The Incredible Journey of a Soon-to-be-Graduate
Zachary Avrutis, who will graduate this spring with an A.S. in Chemistry, has many fond memories of his time at Queensborough Community College. The most significant memory, perhaps, was his introduction to research in the summer of 2019.
“I first met my research mentor when he was working with a group of students on a project that perfectly aligned with my fascination for electronics and technology,” said 27-year-old Zachary, who was awarded an NSF-REU paid summer internship to conduct undergraduate research at Vanderbilt University. Due to COVID, the internship has been postponed to summer 2021.
Among his mentors is Dr. Paul Sideris, who guided Zachary on his research of Laser-Induced Graphene Micro-Supercapacitors. “Working with Dr. Sideris opened my eyes to the awesome power of graphene, an incredible material with applications in miniaturized energy storage devices used for a variety of purposes, from phones, to cars and even medical devices.”
“Throughout the semester, Zachary expressed an interest in the process of discovery and wanted to work with me in the lab and operate the equipment. It was rewarding to see the progression of his technical skills as well as how quickly he began to work independently on his project. He understood that one of the greatest challenges in performing research, at any level, is dealing with failure. Sometimes the initial research plan just doesn’t work. What impressed me most about Zachary was his positive attitude and perseverance with the inevitable frustrations along the way,” said Dr. Sideris.
It wasn’t long ago that Zachary’s eyes were first opened to his potential as a student, a researcher and budding scientist. Aspirations he hadn’t dared dream of in years past.
Zachary, from Valley Stream, Long Island, was just seven years-old when his family began to fall apart. His mother, who had medical issues, became addicted to opioids and made decisions that resulted in her being removed from the family. This left Zachary and his four-year-old sister, Paige, to be raised by their father, who worked very hard as a project coordinator to support their small family. For the next several years, Zachary felt lost and ill-prepared for the future. After High School, he applied to Queensborough and registered for the music program. Just weeks before the semester started, he got ‘cold feet’ and dropped out. Lacking confidence in his abilities, he decided to enter the workforce and become financially independent.
His father helped him secure a job that would have him working with the NYU Langone medical research labs in Manhattan where he assisted researchers recover research equipment and coordinate to get their facilities running again after Hurricane Sandy. Over time Zachary matured and began to understand himself on a deeper level, and a slow burning interest for scientific research grew. Years later, Zachary had become financially independent and confident enough to return to Queensborough. He enrolled in fall 2017, completed his first-year pre-requisites, and dove into Chemistry. He was introduced to the subject in classes led by Dr. Paul Sideris, Dr. David Sarno, and Dr. Paris Svoronos of the Chemistry department. Dr. Svoronos guided Zachary through the NSF-REU essays/applications/reference letters as he does for all NSF-REU applicants at Queensborough.
“Zachary's success underlines the significance of the community college concept in American society where one is judged by what they have achieved and not by their background. It is the second chance coupled with the trust and understanding of the mentor's vision that defines the eventual transformation of a student's life,” said Dr. Svoronos.
Zachary was named to the Dean’s list every semester and received the spring 2019 Pak Kuen Wong Endowment for Chemistry Research. He will graduate with a 3.85 G.P.A., and attend Hunter College in the fall to continue his studies in Chemistry.
His future plans include graduate studies in computer or electrical engineering, with the ultimate goal of becoming an engineering scientist who combines the molecular aspects of chemistry and the practical applications of engineering to develop new technologies centered on energy and powering electronic devices.
“The way we power things now with fossil fuels creates conflict in the world, but if we can power ourselves without the territorial semantics then I believe the world can become a more unified place. It’s a logical step forward that’s more technologically sophisticated and environmentally sound,” said Zachary.
These days, despite the bleak COVID situation, Zachary is feeling very grateful. Not only for his academic achievements but on a more personal level. His mother is fully recovered and Zachary’s sister, who graduated last spring from University at Buffalo-SUNY with a B.A. in Communications, now works full-time at a media specialist agency.
The COVID situation has also motivated Zachary to plan creative ways to spend his summer. “I’m really into working with my hands, so I bought an old car that needs a lot of work. My dad and I will work together on repairs, which is cool, because we get to spend time together, just the two of us.”