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A Commitment Extending Beyond Education

By Helen Susan Edelman

Empire State College’s commitment to working adults extends beyond educating them to actually being their workplace for about 250 alumni hired into roles across the college.

They are in positions ranging from administrators to support staff to faculty, serving the college that helped educate them. “These alumni work day in and day out, contributing to the growth, success and excellence of their alma mater,” says Director of Alumni and Student Relations Maureen Winney.

Winney says the alumni-employee relationship can evolve two ways. A student who graduates from the college may find a job in which he or she can apply the skills and academic knowledge learned through studies, or an employee may observe, through contact with students, the personal enrichment and job skills that come from study and decide to enroll.

“Our employees are so impressed with the mission of the college and the dignity with which working adults are treated, that they look at the outcomes and say, ‘That’s possible for me, too,’” Winney explains. “We appreciate them as role models and coaches for our students, but mostly we thank them for their camaraderie as our colleagues. This is a generous group, offering time, talent and treasure to sustain us.”

In the current, very competitive job market, the college can be selective about who to hire, so the job offer extended to alumni to join the staff at every level of the organization is a real vote of mutual respect – in both directions. The college is asserting confidence that its graduates have been well prepared for the work at hand, and the alumni are expressing both their dedication to the mission of the college, as well as excitement about the meaningful contributions they might make to the college community as well-educated and ambitious employees.

“It’s always fun to see our own employees cross the stage at graduation,” says Winney.

It’s a win-win.

Raúl Manzano


Faculty Mentor in the Visual Arts Raúl Manzano ’05 was climbing the career ladder at a bank, but his first love – art – was languishing, so while still a bank employee, he enrolled in SUNY Empire’s Master of Liberal Arts program and dove back in, graduating in 2005 from the Metropolitan Center with a master’s in the arts.

“I needed a change in my life and to return to my passion,” he says. “After 18 years at Commerzbank, A.G., in different roles, I applied to Empire State College. Because I was still at the bank, I needed a school that would allow me to be flexible about when I could study.”

Manzano’s journey to art actually began early in life when his mother, an artist, gave him his first art lessons, followed by his admission to art school and private instruction in his native city of Cali, Colombia.

After completing his master’s, Manzano, a painter, began working at the college as an assistant to Professor Betty Wilde-Biasiny in her drawing study, Perceptual Drawing. Manzano also offered tutorials for two terms, followed by an appointment as a quarter-time mentor, then half-time and, currently, three-quarter-time.

Manzano has taught at both the Manhattan and Brooklyn locations, ultimately becoming a permanent mentor in the visual arts in Brooklyn, as well as coordinator for the art exhibits at that location’s Livingston Gallery. “My MALS program, with an emphasis in museum studies and studio practice, gave me the focus for what I teach today,” he says. “The program also advanced my practice in the arts, as I had the opportunity to have my own studio, engage with visiting artists and supervise and coordinate undergraduate and graduate activities. I can say that the training and learning was the springboard for what followed. The blended options, face-to-face and online studies, expanded the ways in which I learned.”

These days, in addition to teaching study groups, he also designs and teaches online studies. He is the author of “Baby Steps to Drawing,” developed to introduce students to the fundamental concepts and techniques of drawing in simple language so that even “the beginning student can feel confident and motivated to create a visual representation.”

He says, “My mentoring work, professional development and research scholarship are equally enriched by each student’s way of learning. I carefully observe each student’s studio practice, so I can develop techniques and methods of teaching that impart my knowledge and ongoing transformation as a scholar.”

He adds that his approach to teaching reflects his serious commitment to scholarship and the professional values of the
fine arts and humanities, but, he emphasizes, “More important is my service in support of students’ creative and
intellectual formation.”

Manzano’s career as an artist extends across three decades.
He has been president of the New York-based arts organization, West Side Arts Coalition, curator and designer of exhibitions at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and resident director of the School of Visual Arts program painting in Barcelona, Spain.

Spurred by his accomplishments thus far, Manzano is pursuing a doctorate.

“Working at ESC has not only opened the doors to a new world for me,” he says, “but also offers me opportunities and settings I would not have anywhere else.”

Catherine Hoff


Cathy Hoff ’04 had attended Tidewater Community College in Virginia to earn a degree in early childhood education,
but “life got in the way” and she returned to her native New York. Here, it was her good fortune to land a position as a nanny with a Saratoga Springs family – the Tooheys, known for their generosity. They saw Hoff’s potential and offered to pay for her to continue her education.

“How could I turn that down?” she asks. First, she enrolled at Skidmore College’s University Without Walls, from 1987-1992, but the program didn’t meet her aspirations. Then, in 1992, she transferred to SUNY Empire State College. Again, circumstances intervened, and Hoff “took a break” from her studies that lasted six years.

At that point, working in SUNY Empire’s admissions office, her supervisor, Jennifer D’Agostino, urged Hoff to return to her studies, pointing out that she was already very close to completing her degree and how important it is to have one. “She was the cheerleader I needed to get me going again. I’m thankful for her and the Tooheys,” says Hoff.

Empire State College offered “the various ways I could study, which was just what I needed,” Hoff says. “My mentor, MaryNell Morgan, was always there to help me find a way to fit in the studies I wanted or needed.” Once Hoff’s son has finished his education, she plans to continue on to a master’s degree.

Hoff is secretary to the dean in the School of Nursing in Saratoga Springs. She has been on staff at the college since May 2000, starting as a temp in the Admissions office and then on to a job with more responsibility in the Office of the Registrar, in March 2001. Continuing to move up, in May 2004, she became a secretary with the Center for Distance Learning and, in 2007, joined the brand new RN to B.S.N. program as a secretary.

“It was just me and the director. Quite different than it is now.” she recalls.

“It is not so much the studies I completed at the college, as how I went about those studies that helps me now,” she says. “By engaging online, in residencies, through credit by evaluation, et cetera, I have been able to talk with students and help them when they have questions about all the different ways to study that the college offers. It was very helpful for me to have these options because, at the time I completed my degree, I was working full time and had a 2-year-old son.”

Hoff serves on the Support Staff Development Funds Committee, the collegewide Graduation Committee and the Volunteer Advisory Group. She’s also launched an annual luncheon that benefits the Franklin Community Center food pantry, a back-to-school campaign that gathers school supplies for families in need, and the Easter Bunny Project, which collects candy and small toys for Floyd’s Warriors, to benefit families dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

“I enjoy working at the college because I am passionate about helping other adults achieve their goal and dream
of obtaining a college degree,” she says. “I’m a nurturer, and what better place to do that than in education and the nursing department?”

James McMahon


Jim McMahon ’95 graduated from the Central New York FORUM program with a B.S. in Business Administration.

“My sojourn to Central New York from my home in New York City was brought about by the erratic business climate of the early 1990s,” he says. His employer, Verizon, was “downsizing” or “rightsizing” and, he says, “The best way to preserve your job was to get a degree. As a job benefit, I was provided with 100 percent paid tuition and paid time off from work to venture to the FORUM program in Hamilton, N.Y.”

For this born-and-bred New Yorker, central New York seemed a world away, but it opened the doors to a life McMahon had hardly dared to imagine.

The FORUM Management Program led to a bachelor’s degree specifically designed for experienced managers and business professionals. Students attended three weekend residencies per term at off-site locations. Participants’ tuition was generally paid by their employers.

For McMahon, the experience was a portal to an enriched life. “After one term at ESC, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel – and it wasn’t a train. It was a degree. I was able to focus on what was needed to complete my degree because the people at ESC were focused on my success,” McMahon says. With encouragement from his mentor, McMahon went on to receive an MBA from Wagner College on Staten Island in 1997.

“By the way,” he adds, “I was never ‘downsized,’ but was promoted twice due to my ESC education.”

In 2002, McMahon returned to the college as an adjunct. Since then, he has taught for the Central New York FORUM and Corporate College, programs developed by the college with businesses to meet the education needs of their employees. He’s also instructed at the Metropolitan Center and, presently, is working in the PARA program at The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies. The PARA Program is offered to New York City classroom teacher aides through The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies in partnership with the United Federation of Teachers Teacher Center and the New York State United Teachers Education and Learning Trust.

In addition, for the past six years, McMahon has been the full-time student service coordinator at the Labor Center. “It is a great position because it enables me to interface with our students, as well as my colleagues around the college. Returning to ESC was an easy decision. It is a place that enabled me to complete my education and to broaden my horizons.”

Albert Lawrence


Al Lawrence ’76 had been a reporter for the Times Union, an Albany, N.Y. newspaper, for 10 years, when he decided to return to college.

“I had interviewed Chancellor (Ernest) Boyer when he was traveling the state, promoting the idea of what he then called University College. At the time, I was working in Syracuse, and my beat was higher education. About three years later, I came to Albany and worked at the Times Union with a reporter named Barbara Congemi, whose husband, Bob, was, and is, a mentor at the Northeast Center. With their encouragement,
I applied and enrolled.”

The big attractions of Empire State College, he says, were the opportunity to design his own program and the chance to leverage his experience as a journalist toward a degree, unique approaches to learning at a point in time when SUNY Empire was the forerunner in what has evolved to be prior learning assessment. “It still is what attracts many students,” Lawrence notes.

To earn the credit, Lawrence spent a vacation at Cape Cod typing essays on a manual typewriter. Then, he completed six months of study to graduate, submitting for his thesis a report on plea bargaining, which was published in Empire State Report, a magazine about
state government.

After receiving his B.S., Lawrence was accepted and immediately enrolled in a graduate program in criminal justice at Rockefeller College. He obtained his M.A. and, in 1978, he enrolled at Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1981. He was admitted to the New York State Bar in January 1982.

Lawrence is now a professor and coordinator of criminal justice at the Center for Distance Learning, where he has worked since 2002, serving as faculty chair from 2010-2012. Prior to CDL, he was an adjunct instructor and part-time mentor at the Northeast Center from 1982-2003. Lawrence originated the idea of a new area of study in Public Affairs and helped shepherd it through college governance, SUNY and the State Education Department. His many honors include being named a Distinguished Graduate of the Northeast Center and being inducted into its alumni Hall of Fame, receiving an award for Excellence in Tutoring in 1996, and getting the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service
in 2012.

Now at the top of his game, Lawrence credits ESC with teaching him how to think, research and write.

“The college, for me, has always been more of a cause than a job,” he says, adding that many students come to the college with a background of disparate attempts at college learning and work experience, which they view as failures. “Helping them find common threads in this learning in order to put it together in a coherent whole is extremely rewarding. As one who has been there, I can appreciate how important it can be for students to achieve a goal that will improve their lives and make them better thinkers and more responsible citizens.”

Timothy Cosgriff


Timothy Cosgriff ’93 has been assistant to the dean in the Genesee Valley region, a position that draws on his nearly three decades of professional experience and studies.

In the ’80s, Cosgriff, who was employed in Canada, decided it was time to return to the U.S. and finish his degree, started years before. He secured full-time employment but it involved a changing schedule, so SUNY Empire’s flexibility enabled him to both fulfill his job obligations and go to school. He also was able to base his academic studies on his professional efforts, such as rewriting job descriptions and a handbook at work, which became his final project for an ESC course in human resources, part of his Business, Management and Economics degree.

“The bridge between theory and real-life application was very important,” he says.

After ESC, Cosgriff earned a graduate certificate in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell, then an M.S. in Hospitality Tourism Management, which focused on effective management in the global marketplace. He used that knowledge working for Adecco – the world’s largest staffing agency – specifically assigned to Chase Bank as his account.

“I supported departments in three states, responsible for up to 150 employees at any given time,” he recalls. “The positions were feeder positions to full-time employment. This fit well with my grad studies and also was a perfect fit for what we do at ESC.”

Among his many other responsibilities, Cosgriff is intensely involved in bringing together corporate sponsors and events, such as theater productions, art exhibits and networking opportunities.

“People now approach me wanting to sponsor our events,” he reports. One such event, of which he is rightfully proud, was a solo exhibit of his own artwork at the request of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, co-sponsored by the museum shop of the George Eastman House.

His studies at SUNY Empire prepared him well for his current position, he explains. “Many of my studies were one to one with a mentor. This is considered an academic luxury, over being one of 100 in a lecture hall. While a luxury, it also is the most difficult, for you better know what you are talking about. No chance to hide in the fourth row. This prepared me very well for what I do now. I often have to act quickly. For example, at a recent ribbon cutting, I was with a rep from a nonprofit, another from the Memorial Art Gallery and a third representing the City of Rochester. In 15 minutes, in a parking lot, we pulled together a series of programs around the Memorial Art Gallery exhibit, ‘Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion,’ and others, for next year. My workspace is not confined to bricks and mortar.” He adds that some
of his best outcomes begin as chance encounters.

Cosgriff, who was recognized with the Excellence in Professional Service Award in 2011, says he works at ESC for two reasons. “I am able to work with some of the best and brightest folks in academe. The second reason is it is a privilege to be able to come to work and make a difference in people’s lives. To see people grow, graduate and succeed, knowing you had some part in it, is pretty special.”