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Alumni Stories
Bill Karins '96

Bill Karins '96

HOMETOWN: New York City
MAJOR: Meteorology

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 ( 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

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.”


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

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