SUNY Adirondack Community Roots: Alumni Collective Issue 5

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At SUNY Adirondack, we use words like “inclusive,” “equitable” and “diverse.” We plan programs that encourage community dialogue to address disparity. We offer special programs to help attract and retain students of color; LGBTQ students; students from other countries, ethnicities and backgrounds; students from diverse economic backgrounds; and students of all ages. We don’t do these things so we can check a box. We do these things because we believe an equitable future is possible through education.

All students, regardless of age, ability, background, skin color, religion or identity, come to SUNY Adirondack with dreams. Our job, in partnership with our community, is to create the kind of learning environment that supports those dreams.

We are responsible for leading the way in attracting to our region a broad skillset to build the future of our economy, our neighborhoods and our education — to create a welcoming, thriving, diverse area to love, work, learn and grow. We are working today to educate the leaders and mentors of tomorrow, to encourage people of all backgrounds and experiences to spread their wisdom to those in their wakes, helping show them that they too can do incredible things. Here at SUNY Adirondack — and, through our alumni, around the world — our faculty, staff and students are working to build a kinder, more inclusive and, by nature, stronger future for everyone.

VOL. 5 | WINTER 2022

MUCH LIKE THE COLLEGE COMMUNITY, SUNY ADIRONDACK ALUMNI ARE A MICROCOSM OF OUR BROADER COMMUNITY. They come in as students, searching, find themselves here, then bring their gifts out into the world as caring agents of change. In this quarterly magazine, we celebrate all the ways our alumni shape our world, close to home and afar, with their hearts always rooted right here at SUNY Adirondack.

SUNY Adirondack is committed to fostering a diverse community of outstanding employees and students, as well as ensuring equal educational opportunity, employment, and access to services, programs and activities, without regard to an individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, familial status, pregnancy, predisposing genetic characteristics, military status, domestic violence victim status, or criminal conviction. Employees, students, applicants or other members of the SUNY Adirondack Community (including but not limited to vendors, visitors, and guests) may not be subjected to harassment that is prohibited by law, or treated adversely or retaliated against based upon a protected characteristic. Inquiries regarding the application of Title IX may be directed to Lottie Jameson, Title IX coordinator, Scoville 326, or by calling 518-832-7741. Inquiries regarding the application of other laws, regulations and policies prohibiting discrimination may be directed to Mindy Wilson, associate vice president of Human Resources, Washington Hall, at, or by calling 518-743-2252. Inquiries may also be directed to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, 32 Old Slip 26th Floor, New York, NY 10005-2500, at, or by calling 646-428-3800.


Assistant District Attorneys Culinary Instructors Dance Directors Environmental Scientists Entrepreneurs Event Promoters Executive Chefs Farriers Mechanical Engineers Photographers Public Servants Test Engineers ... and so much more






22.7 YEARS


22.3% OF SUNY




(which the U.S. Department of Education defines as displaying exceptional financial need)



PERCENTAGE OF NON-WHITE STUDENTS HAS INCREASED FROM 6 PERCENT TO 13 PERCENT “If you’re an outgoing person, you’re going to meet outgoing people here. If you’re a person who likes playing video games, you’re going to meet a lot of people who play video games. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with and understanding there is a place for your personality and for the person you are.” — Jac’Quan Thompson, SUNY Adirondack alum and success coach



“I honestly really loved it. My whole motivation to become what I am today really came from going to SUNY Adirondack.”


Assistant District Attorneys

HOMETOWN: SCHUYLERVILLE, NEW YORK 2015 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK, CRIMINAL JUSTICE 2017 GRADUATE OF SOUTHERN NEW HAMPSHIRE UNIVERSITY, BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN PSYCHOLOGY 2020 GRADUATE OF ALBANY LAW SCHOOL CURRENTLY: ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, RENSSELAER COUNTY As a Rensselaer County assistant district attorney, Kimberly Sullivan spends her days handling cases of domestic violence, assaults, sex crimes and other misdeeds, often fueled by mental health issues or substance abuse. But at the end of the day, Sullivan still sees good in the world — an afternoon spent creating crafts with her niece, a night out with friends, or a night in with Buddy and Nala, her cats. “I try to be a positive person, not to dwell on negative things,” said Sullivan, a 2015 graduate of SUNY Adirondack’s Criminal Justice program, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University, then a law degree from Albany Law School. “Our defendants, they’re going to do what they’re going to do, but I’m trying my best to get them in the best position possible to prevent them from committing crimes in the future.” Sullivan didn’t always want to be a lawyer. Her mom was a parole officer and members of her extended family are police and corrections officers, so after graduating from Schuylerville High School, she enrolled in Criminal Justice courses at SUNY Adirondack.

“I wasn’t looking for a four-year college,” Sullivan said. “I knew about SUNY Adirondack and how great an opportunity it was; I just always wanted to go there.” A penal law course appealed to her inquisitive nature.

“I’m just very interested and curious in criminal cases,” she said. “I learned how much I liked learning about the law and that sparked my interest to go to law school. My whole motivation to become what I am today really came from going to SUNY Adirondack.”

Sullivan started at the DA’s Office in March and already carries a heavy workload, assigned to the city of Troy’s Domestic Violence Court, Felony Treatment Court, Brunswick Town Court and sex offender registration hearings. “I get new cases every day and really feel like I’m contributing to society. We’re looking for the best outcome, we want to get the defendants the help they need to be productive members of society,” she said. “SUNY Adirondack prepared me the most for what I’m doing.”





“The ability to make something that is going to make somebody else happy is what I love about cooking.”

When he was 12, Chris Leathem learned how to make crepes. Whenever his mother had guests, he would whip up a batch, serving them with fresh fruit, cream cheese, peanut butter, or anything else that struck his fancy.

“The ability to make something that is going to make somebody else happy is what I love about cooking,” said Leathem, who is an adjunct professor teaching front-ofhouse classes at SUNY Adirondack’s Culinary

Arts Center and restaurant, Seasoned. After graduating from Glens Falls High School in 2016, Leathem tried his hand in the workforce. “I bounced around between jobs doing a little bit of everything — construction,

landscaping,” he said. “I was just kind of tired of working a whole bunch of different jobs and I knew that if I got a degree, I’d be able to choose the job I want.” He enrolled at SUNY Adirondack in 2019 and,


Culinary Instructors


he said, “dove headfirst into Culinary.” His grandmother and mother went to culinary school and worked in the food industry. “I’ve been around cooking my entire life,” he said. But transitioning to college didn’t come easily. “It took a while to get into it,” Leathem admitted. “I’m not the best when it comes to academics, but hands-on learning is how I learn best. Once I figured out that Culinary is pretty much all hands on, it got a lot better for me.”

As he attended school, he took a job washing dishes at a regional restaurant. When the restaurant changed locations, Leathem was the first intern hired. “The owner liked my work ethic so much, he offered me a job after finishing the internship,” Leathem marveled. As sous chef and kitchen manager, he was responsible for making sure preparation was done, creating the scheduling, coming up with specials and designing new dishes for the menu.

His innovation is fueled by watching TV shows about cooking, tasting and experimenting with foods, and talking shop with other professionals.

“I pick up things here and there, then introduce the techniques or ingredients into a recipe I want to try,” he said. “There’s great creativity to it all.”


“I’m adamant about acceptance and respect for new people.”


Dance Directors


Aaron Dritz knew he would pursue a career in business.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Empire, he entered the auto industry and found success in internet marketing and car sales in the Capital Region and Vermont. In 2020, he was nominated for an International and Automotive Society Award for his accomplishments in automotive marketing. “I generated 132 digital sales in the last year,” Dritz said. But as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the car shortage began to make for a more stressful work environment. When Dritz found himself in need of an outlet from the stress of work and everyday life, he decided to try something new and attended a line dancing class. “I absolutely fell in love with it,” he said. “I had some awesome professors,” Dritz said of his time at SUNY Adirondack, but the professor who made the biggest impact on him was Joanne Malkani, professor of Psychology at SUNY Adirondack.

“I learned a lot about people and how they are as human beings,”

he said. “It has been tremendously helpful in every area — I learned a lot about human nature and how people process things.” This lesson was one Dritz would apply to his career in the auto industry and to his secondary career that stemmed from his newfound passion for line dancing and bringing people together. As he worked on a master’s degree, Dritz found himself needing to disconnect and separate from work and school. He began taking line dance lessons five nights a week for several months and was soon leading the classes. By the time he finished the degree, he had developed a business plan for what would become Aaron’s ‘A’ Team of Line Dancers, a line dancing and events company that holds weekly classes in Cobleskill, Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady. Dritz’s line dance classes aren’t your traditional country western dance routines. Aaron’s ‘A’ Team of Line Dancers draw influence from swing, waltz, country and hip-hop, and attract people from all walks of life. “From the moment I walk through the door at any of these events, [the stress of work] all just goes away,” Dritz said.

And that freedom is what he demands for his students as well. “I’m adamant about acceptance and respect for new people — I have actually asked people to leave who were not welcoming to other dancers.” This inclusive and welcoming business model that Dritz created has upward of 100 people attending his classes at Frog’s Alley Brewing in Schenectady each week. “Before everything was shut down in 2020, we had 142 people at our Tuesday night classes.” Rather than letting the COVID shutdowns discourage him, Dritz took the time to develop his business, figure out how to better manage the large turnouts and bring on more instructors to expand the company when the doors opened again. “It has been absolutely incredible to see all of this come together,” Dritz said of his business. “All of these things that I was studying in school — I never thought I would be in this position.”

“I got a look into real-life research and thought, ‘Why not keep going with it?’”


David De La Mater spent much of his childhood exploring in the woods behind his grandmother’s house, playing among the trees, ferns, stream, salamanders and squirrels.

Then, one day, a developer drove in and razed the property. “Someone sold the woods and stripped it of everything,” De La Mater said. “They cut down the trees, harvested them for lumber, and I had

spent so much time in those woods, becoming intimately acquainted with the creatures that lived there, the plants, the environment; it was a very special place for me. “It was destroyed very quickly and it


Environmental Scientists


was shocking to me as a kid because I didn’t understand,” he said. The experience left a mark, on the landscape beyond his grandmother’s property line and on the man that adventurer would grow up to be. “It was instrumental in shaping my want to protect things I think are important,” he said. Today, De La Mater is a graduate research assistant at Duke University, where he is working on a doctoral degree, studying salt marshes and how they adapt to different environmental changes. He graduated from Ballston Spa High School in 2007, tried making a living, then joined the Army. “That seemed like the best way to learn skills and do something meaningful,” he said. After serving four years — three in Germany and one in Iraq — De La Mater returned to the region and joined the National Guard. With his sights set on becoming an environmental conservation officer, he enrolled at SUNY Adirondack. As a Math & Science major, he was required to take a biology course. At the end of one of the textbooks, ecology was introduced.

“For the first time, I thought, ‘This is really pretty interesting,’” he remembered. “I started to get interested in the world of ecology I was discovering and I said, ‘I want to keep this up, this is more engaging to me.’” So, he graduated and enrolled at Plattsburgh State, where he majored in Ecology and studied forest wetlands, assessing habitats for waterfowl. “I got a look into real-life research and thought, ‘Why not keep going with it?’” He applied to master’s programs and decided on William & Mary, where he majored in Biology and studied milkweed, how it varies in different environments and the impact those variations have on monarch butterflies. His resulting paper, “Range-wide variations in common milkweed traits and their effect on monarch larvae,” was published in American Journal of Botany. “I’m really proud of this paper,” De La Mater said. “It took a lot of time to

write, I had trouble finding the narrative of it. When I finally got it out, it was a moment when I first realized the fruits of my labor. Once I published that, I started working more fervently on my project now.” Salt marshes are at the center of his work now, with a hope of better understanding the global climate crisis. “Salt marshes are so crucial in terms of drawing carbon from the atmosphere — our top problem is there’s too much carbon — and salt marshes are just so insanely effective at drawing carbon out of the air and storing it in the ground,” he marveled. While forests draw carbon from the atmosphere, they don’t do it as efficiently as salt marshes do, he explained. The marshes thrive across changing landscapes, from the heat and salinity in Florida to the brutal cold of the Maine coast. De La Mater mourns the destruction of salt marshes “ever since we came to this continent,” much as he does the forest playground of his childhood. “We all seem to understand value in terms of things we can buy, but there’s intrinsic value to things we don’t understand and losing them is a tragedy,” he said.


“We really want to be a destination. We want to be welcoming and inclusive for everybody.”



HOMETOWN: FORT EDWARD, NEW YORK 2019 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK’S STARTUP ADK CURRENTLY: CO-OWNER OF EVERGREEN BICYCLE WORKS Kyle Cozzens — full of hope, anticipation and excitement — dropped off the application for his new business, Evergreen Bicycle Works, at the Fort Edward Village Office. Later that day, the office closed as the region went into lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were hoping to open in April, but we ended up having to push that back,” said Cozzens, who opened the bike shop with his brother, Randy, in June 2020. Cozzens attended SUNY Adirondack straight out of high school, transferred before graduating, returned to SUNY Adirondack for another change of major, then joined the Air Force. He was stationed for six years in Washington, then returned to the region in 2015. He and his brother worked at a bike shop in Malta, where they learned bicycle repair from an experienced mechanic, then manned the secondary branch for the shop owner. “It was just the two of us, so it was a lot like running our own business,” Cozzens said. When the owner retired and closed the business, Cozzens started to think about the future. “I had worked at other stores and I liked it better when I had more say over what could be done and what should be done,” he said.

He was thinking about opening his own business when he saw an advertisement for SUNY Adirondack’s StartUp ADK program, a small-business startup and expansion course. “I thought it would be a good idea to get some education on the things involved before moving ahead,” he said.

“The biggest takeaways were being exposed to all the different things I would have to work through starting a business, whether it’s for accounting and bookkeeping or insurance, and being introduced to the people at SCORE, having those introductions to all the things that come into play.” While he originally planned to open a mobile bike shop, working with SCORE helped him realize the experience he wanted was “more a brickand-mortar thing.” “The timing all came together,” Cozzens said, explaining how Fort Edward Local Development Corporation approached him about opening a business in the former train station after he attended United Bicycle In-

stitute’s month-long training program and StartUp ADK. Despite the pandemic, which has drastically impacted availability of new bikes and even of some parts, Evergreen Bicycle Works is thriving and the Cozzenses plan to expand the shop this winter. “We’ve been really busy, busy enough to make that expansion happen,” he said. Evergreen Bicycle Works offers tuneups and overhauls, new and used bicycle sales, and bicycle rentals. They also sell e-bikes and are trained and certified with several e-bike brands. “We have a huge list of things to do and it’s just me and Randy right now,” Cozzens said. In the future, they hope to hire a mechanic and salesperson and, ultimately, others to do the hands-on oversight of the shop while they work behind the scenes. For now, they’re enjoying meeting customers, helping keep people riding and growing their business. “We really want to be a destination, where people are willing to drive a bit to come get a tuneup or have an experience of going to a bike shop where they’re going to be talked to and not feel intimidated,” Cozzens said. “We want to be welcoming and inclusive for everybody.”


“I love this area, this community.”


Event Promoters

HOMETOWN: GLENS FALLS, NEW YORK 2011 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK, BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION 2013 GRADUATE OF NEWBURY COLLEGE, BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN SPORTS MANAGEMENT CURRENTLY: DIRECTOR OF TICKET SALES AND SERVICES, ADIRONDACK THUNDER Sean Driscoll practically grew up at Glens Falls Civic Center. He learned how to skate on the rink, spent game nights cheering on the Red Wings, then the IceHawks and Frostbite. He worked in operations while in college and today is the director of ticket sales and services for Adirondack Thunder, whose home ice is at Cool Insuring Arena (which everyone still refers to adoringly as “the Civic Center”). “I’ve worked throughout the building and in all different departments,” said Driscoll, who earned an associate degree in Business Administration from SUNY Adirondack, then transferred to the former Newbury College in Brookline, Massachusetts, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management. “I’ve seen the management side, I’ve moved the nets for the zamboni, I’ve cleaned the bathrooms and picked up popcorn spilled all over the floor.”

He looked at a few colleges, but ultimately decided to stay home to attend SUNY Adirondack, where he joined the men’s soccer team and enrolled as a Business Administration major.

“The education was amazing and it really got me ready to move on to Newbury,” Driscoll said. He was cajoled by a few soccer players at Newbury to try out for the team, so he played there, too. After graduation, he returned to the area and, when he was offered a job with Adirondack Flames when the team came to Glens Falls in 2014, he happily accepted. “Once I saw the business aspect of running an arena, I realized we’re no different from a restaurant or a convenience store: We have to make money,” he said. “But we bring enjoyment to thousands of people

each night doing so.” The camaraderie is part of what he loves about his job. “I love this area, this community,” he said. That appreciation for his neighbors led Driscoll to volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Pantry during the early days of the pandemic. His fellow volunteers nominated him for The Post-Star’s 20 Under 40, which recognizes young professionals for their positive contributions to our region. “Winning was kind of a shock,” said Driscoll, who is also a longtime youth soccer coach. “It’s an honor to have been included among others I know and have worked with in the past.” When he isn’t at work or volunteering, Driscoll loves to play soccer, hike, kayak and watch the Red Sox play at Fenway Park. But no matter how much he loves Bean Town, there is no place like Glens Falls Civic Center, — er, home.

Image is from a pre-COVID game


“Coming from New York City, and seeing the mountains, trees and all those stars at night, the peace and quiet, and seeing how beautiful the lake is — I can’t leave here.”


Executive Chefs

HOMETOWN: BRONX, NEW YORK 2018 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK, CULINARY ARTS CURRENTLY: FINISHED SUMMER AS EXECUTIVE CHEF AT SEAGLE MUSIC COLONY, ENTREPRENEUR HOPEFUL Two of Kyra Edmondson’s passions collided when she was a young teenager attending Oasis Day Camp, a New York City-based group that provides instructional and recreational summer programs. “I took a fashion class and while working with a sewing machine, I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and I hated it,” she remembered. “Next I took a cooking class. I said, ‘This is it. Food and science, this is where it’s at.’” She attended a culinary school in Manhattan her senior year of high school. Then, knowing she wanted to pursue Culinary Arts, she discovered SUNY Adirondack at a college fair. “I talked to different colleges and things didn’t feel right,” Edmondson said. “When I went to the SUNY Adirondack table, everyone was so nice. I said, ‘I like you guys! You have a spunk about you!’” She settled in on campus and dove into her classwork. She graduated and decided to stay in the area. “Coming from New York City, and seeing the mountains, trees and all

those stars at night, the peace and quiet, and seeing how beautiful the lake is — I can’t leave here,” she said. She worked in different roles in restaurants before securing a job as executive chef for the summer at Seagle Music Colony, a 106-year-old — the oldest in the United States — summer vocal training program and producer of opera and musical theater. The camp is a rustic lakeside retreat in Schroon Lake — a stark contrast to life in the Bronx. “It was very interesting, definitely very rustic and there are a heck of a lot of bugs!” Edmondson said. “But I got to be as creative as I wanted to be.” She’s proud of the food she prepared and grateful for the relationships she developed with the singers and campers. “Love is my secret weapon when I cook,” she laughed. “I tell people, ‘I put this, that, a touch of this and, to top it off, a little love.' It’s important to put your heart and soul into your food."

During her first run as executive chef, Edmondson said she learned the importance of a catchphrase in the SUNY Adirondack kitchen: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” “If I’m ever an executive chef again, having this experience helps me remember the team is important, something I hold dearly to,” she said. As she does much of what she learned at the college where, she said, Chefs Matt Bolton and Meg Diehl were her “culinary mom and dad.” In fact, she’s spending some time mulling what she learned from them as she plans opening her own restaurant, for which she already purchased an LLC. “I’m taking a couple of steps back and using what I learned,” she said. “I’m excited to be in this part of my journey and looking forward to blessing the community with some good food.”


“It was always my goal to run a business on the side and go to school.”



HOMETOWN: LAKE LUZERNE, NEW YORK 2021 SUNY ADIRONDACK GRADUATE, LIBERAL ARTS MATH & SCIENCE CURRENTLY: SUNY COBLESKILL STUDENT EARNING A DEGREE IN ANIMAL SCIENCE; CORNELL FARRIER PROGRAM GRADUATE Mia Durham adored My Little Ponies toys, so when her mom saw an advertisement for riding lessons, she signed the 3-year-old up. Since early days of the preschooler learning to balance on a retired police horse named Gus, being led around a corral by two stable workers, Durham’s life has centered on horses. She owned her first horse, Caroline, who was in foal, at age 11 and relished in caring for the colt, Sparkle, when he was born. “I raised him and broke him in and trained him myself, so that was a great experience,” Durham said. As a home-schooled student, Durham attended SUNY Adirondack classes during her junior and senior years of high school. “I just wanted to see what college was like before I graduated, just to see what I wanted to pursue and to get more direction,” she said. The answer, of course, is centered on horses. “My aspiration is to go on to veterinary medicine,” she said. She earned a certificate from Cornell University’s farrier program and attended SUNY Adirondack, from which she earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts: Math & Science. She was recognized with

the prestigious Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest honor bestowed upon a student by the State University of New York, acknowledging students for outstanding achievements that demonstrate the integration of SUNY excellence within many aspects of their lives.

“The professors were really welcoming at SUNY Adirondack,” Durham said. “They’re approachable, encouraging, so I felt like I had a great support system, which was very confidence building and helped me transition to a four-year school easily.” She transferred to SUNY Cobleskill, where she is studying Animal Science while running a farrier business weekends and evenings. She also works part time at a local equine veterinary hospital in the podiatry department. “My schedule is pretty much packed,” she admitted. “But it was always my goal to run a business on the side and go to school.” “It’s rewarding, to do a good job on

horses’ feet and keep them sound,” she said. She admits she takes away as much from the horses as she gives. “Horses can tell what your state of mind is, so if you’re stressed about anything, even an exam, they can pick up on that and be anxious, too,” she explained. “So when you’re around them, you have to forget about your other stresses and just be with them.”


“This is a great first step in my career.”


Mechanical Design Engineers

HOMETOWN: SOUTH GLENS FALLS, NEW YORK 2019 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK, ENGINEERING SCIENCE 2021 GRADUATE OF CLARKSON UNIVERSITY, BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN MECHANICAL ENGINEERING CURRENTLY: MECHANICAL DESIGN ENGINEER AT TYMETAL Tyler Coons remembers holding a flashlight for his dad under the hood of the family car. “That love of mechanical systems, I’ve had that since I was a kid,” said Coons, a 2019 graduate of SUNY Adirondack’s Engineering Science program who transferred to Clarkson University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in May 2021. But the road from the family garage to becoming a mechanical design engineer at Tymetal was anything but a straight shot. After graduating from South Glens Falls High School, Coons enrolled at SUNY Adirondack. “I chose SUNY Adirondack because I knew I could earn half of an engineering degree at a fraction of the cost to attend a four-year school,” he said. “But I didn’t take school so seriously; I think that was a maturity level thing.” Coons attended SUNY Adirondack for seven years, sometimes part time, usually full time, but never whole-heartedly. For a while, he toured with a band, Collateral Damage, in the New York City area. He worked with his father on job sites. But he didn’t put a lot of effort into his classes. The band fell apart around the time Coons landed an internship with a regional contracting firm. “It was like a quarter-life crisis, in that I really realized

what I wanted to do and civil engineering wasn’t what I was there for,” he admitted. “I really needed to hone in on what I wanted to do with my life.”

“The teachers I spoke with at SUNY Adirondack — Gail Gonyo, Carrie Menard, Luke Musto and Ken Manning — they’re all big mentors for me, they helped me find my way when I was at my lowest,” he said. In 2017, he started retaking classes to improve his grades so he could transfer to a bachelor’s program in engineering. He graduated and was accepted into Clarkson. Already he is working in the field at Tymetal, a company that builds security gates. There, he is gaining experience in drafting, engineering and working alongside people in the manufacturing shop.

“I love that I’m learning quite a bit — about manufacturing, engineering fundamentals and things you don’t really learn in school,” Coons said. “This is a great first step in my career.” His heart, though, is back where his love of mechanics began: under the hood of a car. “My dream is to work in the auto industry, in the realm of behind-thescenes production of performance cars,” he said. “I grew up on NASCAR, but now I’m into Formula One, which is heavily based on the engineering side of it, developing these crazy aerodynamic parts to get a thousandth of a second faster. It comes down to strategy — and that love I discovered when I was a kid.”


“You can break the rules with photography, so I had the chance to be more creative.”

The phrase “hitting rock bottom” is generally negative, meaning someone has reached the lowest point in their lives. For photographer Shawn LaChapelle, the phrase has an entirely different meaning — literal and figurative. LaChapelle was an electrician when on his day off he fell in a recreational climbing accident and broke his back.

“I couldn’t do construction, so I went all in with photography and said, ‘I’m doing this until I fail,’” he said.

“I earned an A. I like As, so I asked if they had a second,” he remembered. “So I took two, then I took every photo class.”

LaChapelle first discovered photography while a student at SUNY Adirondack. To fulfill an art requirement, he registered for a photography class.

Part of the draw was a seemingly natural talent for the art form, but another was how much he enjoyed the classes. “Art classes are easier than writing essays,” he said. “You




can break the rules with photography, so I had the chance to be more creative.” He stayed at SUNY Adirondack a third year, earning an associate in Liberal Arts: Math & Science and another in Media Arts. He started shooting photos as a freelancer for a local newspaper and taught photography classes, but wasn’t making a living.

“The accident is what pushed me to full time, because before, I thought

photography was just a hobby,” he said. “I went to college to get a job, I had to do something safe, something that’s a job. But falling made me say, ‘I’ll take the risk and make this a job.’” In the six years since, LaChapelle has done what he loves. He photographed whitetail deer in Iowa and Illinois for a clothing company, wolves at a sanctuary out west, and hotels and inns around the country.

Today, he has a studio in Saratoga Springs, where he shoots portraits, product photos, and marketing and advertising photography. Among his favorite shoots are pet portraits — including Reggie, his German shepherd. “If I had to photograph dogs every day, I wouldn’t be mad,” he chuckled. But really much of what he loves about his work is the variety. “It’s something new every week — new clients, locations, video, photos. I haven’t gotten to a point where it feels like work,” he said.



“A way to give back for how far I’ve been able to come in my life is to work in the public sector.”


Public Servants

HOMETOWN: SOUTH GLENS FALLS, NEW YORK 2016 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK, POLITICAL SCIENCE 2018 GRADUATE OF UNIVERSITY AT ALBANY, BACHELOR’S DEGREES IN POLITICAL SCIENCE WITH A CONCENTRATION IN STATE AND LOCAL POLITICS, AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS, HOMELAND SECURITY AND CYBERSECURITY 2020 GRADUATE OF UNIVERSITY AT ALBANY, MASTER’S DEGREE IN POLITICAL SCIENCE CURRENTLY: WORKFORCE PROGRAMS SPECIALIST FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR Andrew McMahon is an articulate, appreciative professional with great interest in history and politics. But he’s also an ordained minister who can make an impressive cup of coffee. The South Glens Falls native was working as a latte artist in Lake George in 2015, just as Instagram was taking off and baristas the world over were showing off their pretty potions. He went to Fashion Institute of Technology straight out of high school, but left after a year. He worked in restaurants until he discovered his love of — and considerable talent for — decorative milk designs. Not confident his ability to make frothy Mona Lisa faces would always be a career, he enrolled at SUNY Adirondack as a Creative Writing major. “That quickly changed because I decided to take an introduction to international relations class with Professor Wendy Johnston and knew right away that’s what I wanted to study,” McMahon said. “I took every Political Science class SUNY Adirondack offered and supplemented the coursework with classes in history and anthropology,” he said.

“I had always been interested in history, but the way Professor Johnston explained politics as being the levers of power and resources and deciding who gets what and why — I thought, ‘Political science is a way to marry my hobby and interest in history with a career in public service.’” At SUNY Adirondack, he rekindled the campus branch of Phi Theta Kappa, an international college honor society, and earned the Parnassus Award in History and Academic Excellence Award in Political Science. He transferred to University at Albany, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Emergency Preparedness, then went on to earn a master’s degree in Political Science. At UAlbany, he earned the Presidential Research Award for Undergraduate Research and Rockefeller College Capstone of the Year Award (the latter recognized a project in which he examined how being named Hometown

USA by LOOK Magazine impacted Glens Falls). Today, he’s a Workforce Programs specialist for the state Department of Labor. There, he is able to fulfill his desire to help others. “I am somebody who was given the opportunities in my life because of the social safety network New York has for its citizens,” he said. “As someone who came from poverty, I know I wouldn’t have had the educational opportunities I had if I lived in another state. A way to give back for how far I’ve been able to come in my life is to work in the public sector.” McMahon is happy with his work, but recognizes that the pandemic reminded all of us that having a fiveyear plan is good, but being adaptable is even better. “Right now, the plan is to keep doing what I’m doing, but I always give myself the space to change my mind,” he said, mentioning that earning a doctorate or even running for office is a possibility. “The attention I received from my educators at SUNY Adirondack stayed with me,” McMahon said. “It gave me the confidence to realize I could keep going.”


“The connections you make with the people at SUNY Adirondack are lasting. The community that is at SUNY Adirondack was the best part of my college experience.”

In the background, a cat meowed, a recently adopted female with wobbly cat syndrome — formally known as cerebellar hypoplasia, a neurological disorder caused by interrupted fetal brain development — named Mush that Fiona Wohlfarth couldn’t


“I grew up thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to be a veterinarian and never considered another job,” said Wohlfarth, who also has a one-eyed cat, Sammi. “In between high school and college, I got a job at a vet clinic and realized that to help animals, I had to be around them suffering all the time, and I just

didn’t have the emotional capacity to do that. It pulled the rug out from underneath me because I had never considered doing anything else.” Her plans to study veterinary medicine were abandoned and, since she was among the top 10 percent in her graduating class at Corinth High


Test Engineers

HOMETOWN: CORINTH, NEW YORK 2013 GRADUATE OF SUNY ADIRONDACK, ENGINEERING SCIENCE 2015 GRADUATE OF UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER, BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN MECHANICAL ENGINEERING CURRENTLY: TEST ENGINEER AT MEDTRONIC SURGICAL NAVIGATION IN COLORADO School, she knew she could attend SUNY Adirondack free. “I knew it was a decent school and it was close to home,” she said. “So, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I figured I might as well get my general courses out of the way. I wasn’t dead set that SUNY Adirondack was the best school for me, but it was the most logical.” Among the general education requirements was a physics class with former professor Dr. Ken Manning. “He was just so engaging and it was so fun to be in his class,” Wohlfarth remembered. “After three days in that class, I approached him and said, ‘Every class you teach, I want to be in.’

“He said, ‘I teach engineering’ and I said, ‘I guess I’m going to be an engineer,’” Wohlfarth laughed. “That changed my whole trajectory. If you’d asked me what an engineer was before college, I would have said, ‘The person who drives trains,’ but one professor is literally the reason I took that class and am where I am now.”

After earning an associate degree in Engineering Science from SUNY Adirondack, Wohlfarth transferred to University of Colorado at Boulder, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. She works as a test engineer at Medtronic Surgical Navigation, a job that melds her love of science and health (back to that veterinary dream) with engineering. She sets up cadaver labs for neurosurgeons to test newly developed products. “We have our users go through a brain or spinal surgery using the products not yet released to make sure the product is what they want,” she explained. “Is it safe? Is it what you want to use? Is it too heavy? Does it vibrate too much and end up exhausting your hand after a five-hour surgery? We make sure they can use it safely and effectively.” The first few times in a cadaver lab were “tough to watch,” she said. “But the cadavers are dealt with very respectfully and watching neurosurgery can keep anyone interested, especially when you know the goal is to ensure safer use of medical technology. We have a powerful voice in the design and confirmation of the design.” An extrovert, Wohlfarth learned to use her voice at SUNY Adirondack. “I loved how small the school was,” she said. “I think a lot of people are discouraged from going to smaller

schools, but in a classroom setting of no more than 15 people — and that was as big as classes got — you can ask questions on the spot, you don’t have to wait for office hours, and you have this wonderfully intimate classroom experience that really helps understand the materials much more.” When she started at University of Colorado, that stopped being the case. “The smallest class was 80 people and they went up to 300 people in lecture halls, and no one knows anyone and professors don’t know you unless you really go out of your way to get time with them,” she said. “The education was great, but I really valued getting to know the people and professors, which is something that you don’t naturally get at other schools.” The relationships she developed with faculty and students at SUNY Adirondack continue today. “The community at SUNY Adirondack was the best part of my college experience,” she said.





START HERE “More than anything, SUNY Adirondack was there for me.” — Bill Moon, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Southern Adirondacks

Early this fall, community leaders gathered at SUNY Adirondack to discuss how to encourage diversity in this region. Our guest speaker, Nicky Hylton-Patterson, the executive director of Adirondack Diversity Initiative, discussed how to create an inclusive environment. At one point in the evening, Hylton-Patterson talked about how she missed the flavors of her roots, went to the liquor store nearest her home in Saranac Lake and ordered rum. A few months later, she returned, talked to the owner of the store and ordered another bottle. When she returned later that year to reorder, the owner asked her to wait a moment, disappeared into the back of the store and returned with a bottle of Hylton-Patterson’s drink of choice. “He said, ‘This is your home now, so I stocked up,’” she recalled. That seemingly simple gesture — a business owner adding an extra case on to his regular order — made a big difference to Hylton-Patterson. “And that is inclusivity,” she said.

At SUNY Adirondack, we believe our differences are what make us stronger, as we learn from one another’s truths and experiences. However, no matter what we offer on campus, diverse populations are not going to stay in this area after graduation if, as a community, we don’t do more to be inclusive. Hylton-Patterson’s talk was a great first step for business leaders, educators, nonprofit administrators and other professionals to address ways they can be more welcoming, attract greater diversity of job applicants and make comfortable everyone who seeks their services. But it was just that: a first step. We are committed to securing our region’s future, to ensuring a strong workforce for our employers and fostering a respect for each community member’s experiences. As the region’s educator of choice, we at SUNY Adirondack make inclusion, a central tenet of our vision, a priority. Sincerely,

Kristine D. Duffy, Ed.D. President

“Although we are in different boats, you in your boat and we in our canoe, we share the same river of life.” — Oren Lyons


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