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Chancellor’s Award: Naomi McPeters

Naomi McPeters hopes to use her passions for writing, photography and social justice in journalism or documentary filmmaking. (Photo by Mark Schmidt) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 1, 2017) — Naomi McPeters wants to be a documentary filmmaker, and she’s already honing the skills she needs to take her there.

A photographer and a writer, McPeters is an English major with minors in Documentary Studies and Educational Studies. The Albany native is one of four children homeschooled from childhood through high school. She has been a member of the Honors College and the English Honors Program. She has served as peer advisor, photographer and community assistant for a Living-Learning Community, and a Humanities Senator.

Eleven of her photographs are permanently installed in campus offices and she was a photojournalist intern with the Student Affairs Media Team during the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters, telling student stories through photo essays.

“What amazes me the most about Naomi is her ability to draw incredible stories out of the students she interviews,” said Cynthia Calautti, Student Affairs’ coordinator for communications and marketing. “They open up to her and share with her things I suspect they have told very few people.”


McPeters accepts her Chancellor's Award from SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and UAlbany Interim President James Stellar. 

McPeters’ 2017 Chancellor’s Award — SUNY’s highest honor — is just one of many awards she’s won at UAlbany, including the 2017 Presidential Award for Leadership, the Diversity Transformation Fund Award and the Initiatives for Women Endowment Award.

Her favorite course at UAlbany was one outside her major: Health and Human Rights, an Honors College class taught by Kamiar and Arash Alaei, which she said helped her understand how to move her interest in social issues into action.

“It helped me realize I had an aptitude for grant writing, and I had a passion for social issues that my writing could address,” she said. “This has served me well as documentary film work requires grants for funding and I will need to know how to write those effectively and persuasively.”

Another favorite was her thesis work over the past two semesters, exploring the writings of James Baldwin on race and religion with her advisor, Assistant Professor Derik Smith of the Department of English.

Smith apparently enjoyed the collaboration as well. "Naomi is one type of student that professors always hope to encounter. She's curious about her world, and she's willing to work hard to understand it better,” he said. “In the past few years I've been privileged to observe her seriously engage with texts and ideas, continually striving to make her thinking sharper. Her achievement is definitely praiseworthy; it's a testament to the possibilities for self-development that are available to UAlbany students who are committed to their studies."

McPeters plans to take a year off after graduating later this month to look for an internship in New York City. Then she plans to go to graduate school for journalism with a focus on documentary or investigative reporting.

Wherever she lands, she says she’ll take with her “the support and advice of professors, advisors, mentors and peers. I am taking four years of unforgettable experiences that have grown and shaped me. I am taking with me who I was always supposed to be.

“I will take with me the knowledge that everything I have learned and experienced here will live inside me for the rest of my life and will continue to make me a better learner, leader and human being.”

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