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First Inaugural Scholars Named

by Carol Olechowski (January 30, 2006)

Clockwise, Inaugural Scholars Zakhar Berkovich, Jeffrey Castillo, Jessica Gunsch, and Sheila Gaddy.
Clockwise, Inaugural Scholars Zakhar Berkovich, Jeffrey Castillo, Jessica Gunsch, and Sheila Gaddy.

Jeffrey Castillo, Zakhar (Zack) Berkovich, Jessica Gunsch, and Sheila Gaddy have a lot in common. They're University at Albany undergraduates who aspire to successful careers, want to leave a mark on the world, and plan to give back to the University. They're also the first students to receive Inaugural Scholarships. The scholarship fund recently topped $1.68 million.

Castillo, 20 and a senior business major, already has an analyst's position awaiting him at J.P. Morgan Chase. He takes 18 to 21 credits each semester and summer courses, and he participates in Project Excel, a program that provides academic support and other services that increase the retention and graduation rates of low-income, first-generation, and disabled students.

"It says a lot about the University that the president would use money set aside for his inauguration to establish the Inaugural Scholarship Fund instead," Castillo notes. The Manhattan native enrolled at the University because "UAlbany had the most established business program in the entire SUNY system. I read the profile of [Associate Professor and Chair of Marketing] William Danko, who co-authored The Millionaire Next Door," and decided to apply for admission. Three years later, he finds his UAlbany education "superior to that of some of my peers who go to other schools," including Ivy League institutions.

Gunsch, a senior, majors in business and minors in English and women's studies. The eldest of five children from a Pleasant Valley, N.Y., family, she plans a career on Wall Street. "I want to be happy with what I do, not just have a job," she says.

Severely injured in an auto accident several years ago, Gunsch, 21, overcame her doctors' doubts that she would recover and refused to listen to friends who told her that she would probably have to abandon her plans for college. "I like going to class. I like to learn new things," says Gunsch, who works several jobs to make ends meet.

The Inaugural Scholarship validates her determination. "I'm proud to attend UAlbany because we have a president like Dr. Hall who cares for students. Not many students have the opportunity to get something like this scholarship." Like Hall, "I want to be out in the community making a difference when I graduate. And I want to give back to the University so I can support other students. I know it's going to be hard, but I have the commitment and the drive to succeed."

A sophomore with senior standing who has majors in biology and Judaic studies and a minor in mathematics, Berkovich immigrated to Staten Island from Belarus with his parents and younger sister several years ago.

A work/study student for the Division of University Development, he is active with Albany Crew, Hillel, and the Spirit Committee. "I want to explore a lot of things and leave my imprint," explains Berkovich, who packs as much as he can into a typical day and has decided that "sleep is overrated."

Berkovich, 19, appreciates the Inaugural Scholarship award; "I've already put it on my résumé."

He aspires to a career in medicine, possibly as a pediatrician, and is taking steps to make that goal a reality. A member of Albany's Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, Berkovich enjoys "working with people who feel you are helping them. You can see the thanks in their eyes."

Wherever his ambitions take him, Berkovich says, "I really want to succeed quickly and give something back."

Gaddy, an Albany native "on a mission to do something with my life," enrolled at UAlbany two years ago. Now a senior Africana studies major and English minor, she hopes to teach at the University someday.

She also plans to write; in fact, Gaddy is already the author of the self-published Life's Experiences and Challenges in Poetry. The poems, "13 or 14 years old and written on scraps of paper when I published them," chronicle some of the struggles she has overcome. "If you are really determined to do something, you can do it," says the mom of three grown children.

Of the Inaugural Scholarship, Gaddy says, "There are just no words for being acknowledged for your accomplishments." She adds: "The University gives students a lot of support. People like President Hall; [Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs] Carson Carr; [Assistant Dean for Student Affairs] Nancy Belowich-Negron; and [Professor and Chair of Africana Studies] Leonard A. Slade Jr. make it possible for students like me to make it, and I really mean that."


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