June 7, 2012
More than 225 students from the college’s Northeast region, including 19 students who have earned master’s degrees, are eligible to participate. They are among the more than 3,300 graduates from across the state in the record-setting class of 2012.
Two students in this year’s graduating class, Carolyn Polikarpus of Ghent and Ryan Smithson of Schenectady, are recipients of the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest award given to SUNY students.
“Sharing the joy of our graduates and their friends and family is the highlight of the college year,” said Alan R. Davis, president of the college. “My congratulations go out to the students of the Northeast Center and my appreciation goes to the college’s faculty mentors and staff who have supported their hard work.”
The keynote speaker this year is Mike Russo ’10, director of governmental affairs for GLOBALFOUNDRIES, who is a graduate of the college. The program also includes two undergraduate student speakers, Grisel Davis and Darren Cosgrove, and one graduate student speaker, Sara Grube-Edwards, who will reflect on their experiences with the college’s unique approaches to higher education.
"Graduation at Empire State College is different than at other colleges,” said Gerald Lorentz, dean of the Northeast Center. “This difference isn’t noticeable in the nature of the ceremony itself, but it is apparent in our students and in the divergent paths they’ve taken to get to this point.”
Many students who started their undergraduate education elsewhere finish their degrees with Empire State College. The college's innovative design provides flexible options that allow faculty mentors to work with undergraduate students to design their degree program to meet their educational, career and personal goals.
In addition to credit transferred from previous college experience, students very often bring with them learning gained through training at the workplace, in service to the military and other life experiences. The college assesses this knowledge and in many cases awards credit for college-level learning, which saves time and money.
At the graduate level, students also work closely with faculty to plan their degrees across a range of program and certificate options. A growing number of graduate students enroll with the college each year, taking advantage of the flexibility of approach and the ability to earn a graduate degree while exploring their intellectual and professional interests.
“Our pride is dual in that given our service to working professionals, not only have our students succeeded academically, but so many of them have advanced in their careers as a result of completing their degrees," said Robert Clougherty, dean of the School for Graduate Studies. “The School for Graduate Studies is proud of all 201 graduates across the state this year.”
Mike Russo, director of government relations and regulator affairs, GLOBALFOUNDRIES
Michael Russo ’10 is the director of government relations and regulatory affairs for GLOBALFOUNDRIES, the world’s second largest contract semiconductor manufacturer. A Capital Region native and resident, he spearheads initiatives that connect his industry to civic, government, education, labor and business leaders across the United States, and was involved recently in bringing President Obama to the Capitol City to talk about growing manufacturing and increasing the nation’s exports. Russo has been at GLOBALFOUNDRIES since 2009, during which time he completed his B.S. in interdisciplinary studies at the Northeast Center, partly through prior-learning assessment, which incorporated his breadth of experiences as a foundation of his degree.
Russo’s record is remarkable. Soon after high school, he became shop steward at Owens Corning for the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union. He rose through the ranks first to be president locally, and finally to be an executive officer at the national level, with expertise in organizational development, arbitration and negotiation. In this role, Russo was acutely attuned to politicians sympathetic to the middle class, worker-employer relationships, the problem of American jobs being exported overseas and the importance of the U.S. remaining competitive in the global marketplace. He also became a close advisor to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was instrumental in facilitating support for GLOBALFOUNDRIES. From her office, he moved to GLOBALFOUNDRIES, where he felt he could do the most good.
Russo maintains a parallel life as the producer of “Cooking for Kids,” a road show that raises funds for charitable organizations by promoting health, fun, pleasure, creativity and adventure through adults and children cooking together.
Carolyn Polikarpus earned a Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services with a concentration in peace and community studies and is a 2012 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
She was the winner last year of the Warren and Hortence Cochrane Scholarship available to undergraduate students who are studying community and human services or social theory, social structure and change.
As a student, she produced a term paper, “Poverty and Racism in Urban Social Problems,” described by her professor as "equal to a literature review at the level of a master’s thesis or the foundation of a Ph.D. dissertation," and wrote about African-American intellectual theologians.
By the age of 17, Polikarpus had dropped out of high school on Staten Island and was the mother of twins. She continued her education later on with night classes leading to a Regent’s diploma, then took some classes at Monmouth College. “But raising my children and making a living took over,” she says. Ultimately, she developed a career as a mainframe computer programmer, which she stuck with for 30 years before retiring.
Today, Polikarpus is co-president of the Alternatives to Violence Project-New York State, a grassroots, volunteer program dedicated to reducing violence in homes, schools, prisons, streets and society, which offers experiential workshops in prisons, schools and communities. Polikarpus is the liaison with prison administration and outside volunteers. Additionally, she is coordinator of AVP/NY at the Green Haven Correctional Facility. All of her work for the organization is as an unpaid volunteer.
“We promote healing and nonviolence within the prison, but we need healthier communities on the outside, too,” she says. “I returned to college partly because I know that the credential of being a college graduate will help me facilitate my work. I always loved school and Empire State College is the perfect solution for me with its flexibility and incredible support.”
Because Polikarpus conducts weekend-long workshops and has two part-time jobs, she needed a situation that allowed her flexibility to complete her studies. The college’s Northeast Center enabled her to fulfill her academic goals as she continues to meet other challenges.
Ryan Smithson earned a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in English and history.
He was the recipient of the Nicholas Pekearo Endowed Scholarship in Creative Writing for a student who is committed to writing and has a body of work. Smithson is the author of “Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year Old GI,” published by Harper Collins in 2009.
The book is a cathartic memoir that recounts his personal experiences in Iraq, which he was prompted to write because he believes the media tells only “half the story” about the GI experience. The book was reviewed and received a star in Kirkus Reviews, and was noted as a “lucid recounting of the intensity of battle and the pain of losing comrades,” which for Smithson was a source of personal enlightenment. The book has been called “deeply penetrating, remarkable and compelling.”
Smithson is an inductee of the Alumni Hall of Fame at Columbia High School in East Greenbush in recognition of his accomplishments after high school. He joined the Army Reserve immediately after graduation, when he was 17; at 19, he was deployed to Iraq, where he served as an Army engineer for 12 months.
Smithson currently works for a fuel company, is married and has a son.
SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 to offer adult learners the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York.
In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout his or her college career. Students engage in guided independent study and course work onsite, online or a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to learn at the time, place and pace they choose.
The college serves more than 20,000 students worldwide at more than 35 locations in New York state and online. Its 63,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.
More information about the college is available here.
David M. Henahan, Director of Communications 518-587-2100, ext. 2918 David.Henahan@esc.edu
518-321-7038(after 5 p.m. and weekends)