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Chad Waxman
 
Allison Shectman
 
Richard Prou
 
Stephanie Coon
 
Peter Brusoe
 
Feature
As they have grown, changed and worked to earn their degrees, UAlbany's graduating class of 2003 has also seen war, recession and the tragedy of 9/11. With Commencement approaching, five seniors took a few moments to reflect on their experiences at UAlbany and what lies ahead.
   
Stephanie Coon
Hometown:  Endicott, NY
Major:  Public Policy
UAlbany Senior, Stephanie Coon
Looking back…
In my senior year of high school when I was looking at colleges I made my list of qualities that my college must have: strong academics, lots of community service opportunities, warm weather, and the ability to put me in a good position when I graduated. I might not have gotten the warm weather I wished for, but the University at Albany certainly exceeded my other expectations.

My academic experience from the start was something I could never have experienced anywhere else. I was accepted as a Presidential Scholar and enrolled in the interdisciplinary course "Foundations of Great Ideas" (FGI), team taught by nine of the best faculty members on the campus. I have yet to find another course that includes in the syllabus a combination of John Stewart Mill readings on political theory, excerpts from Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein," discussions of Stonehenge, and in-class Stephanie Coon, center, in front of the Ronald McDonald Housegroup art projects. After taking FGI and several other Presidential Scholar’s courses, I enrolled in the BA/MA program. Now, after just 4 years of college I will be leaving with both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from one of the strongest public policy departments in the nation.

The amount of community service I was able to do, and number of events I was able to organize while I was here was something I could never have imagined when I sent in my deposit. I was able to volunteer at organizations like the United Way of New York State, the Ronald McDonald House and Equinox for the annual Equinox Thanksgiving dinner. Not only was I able to volunteer myself, but as the President of the Presidential Honors Society I was able to work with other students and UAlbany administrators to organize nearly a hundred community service events resulting in nearly 7,000 hours of community service among all the PHS members.

One of my favorite projects was a display of pictures and stories of various community service projects that members of the UAlbany community participated in. People from the University came together; some donated their pictures and stories, others built the 6’ x 3’ beautiful glassed-in frame. The "Wall of Difference" was not only a result of UAlbany support, but was co-sponsored by Senator Neil Breslin who arranged for it to be on display in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) last spring. It was so incredible to see just how much the University members make a difference in the community, and to see how truly impressed people in the LOB were with what a difference everyone and UAlbany makes.Stephanie Coon with Senator Neil Breslin in front of the "Wall of Difference"

I guess that my last criterion was something that I could not truly assess until just recently. While I was looking at colleges, I paid close attention to any "where are they now" stories and statistics. Over the course of my time here at Albany I came to realize that where I will end up after graduation was not an automatic outcome of deciding to come to UAlbany. The University provided the opportunities; I had to take advantage of them. Now, as I leave with my B.A. and M.A., and a lot of community service and research experience, I will be heading off to begin a doctorate at Oxford in the fall.

I began at UAlbany undecided about a major. It did not take me long to realize that I wanted to major in one of everything. Then, one day at the end of my freshman year, I got a letter in the mail from Dean Thompson promoting the undergraduate public policy program. When I explored the major a bit further, I discovered that because public policy was so interdisciplinary I would essentially be majoring in a little bit of everything. That summer I worked as a policy research intern at my local United Way in Broome County and saw just how much a major in public policy could help people. It was then that I decided that I definitely wanted to major in public policy.

Looking back at the person I was when I graduated high school, I see just how much I have changed in four short years. While the "high school me" and the "college me" both loved to be involved and to enjoy the company of good friends, I have grown tremendously both professionally and personally while at UAlbany.

In my time here I became very involved on campus. Working with fellow students, university staff, members of the community and state government officials, I gained a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness between different facets of a community and learned first hand the importance of leadership and initiative. The "college me" is much more prepared to enter the "real world" with the ability to bring together different people to make a difference.

Pivotal or life changing experiences…
There were two life-changing experiences that I had in my time as a student at UAlbany that I will never forget. The summer after my second year I had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Oxford in England. Being submersed in another culture opened my eyes and broadened my thinking. It is an experience that I would recommend to everyone. I was able to work with one of the foremost experts in Comparative and International Education, Dr. Colin Brock, who will also be my doctoral supervisor at Oxford next fall and is traveling across the ocean to be at Commencement this spring!

The other life-changing, unforgettable time was not just a moment, but rather spanned an entire academic year. My third year here at Albany I served as President of the Presidential Honors Society (PHS). In my time as President I learned a lot about leadership, gained many close friends that I will stay in touch with after graduation, and most importantly I was able to make a difference, and help others to make a difference on the campus and in the Capital Region. Twenty years from now when I look back on my time at Albany, there is no doubt in my mind that PHS will be one of my happiest memories.

Special people…
My time here at Albany was filled with memories of building relationships with many people, students, professors and administrators alike. Everyone had a part in making my experience here so incredible and now that graduation is nearly here I feel as though I’m not leaving a place, but rather leaving a home. Of all the people who became family to me here at Albany, there is one person who really sticks out in my mind – Dr. David McCaffrey, a distinguished teaching professor in Public Administration and Policy.

The University provided the opportunities; I had to take advantage of them.I first met Professor McCaffrey in my third year here at UAlbany and from that point on he has shaped my academic career, sharpened my research and writing skills, served as a mentor for me and, become my friend. I cannot think of a time when Professor McCaffrey has not gone above and beyond to help me to grow both academically and personally. He supervised my senior thesis and master’s essay, introduced me to one of the leading researchers in NY education policy, worked one-on-one with me so I could complete a class I needed to graduate and has written countless letters of recommendation for me. While doing all this, and being heavily involved on campus and with research, he has fully supported me in my extracurricular activities, attending PHS events and providing words of support and wisdom when life got a bit stressful. I would not be where I am today without the support of Professor McCaffrey, my professor, mentor, advisor and friend.

What’s ahead?
Commencement has something of a different meaning to me than most of my peers from the incoming class of 1999. Being in the B.A./M.A. program, I experienced Commencement last year and know what a truly amazing experience it is: floods of memories, everyone you have grown to care about in the last four years in the same place, and a rush of excitement and disbelief it is all over. But last year I knew I would be coming back. This year Commencement feels bittersweet. I still have all the incredible feelings I did last time, but they are paired with the knowledge that things will never be the same again as we step forward to enter graduate school, law school, the real world and beyond.

I describe my life prior to UAlbany, as life in a bubble, or a sitcom of the stereotypical 1950s family. Coming to Albany opened my eyes not only to the different experiences of my classmates, but enabled me to take an educated look at the world beyond a 50-mile radius. Many of the world events that took place in my time at UAlbany were integrated into course material and informal discussion. It made me realize just how interconnected the world is. Because of my exposure to worldly issues from multiple perspectives, I want to apply the policy tools I learned as a public policy student to international education, educating future generations of the wrongs of the past to avoid them in the future.

I might be moving out of Albany, but I can never imagine myself leaving UAlbany. The University helped me to realize my potential and I want to do the same for future generations here. While I can't wait to come back as an alumna to help UAlbany students network and to share the findings of my doctoral research on philanthropic investments in education with the university, what I truly hope to do one day is to establish a scholarship in my parents’ honor. Having grown up with a mother who taught Cuban and Middle Eastern refugees and a father who was unable to go to college, both parents stressed the importance of education and supported me in all my educational endeavors. I would never have been able to accomplish all that I didStephanie Coon on the Academic Podium without their support for my four years here and I can think of no better way to thank them.

Do I feel ready for the future? Ask me when my finals are done! My experiences here at UAlbany, both inside the classroom and out, have helped me to grow into a person ready to handle the "real world." However, I have decided to hide in academia for a bit longer. This fall I will be traveling "across the pond" to begin a doctorate at Oxford in England studying philanthropic investments in education. I have already worked with my Oxford supervisor first as a student, then last summer as a research assistant. At the end of my three-year program I hope to get a job working for either a foundation, designing and implementing projects to support education, or working in a university development office.

Commencement May 2003

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