Chancellor Zimpher Announces Student & Faculty Fellows at Critical Issues Conference

October 30, 2014

Fellows will Partner with SUNY Leaders to Identify Strategies for Collective Impact


New York City – At the State University of New York’s fourth annual Critical Issues in Higher Education Conference this week, Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher announced a class of 2014 Student and Faculty Fellows who will build upon the momentum of the conference by working with SUNY leadership to implement new strategies for collective impact on their campuses and in their communities.

“This year’s conference has served as a catalyst for collective impact and the idea of affecting meaningful social change at scale, and it is critical that our conversations continue throughout the year on campuses and in communities across New York State,” said Chancellor Zimpher. “The student and faculty fellows have all demonstrated an aptitude for change leadership on their campuses, and I am confident that they are precisely the right group to help guide SUNY’s strategies for collective impact going forward.”

The students and faculty selected as fellows were chosen based on their interest in collective impact and an established desire to contribute more to their campuses and communities. Their participation in the conference is meant to foster this interest and leadership while providing them with new tools, clearer vision, and a broader, stronger network of connections in their fields.

Student Fellows

Alison Coombs, Binghamton University
Alison Coombs is a 4th year graduate student working on a PhD in philosophy at Binghamton University. She is currently doing pre-dissertation research in bioethics and disability. She developed a passion for improving the lives of people with disabilities as a special education paraprofessional and home health care provider prior to beginning her graduate education. She hopes to use her studies in bioethics to change our understanding of disability in philosophical ethics, social life, and public policy. She is also the president of the Binghamton University Graduate Student Organization. As president, she has advocated for university-wide improvements to graduate student advising, career development, and access to campus spaces and resources. She received her BA in Philosophy and Spanish from Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she was also active in student government and other student organizations.

Imani Cruz, SUNY Oswego
Imani Cruz is a sophomore at SUNY Oswego, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science and public justice. She has focused her studies on a pre-law track with plans to enter law school upon graduation. Imani serves as a peer advisor for freshman entering into the journalism and broadcasting department, and assists them in developing skills to move forward with their academic studies. She is also president of Oswego’s Residence Hall Association. She hopes to work in the field of journalism and/or law, and anticipates a future working with others to incite change in both the local community and on a broader scale.

Melissa Kathan, University at Buffalo
Melissa Kathan is a junior at the University at Buffalo Honors College, pursuing a degree in political science. She plans to graduate a year early, in the spring of 2015, and then pursue her master’s in public administration at the University at Albany. Melissa is involved in the Student Association at UB, serving as the Speaker of the Assembly since the spring of 2013 and as a voting SUNY Delegate for the campus. She is also the president of the UB Chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. In May of 2014, Melissa was appointed to be the associate director of Government Relations for State Operated Colleges for the SUNY Student Assembly. She is a graduate of Fairport High School, near Rochester, N.Y. During her senior year, she took a Leadership and Government class in which she worked with a group researching health care. Together, they traveled to Washington, D.C., and she was able to schedule a meeting for her group in the White House with the top health care officials in President Barack Obama’s Administration. This project solidified Melissa’s interest in leadership and change.

Rachel Liddic, SUNY Broome
Rachel Liddic is a full-time student at SUNY Broome Community College in the One Year Associate in Arts Program (AA1). Rachel balances her time between education, multiple jobs, community involvement, and spending time with her friends and family. Rachel has a passion for her community, particularly youth projects and teen development work. She enjoys the challenge of leadership roles and has experienced success working with younger students in her work with several mentoring programs. Rachel finds community work engaging because it cultivates open-mindedness and consideration of innovative and creative solutions to problems. Over the winter 2015 semester, Rachel will take a service and education-oriented trip to Haiti. In fall 2015, Rachel is scheduled to travel to Costa Rica for a nine-month cultural emersion trip with Score International. After returning to the United States, Rachel’s goal is to attend a SUNY school and attain a degree in International Relations. By gaining both experience and education over the coming years, Rachel aspires to be accepted into the Peace Corps.

Sean Reilley, Niagara County Community College
Sean Reilley is currently a student at Niagara County Community College and will graduate in December with an associate degree in humanities and social science. He is a member of the Phi-Theta- Kappa Honor Society, as well as a standing member of the Dean’s List. After graduation, he plans to transfer to a four-year school, focusing on Education and Educational Psychology and hopes to use the knowledge gained in college to implement more efficient methods of learning to education systems. He believes that educational psychology can be used to not just better education, but to instill positive values and ethics, stimulating a more united world, and a better, more understanding tomorrow. Sean believes that learning is essential to maintaining a healthy mind, and healthy life.

Garrett W. Roe, SUNY College at Brockport
Garrett W. Roe is a graduate student in the history department at SUNY Brockport. Originally from Worcester, N.Y., Garrett attended Brockport as an undergraduate, majoring in history and adolescent inclusive education. Garrett currently serves as a graduate assistant in Student Union and Activities responsible for campus programming and serves as the department’s liaison to the division’s assessment team. Garrett is also currently involved in the campus governance body, the College Senate, as a student senator. He is also a student government Court Justice and serves as a mentor for students in LAUNCH and the Leadership Development Program. After graduating with his Masters of Arts in 2015, Garrett plans to work in higher education and enter a higher education administration graduate program with the aspirations of becoming an administrator serving at a public comprehensive liberal arts institution.

Tucker Sholtes, SUNY Oswego
Tucker Sholtes is a senior double majoring in business administration and public relations with an international business minor at SUNY Oswego. He is the president of the Student Association and has previously been the president and founder of a variety of organizations on campus. He also currently works as an assistant sustainability coordinator for the Office of Sustainability and as the student program coordinator for the Center of Service Learning and Community Service. Currently, he is providing leadership to assist the campus in an institutional cultural shift related to a long-held end-of-year tradition. He is also involved in the development of strategic diversity and inclusion programming and training throughout the campus. In his down time, he publishes leadership-focused articles on Linkedin and studies the science of leadership and motivation. His goal is to pursue a career in management consulting in order to become a leadership consultant and executive team coach.

Tami Jo Smith, SUNY Buffalo State College
Tami Jo Smith is a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo State College’s International Center for Creative Studies, where she is pursuing a Master’s of Science in creativity and change leadership. As wellness coordinator and training specialist at a non-profit adult care facility for senior adults, Tami Jo develops and facilitates a variety of programs focused on improving the quality of life for clientele. These programs provide wholesome opportunities including forums for lifelong learning, preservation of social and emotional supports, and platforms for remaining active and involved in the local community. As an expert in the foundational elements of dignified and holistic senior care, Tami Jo also develops and implements effective training and development workshops for frontline personnel with a person-centered care focus. She has also contributed valuable resources and initiatives to her organization in the form of formal proposals for the improvement of organizational policy and procedures, and notable upgrades to administrative documentation and operations. She has also contributed greatly to organizational innovation through the facilitation of the CPS (Creative Problem Solving) process with both the Thinking Skills Model and FourSight Model. Tami Jo is focusing her education and experience on the development of a series of empowerment and leadership- focused workshops for adolescent girls and women in educational, professional, and community settings with the hope of positively impacting their overall identity development and self-image.

Faculty Fellows

Richard Burke, Research Foundation for SUNY
Richard Burke is a Presidential Fellow at the Research Foundation for SUNY, where he is working on building collaborative research opportunities for faculty at comprehensive and technology colleges. He is on sabbatical from his position as professor of engineering at Maritime College, where he has also served as chair of engineering and executive director of the Global Maritime Center. He has worked in industry as an engineer, manager, and consultant, and he previously served on the faculty of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is also an alumnus of Maritime College, and holds graduate degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Todd D. Ellis, SUNY Oneonta
Dr. Todd D. Ellis is an Associate Professor of Meteorology and Presiding Officer of the Faculty at SUNY Oneonta. His specialties within meteorology include satellite and radar meteorology, physical meteorology, and innovative pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning. He has published several research studies on the topics of understanding the relationship between climate change and changes in atmospheric movement and precipitation, and has served as principal investigator of an NSF CCLI grant and a NASA ROSES grant, both studying innovative ways to help students work with data and conduct their own scientific inquiry. Dr. Ellis serves as the Education and Outreach lead for the

NASA CloudSat satellite mission, overseeing international education and communication efforts, and he is a regular presenter with the National Science Teachers Association, conducting workshops and seminars for teachers on how to use scientific inquiry, observations, and NASA mission data to facilitate student learning about science. Dr. Ellis received the SUNY Oneonta 2013 Award for Excellence in the Use of Technology in the Classroom, in recognition of his use of social media in large lectures and for the development of a Linux computer lab and related courses in the Meteorology program. Dr. Ellis has also been chosen to convene the national Teaching Undergraduate Meteorology in the 21st Century workshop in August 2015 as part of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers On the Cutting Edge workshop program.

Mary McCune, SUNY Oswego
Mary McCune is Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Women’s Studies Program at SUNY Oswego. She received her PhD from The Ohio State University in 2000. Her research interests include 20th-century women’s history, immigration, and ethnic/racial history. She is the author of The Whole Wide World, Without Limits: International Relief, Gender Politics, and American Jewish Women, 1893-1930 (Wayne State University Press, 2005). She is currently working on a project that examines the impact of the Great Migration on settlement houses that were initially created to serve a largely Jewish immigrant base. Her service commitments at SUNY Oswego, in addition to directing Women’s Studies, include serving on the Services to Aid Non-Traditional Students Committee and acting as co-director of the student-run Women’s Center.

John Strong, Niagara County Community College
John Strong is a tenured Physical Education Teacher Education Assistant Professor and Personal Training Certificate Coordinator at Niagara County Community College. He is the NCCC 2013 recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and sits on the National Council on Strength and Fitness’s Board of Directors as a subject matter expert. John is a member of the Board of Directors for the Cheektowaga Youth Baseball Association as the Director of Baseball, where his sons play baseball, and he is a regular contributor to, where he has published articles like Effort Surplus and SMART Goals over the past three years. John also sits on the Executive Council of the NYS Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance as the future professionals advisor.

Jennifer Turner Waldo, SUNY New Paltz
Jennifer Turner Waldo is an Associate Professor of Biology at SUNY New Paltz. She is serving the second year of a two-year term as interim associate dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts. She earned a BS in Biology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a PhD in Molecular Biology from Weill Cornell Medical College. Her post-doctoral studies were conducted at the University of California at San Francisco and supported by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fund. Since coming to New Paltz, she has established and maintained an undergraduate-driven research program into the biochemistry and structural biology of proteins involved in cell division. A recently embarked upon line of work in her lab is focused on the development of genetic tests for dogs. In addition, she has published in the areas of science teaching, learning, and assessment.

Dr. Celia Watt, SUNY College at Brockport
Dr. Celia Watt has been with SUNY College at Brockport since 1998 and has a doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas. Her first appointment with the college was in the Department of Health Science for 17 years, and she now is chair of the Department of Public Administration. She has taught a variety of courses such as substance abuse counseling, interpersonal communication, contemporary issues in health, ethics, and statistics in addition to mentoring numerous theses and capstone projects. Her research interests are diverse, although topics related to tobacco control span her academic career including journal publications and a NIH grant (RO3). Her primary service contributions at the college level also include starting and administering an alcohol education program for students violating the campus alcohol policy and chairing the Academic Success Center Committee to conceptualize the creation of a state-of-the-art student center to promote academic achievement. She has contributed to the community and state by providing numerous workshops for counselors and writing a counselor manual (through a grant from the New York Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network) addressing issues related to treatment planning and motivational enhancement theory.

Dr. Margaret Wells, SUNY Upstate Medical University
Margaret Wells is an Associate Professor of Nursing at SUNY Upstate Medical University’s College of Nursing and has been a faculty member since 2000. Currently, she is the assistant dean for Outcomes and Evaluation and chair of the Outcomes and Evaluation Committee. She received a BS in nursing from Georgetown University, an MS and a post-master’s certificate as an adult nurse practitioner from Syracuse University, and a PhD in rural nursing from Binghamton University. Her dissertation and research interest is resilience in older adults. Dr. Wells is participating in a project with an interprofessional research team from SUNY PI studying the effects of grandparenting and stress levels. At SUNY Upstate, she serves as the College of Nursing faculty representative for the Upstate Faculty Council. She was inducted into the first cohort of the Academy of Upstate Educators in 2012 and actively works with other members of the Academy to provide mentoring and educational resources to Upstate faculty. In 2011, she completed the first Upstate Leadership Academy. She volunteers as an adult nurse practitioner at the Poverello free health care clinic in Syracuse, and is also involved in a new initiative at the College of Nursing where they are partnering with a psychiatric center in Syracuse to provide primary care to psychiatric patients and their families.


About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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