After arriving at SUNY Potsdam her freshman year, Jessica Semenyo ’22 immediately drew a parallel to the tranquility of her childhood in Ghana—fresh air and open skies that, until that moment, she hadn’t seen since she was 10 years old, when she moved from West Africa to New York City.
“My life in Ghana was simple. I was always outside playing with my friends, climbing trees, and never really watching TV. When I came to the U.S., it was a big change, I wasn’t used to being inside the whole time. That’s why I wanted to come here to SUNY Potsdam,” Semenyo said. “I really like it here. I like how everything is in an open space, there aren’t a lot of tall buildings, and you can see the stars.”
Jessica Semenyo ’22 poses for a portrait at Camp Dudley overlooking Lake Champlain during an alternative spring break through the Live Now program.
The SUNY Potsdam senior has taken advantage of one opportunity after the next at the College. She joined the African dance team, performed with the Divine Dancers, and has taken on leadership roles as the secretary for the African Student Association, and as a student ambassador for the Admissions office.
“I’m a shy person, but coming to SUNY Potsdam really changed that. I had friends and people around me that pushed me out of my shell. I never thought I would be doing all these things.”
Jessica Semenyo ’22
Through the Center for Diversity’s Live Now program, Semenyo branched out even more, exploring Northern New York with her best friends, Fatima Kaba ’22, whom she has known since high school in the Bronx, and Osiris Alvarez ’22, whom she met her freshman year. From ziplining and whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks, to learning how to tap maple trees on an Amish Farm, Semenyo has embraced adventure over the last four years. “I heard that the Live Now program is for students from the city who don’t really get to experience the outdoors. During the first alternative spring break, we went to Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and the Olympic Center. We also went ice fishing, which was really cool, I had never done that before,” she said.
Academically, she has been just as busy while taking classes like epidemiology, biostatistics, and nutrition. Her health coaches course, a hands-on collaboration with Canton-Potsdam Hospital, gave her the opportunity to get outside of the classroom as a health educator, working one-on-one with a woman in the community to target nutrition and weight loss goals. “I started doing her meal plans, and she also wanted to lose a little weight, so we made some goals to get more active,” Semenyo said.
Faculty members like Dr. Kelly Bonnar, her advisor, and Jennifer Pfotenhauer, an adjunct instructor at the College, have continued to support her at the College. After taking a nutrition class with Pfotenhauer, Semenyo knew exactly what she wanted to do after graduation. “That was one of my favorite classes. I told her I want to be a dietician and she was really happy to hear it,” Semenyo said. “All of the experiences from my classes have helped me get closer to what I want to do in the future.”
After walking across the stage at Commencement in May, Semenyo plans on attending graduate school to become a registered dietician—continuing to build on her strong foundation from SUNY Potsdam.
To learn more about the Department of Public Health and Human Performance, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/department-public-health-and-human-performance
To learn more about the Center for Diversity, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/studentlife/diversity/center-diversity
Article and photos by Jason Hunter