations with former fellows. “When we ask them what the fellowship has meant to them, across the board they point to their experience as pivotal, putting them on a trajectory that has landed them where they are now.”

One example is Sofia Ahsanuddin ’16, today an M.D. candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She used her 2015 Rosen Fellowship to travel to Hyderabad, India, conducting field interviews to investigate the beliefs and practices of Hyderabadi Muslim women regarding breast and cervical cancer screening. With a view toward becoming a public health specialist, Ahsanuddin has interned at the United Nations, served as a delegate to the Clinton Global Initiative University, and was executive director for a critical study at Weill Cornell Medicine on microbial life in New York City subways. In 2017, she was invited to speak on microbial resistance at the Third International German Forum on Health and Innovation.

For Rosen, the fellowships provide opportunities for students like Ahsanuddin, but they are also about investing in the future. “When I come to Brooklyn College and we speak with the students, my faith is renewed that America is going to be well served. This inspires me the most.”


Tori McGregor
Tori McGregor ’19

Tori McGregor ’19

On the first day of her internship, Tori McGregor ’19 found herself so close to a shark that she could reach out and touch it. She’d never been on a dive before nor seen a shark so close up.

“Having a chance to see them in their natural habitat,” the Brooklyn native says, “is an experience that’s hard to put into words. For me, it was calming.”

McGregor, who majored in urban sustainability, used her Rosen stipend to help fund her summer at the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation in the Bahamas, where she did everything from catching tiger sharks from a catamaran to bait fishing and fixing equipment.

McGregor hopes to attend graduate school for marine biology conservation. She’d like to focus on saving endangered marine apex predators for her career because “they protect the ecosystem,” she says.

“I want to make sure they receive the protections they need, and I can achieve that through research.”

Aakaash Varma
Aakaash Varma ’16

Aakaash Varma ’16

Aakaash Varma ’16 traveled to India and Pakistan in 2015 to research his family’s history and that of the two countries. The former Coordinated B.A.-M.D. Program student knew parts of the story of his family’s experience during the 1947 split of the two South Asian nations. Still, with his Rosen funding, he was able to retrace those steps and document more of his family’s experiences through interviews with witnesses who still live there.

With the help of the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to promote the oral histories of Pakistan and foster Indo-Pak unity, he interviewed 12 people. He also found his family’s home village, where he met the oldest surviving resident, who remembered his great-grandmother.

“All I had was a few names; still, I sought to recover history,” he says.

Sitrat Bassey
Sitrat Bassey ’15

Sitrat Bassey ’15

In 2013, health and nutrition major Sitrat Bassey ’15 headed to her home of Lagos, Nigeria, to educate midwives, or, as they are called in her country, birth attendants, in rural communities.

“Traditional birth attendants are the go-to people for obstetric care there,” she explains. “Yet we had some astoundingly high numbers of newborn and maternal fatalities.”

Her idea was to find a way to lower those numbers by offering training to lesser-skilled birth attendants. In the process, Bassey, who worked at a clinic in her village, solved an ongoing problem.

“There was a rift in the village between the skilled and more unskilled attendants, and this was causing a big problem. We got the skilled attendants to help teach better ways and techniques of delivering babies.”

Rather than working against each other, all the attendants will be “working hand in hand,” says Bassey.

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