Special Students

Christopher DeCormier




...we felt we could not just let him and all that he accomplished in his short life go unmarked... Louise Decormier


When an earthquake devastated the Mayan region of Guatemala in 1976, killing 28,000 people, the American Embassy there asked Albany anthropology Professor Robert Carmack to advise them on reconstruction and aid. He took undergraduate Christopher DeCormier, B.A.’76, with him as an assistant during his travels in the Central American nation, and DeCormier became a major contributor to the report, many recommendations of which the Embassy followed.

Carmack, an internationally known Mayan scholar, worked closely with DeCormier while he was a student at Albany. “He lived in Chi Chi Castengo (a popular tourist center) for a year, learned a Mayan language, and recorded some interesting folk tales and myths,” Carmack recalled. DeCormier, who wanted to study Mayan languages and become a linguist, went on to UCLA, where he was a graduate student when he was diagnosed with the cancer that ended his life in 1977. Soon afterward, DeCormier’s parents created the Christopher DeCormier Scholarship to honor his memory by providing field research assistance to other young anthropology scholars at the University at Albany.

DeCormier and Dad“In the days following Chris’s death, we felt we could not just let him and all that he accomplished in his short life go unmarked,” said his mother, Louise DeCormier, an actress who has appeared in several Hollywood movies. “It has been a positive experience and we think it would have meant a lot to Chris.” She and her husband, Robert DeCormier, musical director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and Chamber Chorus, always attend the annual award ceremony on campus and sometimes even perform. The event is organized by Albany’s highly regarded Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, which is dedicated to the study and dissemination of knowledge about the peoples and cultures of Mexico and northern Central America.

Lea Pickard

One recent recipient of the scholarship is Lea Pickard, a Ph.D. student from Mississippi who is researching “Ideologies of Reproduction in Guatemala” for her doctoral thesis. “The scholarship allowed me to get everything settled so that I can go back to Guatemala and start my long-term dissertation research in January,” Pickard said. “Having done the background work will also make it easier to apply for larger grants.”



The DeCormier Scholarship, which is worth $1,500 to $2,000, is one of several annual awards established at Albany to honor the memory of special students. Some others:

  • The Kimberly Toone Women’s Track and Field Memorial Scholarship, named for an Albany student who died in a 1996 automobile accident, is awarded to a womanSeidah Abu-Bakir track and field athlete who exemplifies excellence in academics and athletics. The 1998 recipient, Seidah Abu-Bakir, a junior public policy major from Brooklyn, helped set a school record in the sprint medley relay and helped the team qualify for ECAC Division I Championships in the 4x100 relay. Abu-Bakir placed third in the indoor high jump at the 1998 New England Collegiate Conference Indoor Championship and runs in the 4x200 relay. Off the field, she was on the Dean’s List as a freshman and has won a Spellman Achievement Award three years in a row.
    “A scholarship like this proves that even though someone is gone, they are not forgotten. Their spirit lives on in other people,” Abu-Bakir said. “I am proud to be following the tradition that Kim exemplified of being an athlete and a scholar.”
  • The Katherine Vario Scholarship supports a woman in her junior year who aspires to a career in dentistry, medicine, or medical sciences. It was established in 1991 by members of the Vario family, Alpha Phi sorority, and Friends of Katherine Vario to honor the memory of Vario, a biology major and pre- med student who died in an automobile accident in 1989. There are two recipients in 1999, Modinat Balogun of Brooklyn, and Ching Yi Li of Woodside, both of whom plan to become physicians.
  • The Robyn Fishelberg Memorial Scholarship was created by the Fishelberg family and the sisters of Sigma Delta Tau sorority in 1993 in memory of an Albany student who passed away the previous year. It is awarded to a female undergraduate who demonstrates outstanding humanitarian qualities through school activities and community service. Anuola Hercules, a native of Guyana who is now enrolled in the M.B.A. program at Albany, won the 1999 award in recognition for her work as an Educational Opportunity Program tutor, a mentor with the Liberty Partnership program, and community service work with her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho.


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