May 27, 2016

Four Members of the Class of 2016 to Receive the School for Graduate Studies Dean’s Medal

Layla Abdullah-Poulos displays her medallions and her Dean's Medal for her outstanding academic performance as a graduate student. Photo/Empire State College
Layla Abdullah-Poulos displays her college and SUNY medallions along with the Dean's Medal, which she received for her outstanding academic performance as a graduate student.

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - May 31, 2016) Four graduate students will receive the SUNY Empire State College School for Graduate Studies Dean's Medal as part of SUNY Empire's 44th annual statewide commencement exercises.

The honorees include:

In addition to the medal, each graduate will be presented with an academic "hood," which represents their standing in the academic community.

Both the medal and the hood become part of their academic regalia to be worn during commencements, convocations and other academic events.

"These four outstanding graduate students are most deserving of recognition and praise for their academic achievement and the integration of their learning into their professions and communities," said Tai Arnold, dean of the School for Graduate Studies.

Students are nominated by a member of the School for Graduate Studies faculty and must have a GPA of at least 3.5 as of their last academic reporting period.

Nomination guidelines include:

  • Quality of the student's academic work, including his or her GPA and any other academic distinctions
  • Student's contribution to the School for Graduate Studies and SUNY Empire
  • Unique and innovative ways in which the student has connected his or her academic work to the community and profession
  • Examples of the student's demonstrated excellence in design and execution of the culminating project or graduation exit requirement for the master's degree
  • Examples of the student's professional behavior in field placements, internships or other places where the nominee represents SUNY Empire
  • A supporting comment from a member of the faculty, in addition to the nominating member.

About The Dean's Medal Recipients

Layla Abdullah-Poulos ‘10

Abdullah-Poulos earned a bachelor's degree with SUNY Empire in 2010 and graduates with the class of 2016 with a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and a GPA of 3.95.

In addition to the dean's medal, her academic awards and recognition include:

Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, SUNY's most prestigious student honor

• Foner Fellowship in Work, Culture, and Social Charge

• Edwin and Ruth Decker Scholarship for Academic Excellence.

Abdullah-Poulos' master's research focused on adult learning, the educational experiences of women of color and the emergent sociocultural identities of native-born American-Muslim women, which led her to produce and present several scholarly papers, including "Breasts and Beards: A Lesson in Western Secular Extremism and the Significance of Cultural Relevancy," and "Anti-Obama Graphics: Hermeneutics of Racial Codes in Visual Representations."

A proponent for the enrichment of higher education through diversity, she plans to continue her work as an educator.

"Layla's service to her community and to SUNY Empire are unsurpassed and meet the high level of her many academic achievements," said Nathan E. Gonyea, associate dean of the School for Graduate Studies, who will present the dean's medals and graduate academic hoods at the college's Long Island and Syracuse commencement events. "In the broader community of Long Island's Suffolk County, Layla has launched and coordinated a meeting space for education and personal development among Muslim women, raised money and awareness for breast cancer research and written articles for online journals."

A 2015 Capital District Leadership Council on Inclusion Award recipient, she also is the founding president of the college's Minority Students in Action club, a member of the Human Services Collaborative and serves as vice president of the Graduate Students Association.

Along with her husband, Adullah-Poulos, 45, home-schools five children in Mastic, NY

Tara Brettholtz was presented with the Dean's Medal for her outstanding academic achievements as a graduate student. Photo/Empire State CollegeTara Brettholtz

Brettholtz graduates with the class of 2016 with a Master of Arts in Adult Learning. She maintained a GPA of 4.0 throughout her program.

"Tara possesses a remarkably diligent work ethic, her research is innovative and comprehensive and her achievements are noteworthy because of her remarkably sophisticated approach to scholarship," said Arnold.

Brettholtz was one of the college's 2016 nominees for the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence for work on her master's thesis, "Developing Thriving Workplaces: The Case for a Human Resource Development Approach That Focuses on Human Vitality and Learning at Work."

She is a past president and former member of the board of directors with Mothers and More, a national support group, and is director of talent and diversity at Ayco, a financial services firm and subsidiary of Goldman Sachs Company.

The Capital District YMCA presented Brettholtz with its Resourceful Woman Award for her work with the national program "Power of the Purse," which raises funds for the Alliance Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault, whose mission is to end the vicious cycle of domestic violence.

Brettholtz, 38, resides with her family in Clifton Park, N.Y.

Jennifer Fuller receives the Dean's Medal for her outstanding academic achievements as a graduate student. Photo/Empire State CollegeJennifer Fuller

A member of the SUNY Empire class of 2016, Fuller graduates with a Master of Arts in Teaching.

In 2013, Fuller was selected to present her research, "The Effect of Teacher Questioning Practices on Class Participation and Engagement," at the biennial showcase of graduate research, organized by the faculty senates of SUNY and the City University of New York and held at the state Capital.

Fluent in several languages, she is the advisor to the Homer Central High School and Junior High School Spanish Club.

Fuller created an independent language curriculum for children, teens and adults. Her courses are marketed thought a self-created website, brochures, radio and television advertisements.

Following an illness and surgery, Fuller had to relearn to speak all of the languages in which she was fluent, including English.

"Jennifer's determination, spirit and dedication as a teacher exemplify what it means to receive the dean's medal," said Gonyea.

Fuller, 29, resides in Syracuse, N.Y.

Matthew Krzyston receives the college's Dean's Medal for his outstanding academic achievements as a graduate student. Photo/Empire State CollegeMatthew Krzyston

Krzyston will speak Saturday, June 11, at the college's Albany commencement event. He also was selected as one of the commencement speakers for the SUNY Empire class of 2016 and graduates with a Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy

In 2003, Krzyston launched Resource & Policy Exchange, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to equalize health care standards, improve access to information and local participation in government around the world.

RPX works closely with U.S. elected officials and foreign ministers to advocate for improved human services for vulnerable populations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. The organization receives operational funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State, corporate sponsors, private foundations and individual contributors.

"Matt's organization provides policy advice and humanitarian assistance in developing countries and, perhaps more importantly, currently serving nutritious meals to some 20,000 women, children and institutionalized patients each day," said Arnold. "Putting his SUNY Empire education to work for the benefit of those less fortunate around the world amazes me and I am very proud that he is among our dean's medal recipients for the class of 2016."

Krzyston also founded RPX Consulting Group, which has advised governments and international nonprofits on sustainable development programs and policies in more than 40 countries.

For his leadership and success in humanitarian efforts, Krzyston has earned special recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives and the New York State Assembly.

Krzyston, 42, lives in Delhi, N.Y., and is a member of the Delhi Town Council.

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