June 7, 2013

More than 1,100 Earn Online Degrees from SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning and the School for Graduate Studies

Students Sean Coffman, Rachel Spaulding and Ruth Njoroge-Vondran speak on behalf of all students.

Graduate Margarita DeJesus is joined by her son David DeLarosa, left in glasses, her father Juan DeJesus and her proud daughter Sara DeJesus at the reception for Center for Distance Learning graduates.

Graduate Margarita DeJesus traveled from her home in Wisconsin and is joined by her son David DeLarosa, left in glasses, her father Juan DeJesus and her proud daughter Sara DeJesus at the reception for Center for Distance Learning graduates.

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – June 8, 2013) More than 1,100 students earned their associate or bachelor’s degree this year through the SUNY Empire State College Center for Distance Learning, and master’s degrees through a blend of online and face-to-face education at the college’s School for Graduate Studies.

Traveling from Germany, Canada, New York and 16 other U.S. states, they are among the more than 3,400 who graduated from Empire State College this year. Nine students from the college’s School of Nursing and nine more students who are members of the military or veterans attended the 2013 graduation.

“Congratulations to the Center for Distance Learning Class of 2013,” said former Acting President Meg Benke. “Attaining a college degree has been a lifelong quest for many of our learners and I hope that you continue to learn and grow – for both professional and personal gain and to continue to contribute to your communities, enriched by a high-quality education. As SUNY Empire State College graduates, you now join a family of more than 70,000 Empire State College alumni around the world, and you also join the Power of SUNY as one of nearly three million SUNY graduates. This year alone we are graduating more than 3,400 students, more than 200 of them are veterans and military students, of whom we are so proud.”

“Today we celebrate the power of a SUNY education at Empire State College,” said Tom Mackey, dean of the college’s Center for Distance Learning. “All of our graduates have followed a unique path to earn their degrees. We know that many of you pursued your college education while balancing a number of responsibilities in addition to your studies, such as raising a family, working a full-time job and responding to life’s unexpected challenges along the way. Many of you have worked toward your degrees entirely online and in some cases, through blended learning and in-person residencies. With prior learning assessment, many of you earned college credit for college-level learning gained from your experience in the real world. As you pursued your degrees, you interacted with fellow students in our online environment, contributing to online discussions, participating in supportive communities and fostering strong connections with peers and instructors. During this educational journey, you have all experienced individualized learning through a one-to-one relationship with your mentor in the design of your degree. Your academic accomplishments are impressive and highly valued. I am proud to be a part of this ceremony celebrating your achievements.”

Students Sean Coffman, 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winner, Rachel Spaulding ’12, and Ruth Njoroge-Vondran spoke on behalf of all students.

James Lytle, president of the Empire State College Council, delivered the commencement address at the center’s 2013 graduation.

“First of all, let me join with all of you in congratulating the nearly 1,200 proud members of the Empire State College Center for Distance Learning Class of 2013,” said Lytle. “There are, I know, 1,200 compelling stories out there, involving extraordinary sacrifice, hard work, blood, sweat, toil and tears and you each deserve to be very proud of what you have accomplished. Graduates, you have every right to be extraordinarily proud of your achievement and to look forward to enjoying the bright future that I am sure awaits you. And you should also be proud of the college that helped you secure your dream, a college whose future is, I sincerely believe, as bright and as promising as the future of the graduates we celebrate today.”

Acting President Meg Benke with student speaker and Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient Sean Coffman immediately after Coffman was presented with the college medallion.

Acting President Meg Benke congratulates student speaker and Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient Sean Coffman.

“I'm incredibly excited and honored to be a part of the graduating class of 2013,” said Coffman. “I'm sincerely grateful to my advisor, Professor Dee Britton, for her guidance, encouragement and relentless support of my goals; and to Empire State, for establishing an educational institution with the flexibility to accommodate an adult life such as mine.”

“We, here at Empire State College, are a different breed,” said Spaulding. “When we began this journey, we were not 18, hailing directly from our parents’ homes, filing into dormitories with brand new laptops and posters to hang on the wall. We’ve got kids, a household to run and a mortgage to pay. But, what most distinguishes us, I believe, is that rather than approaching our education with the expectation that it will somehow mold us and hand us our future, we engaged in our education with the knowledge and acceptance that our education will serve us only to the extent that we serve ourselves. We own our education wholly and for that I am very grateful to the faculty mentors at Empire State College and my friends and family for their encouragement and support. Congratulations are well earned for all of us.”

“To my father, my mother and family, who are watching this on Streamlive from Kenya 10,000 miles away, thank you,” said Njoroge-Vondran. “Thank you Acting President Meg Benke, faculty mentors and  trustees for giving me this great honor and opportunity to stand on this podium today. For families, friends and special guests who are here today, thank you for all your support. My fellow graduates, congratulations, we made it! I want to acknowledge my mentor, Thalia McMillan, for her support and encouragement and thank her for being there 24/7, holidays and non-holidays. Earning a degree, particularly as a working adult with family obligations, isn't without challenges. Sometimes we do lose hope and feel overwhelmed. I am sure other graduates around this room agree with me. In those timesI have learned to be humble and not to complain about everything. When our mind said, ‘that's impossible,’ we said, ‘no, anything is possible.’ We are all here today because we believe in the possibilities of a better life, which start at this moment, our moment.”

Trustee Eunice Lewin also will attend graduation, bringing greetings and congratulations on behalf of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

The ceremony was June 8 at the Saratoga City Center, 522 Broadway, Saratoga Springs.

Through its Center for Distance Learning, the college offers more than 500 courses and complete degree programs online; enrolls more than 8,000 students and provides 70 percent of all online bachelor’s programs within the 64-campus SUNY system.

About Sean Coffman

Sean Coffman, of Fargo, N.D., will graduate in 2013 with a 3.69 GPA and a B.A. in social theory, social structure and change.

While completing his studies at the college, Coffman was hired as emergency services director for the South East District of the Minn-Kota Region of the American Red Cross, earned a diploma from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and certification in understanding the theory of maintaining and advancing issues and legislation pertaining to economic, social and cultural rights from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Coffman’s voluntary community service includes serving as vice chair of the Cass Clay Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters and the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition. He also has volunteered as communication coordinator for the Minnesota North Star Disaster Training Institute.

As a published journalist, he contributes regularly to the High Plains Reader.

Previously, Coffman enjoyed a successful corporate marketing and advertising career as vice president of creative services for Mandalay Baseball Properties in Dayton, Ohio; however, in 2010, Coffman decided to follow his passion for humanitarian aid.

Coffman continues to be an independent filmmaker, committed to developing and producing work that brings context to local and world issues by giving a voice to the underserved, the neglected and the oppressed.

Rachel Spaulding, student speaker at the Center for Distance Learning graduation, discussed the benefits of flexible learning options.

Rachel Spaulding, student speaker at the Center for Distance Learning graduation, discussed the benefits of flexible learning options.

About Rachel Spaulding ‘12

Spaulding, of Montclair N.J., earned a B.A. in theater with a 4.0 GPA in December of 2012.

As an executive speech coach, Spaulding incorporates theater techniques to train and prepare individuals and teams for an array of high-stake presentations and platforms including business presentations, client pitches, stakeholder meetings, formal speeches, keynotes, media interviews, attorney trial preparation, panel discussion facilitation and/or participation, leadership and team management, job promotion, job interviews, workshop facilitation and special-occasion speeches.

With nearly 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry, Spaulding has shared the stage and film set with luminaries such as Hal Linden, Roger Daltrey, Barbara Cook, the late Roddy McDowall, the late Tony Randall, Chita Rivera, Jennifer Tilly, Ben Vereen, and more. She’s been directed by Woody Allen, Susan Stroman, Gordon Hunt, Gracielle Danielle, the late Mike Ockrent, and others.

Additionally, Spaulding serves on the literary committee of Luna Stage, a professional theater company in West Orange, N.J., evaluating incoming script submissions, and working directly with playwrights on play development as an actor and director.

Spaulding also attended the State University of New York College at Purchase and the State University at Buffalo. As an actor, she is a graduate of The William Esper Studios Actors Training Program, studied Shakespeare at American Globe Theatre Conservatory, as well as with other world-renowned acting teachers.

She has attended and participated in myriad professional training seminars, conferences, workshops and lectures in the areas of business communication and organizational development

Spaulding’s activities and societies include longstanding membership in the Actors Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the International Coach Federation. She is a member of Luna Stage Literary Associates and served as president of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council 2007 – 2009.

Student speaker Ruth Njoroge-Vondran and SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin share smiles after graduation.

Student speaker Ruth Njoroge-Vondran, left, and SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin, are all smiles after graduation.

About Ruth Njoroge-Vondran

Njoroge-Vondran, a resident of Renton, Wash. will earn a B.S. in community and human services with a 3.95 GPA. She also holds A.A. and A.S. degrees from Bellevue College, Wash. and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community college students. She has received awards from the Greater Seattle Business Association and the Pride Foundation, Wash. for her work in serving a diverse population.

In the words of her mentor, Thalia MacMillan, “Ruth is very diligent, hardworking, caring and conscientious. She values her learning because she is putting herself through school.”

For six years, Njoroge-Vondran worked with the National Registration Bureau–Office of the President, Nairobi, Kenya, where her parents still live. She has native proficiency in Swahili, Kikuyu and English.

She has devoted her adult life and career advocating for the disadvantaged, working with underserved populations and fighting for human rights issues and believes that every human being deserves the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Njoroge-Vondran’s skills and experience in medical case management include screening, intake and comprehensive assessment for people living with HIV/AIDS and survivors of domestic violence.

She has worked as a certified nurse assistant in long-term care, hospital, home health care, hospice and assisted living facilities caring for the elderly and those who suffer from chronic illness and disability. In addition, Njoroge-Vondran provided support services to people with physical, mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Njoroge-Vondran’s previous experience includes work as an advocate for the Domestic Abuse Women Network helping women and children survivors of domestic violence. She served as a client advocate with the People of Color Against AIDS Network. In addition, for two years she served on the Seattle HIV/AIDS Planning Council, which prioritizes and allocates funding for services in King, Island and Snohomish counties in accordance with the requirement of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency (CARE) Act, Title I.

Currently, Njoroge-Vondran is employed by Service Employee International Union as an organizer. Her work involves strategic planning, leadership development, educating and organizing people on social justice struggles, human rights and fairness for all.

About James Lytle

Lytle, president of the College Council, is a partner in the law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips and oversees the firm's Albany office. His practice focuses on health-care law and regulations. He served in the Gov. Mario Cuomo administration as assistant counsel for health and human services. Lytle holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School.

About Eunice Lewin

Since 1979, Lewin has been employed as a bilingual social worker for the Committee on Special Education at the Buffalo Board of Education. She began volunteering at Buffalo Catholic Charities in 1976 and was employed there for three years as a social worker. Lewin also was employed at the Erie County Department of Social Services in the Division of Child Protection.

About SUNY Empire State College

SUNY Empire State College was established in 1971 to offer adult learners the opportunity to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York.

In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout his or her college career. Students engage in guided independent study and course work onsite, online or a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to learn at the time, place and pace they choose.

The college serves more than 20,000 students worldwide at more than 35 locations in the state of New York and online. Its 66,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more. More information about the college is available here.


Graduation contact: Janet Aiello-Cerio

518-587-2100, ext. 2534



Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications

518-587-2100, ext. 2918


518-321-7038 (after hours and on weekends)