May 7, 2015

Melba Tolliver ’98 Receives Distinguished Alumni Award

(NEW YORK – May 7, 2015) Melba Tolliver ’98, the first black person ever to anchor a network news program, will be recognized as a recipient of SUNY Empire State College’s 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award.

“No one succeeds through their own efforts alone,” said Tolliver. “Mal Goode, Laymond Robinson and Bob Teague were among the journalism pioneers who inspired and supported me and who paved my way. It also was my good fortune to discover SUNY Empire State College, which proved to be a significant turning point in my life.”

“Even though I already had a successful career and a public persona, I knew something was missing,” said Tolliver. “My Empire State College experience, my mentor, teachers and courses helped me recognize untapped possibilities, which elevated my self-confidence as a thinker and writer. The invitation to teach for a year at the University of Michigan was a direct result of an SUNY Empire course, where I explored the way that language plays into news coverage. Given the many accomplished graduates of Empire State College, I am deeply honored and grateful to be given this award.”

“Melba was able to step up to a national stage on short notice,” said Merodie A. Hancock, president of the college. “From there, she went on to hone her craft and demonstrate her abilities as a journalist. Melba has led a successful, decades-long career as a New York City-based news reporter, anchor and program host in local and network TV, and as a writer for newspapers and magazines. We are proud to honor Melba as one of our most distinguished alumni for all of her accomplishments.”

Tolliver will be presented with her award at SUNY Empire State College’s Celebration of Black History and Alumni Awards event to be held in New York City at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art’s Great Hall, 6 p.m., Thursday, May 7.

About the Distinguished Alumni Award

The college’s Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes and honors alumni of the college who have distinguished themselves in any field of endeavor since graduation. The criteria for the award include distinguished service to her or his craft or profession, or distinguished service to a local community, the state, nation, or in world affairs.

About Melba Tolliver

In March, 1967, ABC News executives tapped Tolliver, a secretary at the time, to sit in for Marlene Sanders, anchor of “News With The Woman’s Touch.” Thus, Tolliver became the first black person ever to anchor a network news program.

For nearly three decades, Tolliver reported and/or anchored news at WABC-TV, WNBC-TV, News 12 Long Island and the Food Channel, in addition to writing for USA Today, Good Housekeeping, Black Sports and other magazines and newspapers.

She also was host  and reporter for  the ABC Network series, “Americans All”; the WABC Eyewitness News series “Profiles,” “People, Places and Things” and  “Consciousness Rising”; and writer/producer of “Gordon Parks: Man For All Seasons” for the WABC public affairs program “Like It Is.” At WNBC, Tolliver created and hosted the public affairs program “Meet The People.”

She has served as writer-in-residence at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, and Howard R. Marsh visiting professor of journalism at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

She has been recognized with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Molloy College, Long Island, N.Y.; a political reporting award from Lincoln University; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Association of Black Journalists; the John B. Russwurm Award from the New York City Urban League; the Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications; and a National Endowment of the Humanities Fellowship to the University of Michigan, where she co-directed Kerner Plus 10, a conference on minorities and the media.

Tolliver holds a Bachelor of Science from SUNY Empire State College and a nursing diploma from New York University-Bellevue, New York City.

She has served on the boards of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in New York, the Empire State College Foundation and the Institute for Student Achievement advisory board.

A longtime resident of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Tolliver moved to Lower Mount Bethel Township, Pa., in 1994, and is currently at work on her memoir, “Accidental Anchorwoman: A Memoir of Chance, Choice and Change.”

She also has served as president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, Easton, Pa.

About SUNY Empire State College

Empire State College, the nontraditional, open college of the SUNY system, educates more than 20,000 students worldwide at eight international sites, more than 35 locations in the state of New York, online, as well as face to face and through a blend of both, at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels.

The average age of an undergraduate student at the college is 35 and graduate students’ average age is 40.

Most Empire State College students are working adults. Many are raising families and meeting civic commitments in the communities where they live, while studying part time.

In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each undergraduate student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout his or her college career.

Working with their mentors, students design an individual degree program and engage in guided independent study and course work onsite, online or through a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to choose where, when and how to learn.

Students have the opportunity to enroll five times during the year.

The college’s 73,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.

The college was first established in 1971 by the SUNY Board of Trustees with the encouragement of the late Ernest L. Boyer, chancellor of the SUNY system from 1970 to 1977.

Boyer also served as United States commissioner of education during the administration of President Jimmy Carter and then as president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

More information about the college is available at




Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications

518-587-2100, ext. 2918

518-321-7038 (after hours and on weekends)