Eight Students Win the Chancellor’s Award, SUNY’s Highest Honor

President Rodriguez stands beside six smiling young women holding awards certificates
President Rodríguez with six CASE winners: Haleigh Gaston, Mya Darsan, Emily Berkemeyer, Nadine Al Annabi, Briana Bace, Caroline Srokowski. Not shown: Labika Baral and Ryan Ma.

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 2, 2023) — The SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence acknowledges students for outstanding achievements that have demonstrated the integration of SUNY excellence within many aspects of their lives, including academics, leadership, campus involvement, community service or the arts. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a student by SUNY.

Last week, eight UAlbany students were among the Chancellor’s Award recipients celebrated at an awards ceremony in downtown Albany.

Nadine Al Annabi

Nadine Al Annabi
Nadine Al Annabi (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

Nadine Al Annabi graduated in December from the Political Science Honors Program in Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

Originally from Amman, Jordan, Al Annabi began her UAlbany career in Spring 2019 and has been a student leader and volunteer, serving as a peer advisor in the Academic Support Center, and a Massry community service fellow interning with the RED Bookshelf.  She was accepted to the New York State Senate Session Assistants program in Spring 2021 and worked for Sen. Anna Kaplan. She also participated in UAlbany’s Semester in Washington Program in Spring 2022, where she interned at U.S. Majority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s Office.

Al Annabi said the Semester in Washington program was the highlight of her UAlbany career, pairing classroom knowledge with her experiences learning about the inner workings of the federal government. I had the privilege of working with Sen. Schumer's brilliant staff and connected with my fellow interns who became very good friends of mine,” she said. I wrote an extensive research paper for one of the classes I took for UAlbany's Semester in Washington internship program [delving] into the comparative public policy about restructuring higher education funding in the U.S. and Germany.”

That work led to winning a national research award, the Bert and Phyllis Lamb Prize in Political Science, which will enable Al Annabi to present her research at the World Social Sciences Conference in Arizona, and to publish her paper.

My advice for new students is that your college career can turn into a life-changing experience if you put in the work, commitment and energy into it,” she said. Therefore, apply to that internship, job, award, or program, you never know what can happen. Put yourself out there and don't sell yourself short. If you start believing that you are capable of achieving your dreams, you're halfway there."

Al Annabi is currently working as a district aid at the U.S. House of Representatives.

Briana Bace

Briana Bace
Briana Bace (Photo by Tayana Romulus)

Briana Bace is an Honors College student with majors in political science and emergency preparedness, homeland security, and cybersecurity (EHC).

In her junior year, she was selected for the New York State Senate Undergraduate Session Assistants Program. She was inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society, volunteered as a Peer Advisor, and competed twice in the Global Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge. She was also selected for the Virtual Institute of Cyber Operation & Research Scholarship.

After completing her master's in Public Administration and Policy at UAlbany, Bace plans to pursue a law degree in cyberlaw and ultimately work for the federal government creating cyber policy.

From Northville, Bace said working at the state Senate was one of her best memories from UAlbany. “I learned new skills, met so many wonderful people, and had experiences that will help me in my future career,” she said.

Her advice to new students? “Do the work and put in the effort, but don’t forget to take a break. Finding a school-life balance is important for academic success and your happiness at college.”

Labika Baral

Labika Baral
Labika Baral (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

Labika Baral is an Honors College student from Watervliet, graduating with a major in human biology. And she’s not only participating in the commencement ceremony on May 15, she’s the student speaker.

As a student researcher, Baral is completing an honors thesis on human biomechanics. In addition to her academic pursuits, she is involved in her community and on campus through several leadership roles. She was a Massry Community Service Fellow the summer of 2022, earning over 400 service hours with the American Cancer Society. She is involved in the Albany-Nepali community as a medical interpreter, youth club advisor, language teacher and dancer.

Baral says her most memorable experience at UAlbany was her work with these various organizations, most notably with Middle Earth, UAlbany’s peer-led mental health assistance organization.

“I would advise new students to get involved and believe in yourself,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to try new things, and use this time to learn more about yourself, your interests, and become confident in who you are and who you want to be.” 

Baral has been admitted to the Albany Medical College Early Assurance MD Program for the Fall of 2024. 

Emily Berkemeyer

Emily Berkemeyer
Emily Berkemeyer (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

Emily Berkemeyer is not only graduating with honors as political science major with a minor in environmental science and theatre at UAlbany. This month she also is graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

During her time at UAlbany, Berkemeyer has conducted research on data protection laws, which she presented at UAlbanys Showcase last week. Her senior thesis is on the role of local government in environmental policy enforcement. A proud transfer student, she is committed to sharing knowledge of government processes with individuals and communities to empower them.

Berkemeyer, from Medford, Long Island, volunteers in the Albany and Troy communities and interns with Troy City Council member Kiani Conley-Wilson. She has also been active in UAlbany's Theatre Department, and her most memorable UAlbany experience was playing the lead role in the Fall 2022 production of The Wolves. 

As a lifelong performer, the experience holds a special place in my heart as my first college play,” she said. As an athlete I cherished the opportunity to perform as a part of a team and to bring the complex lives of young women to life on stage.”

Berkemeyers advice to new students: Surround yourself with motivated people, join clubs and attend events because the community is how you survive. There are so many people at the University who will support you so reach out when you need advice.”

College is hard, expect to work hard and take time to care for your body,” she said. “Even if you dont feel like it, just show up every day and keep going. Growth may feel slow but set goals for yourself and just keep moving forward.”

Mya Darsan

Maya Darsan
Maya Darsan (Photo by Brian Busher)

Maya Darsan is graduating with majors in biology and environmental science. A first-generation BIWOC, she has held several leadership roles on campus. She has served as the president of UAlbany Students for Sustainability and Secretary of TriBeta. She is an active student leader in Student Engagement’s Living-Learning Communities and is a mentor for CSTEP and STEP students, and an organic chemistry tutor in CSTEP.

Darsan, from Centereach, Long Island, has conducted research at Capital Corals INC. and in the Ward Lab at UConn, and has presented her research at national conferences and has been invited to present at a conference in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in June.

After graduation, she will begin work toward her PhD in Marine and Environmental Science at Northeastern University.

Darsan says her most memorable UAlbany experience was being involved in the Living-Learning Communities, in the World of Biology freshman year. I made so many great long-lasting connections and friendships. I chose to stay involved as a student leader. I loved getting a mentor and know so many first-year students over the years. It's been amazing to watch them grow and succeed here at UAlbany.”

Her advice for new students? Make the most of every opportunity. Even if its not exactly what you hope, you never know what it can do for you in the future. Additionally, go for something you love. If you do what you love, your life will be so much more enjoyable and fulfilling.”

Haleigh Gaston

Haleigh Gaston
Haleigh Gaston (Photo by Tayana Romulus)

Haleigh Gaston, from Latham, is graduating with majors in criminal justice and sociology and minors in legal studies and psychology. She had the honor of serving as UAlbany's first female district governor of Circle K International, a collegiate community service organization, and as president of the American Cancer Society organization. She also volunteered with Legal Hand and UAlbany Student Legal Services.

Gaston is continuing her education at UAlbany with a Master's in Criminal Justice. Following UAlbany, she plans to attend law school and pursue public interest work. 

Attending her first Circle K International club meeting stands out as her most memorable UAlbany experience. From the moment I walked into the Lecture Center, I knew I had found a group of people who would support and mentor me through my time at UAlbany,” she said.

And getting involved in clubs, organizations and activities were key parts of her college experience, and a path shed encourage new students to take. There are countless opportunities to find something you are passionate about and foster that throughout campus,” she said. This is the time to find out what interests you and connect with other people with similar passions.”

Ruiyang (Ryan) Ma

Ryan Ma
Ryan Ma (Photo by Brian Busher)

Ryan Ma hails from Shanghai, China, and is graduating with a psychology major and minors in music and business. He is both president and founder of UAlbany PB&J (Piano, Band Instruments & Jam), a student organization dedicated to providing students equal access to musical instruments and spaces on campus.

A proud transfer student, Ma received the 2022 Massry Community Service Fellowship. Working closely with the American Red Cross and local fire departments, Ryan served as a Disaster Duty Officer and Disaster Action Team member to provide prompt humanitarian and psychological relief to victims of local house fires.

Working with professors on a variety of innovative projects was the highlight of his time at the University, he said. And his advice to new students is to jump on those chances as they arise. Be bold, find those opportunities, and take them,” he says.

After graduation Ma will be heading to the University of Toronto on full scholarship, where he will pursue a masters in user experience design, utilizing his knowledge in psychology. 

Caroline Srokowski

Caroline Srokowski
Caroline Srokowski (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

Caroline Srokowski is completing her bachelor of science in biology after three years. In addition to her academic achievements, she competed on the softball team and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, a tutor in biology, and an admissions advisor. She served as president of the Pre-Dental Club, and launched a program to educate local elementary school children about the importance of oral hygiene.

In the fall of 2022, Srokowski received the Merlin W. Hathaway Scholarship for outstanding academic and athletic achievement, leadership, integrity, and commitment to the University.

Playing on the softball team was among the top UAlbany experiences for Srokowski, who grew up in Ballston Spa, where she was a three-sport athlete. Not only have I learned countless transferable life skills and competed at a high athletic level, but I have also made many lifelong friends and memories that I will always carry with me,” she said. I grew up playing softball and being able to bring my love for the sport into college was always my biggest goal. I am so happy that I had the privilege of being a Great Dane.”

It's the people, she said, that make a college experience great, and her advice to new students is to make an effort to form connections and learn from classmates and professors. “There are so many amazing people and opportunities here at UAlbany but it is up to you to take that first step and start a conversation or put yourself out there,” she said, adding, “No matter how busy life gets or how much you seem to have on your plate, make sure that you are taking time for yourself and doing things that you enjoy. Despite balancing a challenging science course load, athletics, and my other extracurriculars I made it a point throughout my undergraduate career to find time to do things that I love and I think that played a big role in my success.”

Following graduation, Srokowski plans to attend dental school.