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Potsdam Prepared: COVID-19 Updates

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Immerse yourself in a campus culture that's as eclectic as you are.

Finding Her Voice

Once an introverted first-year student at SUNY Potsdam, Kiara Espinal ’21 has continued to develop skills as a public speaker and artist, on a path of discovery to find her voice and become a leader among her peers.

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Rising Leader in Health Education

A native of Canton, N.Y., with five generations of family history rooted in the North Country, Meghan Conklin ’21 wanted to stay close to home after graduating from high school—and SUNY Potsdam proved to be just the right fit. Now she is completing her degree in community health, wrapping up hands-on internships, and working as a youth ambassador for International Adolescent Health Week.

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Staying Fit During the Pandemic

Adaptation—the pandemic forced it and we can see it all around us. Right in step with the spirit of innovation are Tanya Hewitt and her exercise science students, who have found some unique ways to stay fit while gyms have been closed.

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The Good Fight

A sense of service defines the work of Pamela Charleson, who has found ways to turn the challenges of her own experiences into gifts and important lessons for others.

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Serendipity and Divine Providence

Dr. Lonel Woods has had an illustrious career as opera singer, Broadway actor, and music educator—the latter of which has been his greatest passion, with 12 years of experience as a dedicated professor of voice at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. He was recently selected as the interim dean of The Crane School of Music, a new role that he is embracing with open arms and a fresh perspective.

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Rising on the Wings of Dance

Zoe Walders '16 has refused to let a pandemic quash her creative spark. Dedicated to the art of dance, she brings her talents full circle in a new filmed dance-theatre production presented by her alma mater.

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Harnessing the Power of Justice

As the nation responded to incidents of racial violence and injustice last year, Dr. Peter McCoy was compelled to make his advocacy more tangible by establishing the Racial Justice and Equity Scholarship at SUNY Potsdam—supporting students who are committed to advancing the cause of racial justice and equity on campus. In McCoy’s estimation, “Now is the perfect time to harness the power and the interest and the energy that we are all feeling to make a difference.”

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Landscape of Discovery

As he mastered sculpting, painting and graphic design in SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Art, Evan Blondell ’06 had no way of knowing that he was planting the seeds for a fruitful career as a landscape architect. Armed with an artistic eye, and years of training, Blondell now works in major urban centers to transform the landscape into breathtaking parks that intertwine modern design with nature.

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New Ways to Think About Success

Dr. Tasia White ’12 has a newly minted Ed.D. and passion for transforming how people view their own professional success. She wants them to be fulfilled by their work, and that part is trickier than some think. As national interest turns to the need for greater support of diversity in the workplace, White is in a position to offer the perspective of both a woman of color and a person who made the study of such diversity—and the barriers to it—the subject of her dissertation.

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From Zeppelin to Mozart

Introduced to music on his father’s electric guitar, Alex Mariano ’21 played the songs of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen throughout his youth. Now he’s pursuing a music performance degree at The Crane School of Music where he’s been mastering the classical guitar under the guidance of Dr. Douglas Rubio.

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Raising the Bar

As a preamble for her education and career, Sara Behuniak ’14 found herself playing the role of a lead defense attorney in high school. A reading of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” set the stage for a mock courtroom trial as Behuniak and her classmates brought the pages of Capote’s non-fiction masterpiece to life—and in doing so, she found her true calling.

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SUNY Potsdam’s TikTok Sensation

A refuge from the grief of COVID-19 became a way to connect with millions of viewers for alumnus Daniel Mertzlufft '15. His viral TikTok videos struck a chord with many, including the Late Late Show’s James Corden, who recently hosted him on the show and featured Mertzlufft’s latest hit, “The Thanksgiving Musical,” a tension-relieving romp through collective pandemic realities, holiday foibles, and even post-election drama.

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Building Stronger Students

The mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are only just beginning to be documented, but SUNY Potsdam alumna Jennifer Hutchins is out ahead of the curve. Through a new program to build mindfulness practices in North Country schools, Hutchins is giving students tools to work through their pain and confusion—on their own terms.

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A Guiding Light for Diversity Initiatives

Since he started at SUNY Potsdam in the fall of 2019, Clifton Harcum has been supporting diversity initiatives on campus, and creating unique opportunities for students to get out of their comfort zone and have an engaging college experience. Last spring, he launched an alternative spring break program for students of color, providing them with a fully funded week-long journey throughout the Adirondack region.

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Seeing the Future Through the Past

Marla Jacobs ’20 drew strength from her Mohawk heritage to overcome daunting challenges and finish an archaeology degree with three minors. Hard at work on a new display for The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, she continues to help build our knowledge of Indigenous peoples and their role in the ancient Adirondack landscapes.

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Taking the World by Storm

From an immersive experience in SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Modern Languages, alumna Meghan Sullivan ’11 launched an impressive career with the United Nations World Food Programme in Haiti—humanitarian work focused on food insecurity in the Caribbean nation, where around 3.7 million people are in desperate need of assistance.

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Between Mummies and Motherhood

Powered by a SUNY PRODiG Fellowship, a passion for anthropology and a wealth of lived experience, Kathryn Allen is inspiring other women to pursue their interest in the STEM fields.

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Leader Among his Peers

As a resident assistant in Bowman Hall, and a peer counselor in the Center for Applied Learning, Jason Perregaux ’21 has continued to embrace leadership roles throughout his time at SUNY Potsdam. While helping other students, he’s also been on his own path of discovery—balancing his business classes with vocal performances at Crane, and weaving in his faith through his involvement with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

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Combating Disease Through Education

Like an antibiotic rapidly flowing through the blood stream to combat an infection, Whitney Callaghan ’17 & ’21 has used her knowledge to help fight the spread of diseases in Northern New York. The SUNY Potsdam alumna took her degree in community health and parlayed it into a career with the St. Lawrence County Department of Public Health—where she’s busy overseeing contact tracing efforts in response to COVID-19.

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The Curious Cases of Nasser Malit

Dr. Nasser Malit has volunteered his time with the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Unit since 2011. In the role of a forensic anthropologist, he narrows and focuses the almost endless possibilities surrounding a skeleton or a shard of calcium. Malit’s early research prepared him for this work, taking him deep into the Great Rift Valley in Kenya where he excavated a 7,000-year-old human skeleton in partnership with the famed paleoanthropologists in the Leakey family. His forensic anthropology students now benefit from his vast knowledge while examining bones in his lab.

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Lost and Found in the Adirondack Mountains

A university's classroom isn't always what you think. In the SUNY Potsdam Wilderness Education Leadership program, students build inner strength and outer savvy in the deep woods of the Adirondacks.

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The Man Behind the Music

The otherworldly sound of an orchestra playing Adagio for Strings can be lost without someone like Dr. Douglas McKinnie, the audio and video streaming engineer at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. Since 2014, McKinnie has worked behind the scenes at Crane to ensure that hundreds of performances are professionally recorded—leaning on two decades of experience as the chief engineer of live sound at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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The Value of Connections

Emily Morse ’21 is primed for success in the computer science industry because of the many SUNY Potsdam alumni who dedicate time and resources to the computer science department. This summer, Morse took part in a remote internship with the Griffiss Institute and the Air Force Research Laboratory, made possible by her connections with alumni and support from a generous scholarship established by Haden Land ’84.

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A Veteran’s Passion for Medicine

After serving in Afghanistan as a hospital corpsman during a seven year stint in the U.S Navy, Kellen Bertrand ’21 returned stateside and set his sights on getting a degree at SUNY Potsdam. He’s now in his final year at the College, and wrapping up a degree in biology and chemistry all while maintaining an impressive 4.0 GPA. In the spring he will be applying to medical school where he plans to parlay his success into a lifelong career.

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Home in the North Country

For more than two decades, SUNY Potsdam Professor Tony Betrus ’93 & ’94 has continued to have a positive impact on his students, promoted a passion for learning, and emphasized the importance of technology. His dedication to education runs in the family. His wife Kristen (Schneider) Betrus ’95, mother Barbara '91, and brothers Ryan '95 & '02 and John Betrus '97 & '01 all received their degrees from SUNY Potsdam and transitioned to careers as teachers—proving that there’s something special when you set foot on the campus.

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Global Music Connections

Through trips to India and Ireland, working with the West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, and co-founding a Taiko drumming group on campus, Bridgid Bergin '15 paved the way to a career in ethnomusicology. She now works for the International Contemporary Ensemble in NYC.

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Murals for the Masses

Art Professor Amy Swartele recently completed a vibrant mural in downtown Potsdam. After securing a grant for professional development, she has been expanding the scope of her work and learning the nuances of creating large scale murals—all with the goal of launching SUNY Potsdam's first-ever mural painting class in the fall of 2021. 

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Working Hard for Others

SUNY Potsdam alumna Serena Rockingster '19 could have gone many places for her advanced degree, but she stuck close to the North Country in hopes of setting up a counseling practice that will help bring healing to Vermont’s underrepresented populations. 

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Taking the Lead

When Adam Smith ’15 entered SUNY Potsdam his freshman year, he never imagined he would be backpacking throughout the Adirondacks or scaling walls of ice and rock. Through the wilderness education program he gained leadership skills that set the stage for a successful career in outdoor education. Now he’s come full circle, back at SUNY Potsdam as an instructor in the same program where he was once a student.

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Their Essential Nature

When dozens of creatures wait in an empty building for you to show up, you know you’re essential. Among the unheralded individuals who keep a college campus going when no one is around to notice, two SUNY Potsdam studentsAmber Rudolph ’20 and Morgan Gregg ’20trudge through an echoing Stowell Hall three times a week on a mission: to care for, feed and give companionship to a mottled cadre of turtles, aquarium fish, geckos, bearded dragons and snakes.

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High Fashion Mask-erade

The accomplished fashion designer and savvy entrepreneur Saad Hajidin ’88 has turned his company InPhorm into an ally in the fight against COVID-19—shifting his focus from manufacturing women’s activewear to producing protective face masks. The SUNY Potsdam alumnus has been working with his factory in Thailand to manufacture protective face masks that are fashionable and eco-forward, while also meeting guidelines set forth by the FDA.

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From a Tiny Studio

Stretching skyward from the tiny studio at the back of her Potsdam home, Rivka Rocchio, an assistant professor of theatre, uses her phone to record yoga techniques for her students. Her routine—like with every other professor and student at SUNY Potsdam—has shifted inward in the wake of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and the social distancing that followed. Rocchio has responded—using technology to bridge the physical chasm between her and her students. 

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The Next Best Thing

Making solutions, preparing samples, and studying reactions and the formation of complex ions in the lab—the show must go on. Fitting chemistry challenges onto the flat face of a computer has become a sudden and unexpected specialty for John Proetta '09. An instructional support assistant at SUNY Potsdam, his forte has traditionally been lab chemicals. Now, he has been thrust into the role of crafting and facilitating a unified approach to the online delivery of chemistry lab instruction. In a world where the old playbook has been thrown out, Proetta finds himself on tight deadline, working one-on-one to help instructors in their scramble to present their materials through the screen.

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Notes From the "New Territory"

Monday marked the start of all online classes at SUNY Potsdam, the continuing journey toward our academic goals and with these, a test of our collective will and capacity. Our campus community members are offering snapshots into their own personal “new territory.” One benefit of these posts is that they may help us learn new methods and gain ideas from each other.

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We have been proudly hosting a New York State Vaccination Site at Maxcy Hall for the past 6 weeks, recently surpassing 30,000 vaccinations! Over 375,000 shots have been administered at 32
SUNY campuses to date. 😷 #SUNYPotsdam #PeopleOfPotsdam #PotsdamProud

We have been proudly hosting a New York State Vaccination Site at Maxcy Hall for the past 6 weeks, recently surpassing 30,000 vaccinations! Over 375,000 shots have been administered at 32 SUNY campuses to date. 😷 #SUNYPotsdam #PeopleOfPotsdam #PotsdamProud

Adaption—the pandemic forced it and we can see it all around us. Right in step with the spirit of innovation are Tanya Hewitt and her exercise science students, who have found some unique ways to stay fit while gyms have been closed. How have you been staying fit during this time? 🏃‍♀️ #PotsdamProud #SUNYPotsdam #PeopleOfPotsdam
SUNY Potsdam Presidential Scholar Marie Amell ’21 was chosen to have her black and white charcoal drawing, “Elements of Nature,” appear in the 120 Degree Intercollegiate Art Regional, a partnership of the Arts Center of the Capital Region, the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council and @saratogaarts 🎨 #PeopleOfPotsdam #SUNYPotsdam #PotsdamProud
SUNY Potsdam’s @thecraneschool 
was just recognized as an Institution of Excellence by @yamahamusicusa. 🎼 Only 10 outstanding schools nationwide earned the prestigious designation this year after a rigorous, nationwide nomination and review process. 🥁#MakeItCrane #PeopleOfPotsdam #SUNYPotsdam
With masks adorned, students are fully immersed in learning this semester, despite the pandemic! 😷 #PeopleOfPotsdam #PotsdamProud
Dr. Lonel Woods has had an illustrious career as opera singer, Broadway actor, and music educator—the latter of which has been his greatest passion, with 12 years of experience as a dedicated professor of voice at #SUNYPotsdam’s Crane School of Music. He was recently selected as the interim dean of @thecraneschool , a new role that he is embracing with open arms and a fresh perspective. 🎤🎵 #PeopleOfPotsdam #PotsdamProud
For #ThrowBackThursday we share this photo from 2015 when Bianca Eche '16, right, and her friend Kymberli Clark '16 joined together during a rally against racism in Minera Plaza. ✊🏾 

A new Racial Justice and Equity Scholarship has been established at SUNY Potsdam to support students who are committed to advancing the cause of racial justice and equity on campus! Dr. Peter McCoy, the chair of music education @thecraneschool, was the catalyst behind the new scholarship, which will support a rising junior or senior who shows advocacy and/or scholarship to advance the cause of racial justice and equity at #SUNYPotsdam. Because McCoy believed it was important to move forward promptly, he provided outright funds so that awarding could begin as soon as Spring 2021.💵 The scholarship will be made permanent when it reaches a minimum funding level of $25,000. 

To support this important initiative please visit

#PotsdamProud #PeopleOfPotsdam
It’s great to be back in the classroom! 🧑‍🏫 After two weeks of online instruction, students are now reuniting with their professors and classmates in person. Safety continues to be a top priority with weekly COVID testing for all students, faculty and staff! 😷 #PeopleOfPotsdam #PotsdamProud #SUNYPotsdamStrong
🌨❄️☃️ #SUNYPotsdam #PotsdamProud
Continuing our Valentine’s Day theme from yesterday, we bring you two well-known faces at the College! Ruth Policella, the director of Campus Life, and Sean Partridge, the director of the Student Success Center, have been married since 1998 after first meeting at SUNY Binghamton their freshman year. ❤️
They both started working at SUNY Potsdam in 1996, and were married two years later. For the past 25 years, the dynamic duo has been focused on improving the lives of students, and contributing to their academic success. Their favorite part of the job? It is, and has always been the amazing students at SUNY Potsdam! 👏#PeopleOfPotsdam #PotsdamProud

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