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Engineering Success and a Family Legacy: The Capek Family

Alumni Profile - Capeks

Growing up on a farm in the tiny town of Ephratah, New York, the Capek siblings (Frank ’82, Tom ’85, and George ’86) learned: “It’s never just about you.”

How did this close-knit family, which started out on Long Island, wind up in rural Fulton County? That was fortuitous. The brothers’ subsequent journey to SUNY Oneonta? That was by design.

Over Memorial Day Weekend 1975, the family set out on what was intended to be a three-day camping trip to land they owned in the Adirondacks. (Cue up the theme to Gilligan’s Island.) When their father was injured in a motorcycle accident, their return home was delayed. Forever. 

Out of necessity, the family created a farm on their 200-acre property and made it their new home. Once their father had recovered, he returned to his job teaching at the Academy of Aeronautics (now the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology). Determined that his children would have solid job prospects, he steered them toward what he knew best: engineering.

When it came time for Frank, the eldest, to decide on a college, they were drawn to SUNY Oneonta by its 3-2 Engineering Program, which allows students to earn two bachelor’s degrees (the first, in liberal arts, from Oneonta; the second, in engineering, from an engineering school) in five years. In fall 1978, Frank packed his bags for Oneonta — and started a family tradition. (A fourth brother, John, also studied engineering, at RPI. Their two sisters chose different paths.)

Frank, who majored in math, loved his professors and enjoyed taking courses across multiple disciplines. “At the end of three years, I had taken everything it was possible to take as an undergraduate, as well as a bunch of graduate-level classes. I loaded up on coursework — especially in math, because that was my academic passion,” he says.

Professor (now Professor Emeritus) Leo Alex helped fuel that passion. “He convinced me I could pursue additional studies at any of the world’s best institutions,” Frank says. “He helped me form higher expectations for myself.”

Because of Alex’s influence, Frank went on to study mechanical engineering at MIT, rather than one of the schools with which Oneonta had an agreement. (A few years later, his brothers would follow suit. Tom earned his civil engineering degree from RPI in 1986; George, his mechanical engineering degree from MIT in 1987.)

Alex was right about Frank’s potential: As his career unfolded, he launched several of the first commercially successful artificial intelligence applications in the financial services industry and helped develop the field of experience design. In 1994, he started Customer Innovations, the first consulting practice devoted to experience transformation, helping leading organizations create innovative experiences for their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. In 2019, Customer Innovations was acquired by the strategy firm Innosight, where he is now a partner.

The fall after Frank left Oneonta, Tom arrived on campus. Tom, who majored in physics, also crossed disciplines to take courses in literature, philosophy, creative writing — “opportunities I never would have had at an engineering school. Because of our experiences at Oneonta, my brothers and I became more well-rounded engineers,” he says. “It wasn’t just the classes we took; our classmates gave us a broadening experience as well.”

After graduating from RPI, Tom joined Corning Inc., where he is now senior vice president and chief engineer (“a dream job for an engineer,” he says). In his 35 years with the company, he has headed the melting and production departments and been plant manager in Kentucky, served as division vice president and director of engineering for Glass Technology, and made 220 trips to Asia. “For 20 years, I would travel there 10-12 times a year — building, starting up, and developing our most sophisticated processes in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and now China.”

Tom has four children. The eldest, Rebecca ’11, continued the family tradition but followed her own passions. Initially interested in physical therapy, she chose to study biology at Oneonta “because it felt like home.” Although she later changed her major to nutrition, it was her experience as an Admissions tour guide and resident advisor that came to define her career. “I loved the relationships I built with staff and faculty as well as students, and I could see the impact I was having on students’ lives,” she says. (Fun fact: She was also the Red Dragon mascot on occasion.) After graduation, she served as a residence director at Keuka College, where she earned a master’s degree in management, and Syracuse University. Today, she works in student housing as a regional lease up specialist for Asset Living.

George, the youngest of the siblings, was just a year behind Tom. (The two often had friendly rivalries in classes they shared.) Like Frank, George majored in math at Oneonta. After graduating from MIT, he joined the Ford Motor Co., where he has been ever since. Now a senior functional test engineer, he gets to do what he enjoys most: solving problems, particularly those related to transmissions. (“My desk is like one of those deli counters where people line up and take a number,” he jokes.) Currently, he is working on prototypes for Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning truck.

Although Rebecca serves on two alumni committees, most of the family’s continuing ties with Oneonta are philanthropic. Through the Capek Family Foundation, they endowed the Capek Family Scholarship for STEAM Students in 2019. All four are members of the 1889 Leadership Society. For this year’s Day of Giving, they offered a $10,000 challenge grant to encourage fellow Red Dragons to join them in supporting Oneonta students.

“SUNY Oneonta has been transformational for our family,” Frank says. “It shaped all of our lives. We’ve been lucky to have had a supportive set of experiences, and we’ve been lucky to be successful in our lives and now have the capacity to give back.”

Luke Mock ’23, a music industry major and pop singer-songwriter, is the inaugural recipient of the Capek Family Scholarship. When he met Tom and Rebecca during this year’s Celebration of Giving virtual event in April, he learned that Rebecca follows him on Instagram and had shared one of his recent music videos. “That was awesome, to feel their personal support,” he says. “It inspires me to get involved with everything I possibly can.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 4:34:00 PM

Campaign Update

We’re delighted and impressed! Nearly 7,900 alumni and friends have contributed $22.1 million (as of Aug. 1) to the Grow. Thrive. Live. campaign — just over 88% of our $25 million goal.

These are funds that will directly benefit current and future Oneonta students. You, too, should be proud of this accomplishment.

Now, however, with two years left to go, is not the time for complacency. We want (and need) to finish strong. With hard work, we’re confident we’ll meet and beat our goal. And if you think we’re going to stop at $25 million, think again!

About 70% of Oneonta students have financial need — a percentage that continues to grow. Financial difficulties is the No. 1 reason students drop out of college. You can help prevent that. You can make the difference.

Although the pandemic curtailed many of our in-person events, we’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many of you through virtual events. We love to hear your Oneonta stories. Over and over again, we hear how important Oneonta was to you and how you want to support student success and make a difference in students’ lives.

Since the start of the campaign, 86 new scholarships and funds have been established. We created one of them. Pat’s brother passed away in February, and, owing to his love of music, we endowed a scholarship in his name for music majors.

What better way to honor the memory of a loved one while helping others navigate the financial obstacles to a quality Oneonta education?

Not ready or able to make a commitment at this level? Consider making monthly recurring gifts — they’re an easy way to support the campaign, and they’re so important. For more information on Oneonta’s Recurring Gift Program and how to become a Red Dragon Sustainer, go to

However and whatever you choose to give, know that your funds will be well spent: The State University College at Oneonta Foundation Corporation has earned a four-star rating (the highest rating possible) from Charity Navigator.

Please accept our deepest gratitude for your generosity. And the gratitude of the many students you’ve helped and will continue to help in the years to come.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 4:25:00 PM

Bridging College and Career

College & Career

Through a virtual internship with the U.S. Office of Migrant Education, Chayse Stevens ’21 strengthened his time management skills and learned that “hard work is the real thing.”

An internship at Constellation Brands helped Odalis Galeano Umana ’20, now a human resources assistant at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, recognize that “human resources was the way I wanted to go.”

While conducting research to establish a phenology trail on the SUNY Oneonta campus, Julia Ospina ’21 “realized how much I wanted to work with people and directly with the flora of New York state.”

Stevens, Umana, and Ospina are among the thousands of SUNY Oneonta students taking part each year in experiential learning (also known as applied learning) programs designed to prepare them for careers and for life.

These high-impact experiences include domestic and international internships, on-campus student employment, research and creative collaborations, study abroad, volunteer service, service learning, and leadership programs. By the time they are seniors, nearly 75% of Oneonta students have availed themselves of at least two such opportunities.

“These experiences have demonstrable benefits for retention — especially retention of students from populations historically underserved by higher education,” says Associate Provost Eileen Morgan-Zayachek. “Research by the American Association of Colleges and Universities shows that one or two of these experiences in the first half of a bachelor’s program facilitate student progress, deepen engagement in academic work, and improve retention and persistence toward degree completion.”

They also address the job concerns of prospective students and parents while assuring employers that Oneonta graduates are career ready.

“Because these experiences are so important,” Morgan-Zayachek says, “we’ve tried to widen them and make them more uniformly equitable. We’ve scaled them up and made them a focal point — a conscious part of students’ goal setting and career planning. We’ve built out the infrastructure.”

Case in point: Oneonta’s new Experiential Learning Center (ELC), which opened this spring in Hunt Union. The ELC provides a holistic, student-centered approach to career readiness by collocating the Career Development Center, the Center for Social Responsibility and Community, the Office of Global Education, Student Research and Creative Activity, and the Office of Sustainability. “Together, they offer a menu of opportunities for students to explore and see where their passions lie,” says Kathy Meeker ’78, director of the Grants Development Office.

Sean Shannon ’89, interim director of the Career Development Center, calls internships “an essential part of students’ professional development — one that allows them to gain professional experience, network, and clarify their career goals.”

Internships have been a requirement of the Music Industry program since its inception. Faculty visit internship sites to not only affirm the College’s active interest in the experience but also ensure that their teaching reflects the latest practices. “My discussions with supervisors provide a real-world assessment of the classes we offer,” says Janet Nepkie, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of Music and Music Industry. “When you receive feedback from places you’re intending to send students after graduation, it’s the most incredibly valuable way to keep a curriculum up to date.”

For students needing financial assistance, support is available from the Helen and Michael Casper Fellowship for Internship Support, created by Andrea Casper ’75, and the James ’75 and Mary Susan Ajello Internship Fund, which awards up to $5,000 to political science and economics and business majors taking credit-bearing internships. Along with the financial support, Ajello, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Portland General Electric, mentors interns.

Other high-impact experiences center on research and creative activity. “We’re now taking more of a tiered approach, offering shadow programs and expanded opportunities earlier on and engaging students in more advanced participation as they progress through graduation,” Meeker says. More than $100,000 is available annually through the Student Grant Program and other programs to support these efforts.

Each spring, students present their scholarly work at Student Research & Creative Activity (SRCA) Day. One of this year’s projects was a Spanish-language companion site for the course Spanish Phonetics and Phonology. The site, developed by Nicole Barreca ’21 and Alyssa Carbone ’22 in conjunction with lecturer Alejandra Escudero, is now a free resource for all SUNY students. In a related project, Erika Rama ’22 worked with Escudero to develop a Spanish pronunciation module for the site.

Career readiness is also facilitated by study abroad, which has been found to strengthen skills critical to success. Oneonta’s study abroad opportunities range from short-term, faculty-led programs to summer, semester, and yearlong programs with the College’s 13 international partner institutions. Additionally, students can take part in over 600 programs offered through the SUNY Study Abroad Consortium.

“Because the world is so interconnected, it’s crucial that we prepare students to thrive within the global environment,” says Kate Stanley, director of global education. When students return from study abroad, she notes, “they often have changed their minds about what they want to do or have new ideas about things they want to pursue.”

A similar dynamic plays out when students volunteer and engage in service learning, which pairs community service with classroom instruction and reflection, says Linda Drake ’94, executive director of the Center for Social Responsibility and Community. Malcolm Hardy ’07 found his passion for disaster management after participating in Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts; today, he is a senior recovery planner for the Department of Homeland Security. The College offers some 80 service-learning courses and an average of 50,000 hours of volunteer service each year.

To help students secure jobs and internships, the Career Development Center now uses Handshake, a platform that connects students with over 550,000 employers and “levels the proverbial playing field,” says Morgan-Zayachek. Along with Handshake, the Center continues to provide résumé, cover letter, interviewing, and general career counseling services.

Alumni help make experiential learning possible. The Scribe Program, for example, arranged through Dr. Reggie Knight ’74, allows pre-health students to gain hospital hours by becoming temporary employees of Fox Hospital. Alumni also provide advice and inspiration during Backpacks to Briefcases, Mixing Board to Management, Goodrich to Broadway, and Campus to Capital networking trips.

For information on how you, too, can get involved, contact

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 4:11:00 PM

Dr. Alberto José Cardelle Takes the Helm as SUNY Oneonta's New President

Dr. Alberto José Cardelle, a champion of accessible higher education and a “passionate advocate” for public universities, begins his duties as the College’s ninth president Sept. 6.

Cardelle joins SUNY Oneonta from Fitchburg State University (FSU) in Massachusetts, where he most recently served as provost and vice president for academic affairs — providing vision, leadership, and strategic direction to all faculty and academic departments and overseeing admissions, student success services, international education, the library, and the registrar.

Throughout his 20-year career in higher education administration — first at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, where he served as vice provost, dean of the Graduate College, and dean of the College of Health Sciences, and then at FSU — Cardelle has developed student-centered programs that encourage innovative approaches to student learning and teaching.

His areas of expertise include student development; diversity, equity, and inclusion; academic excellence; and economic and community development.

“Higher education gives us the knowledge to succeed and, just as importantly, a sense of community that is a vehicle for providing students with equity of opportunity,” Cardelle says. “Accessible higher education is transformational for the individual and society as a whole. That is at the forefront of what drives me in my career, and I look forward to working with SUNY Oneonta’s faculty and staff to that end.”

His appointment was announced July 20 by the SUNY Board of Trustees and SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.

“Dr. Cardelle is a staunch advocate for students who has a distinguished record of not only providing more access and opportunities for students but also making sure they thrive academically,” Malatras said. “He joins SUNY Oneonta at a pivotal moment, and I have no doubt he will bring the campus to new heights.”

“His abilities go beyond his résumé, which is extraordinary, as he shares a passion for creating a more equitable system in which students can thrive,” said SUNY Board Vice Chairman Cesar Perales. “As a first-generation American, Dr. Cardelle knows what it means to make one’s own way, striving to better oneself, as our students do every day.”

Cardelle earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and Latin American studies at Tulane University, a Master of Public Health degree at Boston University, and a doctoral degree in international studies with a concentration in comparative health policy at the University of Miami. He spent a decade working on health care issues with the World Health Organization, the American Medical Student Association, UNICEF, and Oxfam America before beginning his career in higher education.

He and his wife, Rachel Frick Cardelle, have three grown daughters.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 4:07:00 PM

New Center Promotes Racial and Social Justice

The Center for Racial Justice and Inclusive Excellence (CRJIE) opened July 1, dedicated to fostering a more just and inclusive environment at the College.

CRJIE, the new iteration of the Center for Multicultural Experiences (CME), will support activities and initiatives that advance inclusive excellence, antiracism, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“The nationwide and worldwide discourse now taking place on these issues made it fitting to redefine and expand CME’s activities,” says Chief Diversity Officer Bernadette Tiapo. “We also wanted to honor all who were impacted by the College’s Black List incident and recognize the impact it has had and continues to have on the campus and the community.”

“The Center’s emphasis on racial justice shows the strong commitment by the campus to right any wrongs by owning its history, while the inclusive excellence component lays emphasis on the intersectional aspects of other forms of isms, other social justice issues, and the importance of addressing them,” Tiapo says.

“We hope the Center will become a campus hub for the exchange of ideas and knowledge on racial and social justice and other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)-related issues to purposefully foster mutual respect and understanding.” 

CRJIE will provide a new space where DEI can be taught, learned, and celebrated. It will offer expanded opportunities for educational and social events, as well as an area for a new racial/social justice museum and learning library. “The design of the museum will incorporate the history of the Black List incident so that it can be transformed into an educational opportunity,” Tiapo says. “The learning library will provide easy access to DEI and related resources.”

CRJIE experiences outside the classroom will aim to not only help students reach their academic potential but also create opportunities leading to lifelong careers.

Among the new initiatives planned are an annual racial justice symposium, an endowed speakers series, reunions, paid and credit-bearing internships, scholarships for student academics, and mini-grants to support programming on race-related topics. Also planned are an expansion of the Peer Mentoring Program and a revitalization of the Faculty-in-Residence Program. 

All are contingent upon additional funding.

“A substantial budget will be needed to implement new initiatives and expand existing ones,” Tiapo says. “Alumni support will go a long way toward helping the Center achieve its goals.”

Along with providing financial support, she hopes “alumni will become active stakeholders, serving as resource persons and providing expertise in different areas. The Center’s Advisory Committee will work with the Office of Alumni Engagement to create and reinforce this partnership.”

The search for a director is under way.

To learn more about the Center, go to

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 3:59:00 PM

Traditions Connect Generations of Students

While the traditions themselves may change, the celebration of tradition at SUNY Oneonta remains a constant.

“Traditions give students a way to connect and begin to identify with the College,” says Monica Grau ’88, director of new student services. “They allow for common experiences and ways to demarcate special occasions. They bring generations of students together.”

The 1953 Oneontan confirms that, noting, “Customs and ceremony … have enriched our college experiences and have developed within us a sense of loyalty and belonging.” The traditions they cite are now largely forgotten: Paper Hat Assembly (the main attraction being “a display of the latest in creative chapeaux concoctions” fashioned by freshmen, according to the Sept. 23, 1955, edition of the State Times); Initiation Day (which later became Initiation Week, drawing to a close with Frosh Court); Inaugural Ball; the Sadie Hawkins Dance; Winter Carnival; Moving-Up Day.

Today, traditions are just as integral to campus life, but balls and dances have given way to activities that speak to a new generation. 

Current Traditions

The College’s most notable tradition, Pass Through the Pillars, “bookends a student’s career at Oneonta,” Grau says, welcoming them into the campus community and then, years later, signifying their departure. The day before the start of each semester, first-year and new transfer students cross through the two remaining pillars of Old Main to the cheers of students, faculty, staff, and Red the Dragon — literally following in the footsteps of thousands of their predecessors. The day before they graduate, seniors walk through the pillars in the opposite direction.

Red Day commemorates the College’s founding with activities centering on the color red. Students, faculty, and staff share their school spirit by donning red shirts, pants, dresses, hats, jewelry — even dying their hair or beards. Everyone gathers on the quad to cut a birthday cake and take photos with Red the Dragon. Alumni join in by wearing red and sharing photos on social media. The celebration of Founders’ Week, incorporating Pass Through the Pillars and Red Day, began in 2020 to mark the College’s 130th anniversary.

Battle of the Red Dragons celebrates the longstanding rivalry between SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Cortland (both of whose mascots, inexplicably, are Red Dragons). Men’s and women’s basketball games feature giveaways and entertainment, with halftime entertainment provided by student groups.

OH Fest, sponsored jointly with Hartwick College, brings together college students and the community. During the day, Main Street is closed to traffic and turns into a street fair, with arts and craft vendors, carnival food, sidewalk sales, games, and music. The main event is a free evening concert at Neahwa Park planned and organized by students.

Homecoming, which started in 1954, is one of the College’s most enduring traditions. The early years featured house decorating contests, a Homecoming Float Parade (float contests were still going strong in the ’80s), Homecoming Dance, Moonlight Swim, and the crowning of a king and queen. Homecoming disappeared in the late ’60s but was revived in 1978. Today, Homecoming has morphed into Family Weekend, featuring entertainment and educational activities.

A 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, hosted by the SUNY Oneonta Alumni Association, honors the seven alumni who died in the attack on the World Trade Center; the Alumni Association also offers scholarships in their memory.

Other traditions include Halloween in the Halls, a Fall Concert, and the Class Gift, which dates to at least 1900 and has included works of art along with monetary donations.

Bygone Traditions

Several traditions have revolved around Commencement. On the Saturday night before the College’s first Commencement, “The departments of modern language and physical culture presented a special program which probably consisted of some original plays in German and French, and a demonstration of pole drill, club swinging, and dumbbell exercises,” writes Carey W. Brush in In Honor and Good Faith: A History of the State University College at Oneonta, New York (W.F. Humphrey Press, 1965). Class Day exercises were introduced shortly thereafter, as was an Alumni Banquet, held the night of Commencement (ca. 1901-37).

In a break from tradition, the Class of 1975 wore red gowns to Commencement to counter the bleakness of the times. Speaking at the Class of 2017 Commencement, Roz Hewsenian ’75 recalled: “Wearing red gowns was a way … to change our mindsets and take strength from the strong color it is, while paying homage to the college that was launching us.” Not to be outdone, the Class of 1976 followed suit.

May Fete, a joint celebration with Hartwick College, ran from 1913 until about 1920, featuring competitive games, a Maypole Dance, and the crowning of a Queen of the May.

From 1934-72, first-year students were formally installed into the SUNY Oneonta community at a Candlelight Service (later called a Candlelight Ceremony). As part of the event, freshmen pledged their efforts “to gain knowledge and experience that I may acquire wisdom, and gain a life rich in understanding and in service to the schools of our state.”

The White Rose Ball, sponsored by Sigma Tau Alpha fraternity, ran from 1950 until at least 1983. A highlight was the crowning of the White Rose Queen, who received a bouquet of white roses and, with her date, led the first dance.

College Camp Supergames ran from 1977 into the ’80s, awarding a Super Team Trophy and Super Dorm Trophy.

Other traditions of the past include Teas With Faculty, Play Day, Arbor Day, Spring Dance, Senior Ball, and the Frosh-Sophomore Tug of War (which determined whether freshmen would continue to wear their beanies).

Which traditions defined your Oneonta experience? We invite you to send recollections, photos, and mementos to Heather Stalter, associate librarian, Special Collections & Reference,

Wednesday, October 13, 2021 3:46:00 PM

Oneonta Alumni of Distinction Profile

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