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Bill Karins '96

Bill Karins '96

HOMETOWN: New York City
PROFESSIONAL TITLE: Chief Meteorologist, MSNBC
MAJOR: Meteorology
YEAR OF GRADUATION: 1996

Twenty-five years ago, SUNY Oneonta alumnus Bill Karins made his first television appearance on the college’s weekly, student-run “Red Dragon News” program. Today, you can see him in action any day of the week by turning the channel to NBC News, MSNBC or NBC News Now, where you’ll find him reporting on the nation’s weather as the chief meteorologist for MSNBC.

A Day in the Life

Each morning, Karins’ alarm clock goes off at 3 a.m. From 5 a.m. on, he’s in front of the camera educating – and sometimes warning – the nation. On slow days, Karins gets to cover important topics and broad stories such as droughts or climate change. For a while, he was a regular on NBC’s Saturday “Today Show” and he still occasionally fills in for his colleague, anchorman Al Roker.

If there’s an especially big weather event to report, Karins doesn’t see his family for days on end. After more than two decades in the business, he still gets a pit in his stomach before a dangerous storm hits.

Putting in the Time

After graduating from SUNY Oneonta with a Meteorology degree in 1996, Karins applied for jobs at 27 different TV stations across the country and got one call back from a station in Topeka, Kansas, a state in which he had “never stepped foot.” That first gig paid just $16,000. \

After a year in Kansas, Karins was hired at a station in North Carolina and, later, Maine, where he became chief meteorologist at the age of 25. That’s when he got his big break, landing a job in Orlando. This position opened the door for him to move to New York and work for NBC, where he’s been for 17 years.

Karins’ first time on national television was in front of millions on NBC Nightly News, just as Hurricane Katrina was about to make landfall in Florida in August 2005. Karins forecasted that the tropical cyclone would hit Miami and that there was a chance it could head toward New Orleans and get much stronger. Many NOLA residents were evacuated before the hurricane struck. Just days after Karins’ prediction, the Category 5 storm had breached levees and caused widespread destruction, going down as the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history.

The Red Dragon Family

While at Oneonta, Karins spent a great deal of time with the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, which was “small, but like a family.” He vividly remembers taking part in Dr. Jerome Blechman’s forecasting contests, walking through the snow to classes, and participating in Earth Science Night at College Camp, where he would frequently hike and walk. He was also on the baseball team and a member of the Beta Chi fraternity.

“I was a good student, but I was always talking,” Karins recalled with a laugh. That’s when he discovered his talent at communicating and began to hone these skills with help from Oneonta’s Communication Department, which was fairly new but growing quickly.

First-Generation Students Navigate Uncharted Waters

First Generation Students

For Odalis Galeano ’20, the first in her family to attend college, her Oneonta experience “made me realize that I am a community leader, a lending hand, an educated Latina who can go as far as anybody else.”

Galeano, who majored in business economics and completed an internship with Constellation Brands, is now a U.S. Open recruiter for the United States Tennis Association.

She is one of the growing number of first-generation students to attend SUNY Oneonta and colleges nationwide.

According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, one in three undergraduates now identifies as first-generation — meaning neither of their parents earned a bachelor’s degree. At Oneonta, the percentage is even higher: About 35% of currently enrolled students identify as first-generation. And as of mid-summer, about 40% of the College’s incoming freshmen and transfer students were first-generation, according to Karen Brown ’88, executive director of admissions.

That percentage has grown significantly over the past five years; in 2017, just 29% of incoming freshmen and transfers were first-generation. The Center for First-Generation Student Success projects “the first-generation student population will continue to grow rapidly in the coming years, as the pipeline of first-time undergraduates is heavily weighted with first-gen students.”

“It is important for us to recognize that first-generation students are different — they have a different background and often different needs than students whose parents graduated from college,” Brown says. “We know they need more assistance to maneuver through the academic bureaucracy.”

That was the case for Maimouna Camara ’22, who found that “a lot of things were harder for me because I didn’t know exactly what to do.” The Office of Student Success and the Office of Access and Opportunity Programs helped smooth the way.

“Since none of my family had attended college, I didn’t know if I would fit in with students from academic backgrounds,” says Ethan Chichester ’23. After using the Office of Student Success and other resources, he is now heavily involved with intramural sports, mentors new students, and plans to attend a graduate program in city and regional planning.

Extra assistance starts with recruitment, when first-generation students and their parents receive targeted communications explaining the college search and admissions process.

Additional financial assistance is offered, too, in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The scholarships provide $1,000 a year for four years to first-generation students who have financial need, are New York state residents, and demonstrate academic achievement, distinction, or excellence.

Once admitted students send a deposit, they receive When You’re the First, a booklet that introduces them to other first-generation Red Dragons and outlines the academic, financial, and other support services available to them.

“We let them know there’s a first-generation community here of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, so that they feel they belong,” Brown says. “As a first-generation student myself who attended this institution, I feel a strong commitment and connection to this particular group of students.” Last Nov. 8 (the date that the Higher Education Act of 1965 was signed), Oneonta participated for the first time in the National First-Generation College Celebration.

“We had buttons made saying, ‘I’m first’ and ‘I’m a first-generation supporter,’ and we had a celebration on the quad,” Brown says. “We had cookies, we had giveaways. We had volunteers all over campus.” As part of the celebration, a special web page (exposure.oneonta.edu/firstgeneration-red-dragons-blazing-the-trail) was launched.

“National research shows the importance of being able to see yourself on campus, so that’s a piece of the web page — it has pictures of current students, alumni, faculty, and staff,” says Monica Grau ’88, director of the Office of Student Success. “That’s also what the buttons do, and why we want people to wear them. It creates another type of safe space.”

This fall, the College’s celebration will expand from one day to four, encompassing such activities as a panel discussion and a reception with President Cardelle and the College’s vice presidents. “It’s important for first-generation students to see all of the people who support them, as well as identify with people who are first-generation,” Grau says.

In April, Oneonta inducted its inaugural class of 141 students into Alpha Alpha Alpha, the national first-generation honor society. Membership is open to those who have earned at least 30 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree and achieved an overall grade point average of at least 3.2. As part of the inaugural class, 12 first-generation faculty and staff members also were inducted.

“Over the next year,” Brown says, “we hope to share the stories of more first-gen faculty, staff, and alumni on the web page. But also, we hope to connect our first-gen students with first-gen alumni, faculty, and staff, so that they have a mentor whom they can ask anything of, knowing that they’ve walked in those same shoes.” If you were a first-generation student and would like to share your story or offer advice to others, contact the Office of Alumni Engagement at alumni@oneonta.edu.

As often happens with first-generation students, Galeano’s experience started a family tradition.

“It helped my younger sisters and cousins realize that you can get a great experience, connections, and education from a state school,” she says. “My extended family currently has four alumni and five enrolled students in the SUNY system. I’m so proud of each of them!”

A Call for Support - and Engagement

Phonathon Callers in Phonathon Room

It’s a scenario that plays out nightly Sunday through Thursday during the academic year.

Ring, ring, ring …

But unlike so many others, this call is not spam. It’s one you’ll enjoy answering — placed by a Phonathon caller hoping to engage alumni and raise needed funds for the College.

The Phonathon, a program of the Division of College Advancement, employs up to 30 students each year who work from a call center in Hunt Union. They come from all majors and backgrounds and work a minimum of eight hours a week on a schedule of their choosing.

During a typical year, the Phonathon raises $100,000 to $125,000 to support student needs and ensure a more vibrant College experience, says James Bethel ’19, assistant director of the Fund for Oneonta, who manages the Phonathon.

The program was paused in 2020-21 due to COVID. It restarted in 2021-22 with just 15 callers, in accordance with COVID recommendations. This fall, the program is back to full strength.

Before students hit the phones, they learn about the work of College Advancement and are trained on two software platforms. During their first week of calling, they receive individualized training from student supervisors.

The program has five student supervisors, “experienced callers with great individual performance and exemplary leadership qualities,” Bethel says. Callers are divided into teams, each led by a supervisor, and team competitions ensue throughout the semester. “We also conduct individual caller competitions, based on our key performance indicators,” Bethel says.

It’s known as one of the best jobs on campus. Unless they are graduating seniors, callers almost always return the following semester — a boon for the program. “As students become more experienced, they’re able to articulate a deeper understanding of the importance of what we do and convey it not only to our prospective donors but also to new callers coming into the program,” Bethel says.

As callers and supervisors, students have a unique opportunity for experiential learning.

“I learned so much during my time as a caller,” says Morgan Collins ’22, an early childhood/childhood education and Spanish major. “My oral communication skills improved quickly as I began speaking with more and more alumni. I learned how to actively listen, think on my feet, and professionally represent myself and the College.”

Her supervisory role gave Collins confidence as a leader. “I learned how to coach and guide new callers, giving them both praise and feedback,” she says. “I also gained experience collaborating on a team.”

Annaliese Szeli ’23, a childhood education major with a concentration in Earth Science, loves “how unpredictable each conversation is — you have to be prepared for anything! This relates to my career as an educator, since it is a critical life skill to be able to connect with others and remain calm during the unknown.” “The Phonathon pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best possible way,” says Gabi Mastrantuono ’20, now an environmental health and safety associate for Amogy. “Although I did not end up in a sales-related career, the program gave me vital skills that I have carried with me, particularly in leadership, training, interviewing, and rapport building.”

And she points to an added bonus: “Being a Phonathon caller doesn’t just look great on a résumé. It’s a fantastic talking point during interviews.” Since assuming responsibility for the Phonathon last summer, Bethel has instituted a number of changes, including the addition of text messaging, “a really effective way to get information to our prospective donors.”

Most notable, he is transitioning the Phonathon to “a multi-channel donor engagement center. We’ll be calling members of affinity groups to provide updates on Alumni Weekend and other events,” he says. “We also want to re-segment our data so that we can provide alumni with relevant updates and connect them with callers whose experiences are similar to their own.”

“It’s not just about securing donations,” Collins says. “We and the College are genuinely curious about where alumni are in life, so answering the phone and having a nice conversation really makes a big difference. We appreciate the kindness.”

“When I’ve had a stressful week,” Szeli says, “having an alumnus recall a funny story about their time at Oneonta or give me advice truly makes my day.”

Students Get Hands- On Experience at Local School

 

The jackets and lunch boxes have been stowed, the first bell has rung, and 22 elementary education students are sitting attentively in rows of desks, pens in hand.

In the back of the classroom, baby chicks are peeping from a bunny house-turned-chicken coop. Clear plastic bags containing germinating lima beans are tacked up on the wall, next to the chick incubator and the swallowtail butterfly cocoons. To the front, next to the door, there’s a tank of brown trout that will be released into a stream at a farm down the road. Along the side of the room are two sinks, a box of Madagascar cockroaches, and two colorful Lego robots that tower above shelves piled high with science supplies of all kinds.

“Welcome to Block 25,” says Leanne Avery, professor and chair of SUNY Oneonta’s elementary education and reading department. Let the fun begin.

‘The College Kids Are Here!’

Today is Tuesday, and that means Block 25 has arrived in Worcester Central School STEM teacher Sandy Knapp’s classroom ready to teach — and learn — at 8:30 a.m. sharp. It’s a clinically rich classroom where students in grades pre-K through 8 have their core science lessons, with one class coming each period of the day, similar to other “specials” like art, music, and physical education.

Both the STEM room and Worcester’s partnership with SUNY Oneonta have been in place since 2015, and they have become an exciting and rewarding part of Knapp’s work as a teacher.

“The best part is seeing the connections the children make with the students,” she says. “Our kids, they so look forward to it. Every Tuesday, they say, ‘The college kids are here!’”

After a morning meeting with Avery and department lecturer Jacqueline Myers, who is here today to observe how the pre-service teachers integrate literacy into their science lessons, the class divides in half. One group heads to a small classroom off the library for teaching methods instruction with Avery. The other remains in the STEM room with Knapp to work with the pre-K students. After lunch, they will switch.

Getting Their Feet Wet

Today is a C Day, which means students in pre-K, second grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, and eighth grade will be coming to the STEM room, and the pre-service teachers will test the lesson plans they’ve developed with their teaching partners for each grade level.

“They’re doing extraordinary work in taking on this opportunity to work with students for a whole day every week,” Avery says. “It’s very different from preparing for a college class. They’re getting their feet wet and really committing to a high level of professional practice.”

During the half-hour lunch break, the college students grab their colorful lunch boxes and eat with their professors at desks in the STEM room. “This is sacred time,” Avery says. But the sixth-graders will arrive soon, and there are last-minute preparations to make. One pair of teaching partners projects a world map onto a smart board on the wall, tapes a sheet of white paper on top of it, and begins tracing it in black marker.

Throughout the day, pre-service teachers try out lesson plans ranging from having pre-K students color squares making up the sides of a rectangle and count them aloud to understand how 10+6=16, to challenging sixth-graders to write a persuasive letter to producers of The Amazing Race about which of the world’s biomes would make the best settings for the next season.

Real-Life Experience

It’s a long day, but these future teachers say it’s worthwhile for the chance to get this real-world, supervised practice.

“This is much different from the observation hours that we would be doing. This actually gives you a real idea of what the normal day would look like,” says Matthew Hartman ’23, an early childhood/childhood education major from East Atlantic Beach, New York, and one of two Block 25 students who have been offered substitute teaching jobs at Worcester through the partnership.

“Coming here every week has been so different from other field experiences in such a positive way,” agrees Dayna DeAngelo ’23, an early childhood/childhood education major from Old Forge, New York. “We get to make connections not only with the students but also with the teachers. It’s giving us real-life experience of what it would be like to be a teacher and really building our confidence.”

“Block” is a semester of teaching methods classes, usually taken in senior year, prior to student teaching. Students (pre-service teachers) are divided into cohorts that take the same methods of teaching classes together and sometimes — as with Block 25 — do field experiences as a group. But unlike more typical field experiences, where students observe the classroom teacher or have brief interactions in various schools, SUNY Oneonta’s block semester includes a clinically rich component that allows students to immerse themselves as pre-service teachers for at least one full day each week in the same school.

2041 Project: Learning to Build a Better Future by Imagining a Better Future

2041 Project

To address the civilization-level crisis of climate change, one must first envision a plausible, positive future characterized more by cooperative problem solving than by competition and conflict. This is the premise of the 2041 Project, an interdisciplinary endeavor of the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center with support from the Corning Foundation.

The project uses the tools of creative worldbuilding to help people think through the challenge of climate change.

Over 200 students and 11 faculty in 11 courses, along with a handful of staff, were involved in the 2041 Project during the Spring 2022 semester. The students showcased the results of their efforts in late April at the 2041 Festival, which featured student posters; a future-art exhibition; short talks and panel discussions; live demonstrations; an interactive timeline exhibit; a virtual discussion with Lori Marino, founder and president of the Whale Sanctuary Project; and a keynote speech by noted academic futurist Bryan Alexander.

The participants were primarily undergraduates, with one class of students from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. They represented multiple disciplines: biology, composition, earth and atmospheric sciences, environmental science, fashion, geography, museum studies, and sociology. The students worked within their own class or with other classes and received support from their professors, each of whom was granted a 2041 Project Corning Sustainable Futures Fellowship.

Among their outcomes:
• Environmental studies students made future news reports about the climate and geoengineering projects.
• An environmental policy class developed tabletop displays of future technology.
• A writing class wrote news articles from the future.
• Science classes made posters presenting real science with fictional case studies.

One class took a methodology under development today — the use of plant-based methods to decarbonize the atmosphere — and imagined how it might be applied in the future. In their poster, the students presented the science and showed how highly effective, cost-efficient algae farms have been used extensively in Venezuela and Colombia.

“When we talked to faculty fellows after the project, they all agreed this was a really great way to engage students and bring the real world into the classroom and the classroom into the real world,” says Doug Reilly, director of the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center. Reilly is a co-creator of the 2041 Project, along with Brian Lowe, professor of sociology, and Emma Sarnacki ’19, then a Science Discovery center graduate intern from the Cooperstown Graduate Program.

From a Simple Beginning

The project’s foundation was laid in Spring 2019 during a six-week climate change reading group hosted by the Center. The group consisted of faculty, staff, and students. Their selection was Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime (Wiley, 2018) by Bruno Latour, which challenged them to rethink how climate change was communicated.

“It was a really great group, but one of the things that struck me was the level of despondency. Climate change is a huge challenge,” Reilly says. “There was a lot of sighing and people talking about how they were sad, depressed, didn’t know what to do, couldn’t imagine a good future. And we thought about that for a while.

“Eventually it struck us that if you can’t visualize success, then your chances of success are a lot lower.”

So, the group set about tackling this challenge. “Everyone knows that to fix climate change, you have to decarbonize the economy,” Reilly says. “We wanted to address people who know this but aren’t able to act because they can’t imagine a positive outcome.”

After pondering the issue, Reilly, Lowe, and Sarnacki decided on “a project to collectively imagine a future scenario that was as realistic and granular as we could make it — one that would allow people, at least for a little bit, to put themselves in that future,” Reilly says. For some, imagining the future proved to be a challenge. “A lot of students, when they think about the near future, have a very dystopian view,” Lowe says. “And we can’t fault them for that. The predictions for climate change are, at best, unnerving.” So are apocalyptic plots in many films, books, and TV shows, Lowe says.

Harkening Back to the New Deal

Reilly recalls doing workshops with classes and asking if they could imagine every college student doing a year of national service after graduation: “In that year, with other people your age, you could do anything from rescuing climate refugees to rebuilding habitats, mangroves, and forests to helping farmers transition to regenerative agricultural practices that don’t rely on fossil fuels.”

The concept is akin to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and his creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933. A work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression, the CCC planted more than 3 billion trees, constructed trails and shelters in over 800 parks nationwide, and helped to shape the modern national and state park systems.

Reilly then asked students if they would like to do something like this after graduation. “I think 98% raised their hands. This generation wants to help. They want to be part of the solution,” Reilly says. “What they don’t want is to be handed not only a world on fire, but a world on fire without hope.”

Starting Out

The 2041 Project began small with a graphic design class of 25 in Fall 2019. Students were charged with imagining what the public art of 2041 would look like and creating new art in a style like the Works Progress Administration poster project, a part of Roosevelt’s 1935 Second New Deal in which unemployed graphic artists were paid to make public service posters.

The next semester, the project expanded to three art classes, two sociology classes, and over 130 students. The sociology classes, taught by Lowe, conceived future ideas while the art students, directed by Ruben Salinas, assistant professor of digital and studio art, illustrated them as posters.

At the start of the Spring 2022 semester, organizers recruited the 11 Fellows and began work toward the 2041 Festival, timed to coincide with Earth Day and Green Dragon Week, SUNY Oneonta’s annual sustainability celebration.

“The festival, which was open to the campus and local communities, gave students a wider audience,” Reilly says. “And that was motivating and refreshing for them. People were going to see their work. It was going to have an impact. They were part of something bigger.

“We gave them permission and space to be optimistic and radical and think outside the box, and we said to them, ‘Reimagine everything, start from the beginning.’ And that really inspired them, because I think for some, it was the first time they could imagine a positive future.”

Podcast

Another element of the project is a podcast, designed as if it were occurring in the future, produced by Reilly and Sarnacki and edited by music industry students in Professor Andris Balins’ Audio Arts and Studio Assistant classes. The first three-episode season was produced virtually during the Spring 2021 semester. For Season 2, everyone was back on campus; two episodes were produced in Fall 2021 and three in Spring 2022.

The first season follows a reporter (Sarnacki) as she interviews people about their role in fighting climate change. In the first episode, she interviews three graduating seniors on Placement Day, when they receive their National Service Year assignments. Student volunteers played the various characters.

By the second season, Sarnacki had graduated, and Reilly took over the writing and producing. Sarnacki consulted on the five-episode arc, helping craft the podcast’s dramatic focus: The reporter from the first season has gone missing on assignment, and a fledgling reporter is sent out to determine what happened to her. As the new character travels cross-country by airship, she interviews volunteers, including several characters from the first season, about their national service projects and the fate of Sarnacki, who has a cameo in the last episode.

“The podcast was one of the most exciting projects I’ve been part of at SUNY Oneonta,” Reilly says. “Andris’ audio students were amazing, really getting into this future world and what it might sound like, coming up with everything from airship interior sound atmospheres to Detroit/Bangladeshi trip-hop music. The volunteer actors, like Rosie Baez ’23, who played the second season’s lead reporter, really started to inhabit their characters, sometimes giving story feedback.” As for the impact of the 2041 Project, Lowe believes by allowing students to imagine a plausible future, “they gained optimism that [a world irrevocably damaged by climate change] is not inevitable.”

“We hope they take this experience and say, ‘Yeah, we could do this. It would be really cool,’” Reilly says. “And then they track this vision back to the present and say, ‘Okay, how do we start?’ And that would be the inspiration for careers, for activism, for lifetime projects.”

Lowe, Reilly, and Sarnacki will present the 2041 Project (virtually) at the Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education in October.

David Venghaus '88 Featured on "Undetoured" Podcast

David Venghaus Undetoured

David Venghaus '88, 1st Assistant Director, featured on Undetoured Podcast

Have you seen “Spider-Man: No Way Home” yet? SUNY Oneonta alumnus David Venghaus, Class of 1988, served as first assistant director for the film, as well as for “Jungle Cruise,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” two Pirates of the Caribbean films and a bevy of other blockbuster hits you've probably seen. In this interview, David talks about his 30-year career, giving credit to the “amazing professors” who guided him at Oneonta and the internships that helped build his resume. Check it out here.

James Zachos '81 elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

James Zachos '81

James Zachos '81 receives a very high honor

James C. Zachos ’81, is a paleoclimatologist and professor of geology, researching to reconstruct Earth’s climate history. He has been widely published, and speaks at conferences around the world. In 2017, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Recently, Zachos has been elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - a very high honor!

Alumni Profile: Scott '84 and Marcy '83 Salmirs

Scott Marcy Salmirs

Their Life Together Began With a Suitcase

When Scott ’84 and Marcy Salmirs ’83 celebrate their anniversary each year, it’s the anniversary of when they started dating at SUNY Oneonta, not their wedding. “We literally don’t celebrate our wedding anniversary,” Scott says with a laugh.

They met the first day of their freshman year, when Marcy’s father asked if he could pass her suitcase through Scott’s ground-floor window to move it into her room across the hall. As hall mates in Ford, they spent time together and became fast friends. “We were both pretty homesick, and we just hit it off,” Marcy says. On Oct. 25, 1980, they started dating. “And that was it.”

Both were business-economics majors. “Marcy and I were in a lot of the same classes,” Scott says, recalling one professor, David Ring, “who took something as esoteric as economics and turned it into practical, real-life applications.” His impact on the couple was so great that “when we learned 35 years after graduating that he had created an endowed scholarship (the George F. Ring Jr. and Ellen Smith Ring Scholarship) named for his parents, we made a five-year commitment to increase the principal of the scholarship.”

Scott was in the 3-2 program and continued his studies at Binghamton University, where he earned an MBA in finance. Marcy graduated a semester early, in December 1983, following a summer internship at an advertising agency that provided a semester’s worth of credit.

The couple got engaged a year later, married in 1986, and had two children.

Scott spent more than 20 years in corporate real estate, holding leadership positions and managing building portfolios for CBRE, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers. In 2003, he joined ABM Industries, a leading provider of facility solutions. After serving 12 years as executive vice president, he was named president and CEO in 2015.

Marcy worked for several years in advertising, marketing, and sales promotion.

“Whenever we return to campus — and we go up quite often — it feels like going home,” she says. “I think of Oneonta in a very warm, loving way. It was a wonderful environment — both academically and socially. And I met Scott there, which was the greatest thing that could possibly have happened to me.”

Two other family members are proud Red Dragons: Scott’s sister, Alison Salmirs Clinard ’92, a special education teacher on Long Island, and their nephew Justin Harris ’13, a sales consultant for Georgia-Pacific. “We have this family engagement with the College, and it’s so much fun,” Scott says.

That engagement takes many forms. In addition to providing “untold numbers of students” with internships and employing SUNY Oneonta alumni, Scott participates in Backpacks to Briefcases, is a member of the Business Advisory Council, and conducts résumé and interviewing workshops for students.

The Salmirs are members of the 1889 Society and have supported scholarships, the Student Emergency Fund, student trips to the Federal Reserve Challenge, and the Fund for Oneonta. “Where the school needs funding, we try to chip in whenever we can,” Scott says.

He is a 2016 Alumni of Distinction honoree and in 2019 received the Beta Gamma Sigma Business Achievement Award.

The Salmirs’ philanthropic endeavors are not limited to SUNY Oneonta. They are founders of Donate Eight, a nonprofit organization that galvanizes members of New York City’s real estate, building management, and building service community around the need for organ donations in New York state. Its annual fundraiser, in support of the LiveOnNY Foundation, is a spring gala that Marcy coordinates at Gotham Hall. (This year’s event, held virtually, featured six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald.) To date, Donate Eight has raised $7 million. In 2016, Scott received the United Hospital Fund’s Distinguished Community Service Award in recognition of his efforts.

Additionally, Scott serves on the board of the Outreach Project, a nonprofit that fights substance abuse among adolescents. And Marcy runs a program for the Mercy Center that delivers groceries to needy families in the South Bronx.

“When you have a strong sense of community, like the one we found at Oneonta, you recognize the importance of community and do everything you can to support it,” Marcy says.

Scott concurs. “For us, it’s all about experiences and community connections.”

Daren Rylewicz '93 Named Chair of Fund For Oneonta

Daren Rylewicz

Daren Rylewicz '93 Named Chair of Fund For Oneonta

As a transfer student, I spent just three semesters on campus. The last semester, I had a full-time internship in Albany with the New York State Legislature. Feeling somewhat cheated, I’ve been trying to make up the deficit ever since.

For the past seven years, I have served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. As chair of the Governance Committee, I helped the association rewrite its bylaws and review its policies. I then became vice president, president-elect, president, and immediate past president.

Now, I am delighted to serve as the first-ever alumni chair of the Fund for Oneonta, the College’s annual giving program. It’s a program I’ve supported for over 20 years.

Here’s why: Unrestricted gifts allow the College to allocate funds where they’re needed most. They enhance the student experience by providing flexible funding for scholarships, the expansion of academic programs and library resources, and the support of athletics and student groups.

The Fund also is the main source of revenue for the Alumni Association, making it possible for graduates to stay engaged with the College and supporting such events as Pass Through the Pillars and Alumni Weekend.

My work on the Alumni Association Board has given me a firsthand look at how critical these funds are and how every gift makes a difference.

After my time at Oneonta, albeit too short, I went on to earn a JD at Albany Law School of Union University and join the legal department of the Civil Service Employees Association, where I am now general counsel.

As a result, I feel a responsibility to do whatever I can to help today’s students realize their goals and dreams. I hope you do, too.

If you can, please join me in making a recurring gift to the Fund for Oneonta. It’s easy, and it allows you to spread your payments over 12 months.

As President Alberto Cardelle reminded us recently, “Alumni involvement and contributions are inextricably linked to the success of the College and, most importantly, our students.”

- Daren Rylewicz ’93

Alumna Artist Teaches Students

Cythia Fusillo

Cynthia Fusillo '76 teaches students about respecting nature, using found and recycled materials

“Magic happened.” This is how acclaimed international visual artist Cynthia Fusillo ’76 describes her interactions with Oneonta students during her fall artist-in-residency. Fusillo was on campus for the month of September, speaking to classes, mentoring students one-on-one, and creating new art. An exhibition of her work, titled Leave Me With You!, overlapped her stay, running Aug. 30 to Oct. 25 in the Martin-Mullen Art Gallery.

Pieces for the show were constructed with bark, dirt, ink, leaves, paper, pine, silk, sticks, thread, and wax, among other materials. Most of the art was brought from her home in Barcelona, Spain. Others she created on site, such as an installation whose major component was bryophytes (moss), developed with the help of Sean Robinson, assistant professor of biology and curator of the Jewell and Arline Moss Settle Herbarium in the Perna Science building on campus.

“She wanted to include moss in the exhibition, and we wanted to collect it locally, but we also didn’t want to disrupt the environment. So, we looked to the College because we’re in a unique position of having people who specialize in pretty much everything,” says Sarah Simpson, director of the Art Galleries at SUNY Oneonta. They consulted Robinson, who studies moss. “He talked with us about how to sustainably source it, how to keep it while it was here, and how to safely return it to the natural environment when the show was over. And he was also kind enough to give us the Latin names for everything we had collected.”

One installation was an homage to James Mullen, professor emeritus and former dean of humanities and fine arts, whom Fusillo credits as a “huge influence” on her from her time as a student. The two had a chance to catch up at the exhibition opening.

Fusillo could be found each day in the Project Space Gallery, working on new pieces while maintaining office hours when students could stop by. “I saw the project room as a laboratory for the creative process. I wanted to create a sense of freedom and openness,” Fusillo says. “On the door outside, I put a sign — THIS IS PARADISE — I had brought from my studio in Barcelona. Students came when they could and started to intuitively manipulate used, natural, or sustainable materials. Magic happened. We talked about everything. I loved the approach — asking them what they were passionate about and how they could express their vision with their own voice. I was so grateful for their enthusiasm and dedication. At this point in my career, I get the most joy out of sharing my experience as an artist with others, especially younger creatives.”

“She mentored them, advised them if they had questions, helped point them in different directions, and talked about their work,” Simpson says. She also helped them create. “In her practice, she uses untraditional mediums. She’s very big on sustainability — reusing paper and using dirt and found natural objects. And that was one of the parameters we set for students.

“If they dedicated a certain number of hours to working with Cynthia in the Project Space Gallery and building their own piece, it was added [to the show]. But they weren’t allowed to purchase anything new for it, and we didn’t provide anything. They needed to either reuse old materials, old clothing, things like that, or sustainably source natural objects. We had a lot of discussions on how to be sustainable.”

Seven students (Samantha Alberts ’22, Thomas Bacon ’23, Maize Anna Earner ’22, Jillian Fitchette ’25, Nancy Ramirez ’25, Caroline Reals ’24, and Brooke Sulenski ’25) met these criteria. They worked on components of a large installation titled Standing, Watching, Waiting, constructed of branches, fabric, flowers, graphite, leaves, pine needles, string, sumi ink, (homemade) tempura ink, and twine. The piece was added in early October for the show’s final month.

In the show description, Simpson wrote: “The work on view uses found and repurposed materials to create singular works that reimagine the materials’ use value and question our current throwaway culture.… This exhibition shows the range of Fusillo’s practice: from her avant-garde works on paper and installations, to her more traditional prints, drawings, and sculptures, to photographs of her transitory land art.”

Fusillo created this transitory land art in the woods near campus. Each day, before heading to the Project Space Gallery, she visited College Camp. “It became a ritual. One part of the woods was very dark. It was my favorite part. You felt the quiet of the woods and there was a sense of connection with my surroundings. As I frequented the woods, I realized that my relationship with Nature was changing. As I got to know her better, I felt a strong sense of respect and admiration,” Fusillo says.

“I did not want to destroy her or rip things out of her, but I did want to highlight her beauty. So, I only used Nature that had fallen, or died, and then left it in place so it could decompose and nurture the rest of the woods. I used the pieces of Nature as elements/material to create an interesting composition with texture, form, and line. These installations excited me, and I have started a whole new series because of those walks.”

Fusillo is represented and exhibited by Galeria Contrast (www.galeriacontrast.com) in Barcelona. To see samples of her art, including from her month in Oneonta, visit Fusillo’s Instagram account (www.instagram.com/cynthiafusillo) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cynthia.fusillo).

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.”

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 career@oneonta.edu.

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.

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 suny.oneonta.edu/diversity/center-racial-justice-and-inclusive-excellence-crjie.

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, Heather.Stalter@oneonta.edu.

Alumni Stories
Bill Karins '96

Bill Karins '96

HOMETOWN: New York City
PROFESSIONAL TITLE: Chief Meteorologist, MSNBC
MAJOR: Meteorology
YEAR OF GRADUATION: 1996

Twenty-five years ago, SUNY Oneonta alumnus Bill Karins made his first television appearance on the college’s weekly, student-run “Red Dragon News” program. Today, you can see him in action any day of the week by turning the channel to NBC News, MSNBC or NBC News Now, where you’ll find him reporting on the nation’s weather as the chief meteorologist for MSNBC.

A Day in the Life

Each morning, Karins’ alarm clock goes off at 3 a.m. From 5 a.m. on, he’s in front of the camera educating – and sometimes warning – the nation. On slow days, Karins gets to cover important topics and broad stories such as droughts or climate change. For a while, he was a regular on NBC’s Saturday “Today Show” and he still occasionally fills in for his colleague, anchorman Al Roker.

If there’s an especially big weather event to report, Karins doesn’t see his family for days on end. After more than two decades in the business, he still gets a pit in his stomach before a dangerous storm hits.

Putting in the Time

After graduating from SUNY Oneonta with a Meteorology degree in 1996, Karins applied for jobs at 27 different TV stations across the country and got one call back from a station in Topeka, Kansas, a state in which he had “never stepped foot.” That first gig paid just $16,000. \

After a year in Kansas, Karins was hired at a station in North Carolina and, later, Maine, where he became chief meteorologist at the age of 25. That’s when he got his big break, landing a job in Orlando. This position opened the door for him to move to New York and work for NBC, where he’s been for 17 years.

Karins’ first time on national television was in front of millions on NBC Nightly News, just as Hurricane Katrina was about to make landfall in Florida in August 2005. Karins forecasted that the tropical cyclone would hit Miami and that there was a chance it could head toward New Orleans and get much stronger. Many NOLA residents were evacuated before the hurricane struck. Just days after Karins’ prediction, the Category 5 storm had breached levees and caused widespread destruction, going down as the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history.

The Red Dragon Family

While at Oneonta, Karins spent a great deal of time with the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, which was “small, but like a family.” He vividly remembers taking part in Dr. Jerome Blechman’s forecasting contests, walking through the snow to classes, and participating in Earth Science Night at College Camp, where he would frequently hike and walk. He was also on the baseball team and a member of the Beta Chi fraternity.

“I was a good student, but I was always talking,” Karins recalled with a laugh. That’s when he discovered his talent at communicating and began to hone these skills with help from Oneonta’s Communication Department, which was fairly new but growing quickly.


Thursday, November 10, 2022 11:47:00 AM

First-Generation Students Navigate Uncharted Waters

First Generation Students

For Odalis Galeano ’20, the first in her family to attend college, her Oneonta experience “made me realize that I am a community leader, a lending hand, an educated Latina who can go as far as anybody else.”

Galeano, who majored in business economics and completed an internship with Constellation Brands, is now a U.S. Open recruiter for the United States Tennis Association.

She is one of the growing number of first-generation students to attend SUNY Oneonta and colleges nationwide.

According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, one in three undergraduates now identifies as first-generation — meaning neither of their parents earned a bachelor’s degree. At Oneonta, the percentage is even higher: About 35% of currently enrolled students identify as first-generation. And as of mid-summer, about 40% of the College’s incoming freshmen and transfer students were first-generation, according to Karen Brown ’88, executive director of admissions.

That percentage has grown significantly over the past five years; in 2017, just 29% of incoming freshmen and transfers were first-generation. The Center for First-Generation Student Success projects “the first-generation student population will continue to grow rapidly in the coming years, as the pipeline of first-time undergraduates is heavily weighted with first-gen students.”

“It is important for us to recognize that first-generation students are different — they have a different background and often different needs than students whose parents graduated from college,” Brown says. “We know they need more assistance to maneuver through the academic bureaucracy.”

That was the case for Maimouna Camara ’22, who found that “a lot of things were harder for me because I didn’t know exactly what to do.” The Office of Student Success and the Office of Access and Opportunity Programs helped smooth the way.

“Since none of my family had attended college, I didn’t know if I would fit in with students from academic backgrounds,” says Ethan Chichester ’23. After using the Office of Student Success and other resources, he is now heavily involved with intramural sports, mentors new students, and plans to attend a graduate program in city and regional planning.

Extra assistance starts with recruitment, when first-generation students and their parents receive targeted communications explaining the college search and admissions process.

Additional financial assistance is offered, too, in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The scholarships provide $1,000 a year for four years to first-generation students who have financial need, are New York state residents, and demonstrate academic achievement, distinction, or excellence.

Once admitted students send a deposit, they receive When You’re the First, a booklet that introduces them to other first-generation Red Dragons and outlines the academic, financial, and other support services available to them.

“We let them know there’s a first-generation community here of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, so that they feel they belong,” Brown says. “As a first-generation student myself who attended this institution, I feel a strong commitment and connection to this particular group of students.” Last Nov. 8 (the date that the Higher Education Act of 1965 was signed), Oneonta participated for the first time in the National First-Generation College Celebration.

“We had buttons made saying, ‘I’m first’ and ‘I’m a first-generation supporter,’ and we had a celebration on the quad,” Brown says. “We had cookies, we had giveaways. We had volunteers all over campus.” As part of the celebration, a special web page (exposure.oneonta.edu/firstgeneration-red-dragons-blazing-the-trail) was launched.

“National research shows the importance of being able to see yourself on campus, so that’s a piece of the web page — it has pictures of current students, alumni, faculty, and staff,” says Monica Grau ’88, director of the Office of Student Success. “That’s also what the buttons do, and why we want people to wear them. It creates another type of safe space.”

This fall, the College’s celebration will expand from one day to four, encompassing such activities as a panel discussion and a reception with President Cardelle and the College’s vice presidents. “It’s important for first-generation students to see all of the people who support them, as well as identify with people who are first-generation,” Grau says.

In April, Oneonta inducted its inaugural class of 141 students into Alpha Alpha Alpha, the national first-generation honor society. Membership is open to those who have earned at least 30 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree and achieved an overall grade point average of at least 3.2. As part of the inaugural class, 12 first-generation faculty and staff members also were inducted.

“Over the next year,” Brown says, “we hope to share the stories of more first-gen faculty, staff, and alumni on the web page. But also, we hope to connect our first-gen students with first-gen alumni, faculty, and staff, so that they have a mentor whom they can ask anything of, knowing that they’ve walked in those same shoes.” If you were a first-generation student and would like to share your story or offer advice to others, contact the Office of Alumni Engagement at alumni@oneonta.edu.

As often happens with first-generation students, Galeano’s experience started a family tradition.

“It helped my younger sisters and cousins realize that you can get a great experience, connections, and education from a state school,” she says. “My extended family currently has four alumni and five enrolled students in the SUNY system. I’m so proud of each of them!”


Thursday, November 10, 2022 11:44:00 AM

A Call for Support - and Engagement

Phonathon Callers in Phonathon Room

It’s a scenario that plays out nightly Sunday through Thursday during the academic year.

Ring, ring, ring …

But unlike so many others, this call is not spam. It’s one you’ll enjoy answering — placed by a Phonathon caller hoping to engage alumni and raise needed funds for the College.

The Phonathon, a program of the Division of College Advancement, employs up to 30 students each year who work from a call center in Hunt Union. They come from all majors and backgrounds and work a minimum of eight hours a week on a schedule of their choosing.

During a typical year, the Phonathon raises $100,000 to $125,000 to support student needs and ensure a more vibrant College experience, says James Bethel ’19, assistant director of the Fund for Oneonta, who manages the Phonathon.

The program was paused in 2020-21 due to COVID. It restarted in 2021-22 with just 15 callers, in accordance with COVID recommendations. This fall, the program is back to full strength.

Before students hit the phones, they learn about the work of College Advancement and are trained on two software platforms. During their first week of calling, they receive individualized training from student supervisors.

The program has five student supervisors, “experienced callers with great individual performance and exemplary leadership qualities,” Bethel says. Callers are divided into teams, each led by a supervisor, and team competitions ensue throughout the semester. “We also conduct individual caller competitions, based on our key performance indicators,” Bethel says.

It’s known as one of the best jobs on campus. Unless they are graduating seniors, callers almost always return the following semester — a boon for the program. “As students become more experienced, they’re able to articulate a deeper understanding of the importance of what we do and convey it not only to our prospective donors but also to new callers coming into the program,” Bethel says.

As callers and supervisors, students have a unique opportunity for experiential learning.

“I learned so much during my time as a caller,” says Morgan Collins ’22, an early childhood/childhood education and Spanish major. “My oral communication skills improved quickly as I began speaking with more and more alumni. I learned how to actively listen, think on my feet, and professionally represent myself and the College.”

Her supervisory role gave Collins confidence as a leader. “I learned how to coach and guide new callers, giving them both praise and feedback,” she says. “I also gained experience collaborating on a team.”

Annaliese Szeli ’23, a childhood education major with a concentration in Earth Science, loves “how unpredictable each conversation is — you have to be prepared for anything! This relates to my career as an educator, since it is a critical life skill to be able to connect with others and remain calm during the unknown.” “The Phonathon pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best possible way,” says Gabi Mastrantuono ’20, now an environmental health and safety associate for Amogy. “Although I did not end up in a sales-related career, the program gave me vital skills that I have carried with me, particularly in leadership, training, interviewing, and rapport building.”

And she points to an added bonus: “Being a Phonathon caller doesn’t just look great on a résumé. It’s a fantastic talking point during interviews.” Since assuming responsibility for the Phonathon last summer, Bethel has instituted a number of changes, including the addition of text messaging, “a really effective way to get information to our prospective donors.”

Most notable, he is transitioning the Phonathon to “a multi-channel donor engagement center. We’ll be calling members of affinity groups to provide updates on Alumni Weekend and other events,” he says. “We also want to re-segment our data so that we can provide alumni with relevant updates and connect them with callers whose experiences are similar to their own.”

“It’s not just about securing donations,” Collins says. “We and the College are genuinely curious about where alumni are in life, so answering the phone and having a nice conversation really makes a big difference. We appreciate the kindness.”

“When I’ve had a stressful week,” Szeli says, “having an alumnus recall a funny story about their time at Oneonta or give me advice truly makes my day.”


Thursday, November 10, 2022 11:40:00 AM

Students Get Hands- On Experience at Local School

 

The jackets and lunch boxes have been stowed, the first bell has rung, and 22 elementary education students are sitting attentively in rows of desks, pens in hand.

In the back of the classroom, baby chicks are peeping from a bunny house-turned-chicken coop. Clear plastic bags containing germinating lima beans are tacked up on the wall, next to the chick incubator and the swallowtail butterfly cocoons. To the front, next to the door, there’s a tank of brown trout that will be released into a stream at a farm down the road. Along the side of the room are two sinks, a box of Madagascar cockroaches, and two colorful Lego robots that tower above shelves piled high with science supplies of all kinds.

“Welcome to Block 25,” says Leanne Avery, professor and chair of SUNY Oneonta’s elementary education and reading department. Let the fun begin.

‘The College Kids Are Here!’

Today is Tuesday, and that means Block 25 has arrived in Worcester Central School STEM teacher Sandy Knapp’s classroom ready to teach — and learn — at 8:30 a.m. sharp. It’s a clinically rich classroom where students in grades pre-K through 8 have their core science lessons, with one class coming each period of the day, similar to other “specials” like art, music, and physical education.

Both the STEM room and Worcester’s partnership with SUNY Oneonta have been in place since 2015, and they have become an exciting and rewarding part of Knapp’s work as a teacher.

“The best part is seeing the connections the children make with the students,” she says. “Our kids, they so look forward to it. Every Tuesday, they say, ‘The college kids are here!’”

After a morning meeting with Avery and department lecturer Jacqueline Myers, who is here today to observe how the pre-service teachers integrate literacy into their science lessons, the class divides in half. One group heads to a small classroom off the library for teaching methods instruction with Avery. The other remains in the STEM room with Knapp to work with the pre-K students. After lunch, they will switch.

Getting Their Feet Wet

Today is a C Day, which means students in pre-K, second grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, and eighth grade will be coming to the STEM room, and the pre-service teachers will test the lesson plans they’ve developed with their teaching partners for each grade level.

“They’re doing extraordinary work in taking on this opportunity to work with students for a whole day every week,” Avery says. “It’s very different from preparing for a college class. They’re getting their feet wet and really committing to a high level of professional practice.”

During the half-hour lunch break, the college students grab their colorful lunch boxes and eat with their professors at desks in the STEM room. “This is sacred time,” Avery says. But the sixth-graders will arrive soon, and there are last-minute preparations to make. One pair of teaching partners projects a world map onto a smart board on the wall, tapes a sheet of white paper on top of it, and begins tracing it in black marker.

Throughout the day, pre-service teachers try out lesson plans ranging from having pre-K students color squares making up the sides of a rectangle and count them aloud to understand how 10+6=16, to challenging sixth-graders to write a persuasive letter to producers of The Amazing Race about which of the world’s biomes would make the best settings for the next season.

Real-Life Experience

It’s a long day, but these future teachers say it’s worthwhile for the chance to get this real-world, supervised practice.

“This is much different from the observation hours that we would be doing. This actually gives you a real idea of what the normal day would look like,” says Matthew Hartman ’23, an early childhood/childhood education major from East Atlantic Beach, New York, and one of two Block 25 students who have been offered substitute teaching jobs at Worcester through the partnership.

“Coming here every week has been so different from other field experiences in such a positive way,” agrees Dayna DeAngelo ’23, an early childhood/childhood education major from Old Forge, New York. “We get to make connections not only with the students but also with the teachers. It’s giving us real-life experience of what it would be like to be a teacher and really building our confidence.”

“Block” is a semester of teaching methods classes, usually taken in senior year, prior to student teaching. Students (pre-service teachers) are divided into cohorts that take the same methods of teaching classes together and sometimes — as with Block 25 — do field experiences as a group. But unlike more typical field experiences, where students observe the classroom teacher or have brief interactions in various schools, SUNY Oneonta’s block semester includes a clinically rich component that allows students to immerse themselves as pre-service teachers for at least one full day each week in the same school.


Thursday, November 10, 2022 11:37:00 AM

2041 Project: Learning to Build a Better Future by Imagining a Better Future

2041 Project

To address the civilization-level crisis of climate change, one must first envision a plausible, positive future characterized more by cooperative problem solving than by competition and conflict. This is the premise of the 2041 Project, an interdisciplinary endeavor of the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center with support from the Corning Foundation.

The project uses the tools of creative worldbuilding to help people think through the challenge of climate change.

Over 200 students and 11 faculty in 11 courses, along with a handful of staff, were involved in the 2041 Project during the Spring 2022 semester. The students showcased the results of their efforts in late April at the 2041 Festival, which featured student posters; a future-art exhibition; short talks and panel discussions; live demonstrations; an interactive timeline exhibit; a virtual discussion with Lori Marino, founder and president of the Whale Sanctuary Project; and a keynote speech by noted academic futurist Bryan Alexander.

The participants were primarily undergraduates, with one class of students from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. They represented multiple disciplines: biology, composition, earth and atmospheric sciences, environmental science, fashion, geography, museum studies, and sociology. The students worked within their own class or with other classes and received support from their professors, each of whom was granted a 2041 Project Corning Sustainable Futures Fellowship.

Among their outcomes:
• Environmental studies students made future news reports about the climate and geoengineering projects.
• An environmental policy class developed tabletop displays of future technology.
• A writing class wrote news articles from the future.
• Science classes made posters presenting real science with fictional case studies.

One class took a methodology under development today — the use of plant-based methods to decarbonize the atmosphere — and imagined how it might be applied in the future. In their poster, the students presented the science and showed how highly effective, cost-efficient algae farms have been used extensively in Venezuela and Colombia.

“When we talked to faculty fellows after the project, they all agreed this was a really great way to engage students and bring the real world into the classroom and the classroom into the real world,” says Doug Reilly, director of the A.J. Read Science Discovery Center. Reilly is a co-creator of the 2041 Project, along with Brian Lowe, professor of sociology, and Emma Sarnacki ’19, then a Science Discovery center graduate intern from the Cooperstown Graduate Program.

From a Simple Beginning

The project’s foundation was laid in Spring 2019 during a six-week climate change reading group hosted by the Center. The group consisted of faculty, staff, and students. Their selection was Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime (Wiley, 2018) by Bruno Latour, which challenged them to rethink how climate change was communicated.

“It was a really great group, but one of the things that struck me was the level of despondency. Climate change is a huge challenge,” Reilly says. “There was a lot of sighing and people talking about how they were sad, depressed, didn’t know what to do, couldn’t imagine a good future. And we thought about that for a while.

“Eventually it struck us that if you can’t visualize success, then your chances of success are a lot lower.”

So, the group set about tackling this challenge. “Everyone knows that to fix climate change, you have to decarbonize the economy,” Reilly says. “We wanted to address people who know this but aren’t able to act because they can’t imagine a positive outcome.”

After pondering the issue, Reilly, Lowe, and Sarnacki decided on “a project to collectively imagine a future scenario that was as realistic and granular as we could make it — one that would allow people, at least for a little bit, to put themselves in that future,” Reilly says. For some, imagining the future proved to be a challenge. “A lot of students, when they think about the near future, have a very dystopian view,” Lowe says. “And we can’t fault them for that. The predictions for climate change are, at best, unnerving.” So are apocalyptic plots in many films, books, and TV shows, Lowe says.

Harkening Back to the New Deal

Reilly recalls doing workshops with classes and asking if they could imagine every college student doing a year of national service after graduation: “In that year, with other people your age, you could do anything from rescuing climate refugees to rebuilding habitats, mangroves, and forests to helping farmers transition to regenerative agricultural practices that don’t rely on fossil fuels.”

The concept is akin to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and his creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933. A work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression, the CCC planted more than 3 billion trees, constructed trails and shelters in over 800 parks nationwide, and helped to shape the modern national and state park systems.

Reilly then asked students if they would like to do something like this after graduation. “I think 98% raised their hands. This generation wants to help. They want to be part of the solution,” Reilly says. “What they don’t want is to be handed not only a world on fire, but a world on fire without hope.”

Starting Out

The 2041 Project began small with a graphic design class of 25 in Fall 2019. Students were charged with imagining what the public art of 2041 would look like and creating new art in a style like the Works Progress Administration poster project, a part of Roosevelt’s 1935 Second New Deal in which unemployed graphic artists were paid to make public service posters.

The next semester, the project expanded to three art classes, two sociology classes, and over 130 students. The sociology classes, taught by Lowe, conceived future ideas while the art students, directed by Ruben Salinas, assistant professor of digital and studio art, illustrated them as posters.

At the start of the Spring 2022 semester, organizers recruited the 11 Fellows and began work toward the 2041 Festival, timed to coincide with Earth Day and Green Dragon Week, SUNY Oneonta’s annual sustainability celebration.

“The festival, which was open to the campus and local communities, gave students a wider audience,” Reilly says. “And that was motivating and refreshing for them. People were going to see their work. It was going to have an impact. They were part of something bigger.

“We gave them permission and space to be optimistic and radical and think outside the box, and we said to them, ‘Reimagine everything, start from the beginning.’ And that really inspired them, because I think for some, it was the first time they could imagine a positive future.”

Podcast

Another element of the project is a podcast, designed as if it were occurring in the future, produced by Reilly and Sarnacki and edited by music industry students in Professor Andris Balins’ Audio Arts and Studio Assistant classes. The first three-episode season was produced virtually during the Spring 2021 semester. For Season 2, everyone was back on campus; two episodes were produced in Fall 2021 and three in Spring 2022.

The first season follows a reporter (Sarnacki) as she interviews people about their role in fighting climate change. In the first episode, she interviews three graduating seniors on Placement Day, when they receive their National Service Year assignments. Student volunteers played the various characters.

By the second season, Sarnacki had graduated, and Reilly took over the writing and producing. Sarnacki consulted on the five-episode arc, helping craft the podcast’s dramatic focus: The reporter from the first season has gone missing on assignment, and a fledgling reporter is sent out to determine what happened to her. As the new character travels cross-country by airship, she interviews volunteers, including several characters from the first season, about their national service projects and the fate of Sarnacki, who has a cameo in the last episode.

“The podcast was one of the most exciting projects I’ve been part of at SUNY Oneonta,” Reilly says. “Andris’ audio students were amazing, really getting into this future world and what it might sound like, coming up with everything from airship interior sound atmospheres to Detroit/Bangladeshi trip-hop music. The volunteer actors, like Rosie Baez ’23, who played the second season’s lead reporter, really started to inhabit their characters, sometimes giving story feedback.” As for the impact of the 2041 Project, Lowe believes by allowing students to imagine a plausible future, “they gained optimism that [a world irrevocably damaged by climate change] is not inevitable.”

“We hope they take this experience and say, ‘Yeah, we could do this. It would be really cool,’” Reilly says. “And then they track this vision back to the present and say, ‘Okay, how do we start?’ And that would be the inspiration for careers, for activism, for lifetime projects.”

Lowe, Reilly, and Sarnacki will present the 2041 Project (virtually) at the Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education in October.


Thursday, November 10, 2022 11:29:00 AM

David Venghaus '88 Featured on "Undetoured" Podcast

David Venghaus Undetoured

David Venghaus '88, 1st Assistant Director, featured on Undetoured Podcast

Have you seen “Spider-Man: No Way Home” yet? SUNY Oneonta alumnus David Venghaus, Class of 1988, served as first assistant director for the film, as well as for “Jungle Cruise,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” two Pirates of the Caribbean films and a bevy of other blockbuster hits you've probably seen. In this interview, David talks about his 30-year career, giving credit to the “amazing professors” who guided him at Oneonta and the internships that helped build his resume. Check it out here.


Thursday, February 17, 2022 9:22:00 AM

James Zachos '81 elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

James Zachos '81

James Zachos '81 receives a very high honor

James C. Zachos ’81, is a paleoclimatologist and professor of geology, researching to reconstruct Earth’s climate history. He has been widely published, and speaks at conferences around the world. In 2017, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Recently, Zachos has been elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - a very high honor!


Thursday, February 17, 2022 9:11:00 AM

Alumni Profile: Scott '84 and Marcy '83 Salmirs

Scott Marcy Salmirs

Their Life Together Began With a Suitcase

When Scott ’84 and Marcy Salmirs ’83 celebrate their anniversary each year, it’s the anniversary of when they started dating at SUNY Oneonta, not their wedding. “We literally don’t celebrate our wedding anniversary,” Scott says with a laugh.

They met the first day of their freshman year, when Marcy’s father asked if he could pass her suitcase through Scott’s ground-floor window to move it into her room across the hall. As hall mates in Ford, they spent time together and became fast friends. “We were both pretty homesick, and we just hit it off,” Marcy says. On Oct. 25, 1980, they started dating. “And that was it.”

Both were business-economics majors. “Marcy and I were in a lot of the same classes,” Scott says, recalling one professor, David Ring, “who took something as esoteric as economics and turned it into practical, real-life applications.” His impact on the couple was so great that “when we learned 35 years after graduating that he had created an endowed scholarship (the George F. Ring Jr. and Ellen Smith Ring Scholarship) named for his parents, we made a five-year commitment to increase the principal of the scholarship.”

Scott was in the 3-2 program and continued his studies at Binghamton University, where he earned an MBA in finance. Marcy graduated a semester early, in December 1983, following a summer internship at an advertising agency that provided a semester’s worth of credit.

The couple got engaged a year later, married in 1986, and had two children.

Scott spent more than 20 years in corporate real estate, holding leadership positions and managing building portfolios for CBRE, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers. In 2003, he joined ABM Industries, a leading provider of facility solutions. After serving 12 years as executive vice president, he was named president and CEO in 2015.

Marcy worked for several years in advertising, marketing, and sales promotion.

“Whenever we return to campus — and we go up quite often — it feels like going home,” she says. “I think of Oneonta in a very warm, loving way. It was a wonderful environment — both academically and socially. And I met Scott there, which was the greatest thing that could possibly have happened to me.”

Two other family members are proud Red Dragons: Scott’s sister, Alison Salmirs Clinard ’92, a special education teacher on Long Island, and their nephew Justin Harris ’13, a sales consultant for Georgia-Pacific. “We have this family engagement with the College, and it’s so much fun,” Scott says.

That engagement takes many forms. In addition to providing “untold numbers of students” with internships and employing SUNY Oneonta alumni, Scott participates in Backpacks to Briefcases, is a member of the Business Advisory Council, and conducts résumé and interviewing workshops for students.

The Salmirs are members of the 1889 Society and have supported scholarships, the Student Emergency Fund, student trips to the Federal Reserve Challenge, and the Fund for Oneonta. “Where the school needs funding, we try to chip in whenever we can,” Scott says.

He is a 2016 Alumni of Distinction honoree and in 2019 received the Beta Gamma Sigma Business Achievement Award.

The Salmirs’ philanthropic endeavors are not limited to SUNY Oneonta. They are founders of Donate Eight, a nonprofit organization that galvanizes members of New York City’s real estate, building management, and building service community around the need for organ donations in New York state. Its annual fundraiser, in support of the LiveOnNY Foundation, is a spring gala that Marcy coordinates at Gotham Hall. (This year’s event, held virtually, featured six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald.) To date, Donate Eight has raised $7 million. In 2016, Scott received the United Hospital Fund’s Distinguished Community Service Award in recognition of his efforts.

Additionally, Scott serves on the board of the Outreach Project, a nonprofit that fights substance abuse among adolescents. And Marcy runs a program for the Mercy Center that delivers groceries to needy families in the South Bronx.

“When you have a strong sense of community, like the one we found at Oneonta, you recognize the importance of community and do everything you can to support it,” Marcy says.

Scott concurs. “For us, it’s all about experiences and community connections.”


Wednesday, February 2, 2022 3:52:00 PM

Daren Rylewicz '93 Named Chair of Fund For Oneonta

Daren Rylewicz

Daren Rylewicz '93 Named Chair of Fund For Oneonta

As a transfer student, I spent just three semesters on campus. The last semester, I had a full-time internship in Albany with the New York State Legislature. Feeling somewhat cheated, I’ve been trying to make up the deficit ever since.

For the past seven years, I have served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. As chair of the Governance Committee, I helped the association rewrite its bylaws and review its policies. I then became vice president, president-elect, president, and immediate past president.

Now, I am delighted to serve as the first-ever alumni chair of the Fund for Oneonta, the College’s annual giving program. It’s a program I’ve supported for over 20 years.

Here’s why: Unrestricted gifts allow the College to allocate funds where they’re needed most. They enhance the student experience by providing flexible funding for scholarships, the expansion of academic programs and library resources, and the support of athletics and student groups.

The Fund also is the main source of revenue for the Alumni Association, making it possible for graduates to stay engaged with the College and supporting such events as Pass Through the Pillars and Alumni Weekend.

My work on the Alumni Association Board has given me a firsthand look at how critical these funds are and how every gift makes a difference.

After my time at Oneonta, albeit too short, I went on to earn a JD at Albany Law School of Union University and join the legal department of the Civil Service Employees Association, where I am now general counsel.

As a result, I feel a responsibility to do whatever I can to help today’s students realize their goals and dreams. I hope you do, too.

If you can, please join me in making a recurring gift to the Fund for Oneonta. It’s easy, and it allows you to spread your payments over 12 months.

As President Alberto Cardelle reminded us recently, “Alumni involvement and contributions are inextricably linked to the success of the College and, most importantly, our students.”

- Daren Rylewicz ’93


Wednesday, February 2, 2022 3:44:00 PM

Alumna Artist Teaches Students

Cythia Fusillo

Cynthia Fusillo '76 teaches students about respecting nature, using found and recycled materials

“Magic happened.” This is how acclaimed international visual artist Cynthia Fusillo ’76 describes her interactions with Oneonta students during her fall artist-in-residency. Fusillo was on campus for the month of September, speaking to classes, mentoring students one-on-one, and creating new art. An exhibition of her work, titled Leave Me With You!, overlapped her stay, running Aug. 30 to Oct. 25 in the Martin-Mullen Art Gallery.

Pieces for the show were constructed with bark, dirt, ink, leaves, paper, pine, silk, sticks, thread, and wax, among other materials. Most of the art was brought from her home in Barcelona, Spain. Others she created on site, such as an installation whose major component was bryophytes (moss), developed with the help of Sean Robinson, assistant professor of biology and curator of the Jewell and Arline Moss Settle Herbarium in the Perna Science building on campus.

“She wanted to include moss in the exhibition, and we wanted to collect it locally, but we also didn’t want to disrupt the environment. So, we looked to the College because we’re in a unique position of having people who specialize in pretty much everything,” says Sarah Simpson, director of the Art Galleries at SUNY Oneonta. They consulted Robinson, who studies moss. “He talked with us about how to sustainably source it, how to keep it while it was here, and how to safely return it to the natural environment when the show was over. And he was also kind enough to give us the Latin names for everything we had collected.”

One installation was an homage to James Mullen, professor emeritus and former dean of humanities and fine arts, whom Fusillo credits as a “huge influence” on her from her time as a student. The two had a chance to catch up at the exhibition opening.

Fusillo could be found each day in the Project Space Gallery, working on new pieces while maintaining office hours when students could stop by. “I saw the project room as a laboratory for the creative process. I wanted to create a sense of freedom and openness,” Fusillo says. “On the door outside, I put a sign — THIS IS PARADISE — I had brought from my studio in Barcelona. Students came when they could and started to intuitively manipulate used, natural, or sustainable materials. Magic happened. We talked about everything. I loved the approach — asking them what they were passionate about and how they could express their vision with their own voice. I was so grateful for their enthusiasm and dedication. At this point in my career, I get the most joy out of sharing my experience as an artist with others, especially younger creatives.”

“She mentored them, advised them if they had questions, helped point them in different directions, and talked about their work,” Simpson says. She also helped them create. “In her practice, she uses untraditional mediums. She’s very big on sustainability — reusing paper and using dirt and found natural objects. And that was one of the parameters we set for students.

“If they dedicated a certain number of hours to working with Cynthia in the Project Space Gallery and building their own piece, it was added [to the show]. But they weren’t allowed to purchase anything new for it, and we didn’t provide anything. They needed to either reuse old materials, old clothing, things like that, or sustainably source natural objects. We had a lot of discussions on how to be sustainable.”

Seven students (Samantha Alberts ’22, Thomas Bacon ’23, Maize Anna Earner ’22, Jillian Fitchette ’25, Nancy Ramirez ’25, Caroline Reals ’24, and Brooke Sulenski ’25) met these criteria. They worked on components of a large installation titled Standing, Watching, Waiting, constructed of branches, fabric, flowers, graphite, leaves, pine needles, string, sumi ink, (homemade) tempura ink, and twine. The piece was added in early October for the show’s final month.

In the show description, Simpson wrote: “The work on view uses found and repurposed materials to create singular works that reimagine the materials’ use value and question our current throwaway culture.… This exhibition shows the range of Fusillo’s practice: from her avant-garde works on paper and installations, to her more traditional prints, drawings, and sculptures, to photographs of her transitory land art.”

Fusillo created this transitory land art in the woods near campus. Each day, before heading to the Project Space Gallery, she visited College Camp. “It became a ritual. One part of the woods was very dark. It was my favorite part. You felt the quiet of the woods and there was a sense of connection with my surroundings. As I frequented the woods, I realized that my relationship with Nature was changing. As I got to know her better, I felt a strong sense of respect and admiration,” Fusillo says.

“I did not want to destroy her or rip things out of her, but I did want to highlight her beauty. So, I only used Nature that had fallen, or died, and then left it in place so it could decompose and nurture the rest of the woods. I used the pieces of Nature as elements/material to create an interesting composition with texture, form, and line. These installations excited me, and I have started a whole new series because of those walks.”

Fusillo is represented and exhibited by Galeria Contrast (www.galeriacontrast.com) in Barcelona. To see samples of her art, including from her month in Oneonta, visit Fusillo’s Instagram account (www.instagram.com/cynthiafusillo) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cynthia.fusillo).


Wednesday, February 2, 2022 3:36:00 PM

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

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 career@oneonta.edu.


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 suny.oneonta.edu/diversity/center-racial-justice-and-inclusive-excellence-crjie.


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, Heather.Stalter@oneonta.edu.


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