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05/08/2012

Student Officers Present First Holland Scholarship

When SUNY Cortland's Student Government Association (SGA) created the Michael C. Holland Memorial Scholarship to honor a beloved student affairs administrator who died unexpectedly last year, the task to find the first recipient was daunting.

“We had 13 applicants and they were all worthy of the scholarship,” said SGA President Jamie Piperato, who served on the committee.

Candidates for the scholarship may include continuing full-time undergraduate or graduate students who have a minimum 2.5-grade-point average, demonstrated campus involvement and significant participation in the Student Government Association or Residence Life and Housing activities.

“It was one of the hardest decisions we had to make,” Piperato said. “What we focused on was the candidates’ community involvement, both on campus and outside.

“We were looking for some kind of involvement from them in either student government, residential life and housing or multicultural life and diversity, because Mike Holland was heavily involved in those three things,” Piperato said.

Late this spring, shortly after the SGA presented a major gift of $135,000 to the Cortland College Foundation to establish the permanent scholarship, the committee awarded the first $5,000 scholarship to junior Sara Koppenhaver, a physical education major from Kenmore, N.Y.

The Michael C. Holland Scholarship is SUNY Cortland’s largest scholarship. It is intended to help students who embody the best qualities of Holland, the executive assistant to the vice president for student affairs, a more than 30-year employee.

“Sara’s application was very well written,” Piperato said. “You could definitely see her involvement on campus. At her interview she was great with words and her enthusiasm really made her stand out with us. She reminded us of Mike. Her personality is what won her over for us since it was so much like Mike’s.”

Holland died unexpectedly on Oct. 29 on the way back from helping student volunteers assist flood victims in Binghamton.

“We were all close in SGA with Mike and his passing hit us hard,” Piperato said. “We wanted to remember his name on campus and honor him.”

Last fall, after his passing, SGA also resolved to ask the student body to set aside Nov. 16, Holland’s birthday, for an annual day of service in his memory.

Holland had been a recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Professional Service, one of the highest honors bestowed by the State University of New York system. He is remembered by many for his wonderful sense of humor and contagious laugh. He was active in many projects involving the College’s relationship with the surrounding community and played a key role in SUNY Cortland’s hosting of the New York Jets training camp on campus.

Piperato and Franco
Jamie Piperato, Student Government Association president, presents a gift from the student body to Raymond Franco '72, M'75, vice president for institutional advancement, in April for the creation of the Michael C. Holland Memorial Scholarship. 

Holland served as an academic advisor to students and groups, including the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the SUNY Cortland Emergency Medical Services (EMS), a 58-member corps of student volunteers trained in emergency medical response. Holland had advised the EMS since 1984 and during his last year advised the SGA as well.

“We said, ‘How do we really make an impact and make sure his name will be around forever?” Piperato said. The SGA decided on a scholarship, "but there wasn’t much time to make it happen."

The SGA E-Board, composed of current and past SGA officers corresponding electronically, developed the scholarship criteria with two College vice presidents, Raymond Franco ’72, who heads institutional advancement but for many years led student affairs, and C. Gregory Sharer, the current vice president of student affairs.

After selecting the strongest résumés, the scholarship committee reviewed the applicants’ short essay answers to questions posed by the committee. Then they met with the four most outstanding candidates to identify the scholarship recipient based on the character of the finalists during the interview process.

“We wanted to make sure the person on paper matched up with the person in front of us,” Piperato said.

The scholarship committee also included Catherine Smith, health educator within the Student Development Center; Noelle Chaddock Paley, director of multicultural life and diversity; Ann Cutler, keyboard specialist II in the Division of Student Affairs; Jean Brown, associate director of housing and operations; Mary Kate Boland, assistant director for leadership and community development, campus activities and Corey Union; and Jeff Walkuski, associate professor of physical education.

Now that the scholarship is in place, future Holland Scholarship honorees will be chosen in time for them to be honored during late April at the annual Leadership Recognition Banquet hosted by the Division of Student Affairs.

Koppenhaver applied for the scholarship because she was convinced that the description of Mike Holland as having a “corny” sense of humor and a loving personality fit her as well.

“I worked with Mike Holland on Academic Convocation this year,” recalled Koppenhaver. “I was one of two people who helped him set up and clean up afterwards. He knew what he was doing. You could tell he was enjoying himself because he was always smiling and joking. He always was appreciative of our help. He had a great rapport with the students.”

A resident assistant at the College since August 2010, Koppenhaver has served since August as president of the campus’ Rho Delta chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary society. She assembled and presented Rho Delta’s regionally winning Chapter of the Year bid.

Koppenhaver has maintained a 3.87 grade point average and hopes to continue working in college residential services, perhaps as a hall director and a graduate assistant in a college residence life and housing unit.

“Cortland was the only campus I visited, and that was after I was accepted here,” said Koppenhaver, who had applied at seven different schools and was very familiar with Buffalo-area colleges and universities.

“What really got me was how spirited the campus was,” she said. “It’s what everybody always says, but it’s true. To come from a high school that was very school spirited, Kenmore West, and see when I got here that everyone was wearing Cortland stuff and that everyone was nice and happy. I would ask around among new students here and I found that what sold them on this school was that people held the door for them.”

Koppenhaver never played on a sport team in high school but came to college with more than 40 hours of field experience in college physical education, which turned her onto teaching.

“I think this scholarship is important because Mike Holland had a significant impact on this campus,” she said. “It’s also important to continue this scholarship with future generations of students. The fact that the scholarship was peer generated is significant because it recognizes the students knew how important he was to the campus and they are willing to donate to that cause and support it.”