Just like eye and hair color, it seems SUNY Empire State College diplomas run in families, too. On Sunday, June 12, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, Travis Brown, 27, who holds an associate degree from the college in Human Development, will receive his bachelor’s degree in the same area. He will join his mother and stepfather, Webster residents Rick and Christina Pearson, to make a family of alumni.
Brown initially attended a private college, but it was hard to justify the tuition. After working one year, he enrolled at Monroe Community College “to start picking away the mountain of credits I still needed.” After a semester and a half, Brown decided that “the huge campus and large class sizes weren’t for me, so I took a break from college.” Because his mother and stepfather had raved about how flexible and understanding their mentors at SUNY Empire were, “I decided to give it a shot.” Brown found focus from his job in health care. “Helping people is a passion and I found that assisting the elderly with everything from personal care to medication management to housing placement was what I loved to do.” Brown earned his associate degree in 2013.
While they were looking for potential colleges with their son, it occurred to Christina that it may be a good time to return to school to complete the degree she had begun at a community college when Brown was a young child. A single parent at the time, “there were classes during my lunch hour, very early morning classes, Saturday morning classes and local cable channel classes, but it was difficult for me to see that I was making any progress towards getting that diploma,” said Christina. “So my college education went to the back burner.”
Fifteen years later, she decided to finish what she started. Christina, 52, earned her associate degree in 2010 in Business, Management and Economics and her Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services in 2012. “SUNY Empire’s flexibility was exactly what I was looking for, and it was exactly what worked for me,” she said. “Group and independent studies that met every couple of weeks and online courses allowed the flexibility that meant I could be successful. Everything about our experience with SUNY Empire has been outstanding and we wholeheartedly endorse it every chance we get.”
Rick, 62, graduated from Empire State College in 2009 with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. He had attended college in the traditional way from 1972-76, but did not complete his degree. After majoring in music history and musicology studies, Rick taught piano privately and performed professionally for two decades. By the mid-‘90s, he had become active in theater and music groups in the city’s highly stressed neighborhoods.
“I quickly realized that I didn’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to write grants for funding or to evaluate the success or failure of the programs I was developing,” said Rick. “That is what propelled me to SUNY Empire, coincidentally, simultaneously with my wife, who was looking to finish her degree. I was able to transfer the maximum amount of credits (96) from my previous experience and focus on the knowledge I was lacking.
“The combination of online studies and mentor-driven individual work was, without a doubt, the most effective, efficient and thorough method. I could never have finished my degree in a traditional classroom setting. My self-employment status, along with my inability to endure traditional classrooms would have made that impossible,” Rick said.
Rick says that his experience with the entire SUNY Empire staff was “beyond any possible expectation. Every single person I encountered was committed to helping me hit the finish line, most especially, my relationship with, work with and guidance from Lorraine Lander, my mentor, was indeed the most valuable of my life’s educational experience.”
Since both Pearsons volunteer to work at SUNY Empire graduations, they will be on hand to help out, as well as to cheer their graduating son on. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. at the Riverside Convention Center in Rochester.