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Leading in the Classroom, on the Lacrosse Field and in the Community

SUNY Chancellor’s Award Student Profile: Justin Berger

Lacrosse defenseman Justin Berger has been named as a SUNY Chancellor's Award winner for 2016. (Photo Carlo de Jesus)

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 17, 2016) -- University at Albany men’s lacrosse player Justin Berger is as passionate about academics as he is about athletics. It comes as no surprise then that his most rewarding experiences at UAlbany have been those occasions when he could blend the two.

Berger, a senior from Kendall Park, N.J., is a psychology major with a minor in biology. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

The Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence is the highest honor bestowed upon a student by the University. Nominations are sought for students who have best demonstrated and been recognized for their integration of academic excellence with other aspects of their lives, including leadership, campus involvement, community service, athletics or career achievement. Berger will be honored at a recognition ceremony on April 5, at 2 p.m.

Berger has taken on several leadership roles in athletics, serving as the president of UAlbany’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and vice president of Albany Sports Business Organization. He represented the America East Conference at the Division I SAAC Conference at the 2016 NCAA Convention, an honor reserved for student athletes who have showcased leadership on the field and in the classroom.

Justin Berger UAlbany Lacrosse
Berger and his teammates are seeking their fourth consecutive America East championship this season.

A self-declared fan of the Great Danes while growing up in central New Jersey, he admits his family’s ties to UAlbany might have had something to do with that.

“Both of my parents are UAlbany graduates. My mother graduated in 1983 (and also earned her masters from UAlbany in 1987) and my father graduated in 1985,” said Berger. “We would come up to the University three or four times a year for different events -- football and lacrosse games, and always the Big Purple Growl.”

  While Berger may have been intent on coming to UAlbany from an early age, he has made an impact both on and off the field since his arrival. Through his leadership role with SAAC, Berger has helped spearhead student involvement at numerous events, including the Superhero Sprint 5k, the Muscular Dystrophy Association walks and fundraisers for JP Honsinger and his family. Honsinger, from Clifton Park, N.Y., suffers from a rare neurodegenerative disorder, Niemann-Pick Type C.

For Berger, it has been especially rewarding to see the response of his fellow student athletes as they help those most in need, like Honsinger. “I just feel really lucky to get to work with so many other student-athletes who are eager and willing to help out in the community,” said Berger. “None of these projects would have been possible without the support we've gotten from all of our student-athletes.”

His classroom accolades are equally impressive. Since his arrival as a sophomore transfer in 2012, Berger has been named to the Deans’ list six times. In 2013, he was named to the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, an honor society recognizing first- and second-year students for outstanding academic achievement. Only students who rank in the top 20th percentile of their class are eligible for the honor. He has also been honored by the Tau Sigma National Honor Society for Transfer Students, and the Psi Chi National Honor Society in Psychology, as well as the Commissioner’s Honor Roll for the America East Conference.

Among the list of accolades is one for his work assisting others: Berger was one of two student athletics at UAlbany selected to be part of the 2015 Helping Hands Team for the America East Conference. The Helping Hands Award recognizes exemplary efforts in the area of community service while remaining in good academic standing.

Of course, one final season of lacrosse lies ahead. The Great Danes are seeking their fourth consecutive America East title and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament that comes with it. But even as he gears up for the season and graduation, Berger hasn’t decreased his leadership role.

In January, he took ownership of a UAlbany SAAC video in support of the You Can Play Project, which supports LGBTQ inclusion and respect in athletics.  The video was released in January and featured a number of UAlbany student-athletes speaking out about the importance of respecting all fellow athletes, coaches, opponents, and fans. “We've also hosted several You Can Play nights at soccer and basketball games that I've worked at to help spread the YCP message,” said Berger.

“I grew up wearing purple, and I'm even more proud to wear purple now as I finish my time here as a student,” said Berger. “I see how strongly my parents still feel about the University today, so even though I'm graduating in a few months, I know my connections with UAlbany will last for many, many years.”

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.