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2016 Student Service Awards Highlight Achievements

By Suzanne Lazar, student, SUNY Empire State College; editor, The Student Connection

May 5, 2016

I recently attended the 2016 Student Wellness Retreat and, once again, it was a great success. On the docket this year was an amazing variety of interactive wellness activities, concurrent wellness sessions and my favorite keynote speaker thus far, Chris Powell, trainer and transformation specialist on ABC’s documentary-style series, “Extreme Weight Loss.”  

The retreat provided an arena to learn more about health and wellness, which ESC promotes to all students, faculty and staff, as well as a platform for students and faculty to join a Q&A session with ESC leadership and attend the acclaimed, third annual Student Service Award presentations.

Last year, I attended the retreat as a student with one-and-a-half-terms under my belt. I took it all in and loved the enthusiasm from the attendees who came from mostly all over New York state and elsewhere. I sat through last year’s Q&A session which, for me, being new to the ESC environment, was extremely informative. I also was at the service award presentation and was greatly inspired by those recognized for their service contributions. 

This year, I had more invested in the wellness retreat as the new editor of The Student Connection, a new member of the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), the founder and leader of Lean In ESC, a student group that supports networking, a peer coach with the Northeast Center Academic Support Department and a recipient of the Student Service Award. Being inspired didn’t stop that day because I was receiving recognition, but, in fact, grew to encompass the others who joined me in being awarded for our service contributions.‌

Eleven students were honored, including myself, and I had a chance to speak with these amazing peers and get a closer look into why they chose ESC, what they love about being a student, what they enjoy about volunteering their services and what/who inspires them the most:

Shurlene Aberdeen, B.S., Community and Human Services, 2017. “My favorite thing about being a student is the relationship with my mentor and the conversations that result in a collaborative effort to achieve my goals. I initially planned on completing my associate degree, but now I am working toward fulfilling the requirements to enter the master’s-degree program. The most influential person to me is my mentor, Professor Donna Gaines. She is sincerely concerned about the welfare of her students and I enjoy especially enjoy our discussions regarding academic planning to achieve my goals. I’m also working towards meeting requirements for the ESC master’s program in Public Policy.”

Marlea Andolora, A.S., Business, Management and Economics (BM&E) 2014, B.S. BM&E, 2016, MBA Global Leadership, 2018. “I love learning and discovering new things. ESC has also made me think more critically and be a better employee. My favorite experience at ESC has been being a part of the Student Affairs Committee (SAC). SAC exposed me to many things and it catapulted me into new arenas I may have never discovered. I think because I now understand how much ESC offers to students, I am much more proud of being a part of this wonderfully diverse college. ESC helps make dreams come true, because it focuses on the individual needs of students and where they are in their lives right now. 

The most influential thing to me as a student isn’t one person, it is all the people! I cannot believe the support I have received from my family, friends, co-workers, peers, committee members, fellow students, etc. This awesome support network has helped me grow and they all are genuinely interested in what I’m learning.”

Dan DeBrucker, B.S., Community and Human Services, 2017. “I love being a student because of the flexibility with courses, the ability to create a course tailored to my needs and taking classes that fit into my schedule and into my plan. I am working on creating a campus club that will enhance the experiences of Community and Human Service majors. The support from the campus staff and collegewide has been tremendous. My mentor at ESC, Marie Pennucci, the faculty/staff of the Central New York location, along with the staff at the Office of Collegewide Student Services, have played very influential roles to me as a student.” 

Selwyn Ellis, B.S., Community and Human Services, 2017. “I like the unique opportunity that ESC creates for adult professionals. My favorite service experience is now being in the Student Leadership Institute, which provides leadership development through individual and group volunteer projects. My 11-year-old son continues to inspire me as I pave the way for him to understand the importance of success through education.”

Craig Henry, B.S.,Criminal Justice 2017. “I really enjoy learning new things and being a positive role model for my two children. Junior Achievement of Rochester is my favorite service role. I love bonding with children and hearing their laughs and funny comments. I love the opportunity to be a role model for  the kids of our future. The most inspiring and influential people to me are my two children. I’m in school for me, but I’m doing this especially for my children, as it shows them how important an education is.”

Polly Karis, Master of Arts in Adult Learning, 2016. “I feel I’m a unique individual (we all are!), so it’s important that I attend a unique institution. My initial reason to attend ESC was its flexibility for adult learning. Being a student at Empire has helped fuel my love of lifelong learning and shape my passion. I am also honored to be part of Empire’s brand-new Student Leadership Institute – a fabulous experience thus far. My favorite volunteer experience is working (five years now) with refugees and immigrants in an effort to help them become acclimated to American culture and to navigate the American higher-education system. So many people have nurtured and guided me along the way, but without a doubt, my undergraduate mentor Cathy Davison was most influential. She seemed to understand me better than I understood myself and gently made suggestions that sparked my own transformation. Educational Planning was a huge struggle for me and required three attempts, but her patience and diligence paid off and it led to many epiphanies.”

Alexander Lane, B.S., Science, concentrating in human services, 2016. “Deciding to attend Empire State College was an easy choice, as it gave me an opportunity to pursue my dreams of higher education while working full-time with flexibility through available online courses, on-campus courses, residencies and blended studies. I have done many volunteer activities that consisted of supporting community goals and values, feeding the homeless, leading groups of disabled adults in team building and advocating for social change. I can't choose one particular experience, but I can pick out a few words that have enriched my life by volunteering in these activities, such as ‘humility’, ‘thankfulness’, ‘focus’ and ‘gratitude’. One of the most influential people in my life was the late Dr. Lorraine Peeler. Our conversations were often filled with laughter, setting goals to succeed and continuous encouragement. Dr. Peeler taught me to be an active participant in life, understanding the world around us and how events, people and institutions have the ability to affect our lives. So, whenever there’s change that affects my life, I want to be a part of it.”

Suzanne Lazar, B.S., Business, Management and Economics, 2017. “When I chose to go back to college, I never imagined I’d do anything more than study and complete my assignments. My role as a student took a sharp turn during my first term at ESC and it’s been an extraordinary experience thus far. I feel like I have a new career of being a student and I absolutely love it. To me, volunteering my services is a way of giving thanks and giving back to people and communities who have shown support in many different capacities. Junior Achievement has been one of my more exciting service experiences, in that I can teach children valuable lessons and hope that even one thing they learn will make a positive impact they will look back on when they become the new leaders of the world. There’s not one person who is the most influential to me, but it’s those who support my goals and visions that make the most impact on me and provide the endless inspiration.”

Lori Mould, Master of Arts in Adult Learning, 2017. “I am a visual and project-based learner because of the residual effects caused from a brain injury. I chose ESC because I knew that my academics would be judged based on my actual knowledge versus my rote learning skills. One of the best decisions of my educational journey was choosing ESC and I have never looked back. I love to learn in as many venues as possible. I was able to create an onsite internship during my undergraduate degree, in which I spent a month in the Gulf Coast region right after the BP oil spill. This was an amazing opportunity to speak with oil spill volunteers, residents in the affected communities, generations of fishermen and women and their families, numerous people who had gotten sick because of the spill and their doctors, environmental advocates/activists, musicians, storytellers, law professors, and the list goes on. My family and friends have been so supportive during this journey. No matter what direction I want to go in, they are there right beside me as my biggest cheerleaders. And I would have to say that people in need have been the driving force in my role as a student, because every class and activity that I have taken or been involved with has had some component of advocacy and ways to help others. What drives me as a student is to learn avenues to help others in need.”

Hope Stanger, B.A., Human Development, Psychology, 2016. “I knew about ESC for many years, but was completely inspired when I went to my dear friend Donna Simons’ final thesis art exhibit at the ESC Hartsdale location. Empire State College is a SUNY school with a SUNY curriculum that also honors adults and makes education viable to incorporate within our lives. As a trauma therapist and nutritional therapist, my favorite service is anything to do with helping others with their physical, mental/emotional and spiritual health! I love being able to educate people so they can take ownership for themselves. On the service end, it’s immensely gratifying!  My inspiration for ESC was Donna Simons  Completing her degree inspired me to believe I could do it at this time in my life, and I am forever grateful. I want to also acknowledge Mara Mills, Marianne Arieux, Jen Spitz and Karin Dedrich – I hold a place in my heart for each of you. Thank you for helping me to grow and expand. Thank you for seeing who I am. Thank you for believing in me and thank you for being who you are!”

Ellen Terry, B.A., Arts and Wellness, 2016. “I chose ESC because it's a state university and offers a distance-learning option, as well as the opportunity to design a specialized degree program. I've had many positive service and volunteer experiences, but a favorite is my current volunteer position at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center (LESHRC), which allows me the opportunity to provide services based on harm-reduction principles. I also provide referrals and basic counseling, listening to people's stories. Sometimes, listening seems the most important service I can provide. I enjoy being there to be supportive and nonjudgmental, and when someone says ‘thank you’, it warms my heart.  My mentor, Nicola Allain, and instructors Maureen Kravec, Alan Mandell, Yvonne Murphy, Renee O'Brien and Alan Stankiewicz have all influenced me as a person and have greatly assisted in the direction of my studies. My supervisors at LESHRC, Tom Smith and Sadat Iqbal, have also influenced my studies and exploration of arts in healing from trauma and substance use issues. All have shown me opportunities to develop my practice as an artist, to suggest possibilities for work in the arts or in related services, such as education and creative therapies. For their concern and belief in me, I am truly thankful.”

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