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Class of 2020

As another academic year comes to a close, we take a look back at some of our outstanding graduating seniors—their stories of success, the professors who have impacted their lives and the challenges they faced on the road to commencement. Congratulations to the class of 2020!

grad iconWorld Class Experiences

From working on the floor of the New York State Assembly to helping with hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, Julissa Santana ’20 is graduating from SUNY Potsdam with unrivaled hands-on experiences. 

During the summer of 2018  she traveled to Puerto Rico to help with recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative. Santana and her classmates removed debris from damaged homes, repaired roofs and completed other light construction projects. 

In the spring of 2019 Santana immersed herself in the legislative process at the New York State Capitol working for Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo from the 84th district (Bronx, NY), the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the New York State Assembly. Santana helped run the day-to-day operations in Arroyo’s office, meeting with constituents from the district. She would gather their information, draft memos, and send them to the district office in the Bronx.

As a semester like no other comes to a close, Santana looks ahead to a potential teaching position in Colombia, after being selected as an alternate for the Fulbright English Teaching Program. She also has her sights set on graduate school for international affairs, criminal justice or international law. “My dream job would be to work with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency),” she said.

Julissa Santana has lunch with friends at SUNY Potsdam's Barrington Student Union before the global pandemic.

grad iconTheir Essential Nature

Amber Rudolph ’20 and Morgan Gregg ’20 are going the extra mile to make sure that dozen of creatures in an otherwise empty building at SUNY Potsdam are alive, fed and even snuggled during the pause in campus activities due to COVID-19. Join us for a peek inside the walls of Stowell Hall.

Morgan Gregg ’20 places a turtle back into its habitat while caring for animals at Stowell Hall during the global pandemic.

grad icomSamantha McComb

Samantha McComb '20 has been fascinated with geology ever since she was five years old, and has been following her dream of becoming a geologist by working with Dr. Michael Rygel and Dr. Page Quinton in the Department of Geology. McComb achieved high marks while being a resident assistant, teaching assistant, research student and club leader. She interned at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where she worked in the paleobiology department and analyzed the relationship between foraminifera, volcanism and extinction.

McComb also participated in Indiana University’s rigorous geologic field camp, completing a master’s-level project through a six-week course, including extensive hiking and challenging field practices in the Rocky Mountains. After graduation, she will be attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as part of its M.S./Ph.D. program in geology. Recently, McComb received the highly-competitive National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, as well as UMass Amherst's Spaulding-Smith Fellowship.

Samantha McComb poses for a portrait next to the famous red sandstone in Potsdam.

grad iconCreating Digital Community

Since the global pandemic shifted our ways of interacting with one another, Jamey Merkel ’18 ’20, a community health graduate student, has been instrumental in the success of two new online communities established in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

Merkel is the moderator for the St. Lawrence County Help and Info Facebook group and the COVID 19 North Country Neighbors Helping Neighbors Facebook group. The SUNY Potsdam graduate student has been sharing relevant news, fact-checking submitted content, and making connections between people in need and people who can help—all while finishing their final semester at SUNY Potsdam and dealing with their own personal tragedy.

Jamey Merkel poses for a portrait in SUNY Potsdam's Minvera Plaza.

archaeology studentsSetting the Record Straight

Archaeology students Adam Jacobs ’20 and Mindy Thompson ’20 are determined to spread the historical and archaeological truths of their Akwesasne Mohawk heritage through SUNY Potsdam’s 2+2 Archaeological Studies Program where students complete their first two years at St. Lawrence College, and their involvement in Potsdam begins with a single archaeology class each semester to limit the amount of commuting necessary. By their third year, students are fully matriculated at Potsdam.

Mindy Thompson works in SUNY Potsdam's archaeology lab.

grad iconKayla Boyd '20

Kayla Boyd '20 was a leader in her entrepreneurship classes, the president of the Black Student Alliance, coordinator for Multicultural Weekend, as well as an instructor for Kayla’s Bootcamp, a high-intensity interval training fitness class offered through the Potsdam intramurals program. 

In the midst of one of her high-intensity workouts with her friends at the Maxcy Hall Fitness Center, a lightbulb went off. “One of my friends she said, ‘Oh my God, Kayla, you’re killing this. This is really Kayla’s boot camp!’ I started laughing and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s it! That’s what I should do, a boot camp,” Boyd recalls.

Before she knew it, she had been hired to lead a new high-intensity interval training (HITT) workout through the Potsdam intramurals program.  “My boot camp is really to promote a healthier lifestyle and to have fun with it. It’s all about group work, because I know that a lot of people are uncomfortable working out by themselves," she said.

Her entrepreneurial efforts on campus have been the perfect extension of her work in the Department of Business Administration. After taking introductory business classes her sophomore year, she enrolled in an upper-division finance class with Dr. Joe Timmerman and an entrepreneurship class with Dr. Edwin Portugal. “Those two men are very influential to me. Not only because of how they teach, but also how they speak to me and the advice they give me about the real world,” she said.

Kayla Boyd poses for a portrait outside SUNY Potsdam's Dunn Hall.

grad iconMountains Give New Form to LeighAnn Montaglione

The Adirondacks have stretched and formed LeighAnn Montaglione '20. As she graduates, she’ll take a suite of skills with her that will help connect her dual passion for photography and conservation. As she looks to new horizons, she will carry a keepsake with her.

Her photo of the Adirondack mountains fills the 2018 cover of North Country Literary Magazine, and in three other inside pages of the student-run publication, her images are as quiet and eternal as the woods and their deep, cool rock.

“I wanted them in black and white because it’s timeless and there is a beauty to it,” she said. “Color photos tell you what the photographer wants you to see, but black and white imagery allows you to have your own interpretation.”

Even without visual reminders, Montaglione will never forget how the mountains shaped her during the Adirondack Experience program and were a silent guide through the following years as she pursued a major in environmental studies. Her examination both of the environment and of photography are rooted in a deep passion for nature and a desire to protect it — motives that predate her ability to describe the feelings which moved her. A stranger to mountains, she spent entire childhood days on the beaches of her family home at the east end of Long Island.

LeighAnn Montaglione poses for a portrait near SUNY Potsdam's Satterlee Hall.

grad iconNicole Weed ’20

Nicole Weed ’20, a senior in the Department of Anthropology, worked on a Presidential Scholars project looking at how technology has affected language and communication over time. With opportunities to work as a research assistant for Dr. Lydia Rodriguez and as an intern for Dr. Faris Khan, the culmination of her experiences has been paving the way for graduate school and a successful career as a linguistic anthropologist.

grad iconKelley DiPasquale

Set high in the Rocky Mountains, Banff, Alberta, is known for its world-class skiing and prestigious film festival. But for Kelley DiPasquale, a non-traditional student in the music business program at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, it was something else entirely that drew her to the snowy mountain town. DiPasquale is in the middle of a six-month-long audio recording internship at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The hands-on practicum has allowed her to oversee professional audio recordings for bands like the Rapidgrass, a Colorado-based bluegrass quintet, and work with jazz drummer Jerry Granelli, best known for recording the “Charlie Brown Christmas” album with the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Dipasquale in Banff during her audio recording internship at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

jeff schulzJeffrey Schulz

Jeffrey Schulz '20, who is majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry, has kept very busy balancing his academic life with a leadership role on the men’s soccer team. Schulz has played 41 career games coming into his senior year. In his first three years at SUNY Potsdam, he has been on the SUNYAC Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll and President’s List three times and was awarded Coaches’ MVP and Players’ Player of the Year. 

Jeff Schulz gets ready for a soccer game in a locker room at Maxcy Hall.

grad iconFinding a Higher Octave Down Under

Jenn Belisle ’20 has thrown the doors of possibility wide open. The Crane School of Music student broadened her horizons when she took the plunge and traveled on a teaching assignment to another hemisphere.

Offered to qualified Potsdam students through SUNY Cortland, the 13-week summer program in Australia puts student teachers in classrooms on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. The program combines teaching opportunities in multiple subject areas with a thorough introduction to Australian teaching protocols — plus a two-week tour stretching from reefs to jungle and the outback. Along the way, student teachers soak in the nature, culture and geography, gaining savvy which helps them to reach their young students.

Warmly welcomed by locals and taken under the wing of a sponsor teacher who doubled as a cultural ambassador, Belisle was soon able to let go of her jitters and plunge fully into an immersive international experience.

Jenn Belisle rehearses on stage at SUNY Potsdam's Hosmer Hall.

grad iconAmiere Bell '20

During his four years at SUNY Potsdam, Amiere Bell ’20, a theatre major with minors in dance and speech communication, grew both academically and artistically. He has choreographed dances, played the lead role in “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” and landed on the President’s List on more than one occasion—an impressive feat after entering SUNY Potsdam with a learning disability.

“It’s very hard for me to focus on math and reading, so that was a big challenge for me. When I write essays, it’s very difficult. I also didn’t start dancing until I came here, but I was able to do these things, take classes and grow once I came to SUNY Potsdam,” Bell said.

Bell entered SUNY Potsdam through the Educational Opportunity Program, which provides academic support and financial aid to students who show promise for mastering college-level work, but who otherwise might not be accepted. “My EOP counselor, Linette Bracero-Torres, is truly, truly amazing! She is a person with a kind heart and she’s willing to go to any lengths for her students—The EOP program has really strengthened me and brought me outside of my element,” Bell said.

Amiere Bell dances in SUNY Potsdam's Performing Arts Center.

grad iconNatalia Anapolis ’20

With a tank of air on her back and fins on her feet, Natalia Anapolis ’20 stepped into the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia. The scuba diving adventure was a completely new experience for her—foreshadowing her work in Australia over the next few weeks as she stepped into a classroom as a student teacher for the first time. Last fall, Anapolis spent 13 weeks Down Under where she got to explore the continent, while also completing her student teaching placement as part of her degree in childhood/early childhood education.

Natalia Anapolis poses for a portrait in SUNY Potsdam's Flagg Hall.