Our alumni have forged impressive careers since graduating from SUNY Potsdam. Will you be next?
From personal stories of success, to reflections about their time at the College, our vast network of alumni all have one thing in common—a strong educational foundation at SUNY Potsdam. Learn more about the opportunities for academic and personal growth, directly from our graduates, by exploring the features below.
Controlling His Destiny
With a broad smile on his face, Scott Rajeski ’88 rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange to celebrate the initial public offering (IPO) of Latham Group, Inc. Under Rajeski’s leadership as president and CEO, Latham was the first company in New York’s Capital Region to take its stock public in several years. Rajeski cites decades of hard work and the education he received at SUNY Potsdam as the foundation for his continued success. Now, he is committed to investing in the next generation as a mentor, inspiring young professionals to control their own destiny.
A Philosophical Mind for Animals
After graduating summa cum laude with a double major in music and philosophy, Kate-Nicole Hoffman ’17 has continued to excel academically. First receiving her master’s degree from York University, she’s now pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and conducting research on animal cognition—a natural extension of a Presidential Scholars research project that she completed years earlier as an undergraduate student at SUNY Potsdam.
Slingshot to Success
Just four years removed from The Crane School of Music, Jordan Olinsky ’17 is already making a name for himself in the music business industry. After graduating from SUNY Potsdam in 2017, Olinsky immediately landed a job as the northwest division manager for Buffet-Crampon, a music company that has been manufacturing wind instruments for close to 200 years. In 2019 he received a promotion and moved to Houston, Texas, where he oversees an even larger market as the southwest division manager for the company.
Reaching for the Stars
For the past ten years, NASA Computer Engineer Jamie Szafran ’08 has played an integral role in the development of the Artemis program, which will put the first woman, first person of color and next crews on the moon. Szafran credits her foundation as a student at SUNY Potsdam—in both the computer science department and The Crane School of Music—for her continued success in her career.
The Perfect Balancing Act
Pursuing a degree at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music is a daunting task in and of itself, but Natalia Buitrago ’21 went the extra mile, recently graduating with a double major in music performance and music business. Over the past four years she has not only continued to refine her abilities as a musician, but she learned valuable entrepreneurial and communication skills.
On the Front Lines
A community health major with graduate school on the horizon, Monica Montero ’21 just wrapped up her senior year with an internship like no other—working for the American Red Cross to assist asylum seekers in Texas. After completing the necessary online trainings and certifications this spring, Montero was deployed to Midland, Texas, to support undocumented teenage boys seeking refuge in the United States.
A Family Affair
Throughout her life, Crane alumna Susan Vroman Cavanagh ’77 has often been reminded of the strength and synergy of the SUNY Potsdam family. Though living in Florida makes it difficult to physically visit the campus, she relishes every chance she has to connect with her alma mater—whether through virtual alumni events or using repertoire composed by a Potsdam emeritus. “There is so much of Crane—of Potsdam—that you keep with you,” Cavanagh shared.
Putting Things in Perspective
During the pandemic, one thing has become perfectly clear to SUNY Potsdam alumna Latesha Fussell ’11, ’12 & ’14—family is what matters most. As a single mother balancing a full-time job, while also pursuing a doctoral degree in education, she needed to make a change. Fussell recently accepted an impressive new position at Cornell University as the director for diversity and inclusion, and in the process, moved closer to her family where she found a support system that she desperately needed.
The Good Fight
A sense of service defines the work of Pamela Charleson ’06 & ’08, who has found ways to turn the challenges of her own experiences into gifts and important lessons for others.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SUNY Potsdam’s TikTok Sensation: “You Can Never Stop Creating”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Jon 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.
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.
A Creative Journey to Tinseltown
From Potsdam to Hollywood, Keisuke Hoashi ’89 has continued to push the creative envelope his entire life. The SUNY Potsdam alumnus has carved out an impressive career in acting—starting on stage during a live performance at SUNY Potsdam—he has gone on to appear in more than 85 TV shows and movies, 80 national TV commercials, and 150 live theatrical productions, everything from "Mad Men," and "Bob’s Burgers" to national TV commercials for TD Ameritrade and Citibank.
Taking the Pulse of the World
Isaac Griffith ’15 & ’16 developed an interest in global learning and social justice on an international level during an undergraduate trip to Cambodia in 2014, part of a SUNY Potsdam travel abroad class examining the origins and impacts of human trafficking. Since then, he has earned two master’s degrees, and has led and coordinated travel experiences in Dubai, one of the world’s emerging cities.
A Clear and Carrying Note
In the best of times, the New York Musician’s Center is bursting with 700 students from 80 ZIP codes and a multitude of backgrounds, each developing gifts that can nourish, transform and give meaning to an entire life. Meet the founder, one of SUNY Potsdam's own, alumna Talonda Thomas '06.
Working Hard for Others
A magna cum laude graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and a minor in women’s and gender studies, Serena Rockingster ’19 sees herself as a professor and clinical psychologist far down the road of her future. Rockingster 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.
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.
In Her Own Words
Natasha Brooks ’15 & ’17 has discovered just one of many ways to see the world after graduating from SUNY Potsdam. An aerospace medical services technician, Brooks has parlayed her college experience into a desirable job serving her country while immersing herself in global culture.
An Afternoon with Jacob Collier
Grammy award-winning musician Jacob Collier met with students from The Crane School of Music on Wednesday, May 13 during a private Zoom call. The English singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist talked with students for over an hour about the intricate beauty of music and the creative power of ideas.
A Good Defense
SUNY Potsdam alumnus Darren Mott ’88 & ’91 has trodden an unexpected path from mentoring struggling biology students to investigating cyberthreats as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Destruction Guy
Exquisite truths lie buried in history's destructive events — if you just know how to look. Read about SUNY Potsdam graduate Jesse Millek '12 and his work to bring new clarity to the disasters of antiquity.
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.
Doctors face challenges like never before in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. One of SUNY Potsdam's own, Dr.Stuart Etengoff ’82, gave us a report from the field.
Under a Healing Sky
Mike Yuhnke ’12 found his compass and fresh inspiration when he transferred to SUNY Potsdam and became immersed in wilderness education. Following graduation, his adventures took him on soul journeys to the world’s forgotten corners and high peaks. These days, Yuhnke helps at-risk youth find their own pathways to healing.
Generations of Success
On a blustery winter day in New York City, two successful women (Christine Haile ’74 and Kadiatou Balde '19) pose for a photo in front of the Hudson River. On the surface, they may not seem to have much in common. One is a retired Chief Information Officer with over 38 years of experience in higher education. The other is a young scholar and entrepreneur who graduated from college less than a year ago. The pair’s connection stems from SUNY Potsdam, their shared alma mater.
James Wilkes ’01, ’06 & ’10
As a wounded service member returning from Iraq, alumnus James Wilkes ’01, ’06 & ’10 re-entered civilian life with a battery of injuries, including significant memory loss. For the past 15 years, he has been continuing to climb out of that darkness left behind in war. After receiving degrees in biology, business administration, and instructional technology and media from SUNY Potsdam, he went on to an impressive career at IBM. In his spare time, he tackles the most daunting endurance races on the planet—including recently completing the Quintuple Anvil Triathlon, with 703 miles of biking, running and swimming.
Melanie Shank ’16
After getting her Master of Music degree in vocal performance from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, Melanie Shank ’16 landed a job at the most prestigious performing arts center in the world. Shank now works as the executive assistant to the vice president of concert halls and operations at Lincoln Center—helping to run the operations for 26 performance spaces on over 16 acres in Manhattan.
Vita Ayala ’10
SUNY Potsdam alumna Vita Ayala ’10 is a fresh new voice in the world of comics. After graduating, Ayala spent time working in comic and book retail and worked night security at one of the oldest museums in New York City, before finally pursuing a career as a writer. They have since written for DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Image Comics, as well as having created their own series through Black Mask Studios.
Cameron Hewes ’15
Amazon has nothing on Cameron Hewes ’15. The giant online retailer sells almost anything you can think of, but don’t expect to find specialized sheet music for the clarinet. For that, musicians can now turn to CAMco—the Crane School of Music alumnus’s new business that offers hundreds of options for purchasing sheet music composed specifically for the clarinet family of instruments.
Neishja Ransom ’17
After growing up in East Harlem, N.Y., Neishja Ransom ’17 never expected to be bushwhacking through the Adirondacks or dangling from rock climbing walls, but that all changed when she came to SUNY Potsdam. The wilderness education program provided her with skills ranging from wilderness first aid and rock climbing to leadership in the backcountry that she parlayed into a leadership position with the Girl Scouts of Greater New York.
Jeanne Kimmich Roberts '80
After only three and a half years at SUNY Potsdam, Jeanne Kimmich Roberts '80 earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, along with a minor in economics and a grade 7-12 teaching certificate. Despite her initial plan to teach, Jeanne accepted a software engineering job after college, which propelled her into a distinguished career in software systems and national security. In 1994, she established her own firm, Kimmich Software Systems, Inc. Jeanne recognized that her success would not have been possible without her education at SUNY Potsdam. In 2013, she and her husband, Ray, endowed the Jeanne Kimmich Roberts Scholarship to support academically talented female students pursuing a degree in math or computer science at SUNY Potsdam.
Laura Wessing '15
In four years, alumna Laura Wessing graduated summa cum laude with a double major in computer science and mathematics, as well as getting a master’s degree in math through the BA / MA program. In that time, she completed three internships, two of which were with the U.S. Air Force. Now she leads the quantum algorithms team at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y.—overseeing complex research on quantum bits.
Mary Catherine Sawyer ’19
SUNY Potsdam alumna Mary Catherine Sawyer ’19 landed her first job just months after graduating from SUNY Potsdam this year. With degrees in music education and theatre education—and extensive student teaching experiences as an undergraduate—she’s well prepared for her new career as a music teacher in the Bronx, N.Y.
When he’s not carving through the fresh powder at Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe, Mike Rogge ’08 leads a successful career as the editor The Ski Journal and the founder/owner of the media production company, Verb Cabin. Since graduating with his degree in writing and literature from SUNY Potsdam over a decade ago, Rogge has turned his dream into a reality—skiing as many days as possible and writing about it professionally.
Brian Dougherty ’06 landed his first job in the music industry immediately after graduation. What started as an internship at Samson Technologies his junior year, parlayed into a full-time position that started nine days after commencement. Now he works for Sennheiser—one of the leading music industry companies in the world.
Brooke Falsion ’19 is a record setter. During her time at SUNY Potsdam, she became the first All-American in the history of the SUNY Potsdam women’s soccer program. Academically, she was just as impressive— graduating summa cum laude with a degree in exercise science.
Finding a job after graduation is always the ultimate goal, and for Jillian Dolder '17 & '18, that came to fruition literally two days after Commencement. She received her diploma on a Saturday and found herself standing in front of a group of high school students on Monday morning.
In the fall of 2018, Alaina Dochylo '17 completed an AmeriCorps program where she helped Floridians recover from Hurricane Michael. She recently traveled back to Florida to continue recovery efforts by volunteering for All Hands and Hearts: Smart Response, where she has been interacting with disaster victims, cutting fallen trees and removing moldy drywall from damaged homes.
SUNY Potsdam alumnus John Alleyne ’14 has found great success since graduating with a B.F.A. in studio art five years ago. He went on to work at the Museum of Modern Art, received his master’s degree from Louisiana State University and now works as an artist and adjunct professor at three universities in and around Baton Rouge.
Alumnus Dr. Jeffrey Milroy ’02 has built his career around promoting physical activity and safety in collegiate sports. After being recruited from Canada to play hockey at SUNY Potsdam in 1999, he went on to graduate with a degree in community health—the stepping stone for a successful career in public health.
Shortly after graduating from SUNY Potsdam, Jessica Petersen '11 landed a job as a musician on Carnival cruise ships. Over the course of seven years, she worked on 19 different ships and traveled all over the world—from South America to Singapore and from Bermuda to Hawaii.
Emma Simon ’12 recently returned to campus as an actor in the Pendragon Theatre’s touring production of “Pride & Prejudice” during the Fall 2018 semester. She didn’t stop there, staying on for several more days to lead a clowning techniques workshop for current students and speak about her work as an actor in New York City.
Despite graduating with a double major in elementary education and English literature, Megan Bowdish ’88 stumbled onto a completely different career. She now operates Never Tire Farm where she grows vegetables and plants in eight greenhouses throughout the harsh North Country winters and sells them to more than a dozen businesses.
Claudia (Kaufmann) Mengel '76 has always had a passion for art. Shortly after graduating from SUNY Potsdam, she established a career in the world of finance and moved to New York City. Through it all, she continued to work on art, exploring the world around her through an abstract expressionist lens. She now lives in Connecticut and works on her artwork full time.
After transferring to SUNY Potsdam his junior year, Logan Running ’17 quickly found his path working on cutting-edge nanoparticle research in the chemistry department—research with the potential to treat cancer more effectively, and with less harmful side effects.
Before Genevieve Ruhland ’18 wrapped up her double major in music education and math this year, she directed a 70-minute experimental percussion performance in the Academic Quad—a project that allowed her to explore less mainstream percussion music as part of her Presidential Scholars research.
James W. Dornemann ’99 thinks of himself as a problem solver at heart. As a light board operator for film and television, he is constantly tinkering and must keep up with the latest in technology to make sure that directors can get the shot they are looking for.
When he’s not running up and down the basketball court as a referee, SUNY Potsdam alumnus David Vroman '83 & '91 is busy teaching his sixth-grade earth science students about everything from the plate tectonics to astronomy.
In high school, Katelyn Legacy '16 wanted nothing to do with history, but that all changed when she arrived at SUNY Potsdam her freshman year.
For an otherwise unassuming family dentist, you’d never know that Dr. Randolph Mitchell '77 has seen his fair share of crime. Since 2009, Mitchell has been working as the forensic odonatologist, where he is called in to determine a deceased person’s identity through dental and X-ray examinations.
Melissa Wegner '03, the associate director of the Metropolitan Opera National CouncilAuditions, answers 12 questions about her career and reflects on her time at The Crane School of Music.
Bundled up from head to toe and sporting a blue SUNY Potsdam wilderness education jacket, alumnus Alex Raynor ’11 swings two ice axes through the air while ascending a wall of ice at Azure Mountain, just 48 miles from Potsdam.
Mark Manske '82, owner of Adirondack Raptors, is dedicated to educating the public about birds of prey. He operates the business out of his home in Dickinson Center, but travels all over the North Country with his trusty sidekicks Morley, Tess, Scooter and Mortimer, names he’s given to his owls and Harris Hawk.
Elizabeth Hudson ’15 knew that she wanted to be a teacher from a young age. Her mother worked in education and now, after completing both her master’s and bachelor’s degrees at SUNY Potsdam, she is carrying on that family tradition.
As one of the newest members of the Potsdam College Foundation Board of Trustees, retired tech CEO Ronald Fishbeck ’80 is already making great strides to build a bright future for SUNY Potsdam and its students.
Alumna Romi Sebald ’85 came to SUNY Potsdam as a freshman in 1981 and never left. Now 35 years later, Sebald is the collections manager for The Art Museum at SUNY Potsdam.
Leaving home to attend college for the first time can be a daunting task, but doing that with a limited understanding of the English language can make you feel like a fish out of water. Alumnus Ricardo Espinal ’17 was faced with that challenge when started at SUNY Potsdam four years ago.
Just four years ago, alumna Erin Wagner ’13 was studying geology behind the walls of SUNY Potsdam’s Timerman Hall. Now she works as a geologist for ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded international oil and gas company in the world.
Stephan Savoia ‘75, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Associated Press, had his first published picture appear in SUNY Potsdam’s college newspaper, The Racquette, in 1974. “I know that’s where the printer’s ink got into my veins, that’s where I caught the bug,” he told a group of students last semester during a visit to campus. The small photo of a bus driver would prove to be the first of many images published all over the world as part of a 40-year career in photojournalism.
Saad Hajidin ’88, a Senior Director at Polo Ralph Lauren, got his start in a printmaking studio at SUNY Potsdam’s Brainerd Hall three decades ago. He now oversees a talented technical design team in the men’s, women’s and children’s Polo division in New York City.
SUNY Potsdam alumnus Brian DeWitt ’79 recently visited campus for the first time since graduating nearly 40 years ago. His undergraduate education at SUNY Potsdam formed the foundation for his highly technical and successful career working in Silicon Valley.