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Life Lessons Shaped Through Humble Beginnings

SUNY Chancellor's Award Student Profile: Cristian Palma

Chancellor's Award winner Cristian Palma is pursuing a career in advertising and sales following graduation. (Photo by Carlo de Jesus)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 19, 2016) – As the oldest child to immigrant parents from Guatemala, Cristian Palma understands the need to take advantage of every opportunity. Arriving as one of 168 new Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) students in the fall of 2012, Palma immediately took the time to introduce himself to School of Business Dean Donald Siegel, and let it be known that he planned on forging a successful path at the University at Albany.

In four short years, Palma has completed successful internships with Fortune 500 companies, became a rare first year INROADS Scholar, served as an advocate on behalf of UAlbany before the New York State Legislature, spent every semester as a member of the Presidential Honor Society, and was recently selected for an Outstanding Senior Presidential Leadership Award.

He will graduate in May with a bachelor of science degree with a dual concentration in business administration and marketing, where he has been selected to serve as the student commencement speaker. He has also been honored with a 2016 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

"My parents are my heroes," said Palma, explaining how they took any and all jobs to provide a home for their three sons.

It therefore fell to Palma’s maternal grandmother to take care of the children. She would ensure that Palma and his brothers made it to school, did their homework and chores. But she would also teach Cristian life lessons through storytelling, a tradition Palma now carries forward.

"My grandmother would tell us stories about growing up in Guatemala and about her training to become a nurse so that she could not only care for her family, but for those in her community,” said Palma. "She carried that tradition forward to our home in the U.S., and it has helped guide me on the right path."

Not that Cristian plans to pursue a career in health, but his grandmother’s influence ingrained in him the importance of giving back to those around you. While Palma gladly helped out while living in a multi-generational house owned by his uncle, he sought to reach beyond as well. During his time at UAlbany, Palma has volunteered at rescue missions, talked with students at Albany High School and served as an ambassador for the EOP program. All along the way, he conveys his advice through the same storytelling technique of his grandmother.

"Cristian has been a loyal student to UAlbany and to EOP, serving as student representative during UAlbany college tours. He has effectively advocated for this program and the University for increases in State funding before New York Senate and Assembly members, and before the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators," said EOP Director Maritza Martinez. "Whenever we need him, he is there for us and never hesitates to speak to an impressionable first-year student about the importance of keeping their priorities straight. He then offers them his telephone number and tells them that they can call him whenever they need to – and several follow through."

As a student representative of UAlbany, Palma has spoken frequently about the opportunity that the University presented him and his family. Palma has already become the first in his family to graduate from high school, and will be the first in his family to graduate from college in May.

"What he may not realize is how fortunate the University is for having him as a student and soon-to-be alum," said Siegel. "Cristian was one of only 100 applicants selected to the prestigious T. Howard Foundation internship program, and he used that as a springboard to working with AT&T and beyond."

Palma's selection as a T. Howard Foundation is just one of his many accolades. He was also one of a select group to become an America Needs You fellow, an intensive two-year program for high-achieving, low-income, first-generation college students. Palma and his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers have received three community service awards for their work raising awareness about the importance of getting tested for HIV/AIDS, supporting the Pine Hills Clean-Up efforts and encouraging dialogues on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. He’s also a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and maintained a spot on the Dean’s List for every semester since he enrolled at UAlbany. Palma was also the recipient of the John Levato Scholarship through the University at Albany Foundation.

"From the first moment I met him at an EOP orientation session, I knew that Cristian was special, possessing a drive and a hunger to succeed that burned within him," said Siegel. "As a scholarship winner, Cristian had the opportunity to meet a philanthropist who had just presented the University with a generous gift in support of students. The donor said Cristian asked him questions that no one had ever asked him – ‘Why do you do this? What motivates you to give money to people like me?’ From that moment, Cristian had won the donor’s attention, as well as his respect. There is no doubt that Cristian is destined for success and I believe that he will one day return to this campus, as he has vowed to do, as a donor supporting UAlbany students."

Palma is now pursuing a variety of options as he nears graduation, with applications into companies such as global media giant Viacom, as well as AT&T.

While he looks to begin a career in ad sales and marketing, Palma remembers his grandmother’s words and the lessons they provide, whether he is visiting the GQ showroom or talking to inner-city youth about the opportunities an education provides. "Inspiration can come from anywhere," said Palma.

Learn more about UAlbany's 2016 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence Winners.

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