April 5, 2016

Five Selected to Receive The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

Provost Ntoko, Jaime Lopez, Eric Schultz, Kim Russell and President Hancock at a lunch honoring the 2016 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence recipients.
Provost Ntoko, Jaime Lopez, Eric Schultz, Kim Russell and President Hancock at a lunch honoring the 2016 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence recipients.

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – April 5, 2016) Five SUNY Empire State College students have been selected to receive The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, SUNY’s most prestigious student honor.

The chancellor’s award recognizes academic excellence and the quality of a student’s community service, accomplishments in the creative and performing arts, leadership, campus involvement and/or in several other categories.

The 2016 SUNY Empire recipients are:

  • Layla Abdullah-Poulos ‘10, a mother of six from Long Island, who homeschools her children, presented “Zombies and Gender: Sexualizing the Undead” at the college’s 2014 Zombie Residency and is the founder and president of the student club Empire State College Minority Students in Action. She has a Master of Liberal Studies.
  • Jaime Lopez, a journeyman electrician from Queens, N.Y., who created a museum exhibit dedicated to the electrical industry, served on the wage and policy committee of his local union, which helps negotiate contracts for members, and is the co-owner of a fair-trade coffee plantation in Armenia, Columbia with his father. He has a Bachelor of Science in Labor Studies.
  • Omar Richards of Brooklyn, N.Y., an advocate for expanding educational opportunities for formerly incarcerated citizens, founded two student clubs, organized two other student groups and recently organized and moderated a symposium titled “Education Inside and Out of Prison.” He has a Bachelor of Science in Social Science.
  • Kim Russell, an online student from Metairie, La., who is legally blind, served as the keynote speaker for the systemwide SUNY FACT2 Disability Symposium, where she delivered “My Journey Through the Darkness.” She has a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies.
  • Eric Schultz, a disabled veteran from upstate Le Roy, N.Y., who served in the SUNY Student Assembly as a college representative, is a research associate at the University at Buffalo Archeological Survey, Spaulding Lake dig site in Clarence, N.Y., and is licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as part of his role as a founder of the Western New York Osteological Survey. He has a Bachelor of Science in Social Science and Anthropology.

“Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipients Layla Abdullah-Poulos, Jaime Lopez, Omar Richards, Kim Russell and Eric Schultz are the pride of SUNY Empire State College,” said Merodie A. Hancock, president of the college. “My congratulations to these outstanding students who, like their faculty mentors and the professional and support staff who have helped them achieve their academic goals, are among SUNY’s very best. This year’s chancellor’s award recipients have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to their communities, which is a hallmark of SUNY Empire across the state, and the highest levels of academic achievement. Layla, Jaime, Omar, Kim and Eric are most deserving of recognition by Chancellor Zimpher and the entire SUNY system.”

“This award is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to stand-out SUNY students, whose achievements reflect their own impressive hard work, as well as the support of their families and friends and SUNY’s world-class faculty and staff,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. “The 248 students we honor with this year’s award have excelled academically, become role models on campus and established themselves as leaders in the community. Congratulations to all of the students receiving the 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.”

About Layla-Abdullah-Poulos

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with graduate student Layla Abdullah-Poulos ’10, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with graduate student Layla Abdullah-Poulos ’10, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Layla Abdullah-Poulos, 45, a resident of Mastic, N.Y., is slated to graduate this spring with an M.A. in Liberal Arts and a GPA of 3.95.

Her graduate work focuses on adult learning, the educational experiences of women of color and the emergent sociocultural identities of native-born American-Muslim women.

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

Abdullah-Poulos also is a 2015 recipient of the Capital District Leadership Council on Inclusion Award.

Her nomination recognizes her for founding and serving as president of the Empire State College Minority Students in Action club; authoring and presenting numerous scholarly papers; and writing for The Student Connection, the college’s student-run, online newsletter, on topics that assist students in achieving academic success.

In 2014, she was awarded the Foner Fellowship in Work, Culture and Social Change by the college, which is given to superior students enrolled in the college’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Her consistent involvement in college and community reflects her goal to be an educator who enriches the higher-education experience for students through heightening awareness of ethnic diversity.

Abdullah-Poulos presented her paper, “Breasts and Beards: A Lesson in Western Secular Extremism and the Significance of Cultural Relevancy,” at the Popular Cultural Association/American Cultural Association conference last year, as well as at the college’s annual Student Academic Conference.

In her paper, she shows how one feminist group’s homogenous use of topless protests formed a schism among women/feminists and the importance of cultural relevancy to global feminist alliances. She received a Certificate of Appreciation for her presentation at the college’s annual Student Academic Conference.

She presented “Zombies and Gender: Sexualizing the Undead” at the Empire State College Zombie Residency in 2014, examining popular cultural images of zombies through a feminist critical lens to show how filmmakers carry sexual exploitation into the realm of the undead and reinforce both notions of the female body as an object for masculine use and exchange, as well as male sexual ownership and dominance fantasies in sexual conversations. 

Also in 2014, she presented at the Popular Cultural Association/American Cultural Association national conference and the Milton Plesur Graduate History Conference on “Islam’s Introduction to the American Cultural Stage: The Black Muslims.” The paper demonstrates how a group known as the Lost-Found Nation of Islam emerged in African-American communities and became a major catalyst for the introduction of Islam onto the American social, cultural and religious stages.

In April 2014, she presented “Anti-Obama Graphics: Hermeneutics of Racial Codes in Visual Representations” at both the Student Academic Conference and PCA/ACA 2014 National Conference. She received a Certificate of Appreciation from the college for her contribution.

In addition, she participated in the inaugural cohort of the college’s Student Leadership Institute, was vice president of the Graduate Students Association and founded Masjid Umar Bin Khattaab Sisters’ Wing as a space for Muslim women in her local community to foster opportunities for educational and personal development, as well as invited diverse female members to participate in various “hagalah,” or circles, to discuss common issues facing Muslim women.

Abdullah-Poulos also is a member of the Student Wellness Advisory Committee and received a Student Service Award for exceptional service, on the recommendation of college faculty and staff, as well as community leaders, for her work as a peer tutor, learning coach and developer of multiple community-based activities.

Abdullah-Poulos has served the Making Strides for Breast Cancer program of the American Cancer Society; helped children distribute food to underprivileged individuals through the Feed the Needy program of Muslims Giving Back; and is an Arabic instructor for the Islaamic Center of Mastic-Shirley.

Also, she is a volunteer for a backpack giveaway sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America, distributing backpacks and school supplies to children in economically challenged areas. She was a mosque organizer for the National Night Out of the Islaamic Center of Mastic-Shirley, helping to establish relations with the local library and for the annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Program.

Abdullah-Poulos is the op-ed writer for the online publication The Islamic Monthly and developed workshops for the college now taught by a team of writing coaches on topics including academic integrity and plagiarism, academic writing: content and form, developing academic writing skills, developing a research topic, developing critical thinking and reading skills, MLA and APA documentation styles, grammar and introducing citations. 

She is also the project manager for nbamuslims.com, a website providing information about native-born American-Muslim experiences. She manages the site’s content and contributes posts to its feature blog, #nbamuslims 500. She also works with authors on submissions to the blog and produces video book reviews.

In addition, she is the U.S. correspondent to Onislam.net, an online news publication, contributing articles on the lives of American Muslims. She also is an academic support services webpage designer for the college, organizes workshops to prepare students for the StAC, has been a peer tutor for Women of Color and PLA workshops and developed an online learning environment through the college’s Moodle platform to serve as a space where workshop materials can be easily accessed.

As a homeschooler, Abdullah-Poulos develops curricula for multiple grades in accordance with New York state standards, as well as coordinates activities to fulfill her children’s socialization needs.

About Jaime Lopez

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, Jaime Lopez, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, Jaime Lopez, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Jaime Lopez, a 29-year-old resident of Corona, N.Y., is an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 3. He was a student with the college’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor studies and graduated in March of this year with a 3.95 GPA.

Lopez’s exceptional accomplishments include serving as a member of an international youth movement for labor rights, in the U.S. and overseas, for which he traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in 2012 to participate in an international residency course concurrent with the 316th session of the governing body of the International Labor Organization.

He and a small group of other IBEW Local 3 members met with international trade union and ILO officials, including Executive Director Guy Ryder. 

He also serves on the Wage and Policy Committee of IBEW Local 3, which participates in contract negotiations. As an elected member of the committee, Lopez represents the rank-and-file members of IBEW Local 3 and votes on their behalf leading up to and throughout negotiations on various issues.

Additionally, Lopez volunteers within his borough of Queens in various social and cultural efforts, such as creating a museum exhibit dedicated to the electrical industry; organizing a Workers Pavilion, a large sculpture utilizing common objects incorporated by building trade workers, such as electricians and plumbers, as arts materials; helping to lead a political campaign to raise wages, known as the “Fight for $15;” and spearheading efforts to support immigrant families in his neighborhood.  

He also is a mentor and program co-coordinator for IBEW Local 3’s youth committee and was instrumental in the development of a program to pair apprentices with journey men and women in the building trades.

The program follows a mentoring model, complete with training journey persons to ensure ethical and effective mentoring. As a current mentor in the program, Lopez works directly with three apprentices in a leadership and supportive role.

Also, he was the co-designer of a parade float titled “We Build the Future” for the People’s Climate March in New York City last year. Lopez was instrumental in planning, designing and building the float representing the construction trades, raising awareness of the changing social, environmental and economic climate for the city’s residents.

He was co-curator of the “Workers Art Coalition” exhibit at the CUNY—Queens College Museum. The event showcased art produced by and representative of workers in the building trades.

He is secretary of the IBEW Local 3 Ski Club. In this role, he has demonstrated an ability to perform a business role, while advocating for the importance of sports within the general membership of a large New York City trade union.

The club system relies on union members at the secretarial level to organize national and international events, such as ski trips, collect payments and coordinate details. These trips average 75 skiers from IBEW Local 3 and provide social engagement that fosters the spirit of unionized labor.

Finally, he is the co-owner of the fair-trade coffee plantation Finca La Esperanza in Armenia, Colombia. Working with his father, Lopez has, since 2010, dedicated his efforts to the transformation of a Latin-American coffee plantation in accordance with sustainable methods. Their allegiance to the requirements of fair-trade production is reflected in attention to environmentally responsible cultivation, ensuring safe working conditions and maintaining ethical treatment of their employees, while maintaining a commitment to the financial and social support of the community of Armenia, Colombia.

About Omar Richards

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with Omar Richards, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with Omar Richards, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Brooklyn resident Omar Richards, 39, a student of social science, graduated in September 2015 with a GPA of 3.74.

Richards was instrumental in developing two student clubs and two additional student organizations, where he has served in leadership roles. His creativity, organizational skills, marketing acumen and tireless efforts have led regular events and a lasting student-activities infrastructure for the college’s nontraditional students.

He has produced, directed and edited a series of video diaries designed to tell the stories of the difficulties faced by formerly incarcerated individuals in pursuing an education.

Richards has fostered persistence, academic excellence and wider engagement with nontraditional students through his role as vice president of the college’s Black Male Initiative (BMI) and as a peer coach/tutor at the college’s Brooklyn location. He has helped students with educational planning, course registration and financial aid.

BMI is a forum for black male students, where they can freely discuss their problems and issues in an open, familiar and understanding environment. Through sharing experiences, discussing problems and crafting solutions, BMI bolsters confidence, supports its community and keeps black male students actively engaged in the journey to graduation and future success.

Richards is a past recipient of the BMI scholarship, which was established thanks to the generosity of its members and administered through the Empire State College Foundation. This scholarship seeks to encourage and support the undergraduate academic careers of promising black men with financial need.

Richards founded and led Empire State College Education for All, an organization dedicated to expanding educational opportunities within SUNY and at other public educational institutions for formerly incarcerated individuals.

He also was president of Voices Poetry Group, founded the SUNY Empire State College Art Club and was a featured student speaker in 2015 at the New York City commencement ceremony.

Richards also organized and moderated a symposium titled “Education Inside and Out of Prison” and presented in a video-conferenced collegewide panel on “Race and Policing” with students and faculty from four different locations. In addition, he organized financial literacy workshops open to all students and the surrounding community.

About Kim Russell

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with Kim Russell, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with Kim Russell, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Kim Russell, 50, an interdisciplinary studies student learning online and a resident of Metairie, La., will graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of 3.75 this spring.

Russell, who is legally blind, was chosen based on her extraordinary accomplishments, including marching with the National Federation of the Blind on Capitol Hill and speaking in front of Congress and the Senate to help enforce the rights of the blind and elderly blind.

The Louisiana Center for the Blind newsletter published her article “The Phone Call That Changed My Life.” In the fall of 2015, Russell was chosen as the keynote speaker for the SUNY FACT2 Disability Symposium, where she delivered “My Journey Through the Darkness.”

Her address focused on her experiences, what led her to this point in her life and the challenges and opportunities higher education has presented to her.

Russell is an active member of the Greater New Orleans Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind; an advisory member of the Mississippi/Louisiana Region of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges; presented a decision-making workshop at the University of Mississippi; spoke at the Batavia Bayou Cross Cultural Connection conference; and is vice president of the Grace King High School Alumni Association.

She also is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and was involved in helping to rebuild the greater New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. Russell also participates in the annual food drive for homeless veterans in the greater New Orleans area, created and wrote plays for graduations and Christmas celebrations at Noah’s Ark Christian Pre-school and Kindergarten and was chosen as a “Quiet Hero” by Channel 4 Eye Witness News for her work with children who live in the Methodist Home for Children, specifically launching a children’s literacy program.

About Eric Schultz

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with Eric Schultz, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, at left, with Eric Schultz, a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient, and SUNY Empire State College Provost Alfred Ntoko at the presentation ceremony, which was held in Albany. Photo/SUNY

Eric Schultz, 44, of LeRoy, N.Y., a student of Social Science and Anthropology, is slated to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s and a GPA of 3.96.

Schultz was severely injured during a training mission while serving in the U.S. Army and, as a result, suffers from a significant disability. Through intensive rehabilitative work, today he is able to leave his wheelchair. He also has autism spectrum disorder and completed his course work through guided independent study because of his discomfort with groups.

Schultz’s many accomplishments include founding the Western New York Osteological Survey, which focuses on the study of bones, preparing and analyzing specimens for cataloging in his home lab; volunteering as a research associate at the University at Buffalo Archeological Survey, making significant contributions; and presenting at SUNY Empire’s annual Student Academic Conference in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

He also received the Genesee Valley Center for the Rochester Area Colleges Outstanding Adult Student Award, given annually to adult students who demonstrate excellence in academics, while balancing family, employment, civic and community-service commitments.

At last year’s StAC, Schultz presented on how, in the Western world, concepts of normative gender are reified and reproduced by a set of cultural rules. He also published an essay on the University at Buffalo Zooarcheology website titled, “Our Unsung Hero, the Blowfly,” based on his independent work, and presented at the biennial SUNY Undergraduate Research Conference in the area of small-animal specimen preparation.

At the college’s 2013 StAC, Schultz presented “Time is a Culturally Relative Social Contract,” demonstrating that time is a significantly important social contract and not a finite expression shared by all peoples.

Schultz was also an elected university college representative to the SUNY Student Assembly, where he served and represented the collective interests of students at SUNY Empire, SUNY Oswego, SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Potsdam in working with the SUNY Board of Trustees, as part of shared governance, and in the Student Assembly’s efforts with the Governor, state Legislature and the public.

He also was selected by SUNY Empire’s Genesee Valley location to serve as the region’s student representative to the college Senate.

As a founder of the Western New York Osteological Survey, he was licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and is responsible for coordinating both his own specimen collection and those of other people.

Schultz is a volunteer field researcher for the Seneca Nation Elk Reintroduction Project Archaeological Survey. His efforts will provide the foundational data for a historic population study of elk in the state, which will be utilized by both DEC and the Seneca Nation to reintroduce elk into the state’s ecosystem.

He also was a volunteer research associate for the University at Buffalo Archaeological Survey, working as an excavator at the McKendry dig site in Silver Creek, N.Y., digging with small tools in a 1’ by 1’ square. Schultz found the principles of archaeological excavation to be similar to those used in digging foxholes in the military and was able to draw upon that experience in his work for the archaeological survey.

He also developed and installed an odor-regulation system through the Dermestid Beetle Laboratory, helping to deploy an effective ventilation system at a UB dorm, which cost the university less than $100.

As a volunteer research associate at the University at Buffalo Archaeological Survey, he conducted extensive research on and an exhaustive reanalysis of both the teaching collection and the faunal remains of the Spaulding Lake dig site in Clarence, N.Y., providing a substantial amount of new information for its collection; was a volunteer research associate at the University at Buffalo Rat Islands Research Lab, serving as a faunal analyst, identifying the bones of birds from the Aleutian Islands; and, as a member of the University at Buffalo Zooarchaeology group, collected and prepared specimens.

He received corporate sponsorship from Growshapes LLC. to create computer-generated artwork in his home-imaging laboratory, where he created a 3D model of a human tooth, exceeding the expectations of Growshapes LLC, the equipment designer. The company, which uses 3D scanning to digitally capture physical objects and generate an analogous 3D model, has partnered with Schultz to make instructional videos of how he utilizes the equipment to advance his research into 3D modeling and to work with him in development of further equipment.

He attended the Bioarchaeologists’ Northeast Regional Dialogue, where he engaged in discussions and lectures in the archaeological sub-discipline of bioarchaeology. He also helped to preserve rapidly decaying bone artifacts from Sri Lanka, while at the Archaeological Survey in Buffalo. Schultz since has conducted numerous photographic studies of the bone, as well as created a 3D model. His efforts will allow current and future researchers to utilize the artifacts in their virtual existence, while allowing the actual artifacts to be returned to the Sri Lankan government for re-interment.

Schultz is involved in the refinement of Spaulding Lake faunal analysis, reexamining the faunal remains from the Spaulding Lake dig site in Clarence, N.Y., determining every bone’s exact location in the body of the animal, examining characteristics relevant to their exposure to fire and microscopically examining each bone for signs of taphonomic (decay) and cultural modification. He also learned how to use the Hitachi SU-70 scanning electron microscope for independent research, contacting the UB School of Dental Medicine, Laboratory for Forensic Odontology Research, to arrange use of its equipment for this experiment; and developed a fly bucket specimen extraction process.

About The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence was created in 1997 to recognize students who have best demonstrated and have been recognized for the integration of academic excellence with accomplishments in the areas of leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts, campus involvement and/or career achievement.

Each year, campus presidents establish a selection committee, which reviews exemplary students. Nominees are forwarded to the chancellor’s office and subject to a second round of review. Finalists are recommended to the chancellor to become recipients of the award. Each recipient receives a framed certificate and medallion, which traditionally is worn at commencement.

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 77,000 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 www.esc.edu.

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Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications

518-587-2100, ext. 2918

David.Henahan@esc.edu

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