April 4, 2013

Six SUNY Empire State College Students Win Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

2013 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence Recipients Michele Cooper, Jason Torreano, Lisa Michaels and Jeannie Lockwood.

2013 Chancellor's Award winners Michele Cooper, Jason Torreano, Lisa Michaels and Jeannie Lockwood.

(ALBANY, N.Y. – April 4, 2013) Six SUNY Empire State College students, Sean Coffman (Fargo, N.D.), Michele Cooper (Liverpool, N.Y.), Travis R. Kuhns (Kennedy, N.Y.), Jeannie Lockwood (Woodside, N.Y.), Lisa Michaels (Guilderland, N.Y.) and Jason Torreano (Syracuse, N.Y.) have won the 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

“The students we honor today have strong records of achievement as student leaders, scholar athletes, aspiring artists and community volunteers,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “By exhibiting excellence in class, on campus and in their local communities, these students truly represent the power of SUNY and we honor them with great pride. Congratulations to all the students being recognized today.”

Students Sean Coffman and Travis Kuhns participate in the Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence lunch at a distance

Sean Coffman, left and Travis Kuhns.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher presented the awards at a ceremony in Albany.

“Congratulations go to Sean, Travis, Michele, Jeannie, Lisa and Jason for winning the prestigious Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence and for being among SUNY’s very best,” said Meg Benke, acting president of the college. “These outstanding students took full advantage of the flexibility the college offers in terms of designing a degree program and the ability to study where and when it suited their needs. In turn, Empire State College faculty mentors guided these students through their academic journey and helped them to overcome obstacles so their students could complete their degrees. These Empire State College students reflect the highest levels of academic achievement and community engagement and I am very proud to have them represent the college.”

About the Students

About Sean Coffman

CDL student Sean Coffman

Sean Coffman

"I was elated when I received notification that I had been selected as a recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence,” said Coffman, a student at the college’s Center for Distance Learning. “As an adult returning to school by choice, it wasn't always easy to balance the requirements of both a full class load and the realities of adult life. The award is, in many ways, validation for the work necessitated to meet those personal goals for my education and high standards I have for my work. I'm incredibly grateful and honored to have been selected as a recipient, and appreciate the efforts and guidance of Dr. Dee Britton and the numerous faculty I've had the opportunity to interact with at Empire State College."

A student at the college’s Center for Distance Learning, 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 film maker, 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.

About Michele Cooper

Central New York Center student Michele Cooper, a 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient

Michele Cooper

“When I received the letter, I stared at it in disbelief, and yes, I cried!” said Cooper, who graduated from the college’s Central New York Center in 2012.  “An overwhelming sense of gratitude followed for Central New York Center Dean Nikki Shrimpton, who nominated me, my faculty mentor Deborah Holler and all the friends I have made at Empire State College who have helped me every step of the way.”

Cooper was born in Syracuse and now lives in Liverpool. She graduated from the college’s Central New York Center with a B.A. in cultural studies, with a concentration in communication and writing and a 4.0 GPA.

Cooper is currently enrolled with the college and working to earn her M.A. in liberal studies, with a concentration in feminist narrative in contemporary fiction.

Cooper is a nationally published newspaper and magazine journalist, as well as a corporate writer and editor. She also has served as a presenter at state and national conferences about the education and transportation rights of homeless students. She wrote two comprehensive training manuals and curricula on the transportation requirements of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance act, one for school district homeless liaisons and one for transportation directors.

Winner of a gold medal at the U.S. Adult National Figure Skating Championships, as a volunteer she established a nonprofit company and managed all aspects of the construction of a $2.5 million community ice skating facility in Lysander.

She is the mother of three sons and has five grandchildren.

About Travis Kuhns

Travis Kuhns

Travis R. Kuhns

“I was truly taken aback. Knowing how prestigious the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence is, I was astounded and thrilled that my entry was even considered,” said Kuhns, a student at the college’s Center for Distance Learning. “But, when I received the letter that I had actually been named a recipient, I felt profoundly privileged. And, from the moment I was able to process what this honor meant, I knew that it would never have been made possible without a faculty that harbors such a desire to instill knowledge. Without exaggeration, I can say that my mentor, Dr. Menoukha Case, is one of a short list of people I admire with the highest regard and my utmost respect and appreciation. After all, great teachers are what make great students.”

Kuhns, a Seneca and Ojibwe Native American, will graduate this spring with a B.A. in cultural studies and a GPA of 3.96.

The college’s individualized degree program enabled Kuhns to concentrate on creative writing and to gain the foundational knowledge needed to pursue the discipline of computer drafting. These skills will enable him to pursue his career goal of working as a technical writer and to pursue his love of fiction writing.

From 2005-11, Kuhns was a member of the National Association of Rocketry Chapter #543: Erie Rocketry Group. He worked with children to explore rocketry, thereby increasing their aeronautical literacy and science and math skills through hands-on learning.

Kuhns organized a special launch that promoted creative recycling of household objects into viable rocket designs.

Additionally, using his carpentry skills to construct and install a series of bat houses, he helped to check the local mosquito population and quell the unease associated with West Nile Virus. He also built a book and video drop-box receptacle and DVD wall rack for the Kennedy Free Library, where he volunteers as a weekend assistant to the librarian every summer.

Currently, he volunteers with the Frank W. Felt Cat Sanctuary, which rehabilitates and finds new homes for stray, abandoned or feral cats. In addition, he co-moderates Youthful Lyme-Aide, an online support group for the organization Young Adults with Lyme, a disease he has had since birth.

Kuhns has been published in Rebel Rodz, an automotive hobby magazine with an international readership; authored “Where I Say Goodbye,” an article in The Student Voice, an online publication of the college; runs a literary blog, The Epoch; and was runner-up at the 2010 Cattaraugus County Fair for his 1:6 scale diorama promoting support for war veterans.

He is working on a novel and has developed an outline, polished chapter, abstract and the associated components necessary to query publishers.

Kuhns’ hometown is Jamestown. He is a resident of Kennedy and a graduate of Jamestown Community College.

About Jeannie Lockwood

Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies student Jeannie Lockwood, a 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient

Jeannie Lockwood.

“I was elated when I learned I was chosen to join an elite group of amazing people,” said Jeannie Lockwood, a student at the college’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies and an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3. “As a Local 3 apprentice I work full time and at the end of the day our excellent teachers perk me up, challenge me and make sure I have the support I need to succeed with my education. As part of the labor movement, it’s important to understand the history of the movement, where we have done well and what challenges confront labor so we can keep working people working and the middle class strong.”

Lockwood, of Woodside, will graduate with a 4.0 GPA and a B.A. in labor studies in the spring of 2013.

Lockwood was chosen five consecutive times by her student peers as class representative and was the first IBEW apprentice selected to attend a one-month, on-the-job exchange program in London with the Joint Industry Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry in the U.K.

The Association of Electrical Contractors named her Apprentice of the Year in June 2011.

She is a graduate of and has been an instructor at Non-Traditional Employment for Women, a nonprofit group founded in 1978 that works with unions to bring women into higher-paying jobs in construction trades.

Lockwood made two presentations at the college’s 2012 Student Academic Conference, “Keep Calm and Carry On: One Apprentice’s Perspective of Life and Work in the Electrical Trades in the United Kingdom” and “We Can Do It!”

Lockwood serves as recording secretary to the Local 3 Executive Board of the Apprentice Advisory Committee and is a member of the committee. She has spoken at the IBEW Local 3 Women’s Conference and has volunteered in many of Local 3’s community activities. She also is a member of the Empire State College Alumni Student Federation Board of Governors.

An artist’s statement and image of jewelry Lockwood made from materials found on job sites was included in 2012 edition of Labor Writes, the annual magazine of the labor center. Lockwood served as student editor for the 2011 edition of Labor Writes.

About Lisa Michaels

School for Graduate Studies student Lisa Michaels, a 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient

Lisa Michaels

“I think the best word that describes my initial reaction upon hearing that I was selected to be a recipient of this award is simply ‘stunned’!  I spent the better part of that evening rereading the letter that was written and signed by Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor for the SUNY system,” said Lisa Michaels ’08, who is also a current student at the college’s School for Graduate Studies. “Empire State College faculty mentors Donna Mahar and Robert Congemi, just to mention a few, recognized and respected that as an adult learner, I would need to continue to juggle multiple responsibilities in the process of pursuing my studies. These dedicated educators have consistently modeled an enthusiasm and expertise for teaching and learning and I am grateful for their support.”

Michaels will graduate in the spring of 2013 with a Master of Arts in Teaching and a GPA of 3.97.

In 2001, after working as a photojournalist, Michaels discovered her passion for teaching, reading and writing when she joined a team at Alton U. Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland that provided reading support for students in need.

Currently a teaching assistant at Farnsworth, Michaels won the School for Graduate Studies’ Dean’s Medal in 2012 for her research as a member of the college’s first cohort in the clinically rich residency program for teacher preparation.

Using her positions at Farnsworth and the college, Michaels was instrumental in developing a track for the college’s teaching assistants within the residency program to gain certification. The college now employs this model for its teaching assistants with urban school districts across the state. In addition, Michaels worked to establish new partnerships with school districts to expand the college’s residency program. She also teaches non-native English-speaking children and their parents struggling with language skills.

Michaels’ success has garnered statewide attention. The New York State Reading Association selected her to edit the organization’s quarterly newsletter, The Empire Reading Science, and she wrote columns for the NYSRA peer-reviewed journal The Language and Literacy Spectrum.

Michaels is working to become a doctoral candidate at the University at Albany this fall. She earned her undergraduate degree with the college in 2008 and an associate from Hudson Valley Community College in 2006.

About Jason Torreano

School for Graduate Studies student Jason Torreano, a 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipient

Jason Torreano

“I was surprised, excited, overwhelmed and truly honored to receive the chancellor’s award,” said Jason Torreano, a student at the college’s School for Graduate Studies. “I was attracted to Empire State College, specifically the Master of Arts in Adult Learning program, because of its emphasis on the individual. Empire State College focused on meeting me where I was, rather than where a college expected me to be. Having the ability to work on developing a curriculum that fit my strengths helped me improve my weaknesses.” Torreano, of Syracuse, will graduate this spring with a 3.97 GPA and  an M.A. in liberal studies focusing on nonprofit management and international development.

Currently, Torreano is the fundraising and development coordinator for Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare. SBH programs have helped thousands of Central New York families struggling with alcohol and other substance-use disorders. He is the 2011 and 2013 Spirit of Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare Award recipient.

Torreano also is the founder of Inkululeko, a nonprofit organization based in Grahamstown, South Africa, that provides South African youth with the support and guidance necessary to finish school and attend university in that country. Inkulukeko is an isiXhosa word meaning “freedom.”

Torreano attended Rhodes University in 2006 and fell in love with Grahamstown. What began as a six-month study abroad program turned into a two-year experience volunteering at Amasango School for Street Children and at Nathaniel Nyaluza High School.

Upon returning to the U.S., Torreano worked as an anchor and reporter in newsrooms across the country. In 2009, he left news for the nonprofit sector. He has returned to South Africa nearly a dozen times since 2006 and began laying the groundwork for Inkululeko.

In 2010, he collaborated with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University to bring a group of students to Grahamstown, and today Torreano works with SU graduate students and a small bilingual staff in South Africa to help advance the mission of Inkululeko.

A graduate of SUNY Brockport, Torreano also is a recipient of the SUNY system’s Graduate Diversity Fellowship.

About the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence

The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence was created in 1997 to recognize students who have best demonstrated, and have been recognized for, the integration of academic excellence with accomplishments in the areas of leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts, campus involvement, or career achievement.

Each year, campus presidents establish a selection committee, which reviews exemplary students. Nominees are forwarded to the chancellor’s office and  are subject to a second round of review. Finalists are recommended to the chancellor to become recipients of the award. Each recipient receives a framed certificate and medallion, which is traditionally worn at commencement.

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 New York state 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.


Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications

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