(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – April 5, 2017) Six SUNY Empire State College students from across the state – two graduate and four undergraduates – have been selected as 2017 recipients of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, SUNY’s most prestigious student award.
They are Daniel DeBrucker, of Syracuse, N.Y., Kristina Kwacz, of Stuyvesant, N.Y., Robyn McGee ’15, of Patchogue, N.Y., Lori Mould ’14, of Delevan, N.Y., Scott Rachon, of Marcy, N.Y. and Jawana Richardson, ’16, of Hempstead, N.Y.
Created in 1997, the award honors students who have demonstrated and achieved recognition for integrating academic excellence with accomplishments in several areas including:
- community service
- creative and performing arts
- campus involvement
- career achievement.
“The depth and breadth of our students’ inspiring personal and academic accomplishments are remarkable,” said Merodie A. Hancock, president of the college. “Our Chancellor’s Award recipients, all of whom are working adults, not only share a powerful motivation to complete their degrees, but also an unsurpassed commitment to improving their lives, the lives of their families and the livelihood of the communities where they live and work. My congratulations go to Daniel, Kristina, Robyn, Lori, Scott and Jawana, for achieving this tremendous honor and for serving as positive examples and role models for the entire SUNY Empire and SUNY system communities.”
"It is my honor to celebrate the achievements of students who have surpassed SUNY’s highest standards of academic excellence and leadership both on and off campus," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. "Every student we recognize today has demonstrated a strong commitment to their degree program, home campus, greater community and much more. Congratulations to all of the students receiving this year’s award.”
About Daniel DeBrucker
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presents Daniel DeBrucker with his award for student excellence. Vice Provost Tom Mackey represented the college. Photo/Joe Putrock
Daniel DeBrucker, 46, of Syracuse, N.Y., who married Brian Cota, another SUNY Empire student, completed a Bachelor of Science in Community and Human Services, with a 3.86 GPA, and graduates this spring.
He returned to SUNY Empire as an adult to complete a degree he began a quarter century ago.
“Receiving the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence is a tremendous honor and I am very grateful for the support of my faculty mentor, Marie Pennucci, my other professors, instructors and lecturers, the staff in Central New York and the team from the Office of Collegewide Student Services,” said DeBrucker. “I love being a SUNY Empire student because of the flexibility and ability to create a course tailored to my needs and to take classes that fit into my schedule and into my personal degree plan. The support from the SUNY Empire College community has been tremendous and has played a very influential role in my degree completion.”
DeBrucker completed a capstone course on human trafficking, which included the development of a webinar on the subject, which he presented on Jan. 11, 2017, as part of the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness Webinar series.
One of the college’s representatives to the SUNY Student Assembly, he serves on its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and disabilities sub-committee.
DeBrucker was a founding member of the college’s alumni/student Human Services Club, now known as the Leaders in Social Change Club, is the student representative for Central New York to the college’s Student Affairs Committee and is the co-chair to the Student Affairs Pay-it-Forward sub-committee.
A 2017 recipient of the Empire State College Foundation Patrick Beldotti Scholarship, he also is a 2016 student service award recipient and was selected to participate in the college’s Student Leadership Institute for 2017, a one-year commitment.
DeBrucker possesses more than 20 years of experience as a professional in a variety of social services fields and has been active in his church since 1994.
He served as co-chairperson of the Presbyterian AIDS Network, bringing policy and advocacy to nearly 10,000 congregations across the country and later as the moderator (president) of the local Presbyterian denomination, overseeing 35 congregations and nearly 50 pastors.
DeBrucker was appointed to serve as a member of the board of his church and its mission team and then, as well as a three-year term on the leadership team of the local churches in Central New York that promotes homeless mission projects and resources to congregations in the Central New York region.
After graduation, DeBrucker said that he seeks to further his vocation in the fall of 2017 as a mission pastor working with runaway and homeless youth affected by human trafficking.
Currently, DeBrucker volunteers as the national organizer for the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness, supports Tiny Homes for Good, which is the focus of his leadership institute project, and works on a multi-county crisis intervention helpline, which answers calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presents graduate student Kristina Kwacz with the chancellor's award for student excellence. Vice Provost Tom Mackey respresented the college. Photo/Joe Putrock
Kristina Kwacz, of Stuyvesant, N.Y., is the director of state Senator Michael Gianaris’ Albany office, completed a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, with a 3.98 GPA, and graduates this spring.
“Receiving the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence is an amazing honor and has given me a deep sense of personal satisfaction,” said Kwacz. “I am so very grateful to my professors, the staff and my fellow SUNY Empire students for all the support I have received in completing my degree.”
Kwacz’s master’s capstone project, “In the Shadow of the Twenty,” an exhibit combining family photographs, memoir and artifacts will be on display from April 22, through May 31, at the college’s location at 113 West Ave., Saratoga Springs.
An opening reception takes place from 4-6 p.m., Saturday, April 22, at West Ave.
Her research paper, “Pilgrimage, Partitions, and Patriarchy: Polish Women and the Virgin Mary,” was published in the fall issue of Confluence, The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies.
Her conference presentations include:
- SUNY Graduate Research Today and Tomorrow Conference, SUNY Empire State College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., March 2017, Poster Presentation: “Terror, Trauma, and Totalitarianism: Lifting the Veil of Silence”
- Institutions & Societies Annual Graduate Student Conference, University at Albany–SUNY, Albany, N.Y., February 2017, “Terror, Trauma, and Totalitarianism: Lifting the Veil of Silence”
- SUNY Empire State College Student Academic Conference, Albany, N.Y., October 2016, “Terror, Trauma, and Totalitarianism: Beneath the Veil of Silence”
- East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium, Stockton University, Galloway, N.J., June 2016, “Terror, Trauma, and Totalitarianism: Stalin and Poland’s Eastern Borderlands”
- SUNY Empire State College Student Academic Conference, Albany, N.Y., October 2015, “What Makes Me, Me? Exploring Identity via the MA in Liberal Studies”
- East Coast Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium, Stockton University, Galloway, N.J., June 2015, “Pilgrimage, Partitions, and Patriarchy: Polish Women and the Virgin Mary.”
Kwacz is the recipient of three scholarships, the Empire State College Foundation Susan and Bill Dake Scholarship, the Skalny Scholarship for Polish Studies from the American Council for Polish Culture, and the Empire State College Margaret C. “Peggy” Perkins Memorial Scholarship.
In her avocation of photography, she focuses on documentary images of Eastern Europe and has participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions including at the Yates Gallery at Siena College, the Spencertown Academy, The Arts Center of the Capital Region, Albany International Airport, Fenimore Art Museum, and the Columbia County Council on the Arts.
Her awards include the PhotoRegional Exhibit Award and the Columbia County Council on the Arts Emerging Artist award. She also won grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York State Council for the Arts Decentralization Program.
In her community, Kwacz serves on the volunteer Stuyvesant Falls Bridge Review Advisory Committee.
About Robyn McGee
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presents student Robyn McGee with the chancellor's award for student excellence. Vice Provost Tom Mackey represented the college. Photo/Joe Putrock
Robyn McGee ’15, 40, and her husband, Tom, have a four-year-old son, Declan, and live in Patchogue, N.Y. McGee completed an associate degree in 2015 and graduates this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services and a 4.0 GPA. A full-time student and mother, she plans to return to her 15-year career in human services.
“Receiving the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence is a thrilling honor and I am very grateful to my professors, particularly my primary faculty mentor, Dorothea Lipari, the college’s dedicated staff and my fellow SUNY Empire students for all the help and support I have received on my journey to degree completion,” said McGee.
While working to assist differently abled adults to pursue their goals – including their education goals – she became aware of SUNY Empire State College and decided to enroll with the college and to complete a degree.
Enrolling in college for the first time, and as an adult, involved more than a little fear and anxiety, said McGee.
Once enrolled, however, McGee was selected to participate with the inaugural cohort of the college’s Student Leadership Institute in 2015, a yearlong commitment.
McGee’s voluntary service to the college includes:
- serving as member of SUNY Empire's Pay-It-Forward Initiative for 2016, where she acted as liaison to the Long Island Ronald McDonald House
- acting as a student representative and speaker during the college’s statewide open house events in 2015 and 2016
- election by her peers to be president of the Long Island-based alumni/student Community Action Student Club in 2015
- serving as a member of the college’s Student Activity Fee Committee, which has responsibility for financial oversight of all collegewide programs and student groups, as well as commencement ceremonies and other large-scale events.
She also is a recipient of the Empire State College Foundation Jane Shipton Scholarship.
A long-distance runner, Robyn also volunteers with the Hoptron Running Club and manages race coordination for the club.
After graduation, McGee said her goals include returning to a career helping vulnerable populations and enrolling in graduate school.
About Lori Mould
Lori Mould '14, right holding her award, could not attend this year's event and is seen here with her mother AliceJeanne, at the 2014 SUNY ACT Scholarship Award ceremony. Photo/Joe Putrock
She is a member of the Western New York Veteran Consortium, the Finger Lakes Veterans Consortium and the New York State Advisory Council on Military Education.
“Receiving the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence as a SUNY Empire graduate student is every bit as rewarding, humbling and satisfying as it was as an undergraduate,” said Mould. “Participation in student governance at the college and SUNY system levels, with SUNY Empire student clubs, community organizations, and academic opportunities – in addition to my course work – has enriched my education immeasurably. The support, guidance and mentoring I have received from faculty, staff and my fellow students has sustained me on my journey to complete my SUNY Empire degree and I am grateful to all those who have touched my life in such a positive way.”
The 54-year-old single mother and grandmother returned to college after a 27-year hiatus.
She is currently working as a veteran outreach specialist with the Adult Educational Opportunity Program, a grant-supported effort at Genesee Community College (SUNYGCC), which works to better serve and support veteran, active-duty military students, and their dependents, achieve education and academic success.
In 2010, Mould completed two associate degrees from SUNYGCC and earned her first Chancellor's Award.
As a SUNYGCC student, she served in student governance, first as the public relations officer and then as vice president and president.
As part of the responsibilities of her office, Mould served on the SUNYGCC Board of Trustees as the student representative and a full voting member.
At the national level, she was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year campuses and went on to serve as PTK chapter president, in various PTK regional office positions, and is the current president of Zeta, the Alumni Association for the New York state region of Phi Theta Kappa.
Throughout her academic career, Mould has been active in student government at the college and SUNY levels, service she continues through today.
Mould was first elected as the college’s representative to the Student Assembly of the State University of New York (SUNYSA) in 2013 and, in 2014, she was the first student in the history of the college to be elected president of the SUNYSA, which represents all 460,000 students at SUNY’s 64 campuses.
By virtue of her election and holding the office of president of the SUNY SA, Mould became the first student from the college to serve as a member of both the SUNY Board of Trustees and the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation Board of Trustees as a full, voting member of each board.
HESC is the state's higher education student financial aid agency and administers its Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), 20 state scholarship and loan forgiveness programs, the College Access Challenge Grant (CACG) Program, the 529 College Savings Program, with the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), and financial aid outreach programs for students and families.
While serving her one-year term on the SUNY board, she participated in all major policy and personnel decisions, including:
- the first-ever statewide, uniform SUNY policy to address sexual assault on campus
- more and greater opportunities for students to participate in applied learning internships
- selection of new campus presidents
- appointment of distinguished professors
- clinical preparation for teacher education
- review, approval and advocacy for the SUNY budget.
Her current service for the college includes participating with the Graduate Student Collaborative as a member of its executive board and social media manager and acting as the student representative on the college’s Graduate Policy Studies Committee.
Mould’s college, state and SUNY presentations, awards and academic recognitions include:
- the SUNY ACT Excellence and Student Initiative Scholarship in 2014
- selection in 2014, for the second time, to receive the Chancellor’s Award
- twice recipient of the college’s Student Service Award
- selection for inclusion in the 2014 SUNY/CUNY research symposium as an undergraduate
- as a graduate student in 2017, her work was selected for the SUNY Faculty Senate graduate research symposium
- selection to participate in this year’s cohort of the college’s Student Leadership Institute, a one-year commitment
- “Veterans with Invisible Disabilities in Higher Education,” at the college’s 2016 Student Academic Conference
- “Veterans with Invisible Disabilities in Higher Education,” an updated version with SUNY Polytechnic Institute student and SUNYSA Military Affairs Committee co-chair Jake Webster, at the SUNYSA fall 2016 conference.
Mould is a recent survivor of breast-cancer and, due to the demands of her recovery and studies, she resigned as the college’s representative to the SUNY SA, and as the co-chair of its Military Affairs Committee, and withdrew from the college’s leadership institute.
In the near future, Mould says that she will collaborate with other breast-cancer survivors of both genders to form a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing survivors and their families with greater levels of emotional, physical and financial support.
Mould has organized and participated in a Hurricane Sandy rebuilding trip to Staten Island with other SUNY Empire students and has organized more than 30 trips to the Gulf Coast for recovery and rebuilding efforts post Katrina and Rita.
She continues to gather toiletries, which she donates to the domestic violence shelters in the Western New York area.
Mould has one son, Joshua, 35, a daughter-in-law, Jamie, 32, and a two granddaughters, Autum, 9, and Anaka, 5.
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presents student Scott Rachon with the chancellor's award for student excellence. Vice Provost Tom Mackey represented the college. Photo/Joe Putrock
About Scott Rachon
Scott Rachon, is an investigator with New York State Police, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and an active member of the Air National Guard. The a 44-year-old married father of four from Marcy, N.Y., completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Economics, with a 3.64 GPA, and graduates this spring.
“Selection for the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence is a tremendous honor and I am very grateful to my professors and SUNY Empire for all their support and encouragement,” said Rachon. “SUNY Empire enabled me to learn, no matter what personal and professional responsibilities and duties I was performing at any given time, or where in the world I happened to be located. Even before I completed my degree, I was able to apply what I learned with SUNY Empire on an immediate basis, which was a powerful motivating factor in achieving my education goals.”
Rachon volunteers as a coach and referee for soccer, Little League Baseball, Pop-Warner Football in Oneida County and, for the past six years, has volunteered with the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau’s distribution day at the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse. Thousands of low-income families receive books, toys and stocking stuffers for each child along with all the fixings for a complete holiday dinner.
With a 25-years of service in the military, and nearly 20 years with the state police, he returned to college to improve his writing and critical-thinking skills, which, he said, were essential for him to advance his career with the state police and become a more effective leader and mentor with the national guard.
Deployments overseas with the guard led him to change his status from full to part-time student. However, he was able to continue to learn and complete his degree, even with limited access to the internet, as well as all the responsibilities commensurate with active duty service in the military.
As a result of his completion of several of the college’s business and management courses while deployed, Rachon earned the Community College of the Air Force Professional Manager Certification, which recognizes an advanced level of professional education, training and experience in senior Air Force enlisted leadership and management.
While serving his country overseas and completing his degree, he also earned the Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service and Leadership.
As a member of the state police, Rachon’s accomplishments and awards include:
- Superintendent’s Commendation, the second highest award bestowed by the state police, for saving the life of a suicidal person
- appointment to investigator
- promotion to the permanent rank of sergeant
- Special Recognition Award, twice, for separate homicide and burglary investigations
- Oneida County District Attorney’s Distinguished Law Enforcement Officer Award.
About Jawana Richardson ‘16
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presents student Jawana Richardson with the chancellor's award for student excellent. Vice Provost Tom Mackey represented the college. Photo/Joe Putrock
She also holds a real estate license, is a notary public and has more than 35 years of experience working in management and administration positions with American Fortune 500 companies.
After being away from higher education for more than 30 years, she recently decided to change her course and return to college.
She completed an associate degree in Business Management and Economics in 2016, with a 3.89 GPA, and is on track to complete her bachelor’s in the spring of 2018.
“Receiving the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence is a great honor and fills me with a deep sense of pride and gratitude for all the support I have received from my employer, my mentor, the faculty, staff and my fellow students at SUNY Empire,” said Richardson. “Taking advantage of all the opportunities to participate in student clubs, organizations, various committees that give back to the community, and other extracurricular academic activities, has added a depth of experience to my degree that I never would have achieved on my own. I would never have thought I would be doing all that I am doing now at this age, which goes to show that it’s never too late to live life to the fullest. I am just getting started and, for me, ‘the sky is the limit.’”
Richardson’s leadership activities and positions in the college community include serving as:
- vice president of the alumni/student club the Black Male Initiative
- a member of the college’s Pay-It-Forward philanthropic initiative
- a member of the college’s wellness and safety committees
- a member of the college’s Alumni and Student Board of Governors.
Her academic activities and awards include:
- selection for participation with the inaugural cohort of the college’s Student Leadership Institute, a one-year commitment
- presentation of “Accelerate your Degree Program through your "'Prior Learning'” Experiences!” at the 2014 Student Academic Conference
- winning the college’s Student Service Award twice.
Richardson also was selected for, and successfully completed, the University of Albany’s Center for Women in Government and Civil Society Leadership Program at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, an intensive, seven-day, on-campus program.
She was one of only 20 students selected from an applicant pool of several hundred SUNY students.
In December 2014, while driving to work, Richardson’s husband of 20 years, Sherman, was the fatal victim of a drunk driver in a hit-and-run accident. Several years prior, she lost her only child, Lawrence, to a sudden, unexpected illness.
She subsequently became a grief support advocate and, since that time, Richardson has advocated at the state level in support of the Nassau county District Attorney’s office call for greater protections for motorists and pedestrians by enforcing stricter penalties on the perpetrators of hit-and-run accidents.
In addition to these efforts, and together with a team of SUNY Empire Leadership Institute team members, Richardson helped to develop a change.org petition and to collect more than 57,000 signatures in support of stricter penalties, which she and others delivered to the state Legislature in Albany, where they continue to fight for change.
A former plus size fashion and lingerie model and a graduate of the Ophelia DeVore School of Charm and Modeling, Richardson participated in several plus-size beauty pageants, including the Miss Big Beautiful Doll pageant, during the late '80s and early '90s.
She recently signed on to become a victim impact panelist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Richardson also volunteers and supports various church programs, her local Police Athletic League, and various local community events. She received a citation from former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel for her charity work in Harlem for her efforts to create a vibrant living environment in her community. In 2015, she volunteered as the treasurer for the political campaign for a legislative candidate in her community.
Richardson also is an advocate for improved services for children with special needs.
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 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 nominations of exemplary students. Selected nominations are forwarded to the chancellor’s office and subject to a second round of review a by a committee, which includes members of the chancellor’s office, the provosts office and other professionals at the SUNY system office. Finalists then are recommended to the chancellor for her determination.
Each award recipient receives a framed certificate and medallion, which is worn at commencement and other academic events requiring regalia.
About SUNY Empire State College
Empire State College, the nontraditional, open college of the SUNY system, educates nearly 19,000 students worldwide at eight international sites, 34 locations across 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 coursework on site, 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 78,000 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.