Chancellor Malatras Announces Recent SUNY Graduates to Join the First-Ever Student Advocate Fellowship Program to Drive Student-Centric Policy Initiatives Across SUNY

June 14, 2021

Four Recent Graduates from University at Albany/Mohawk Valley Community College, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY Old Westbury Joining SUNY System Administration at Albany Headquarters

Photos for Student Advocate Fellows Kalief Metellus, Kaitlyn Bertleff, Shay Gauthier, and Taryn Rackmyer Available Here


Albany, NY
– As part of SUNY’s first-ever Student Advocate Fellowship Program, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras announced that Kaitlyn Bertleff, Shay Gauthier, Kalief Metellus, and Taryn Rackmyer, all recent SUNY graduates, comprise the first class of the program. They join Chancellor Malatras and SUNY’s executive leadership team to drive student-centric policy initiatives to address pressing issues including affordability, access, academic quality and success, racial and social justice, mental health services, resources for students with disabilities, and food insecurity, among others.

Their respective areas of focus are:

Kaitlyn Bertleff, SUNY Management Fellow focusing on developing policy to address a wide range of student-facing issues in the Office of the Chancellor. Bertleff was an inaugural member of the SUNY Student Voices Action Committee established by Chancellor Malatras in October 2020, a group working closely with SUNY's Student Government Assembly that has championed for resources to bolster mental health resources for students and combat food insecurity across campuses. She was also President of SUNY Geneseo's Student Association and an assistant residence director. Bertleff graduated from SUNY Geneseo in May.

Shay Gauthier, SUNY Communications Fellow will develop and implement a communications strategy to address issues and opportunities raised by students, as well as help promote SUNY programs that make it one of the most affordable and accessible in higher education. She joins the Communications and Marketing team at SUNY, following extensive experience as a reporter and on-air personality, where she presented on important conversations such as, mental health, racial injustice, and issues surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition to numerous broadcast awards, Gauthier was recognized as one of this year's Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence and a recipient of SUNY Brockport's President's Citation Award for outstanding achievement. She graduated in May after completing her studies in journalism and broadcasting in three years.

Kalief Metellus, Student Advocate Fellow reporting to SUNY's first student advocate and senior advisor to the chancellor, Dr. John Graham. Metellus has been a student leader at SUNY serving the Old Westbury campus as Student Government Association President and Chief Executive Officer, and College Council member. He has authored approved resolutions to benefit the broad diversity of the student body, established scholarship awards for students, and provided funding for food pantries and housing resources, among other accomplishments to serve students in need. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Norman R. McConney, Jr., Award for Educational Opportunity Program Student Excellence; SUNY Student Assembly Student Government Association President of The Year; SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence; and the Lavender Graduation Bridge Award; among others. Metellus graduated from SUNY Old Westbury in May.

Taryn Rackmyer, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow reporting to SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Teresa Miller. Prior to this fellowship, Rackmyer was a graduate assistant to the Secretary of the SUNY Board of Trustees and a student assistant in Government Relations and Marketing. During her undergraduate studies at Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC) and the University at Albany, Taryn held a number of student leadership positions, earning her the 2019 SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, among other accolades. Rackmyer earned two associate degrees from MVCC in 2018 and 2019, a bachelor's degree from the University at Albany in December 2020, and is expected to graduate in December 2021 with her master's degree from UAlbany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy.

"Since we first announced the Student Advocate Fellowship in April and received the response from applicants, we knew we had to expand the program to include more recent SUNY graduates. Their experience at SUNY—coupled with an excellent education from our campuses and their stellar academic achievements—is what we need to build on our programs to stay current to meet and exceed the needs of our students," said Chancellor Malatras. "In turn, throughout the next two years of the fellowship we will continue their education with a robust professional development program to give them training in areas that usually develop over years of work experience. Our Student Advocate Fellowship program is as much about our fellows' individual career growth as is it about strengthening SUNY's overall efforts to provide an affordable and accessible education."

"Since we first announced the Student Advocate Fellowship in April and received the response from applicants, we knew we had to expand the program to include more recent SUNY graduates. Their experience at SUNY—coupled with an excellent education from our campuses and their stellar academic achievements—is what we need to build on our programs to stay current to meet and exceed the needs of our students," said Chancellor Malatras. "In turn, throughout the next two years of the fellowship we will continue their education with a robust professional development program to give them training in areas that usually develop over years of work experience. Our Student Advocate Fellowship Program is as much about our fellows' individual career growth as is it about strengthening SUNY's overall efforts to provide an affordable, accessible, and high-quality education."

SUNY Board Trustee Eunice Lewin said, "Since day one of his appointment, Chancellor Malatras has set a student-centric agenda that aims to get direct and candid feedback from students that will inform the support and resources they need to succeed. As recent graduates, Kaitlyn, Kalief, Shay, and Taryn, represent the best qualities of our SUNY campuses as leaders and advocates for their fellow students and I congratulate them on this prestigious appointment."

SUNY Management Fellow Bertleff said, "Recent SUNY advancements, including the new Student Advocate role, Student Voices Action Committee, and now the Student Fellowships are all meaningful initiatives whose purposes are rooted entirely in the mission of empowering students and putting SUNY student voices at the center of our system. I am honored to have the opportunity to support this mission of amplifying the student voice while assisting in the follow-through of important work related to the larger issues students face. It's exciting to have become an alumna of the SUNY system in its exemplary pursuit of high-impact actions towards building a collaborative, student-centric system for higher education."

SUNY Communications Fellow Gauthier said, "Throughout my time as a student journalist, I focused on being a voice for the voiceless. Having the opportunity to continue to acknowledge the challenges faced by students on a statewide scale is something that will not be taken for granted. I'm very excited to be a part of the SUNY team in an effort to make the system more accessible and inclusive for students."

SUNY Student Advocate Fellow Metellus said, "I know the hurdles to an education because I lived it, and I saw the struggles others had on campus. At SUNY Old Westbury, I was proud of what we accomplished to give support and resources, and that is my goal as I am the first to take on the role of Student Advocate Fellow. I'm ready to be a champion for SUNY students and excited to work with Chancellor Malatras as part of his team for this important work."

SUNY Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow Rackmyer said, "Working for SUNY, an institution that touches the lives of millions of New Yorkers each year, has given me a unique platform to advance the social justice causes I care most about. The opportunities I have been granted these first three months have not only enhanced my understanding of higher education policy, but have opened my eyes to the vast potential SUNY has to build a more equitable and inclusive future for all of NYS."

Originally launched in April as a singular fellowship position, the Student Advocate Fellowship Program grew based on the quality of candidate resumes and opportunities within SUNY system. The fellows will provide an invaluable student perspective and help formulate and implement solutions across SUNY's 64 colleges and universities. As advisors to Chancellor Malatras, they will gain crucial leadership experience that will help launch careers in higher education, government, non-profit-work, or the private sector.

The newly developed Fellows Professional Development Program will support the SUNY Fellow's success throughout their two-year appointment. This program includes monthly sessions that cover a range of topics from learning to lead and communicate effectively, to balancing work and life as they step into their first career. Each fellow will receive a SUNY mentor—an employee at either SUNY system administration or a senior administrator on a SUNY campus—who they can call and go to whenever they need and who will help support their professional growth.

The Student Advocate Fellowship and the first Graduate Student Advocate Fellowship program, announced in May, were launched by Chancellor Malatras as part of his student-centric commitment to policy-making and leadership. The Graduate Student Advocate Fellow will report directly to SUNY's Provost and serve a full-time, two-year appointment. A graduate degree awarded within the last 24 months by one of SUNY's institutions is required by the start of the Fellowship. Those interested may still apply here.

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 state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in 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 2021, 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 opportunity, visit suny.edu.


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