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Carrying a Torch for Student Success

From left, Torch Award winner Sheri Stevens with senior Naomi McPeters, who nominated her. (Photo by Mark Schmidt) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 3, 2017) – When Sheri Stevens talks about how surprised she was to be selected as this year’s Torch Award winner, she tears up.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Stevens, who runs the School of Social Welfare’s Community and Public Service Program (CPSP) from her office in Social Sciences 112. “I get an award for doing something I love. I have the best job on campus.”

The Torch Award reception honoring faculty who have been transformational in the lives of students will be held on Friday, April 7, at 2:30 p.m. at Alumni House. RSVP by today to: STUDENTENGAGEMENT@albany.edu. Three other outstanding nominees will also be honored: Victor Asal of Political Science; Kevin Champagne and Music and Theatre; and Joseph Sheehan of Accounting and Law.

Stevens was nominated by graduating senior Naomi McPeters of Albany. As Stevens explained her job duties and how she is in charge of 800 students who receive academic credit for performing community service, McPeters quipped, “We call her the Queen.”

Stevens joined the University in 2008 as a research assistant, entered the Ph.D. program in Social Welfare, later joined the CPSP office part-time, and her job evolved into the full-time position it is today.

McPeters said in her nominating statement that she can always count on Stevens to use her creativity to help her see the possibilities where others might see none.

“I came to her with a simple idea of creating an exhibit highlighting the diversity of our student body to help the campus move on after the ‘bus incident,’ and it grew into what I consider my biggest accomplishment as a student at the University,” said McPeters. “This project, #SilenceNoMore, would not have been possible without Sheri.”

Stevens gave her guidance on whom to contact, and was always there to answer her questions over the nine months of the project.

“I was very uncertain about beginning the project at all, but before I had even formulated my full idea, it was as if she could already see the impact and outcome, and she simply said, ‘Go for it.’ So I did,” McPeters said.

McPeters has known Stevens for three of her four years at UAlbany. “The first thing I noticed about her was the way she approaches life with joy, laughter, and genuine kindness toward all she meets.”

The senior has observed Stevens’ interactions with each student who comes in to sign up for the community service class. “I have watched her get to know each individual, and not just what they want to do in life, but who they are as a person and what drives them,” McPeters said.

“She has made me better in every area of life, academically, personally and professionally,” she added. “As students, we don’t get many opportunities to express our gratitude in a very tangible way to those who have been instrumental in our college careers. Nominating Sheri for the Torch Award allowed me to do that.”

As winner of the Torch Award, Stevens will give a speech at the fall convocation.

Assistant Vice Provost for Student Engagement Linda Krzykowski said the Torch Awards have a long history at the University, and have honored some of our best faculty. Raising the visibility of the Torch Award professors is important.

“We want to shine a bright light on the fact that there is transformational teaching and mentoring happening all across our campus,” Krzykowski said.

The April 7 event is separate from Commencement in order to help the event stand out. In addition to the nominees and their student nominators, each nominee’s department has been invited.

Krzykowski said the selection of the Torch Award winners is made by a committee of previous winners, and every year it is difficult to narrow down the field.

“Students are moved to write really incredible things about how a professor changed their life,” she said.

This year, as one of the changes in Commencement, there will be a new Baccalaureate Torch Reception May 20 at 7:30 p.m. the night before Commencement.

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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.