July 18, 2017

Tanya Rice Thompson Completes Master’s in Adult Learning, Her Second SUNY Empire Degree

Professor Barbara Kantz, left, celebrates with Tanya Rice Thompson at the college's commencement event on Long Island. Thompson completed her master's this spring.
Professor Barbara Kantz, left, celebrates with Tanya Rice Thompson '14, '17, at the Long Island commencement event. Thompson completed her Master of Arts in Adult Learning this spring.

Tanya Rice Thompson ’14, ‘17 first enrolled with SUNY Empire State College in 2012, after having been away from higher education for 30 years, and completed a B.S. in Community and Human services two years later.

This spring, Thompson completed her Master of Arts in Adult Learning and participated in the commencement event held on Long Island.

Walking across the stage and receiving her master’s hood and college medallion, “… was an out-of-body experience, just like my bachelor’s,” said Thompson.

Returning to college was not an easy decision for her. Thompson had defaulted on her student debt, and, she said, “Life got in the way.” She moved to New York City with her family and went to work.

Prior to enrolling, Thompson was in the process of completing the required program to become a state Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor.

SUNY Empire alumnus Mahmoud Rashid ‘98 was her CASAC instructor.

Rashid deserves credit for inspiring and motivating Thompson’s return to college. “If not for him, I do not know if I would have attended college,” said Thompson. “Dr. Rashid told me ‘counseling is not where it ends, you have the potential to succeed in higher education.’”

As a college designed to educate adult and other nontraditional students, she found that SUNY Empire was the right place for her, but she still had to overcome her fear of failure.

“I came to SUNY Empire timid and afraid,” Thompson said. “I was not sure I could do it. My first term, I earned an A- in a challenging course led by a tough professor. That success gave me confidence and I know I could succeed in finishing what I began so long ago.”

She then took full advantage of all the college had to offer via a liberal arts experience and was engaged in many student/alumni clubs.

Thompson founded the Human Services Collaborative, and serves as its president; and the STEM Club, organized for students interested in exploring topics related to science, technology, engineering and math, and serves as treasurer.

She is an at-large member of Minority Students in Action (MSiA) and co-founder of Empire State College Education for All.

ESC Ed for All’s mission includes seeking the removal of barriers to higher education for formerly incarcerated individuals. The club also focuses on the importance of educating individuals presently incarcerated in prisons in the U.S.

ESC Ed for All members were early supporters and advocates of the successful efforts to “ban the box” on all SUNY student applications, which eliminates the question of whether an applicant has been in prison.

In 2015, ESC Ed for All organized a day-long event in support of its mission, featuring presentations and participation of students, faculty, staff and college administrators, as well as outside experts, including Glenn E. Martin, president and founder of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030.

The event informed the college community about controversial and important subjects related to access to public higher education.

In addition, ESC Ed for All members lobbied ESC President Merodie Hancock and other college leaders, garnering their support to ban the box.

By working with the college’s elected student governance representatives, ESC Ed for All supported the SUNY Student Assembly resolution recommending that the "criminal history screenings should only be implemented after a student has been admitted, and that they should never be used to revoke admission.”

In September 2016, the SUNY Board of Trustees voted to ban the box, that is, remove from its general application the requirement for student applicants to declare prior felony convictions.

Thompson credits her undergraduate, liberal arts experience for changing the way she looks at the world by by sharpening her critical thinking.

Her critical thinking included changing her views on access to public higher education for previously and currently incarcerated individuals.

“My SUNY Empire education opened the door to my transformation as a critical thinker,” said Thompson. “I saw how social issues that I was interested in were tied to other issues, such as incarceration and the prison pipeline.”

As Human Services Collaborative president, she has organized and led events such as the annual “Bling Your Cap,” where students decorate their mortarboards in advance of commencement ceremonies.

As a member of MSiA, she assisted in planning and running this year’s Women of Color Seminar, “Recognizing our Experiences, Celebrating our Voices.”

As a graduate student, Thompson helped to organize, present and participate in a celebration of experiential learning, where more than 40 students, faculty, staff and alumni joined in a broad discussion of the nature of experiential learning, its impact on individual students and on higher education nationally.

In fact, she earned 16 undergraduate credits toward her bachelor’s through the prior learning assessment, where students earn credit for college-level learning acquired through their nontraditional experience, which saved her a great deal of time and money.

Thompson also has participated in the college’s annual Student Academic Conferences and the Student Wellness Retreats.

She found that at the undergraduate level, having the ability to work with a member of the faculty – who also mentored her throughout her journey to completion – to design a degree program enabled her to grow as a learner and a person.

“My undergraduate experience brought back and reinforced my love of teaching and inspired me to complete a master’s,” said Thompson.

She said she flourished in an environment that takes into consideration the experience of an adult student.

Thompson’s longer-term goal is to earn her doctorate in urban education and to become involved in primary and secondary education in her hometown, Newburgh, N.Y.

This fall, however, she plans on re-enrolling and earning another bachelor’s degree, this one on the history of education, in order to prepare to succeed in meeting her long-term goals.

“Learning about the history of education, how and why we have the system we have now, will help me to prepare to change just a small part of the world for the better,” she said.

Thompson is the office manager at Friends of Island Academy, a nonprofit organization that aids formerly incarcerated youth with re-entry services, located in Harlem, N.Y.

She resides in Bronx, N.Y., with her son, Brandon, 21, and daughter, Brittany, 17.

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