SUNY Empire State College Students Receive Chancellor’s Award for Excellence

By David Henahan

May 2, 2011

Five State University of New York Empire State College adult learners were among those honored by SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who presented them with the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence at a ceremony at the Empire State Plaza on Tuesday, April 5.

This year’s SUNY Empire State College honorees are Solomon Blaylock, Nechama Horowitz, Humberto Restrepo, Zuzana Štepanovská and Brian F. Zeidner.

“This year’s honorees have all made significant contributions to their communities while achieving academic excellence,” said Davis. “I join Chancellor Zimpher in praising their accomplishments and I am grateful to all at the college who support learning and their faculty mentors in particular.”

He also pointed out that this year’s recipients are a product of the different modes of learning at the college, face-to-face and online, and reflect the social and geographic diversity of the college’s adult learners.

Selections are made after a rigorous multi-step selection process that evaluates the integration of a student’s academic performance with activities such as community service, leadership, athletics and/or high achievement in a career and the creative or performing arts.

A total of 249 students from SUNY campuses across the state were honored.

“The students we honor today have excelled academically and taken advantage of what SUNY has to offer in and outside the classroom,” said Zimpher. “These students are proven leaders, athletes, artists, community servants, and much more. They represent the future of our state and are perfect examples of The Power of SUNY. I congratulate all of the students receiving recognition today and thank them for the positive impact each of them has had on SUNY and the communities we serve.”

About the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence was created 14 years ago to recognize students who have best demonstrated, and been recognized for, the integration of academic excellence with accomplishments in the areas of leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts or career achievement.

Each year, campus presidents establish a selection committee, which reviews exemplary members of their college communities who are graduating. Nominees are then forwarded to the Chancellor’s Office and are subject to a second round of review. Finalists are then recommended to the chancellor to become recipients of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

Each recipient received a framed certificate and medallion, which is traditionally worn at commencement.

About Solomon Blaylock

Solomon Blaylock, Chancellor's AwardSolomon Blaylock, at left, shaking hands with President Davis, is an undergraduate student at SUNY Empire State College’s Genesee Valley Center in Rochester. He will graduate with an associate’s degree in history this year and a GPA of 3.98. He also is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art history and religious studies at the college.

“I didn’t go to college when most people would go. I needed to work full-time at that point,” says the Rochester resident. “But when I thought about it, I realized I needed a degree to do what I want to do – teach at the college level.” He is planning to go on for a master’s degree and a Ph.D. Meanwhile, Blaylock has a full-time job at the University of Rochester library. Given his direction, he is concerned that public interest in the humanities, “always seems to be ebbing. I hope when I am done with school, it will be a time when the public sees a need for the humanities.”

 He admits it’s a “mixed bag” going to college later than peers. “On one hand, you have more focus. You know what your interests and goals are. But it can be frustrating to see other people ahead of you in the process.”

He has worked with mentors in guided independent study, participated in small-group study and taken courses online.

“The flexibility of the college was hugely important to me,” he says. “I can work and study.”

Moreover, he was impressed with the college’s high academic standards. He notes, “My mentors made me work outside my comfort zone. It was good for me. I really felt we had a rapport.”

A musician and songwriter, Blaylock founded The Lobster Quadrille, a musical performance group inspired largely by the work of author Flannery O’Connor. The band performs mostly in the northeast and has released four albums to date.

In addition, Blaylock is the founder of The Gentlemen’s Society, a group dedicated to presentation and discussion of philosophical and academic topics.

Blaylock is also active in the community as a volunteer music jurist, a representative of the Buddhist community to the hospital and as a community activist.

About Nechama Horowitz

Nechama Horowitz, Chancellor's AwardNechama Horowitz, pictured here at left, standing with President Alan Davis, graduated in 2010 from SUNY Empire State College with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and a 3.93 GPA. She studied with the Brooklyn Unit of the college’s Metropolitan Center.

For more than 10 years, the Brooklyn resident has been an active volunteer in her community helping widowed mothers, working with disadvantaged children, mentoring young people, providing emotional support for the elderly and assisting people of all ages to preserve and understand their Jewish heritage.
“I was writing small articles for small publications and I realized I wanted more,” she says. “Empire State College offered flexible timing and great mentors. I gained both skills and confidence as a student.” The mother of two young sons, she was able to study when they were in play groups or sleeping.

“I absolutely loved being a student,” she adds. “I loved the classes, writing papers and the personal challenge. You can’t get anywhere without a degree.”

Indeed, more recently, Horowitz has combined her academic, career and philanthropic interests by publishing news and feature articles in local and national publications as well as writing speeches and grants for nonprofit organizations.

She established a small business to use her skills in creative nonfiction to help individuals in her community organize and tell their stories in first-person narratives ranging from articles to books.

And she’s set high standards in her family – Horowitz’s husband, mother and sister have all enrolled in college as a result of her experience.

About Humberto Restrepo

Humberto Restrepo, Chancellor's AwardHumberto Restrepo, pictured here at left, standing with President Davis, will complete a Bachelor of Science in Labor Studies in May 2011 at the college’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies in Manhattan. Restrepo’s GPA is 3.90.

The 13thof 18 children in a Columbian family, Restrepo was determined to be the first to get a college degree. He enrolled first at SUNY Stony Brook as a pre-med student, but found that wasn’t the right road.

Instead, he followed in his brother’s footsteps, starting as an apprentice electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 in 1986. He since has risen through the ranks from journey worker, foreman and shop steward to his current position as the union's full-time political affairs liaison. “Things happen for a reason,” he says. “I helped smooth the transition for Latinos into the union.”

In addition to his demonstrated academic excellence and career achievement, the Lynbrook resident also was president of the Santiago Iglesias Educational Society. In that capacity, Restrepo spearheaded projects to upgrade the electrical systems and infrastructure of churches and community-based organizations in Harlem and the South Bronx.

“I am impressed with what SUNY Empire State College has to offer,” he says. “It’s one of the few places they work with you one to one. I can have direct daily contact with professors if I want to.”

At the invitation of the New York City Mayor's Office he also currently serves on the Technical Advisory Group for "Green Light New York," the mission of which is to promote quality, energy-efficient lighting in the city.

The next step? A master’s degree in Labor Policy Studies through the School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State College is on the top of his list to consider. “Without an education today, you will have a hard time in the market tomorrow,” he points out.

About Zuzana Štepanovská

Zuzana Stepanovska, Chancellor's AwardZuzana Štepanovská, pictured at left, standing with President Davis, earned a Bachelor of Science in international and European economic relations in June 2010 and a GPA of 3.75 through the college’s international program in Prague, the Czech Republic. The college offers eight international programs at locations around the world.

“It was always my dream to have a university degree. I come from a very small city, Brno, and my dream was to go to college in Prague,” she says. “When I was a teenager, we would drive past the beautiful building that the college is housed in, but I never thought I would someday be graduating from there.”

SUNY Empire State College was one among several choices she had, but when Štepanovská met the professors and delved into the quality of the academic programs, she knew that the college could “fulfill that dream.”

A former vice Miss Czech Republic and Czech representative for the Miss Earth contest, she has capitalized on her public relations skills to organize charity events, raising thousands of euros to benefit Bangladeshi children, Czech orphanages and pediatric hospitals in Tblisi, Georgia.

Štepanovská is residing now in Rome, Italy, where she is studying for her master’s degree in European Studies.

“I am very open about what comes next, “she says. “I am willing to move. My advice to anyone who is considering whether to go to college is ‘go for it!’ Try not to miss opportunities. Travel and explore new cultures from different perspectives.” A high point
in her personal journey came when Štepanovská climbed Mont Blanc with her dad. “You always have to optimize,” she says.

About Brian F. Zeidner

Brian F. Zeidner, Chancellor's AwardBrian F. Zeidner, at left, pictured with President Davis, graduated in February 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics and earned a GPA of 3.98 through the college’s Center for Distance Learning. He served two tours in the United States Air Force, and is currently involved in his community as a school board director for the Wyalusing Area School District.

“I had been out of the Air Force for a few years before I decided to go to college,” he says. “Then, the people I work with at the Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative really encouraged me to get an education. I could see from working with peers who had been to college what a difference it could make, and I wanted the same.”

SUNY Empire State College was the right choice for Zeidner. He knew the college is highly regarded, he was excited about blending online and face-to-face learning and the college was willing to transfer previously earned credits.

“It was tailor made for me,” he says.

Starting out with the FORUM Management Program at Central New York Center, which has been discontinued, Zeidner earned many of the credits he needed to graduate. But he transferred to the Center for Distance Learning to finish up. “It worked well for me that there was a big variety of courses to take,” he said.

Zeidner also serves on the board of directors for the Northern Tier Industry and Education Consortium and is active in mentoring youth through a local weekly youth outreach ministry. He likes to work with animals and manage land and crops.
A past board director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, he teaches the Hazardous Occupations Safety Training in Agriculture course through the Bradford County Penn State Cooperative Extension office.

Zeidner often works with the Bradford County Conservation District to provide no-cost community training and instruction on energy conservation, efficiency and alternative energy. He is the member services director for Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative and resides on a small beef farm in Sugar Run, Pa.