CUNY BA Alumni Interview: Yaas Azmoudeh

CUNY BA Alumni Interview: Yaas Azmoudeh

Yaas Azmoudeh (Neurobiology and Music Cognition, City College, 2022)

Interviewed by: Maya Kharem (Acting and Performance, City College, 2024)

Q: What was your what was your CUNY BA Area of Concentration (AOC)?

I did a double concentration in neurobiology and music cognition.

Q: What was interesting to you about those things?

To begin with, it was because I wanted to have music in my undergrad curriculum somehow. When I was at City College, which was my home campus, I wanted to double major originally in biology and music, but the music [program] that I wanted to do got discontinued that year. I reached out to my advisor and talked to her about how I could include music somehow since they also didn’t have a minor. She told me about CUNY BA. I’ve been playing violin, and it got me interested in wanting to pursue it in college. I was also on the premed track, so I started getting into research and neuroscience. I thought that I could combine neuroscience and music somehow. I feel like there is a connection between them, and it’s interesting to study music and the brain and see what kind of effects you can have. CUNY BA really allowed me to do that. I took a lot of classes in music history and music theory and then also on the neuroscience side, like biology and psychology.

Q: What was your overall experience with the CUNY BA program?

In the beginning, when I was starting to apply and make my curriculum, I met with my advisor. I was definitely more involved in that process. Then over time, I kind of took on the reins myself. It was really helpful to have a lot of people on board to support me. I really appreciated that I had an advisor that worked with me. It was very easy to talk to him and see what my schedule would look like if something changed. He was very accommodating and helpful. I really like the community there.

Q: How did you find an approach to your faculty mentor?

I was a bit nervous finding one because it was during COVID, and it was hard to reach out to professors, especially at other campuses, where both of my faculty mentors were. One of them was from Hunter, and the other was from Brooklyn College, and they definitely helped me with extending the amount of time to submit. CUNY BA also had a lot of informational sessions that were helpful.

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They made it easier for me to understand how I should approach the mentor I want to work with. So I just sent out an e-mail to two people that were very distinctly in music cognition and then in neurobiology. I got a response and met with them over zoom where we spoke about my interests and what I need a mentor to be for, and we went over my curriculum.

Q: Did you find it easy to navigate creating your Area of Concentration (AOC) and figuring out your curriculum?

I had already been doing e-permits for my freshman and sophomore years so I was familiar with the process of going to another campus to take a class. I would look on CUNY First for classes. It was definitely hard to find classes specifically in music cognition. But I think that overall it turned out to be good, and I feel like my classes correlated with my concentration. I was so happy that I was in CUNY BA, and I could choose the classes that had the best professors on

Q: How can students build strong working relationships with their faculty mentors?

It would be good to have a monthly check-in with them or even twice a semester. Just have some sort of date to meet during the semester just to talk. I think it would be helpful because you could think of things to talk about. To consistently meet would be important because there’s always something that they can help with. Another way that they would help is through research. Both of my faculty mentors worked heavily in research. I wasn’t ever part of their research, but I think it would have been a great idea to reach out that way too.

Q: Were you involved in other aspects of the program outside of your coursework? And if so,  what were they, and how were you able to build community within those activities?

I went to the meeting about “finding a faculty member mentor,” who was very helpful. I wish that I had a yeah, as I said, more in contact, but I was at that point already involved in a lot of extracurriculars through Macaulay and City College and also Hunter College that was continuing and progressing that I couldn’t take on another.

Q: What things were you involved in with Macaulay and CCNY?

I played the violin, so I was the president of the Macaulay Chamber Music Society, and there was an organization at City College- the AED Premed Honor Society. I founded a chapter on musical empowerment. It’s an organization based in North Carolina at UNC-Chapel Hill, and it creates pairs between college volunteers and students in public schools who don’t have music programs to teach music and also create mentorship. This was at Hunter College. I was on the premed track, so I wanted to take advantage of research opportunities and leadership opportunities. All the experiences helped me understand that I wanted to pursue medicine.

Q: What are your plans for the future, and how has CUNY BA helped you achieve your goals thus far?

I’m pursuing a master’s right now in public health. What I studied in CUNY BA was my passion coming into college, and I think I developed it in college too. One of my newer interests is public health. I feel like it’s just a step further and makes me think of what I’ve studied in a bigger picture and structurally. Health is not just your physical health. It’s also your mental and spiritual health. It does intertwine in a lot of different fields.

I also think that it will help me as a doctor, knowing who has access to this health [and] the inequalities and inequities that exist in our health systems. It was kind of a mixture of my entire college experience that brought me to this, so CUNY BA is definitely a part of it. I will attend medical school next year. That’s what I hope to pursue, and I think in the long run. What I did at CUNY BA, specifically in neuroscience and music, will help me as a doctor. I want to incorporate music somehow into my practice. I don’t know exactly how [but] I’ve learned a lot about how music can affect pain and relieve stress. I feel like these are things that can also be seen in the practice of like medicine, procedures that may be painful.

I actually did end up doing research with my organic chemistry professor, but he was like doing research in psychology and education and science learning, so I did research with him on effective musical intelligence. You have multiple intelligences. Some can have more mathematical intelligence some have musical intelligence. There are six different types that he breaks them into, and I wanted to study the effect of musical intelligence in like learning science. I found during the surveys that a lot of people who had achievements in science had more musical intelligence. I will be presenting it at a conference next week at the University of Oxford. I would say that CUNY BA helped me get to that point in finding research that merged the two, and it’s kind of a niche thing.

Q: What advice do you have for current CUNY BA students to get the most out of the program?

The meetings were very helpful, so if they e-mail you about a meeting that they’re holding—I know that they would plan a lot of events for your students—they are actually helpful. Know that your advisor has your back, and they will help you if you need to change something in your curriculum. It can permanently be fixed or changed. I think taking advantage of your advisor and just being able to talk to them about [any] doubts that you’re having. It’s not easy to create a curriculum on your own. There are reasons why there are whole departments that do that, so I think being able to speak to someone very honestly see is important.

Q: Is there anything else that you feel would be helpful for anyone reading the interview to know?

I would say that if your school doesn’t have your major or you’re interested in doing something else, it is really a gem in the CUNY system, and I wish more people knew about it. It is unique in the fact that you can create your own course of study. I think it’s really cool to have it personalized.