November 5, 2014

Cristy Dwyer '08, '10, '13 Keynotes Student Academic Conference

Hugo Dwyer '06, Cristy Dwyer '08, 10 and '13 with Mentors Meg Benke, Suzanne Benno and Roxanna Toma at the 2014 Student Academic Conference

Hugo Dwyer '06 stands next to his wife, Cristy '08, '10, '13 and faculty Mentors Meg Benke, Suzanne Benno and Roxanna Toma. They gathered after Cristy's keynote address at the 2014 Student Academic Conference. Photo/Empire State College

Arriving early for a party can be an uncomfortable, lonely experience, but often provides opportunities to get to know wonderful people.

In the case of one nontraditional student, arriving too soon may have made the difference between never having been to college and earning two undergraduate and a graduate degree.

Cristy Dwyer ’08, ’10, ’13 related such an experience in her keynote address at the college’s 2014 Student Academic Conference. In her case, arriving early crystalized her decision to not only return to college, but, like her husband, Hugo Dwyer ’06, to enroll at SUNY Empire State College as an adult and learn online.

Hugo, who earned his bachelor’s degree in business, management and economics, and Cristy attended the mixer for online students the evening before the 2006 commencement ceremony. He dropped her off and went to park the car.

Cristy, who had already turned 40 years old and changed careers, was one of the first to arrive, and found herself thinking, “Hugo, please park the car and get in here soon.” She was apprehensive and self-conscious, as she did not have a degree and did not yet know anyone from the college.

Almost immediately, she was greeted by Meg Benke, then the dean of the college’s Center for Distance Learning and currently a faculty mentor with the college’s School for Graduate Studies. Cristy credits Benke’s warm, open greeting with putting her at ease. Before she realized what was happening, Benke had all but enrolled her to learn online with the college.

Beginning and completing a college degree for working adults, however, are very different processes.

Both Hugo and Cristy credit Suzanne Benno, a mutual faculty mentor with the Center for Distance Learning with helping them to persist and complete their undergraduate degrees. The Dwyers affectionately refer to her as the “family mentor” and the three continue a warm relationship today. As Benno tells it, the Dwyers now mentor her.

Cristy also praised Roxanna Toma, her faculty mentor with the School for Graduate Studies, as being invaluable in helping her to complete her master’s thesis.

Both Hugo and Cristy are multi-year veterans of the music industry and Hugo continues to work as a recording engineer and producer of jazz recordings.

Cristy, a classically trained pianist, had left the business after playing the music of Frank Zappa and working with the Rolling Stones. At the suggestion of a friend, she took an unpaid internship helping counsel individuals who suffered from alcohol and drug addiction.

It was during her internship that she found her life’s calling as a professional.

She earned her New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) certification and went on to work at the treatment facility of a midtown Manhattan hospital for 12 years, serving as clinical director of rehab services for her last seven years.

While serving as clinical director, it became clear to Cristy that in order to better serve the people she worked with and advance her career, she would need the knowledge gained from earning a college degree.

She credits Hugo’s graduation for inspiration, Benke’s warm welcome for access and mentors Benno and Toma, as well as the faculty and staff of the college, for helping her to earn her three diplomas.

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