Four SUNY Cortland seniors were honored with 2012 State University of New York Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence, the top academic prize for SUNY students, on April 4 in Albany, N.Y.
The College’s recipients included:
• Amanda Cheetham, a senior health education major from Cortland, N.Y.
• Jamie Piperato, a senior kinesiology major from Thiells, N.Y.
• Laura Platt, a senior biology major from West Almond, N.Y.
• Michael Tota, senior a business economics major from Penfield, N.Y.
The four recipients backed their impressive grade point averages (GPAs) with their work in student government, athletics, outdoor education and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
Including this year’s winners, 64 SUNY Cortland students have earned a Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence since the program was created in 1997.
Each year, SUNY campus presidents establish a selection committee to review outstanding graduating seniors. The nominees are forwarded to the Chancellor’s Office for a second round of review and a group of finalists is selected. Each honoree received a framed certificate and a medallion to wear during Commencement.
Here’s a closer look at each 2012 SUNY Cortland honoree:
SUNY Cortland strives to be one of the healthiest campuses in the nation, and students like Amanda Cheetham help make that a realistic goal. Named Health Education Major of the Year for 2012, Cheetham has worked tirelessly to promote physical and emotional wellbeing at the College.
She drums up support for campus health initiatives big and small, whether they involve body appreciation or the College’s commitment to become tobacco-free in 2013.
For two semesters, Cheetham poured her energy into an internship for SUNY Cortland’s Health Promotion Office, where she helped organize Wellness Wednesdays, health education for first-year students and the College’s AIDS Memorial Quilt Display.
As a sophomore, she launched a community service project to cut down tobacco use in Cortland County, speaking with local business owners about tobacco-free entrances and writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.
During her junior and senior years, her tobacco-free efforts shifted to the SUNY Cortland campus. Cheetham served on the Colleges for Change Student Committee as a junior and participated in the Great American Smokeout, an event that raises awareness of tobacco’s damaging effects, as a junior and senior.
And there’s more to Cheetham than fitness and healthy lungs. She’s been an ambassador for fellow students in her roles as a resident assistant, orientation assistant and transfer student buddy. Cheetham, herself, transferred to SUNY Cortland from Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
She was voted Resident Assistant of the Semester during her sophomore year and an Outstanding Student Leader as a sophomore and junior.
A three-time President’s List member, Cheetham carries a 4.15 GPA in the classroom and has won several awards and scholarships for her academic achievement. She also has been inducted into two honor societies: Eta Sigma Gamma, a national organization for health educators, and Tau Sigma, a national honor society for transfer students.
Rather than ask her what she’s involved in on campus, it might be easier to ask Jamie Piperato what she’s not involved in. The president of the College’s Student Government Association (SGA) during the 2011-12 academic year estimates that she spends 20 to 30 hours in an average week on student affairs-related work.
With the help of an executive board, Piperato oversees 73 student clubs and sits on several campus committees. That doesn’t stop her from actively participating in some of those student groups, which include Spectrum, the College’s gay-straight alliance; AIDS Prevention and Awareness Club; Black Student Union; and Women of Color.
For two years, she served as a co-chair of SUNY Cortland’s Diversity Conference and as a member of the Residence Life Conference. Other campus committees she has participated in since her junior year include the Auxiliary Services Corporation Board of Directors, Faculty Senate and the Middle States Steering Committee.
A speaker at many events across campus, Piperato has twice been named an Outstanding Student Leader. For her efforts to foster a sense of community at SUNY Cortland, the Multicultural Life and Diversity Office recognized her with its Unity Award in 2011.
Piperato’s work in the community is as varied as her busy days in Corey Union. Some of it, such as the downtown Cortland cleanup after the Cortaca Jug football game and relief response for flood victims near Binghamton, N.Y., was visible. Other efforts, such as volunteering at a Valentine’s Day dance for community members with disabilities, might have gone unseen but were just as important to her.
During her first two years on campus, Piperato played for the College’s women’s basketball team. And during her sophomore and junior years, she served as a resident assistant. If a student program exists at SUNY Cortland, chances are that Piperato has touched it.
A six-time Dean’s List member, Piperato boasts a 3.64 GPA and membership in the American College Personnel Association, a professional organization devoted to student affairs work.
Laura Platt grew up as a child of the outdoors, and her SUNY Cortland education only continued that growth.
She flourished at the College’s Outdoor Education Center at Raquette Lake, a unique SUNY Cortland compound located in the Adirondacks that Platt has visited nearly a dozen times for both research and relaxation. She’s taken a field biology course there and she’s volunteered as a teaching assistant four times, instructing childhood/early childhood education majors about kayaking, snowshoeing and GPS satellites during weekend retreats.
Platt’s wilderness experiences in New York state propelled her to a semester abroad in India with the National Outdoor Leadership School. She spent three months of her junior year learning outdoor and leadership skills in the Himalayas, while balancing 16 credit hours.
On the SUNY Cortland campus, her work is just as impressive. She’s president of the Water Ski and Wakeboard Club and a member of several other organizations, including the SUNY Cortland Recreation Association, Biology Club, Chemistry Club, Geology Club and Habitat for Humanity.
Platt has served as a senator for SGA and currently sits on the Advisory Council for the Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education.
And then there’s her academic track record. A member of the President’s List for six semesters, she has a 4.06 GPA. As a sophomore, she was awarded the SUNY Cortland Undergraduate Research Fellowship to study the beaver pond at Hoxie Gorge in Virgil, N.Y.
Platt has received many individual academic awards, including the Irmgard Mechlenburg Taylor Award in 2011 for having the highest grade point average of Phi Kappa Phi members in the School of Arts and Sciences. Her academic honor society memberships include Beta Beta Beta, which recognizes biology majors, and Phi Eta Sigma, which acknowledges first-year students.
The term scholar-athlete takes on a new meaning in Michael Tota. An All-America member of the men’s lacrosse team, Tota is just as serious about his studies.
In 2011, he was awarded a SUNY Cortland Undergraduate Research Fellowship to research salary compression in higher education across New York state. He examined 11 years worth of salary data, looked at the regional variation in salaries by institution type and studied the union representation for faculty members on the different campuses.
He also presented at Scholars’ Day, SUNY Cortland’s celebration of undergraduate research, as a sophomore and junior while balancing his midseason lacrosse commitment.
He is also a leader in academics, Aa teaching assistant for the first-year COR 101 course and an academic tutor for finance and introductory macroeconomics, he has held regular office hours and assisted his classmates when he was needed.
He’s also rallied around the local community by gathering clothing during the holiday season for a men’s lacrosse team charity drive. Tota participated in local Habitat for Humanity and Relay for Life efforts in addition to launching a Mustache Madness event, where members of the College’s men’s lacrosse team grow out mustaches in November to raise funds and awareness for leukemia and lymphoma.
On the lacrosse field, the attackman made an immediate impact as a freshman. He won two Rookie of the Year awards and helped capture a national championship in his first season. Since that time, he’s been named to many different all-academic teams and has picked up several individual awards for his high marks, including the 2011 SUNYAC Scholar-Athlete Award.
A four-time member of the President’s List, Tota has achieved a 4.09 GPA. He recently was awarded the 2012 Irmgard Mechlenburg Taylor Award and last year was named the Scholar of the Year for the interdisciplinary honor society Phi Kappa Phi, of which he is a member, as well as Phi Eta Sigma, the academic society for freshmen.