The SUNY Cortland Alumni Association will present its most prestigious honor, the Distinguished Alumni Award, to three graduates during a virtual award ceremony on Monday and Tuesday, July 12 and 13.
The association also will honor one graduate with the Distinguished Educator Award, recognize three Young Alumni and name two Outstanding Alumni Volunteers.
More information and registration details for the virtual awards ceremony will be posted soon to RedDragonNetwork.org.
Award winners from 2020 also will be recognized during this virtual ceremony.
The 2021 award recipients are:
Distinguished Alumni Award
Sidney Jamieson ’64
One of the longest-serving and most influential head coaches in collegiate men’s lacrosse history, Sidney Jamieson led Bucknell to 242 victories and seven conference championships in his 38 year-career at Bucknell University.
Since retiring from coaching in 2005, Jamieson, a member of Haudenosaunee, has worked to educate people about Native American history and culture and advocate for conservation and the environment.
Jamieson was a principal partner in the creation of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which follows 3,000 miles of waterways along the East Coast and promotes a combination of history and ecology.
At Bucknell, Jamieson has planned a Native American component to the university’s annual Susquehanna River Symposium for each of the last 15 years. He was instrumental in the installation of a Seven Generations Sculpture and a Tree of Peace at the university.
He has addressed audiences ranging from SUNY Cortland’s men’s lacrosse team to the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on topics that are near to his heart. As a regular guest lecturer in Bucknell’s Sociology/Anthropology Department, faculty have described Jamieson’s lectures as receiving praise in end-of-semester surveys from students.
Jamieson has worked as a fundraiser for Bucknell’s athletic department, creating an endowment for men’s lacrosse and raising approximately $2 million to date.
A founding member of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Program, serving both as head coach and executive director, Jamieson also has served with Johns Hopkins University’s American Indian Health Services, teaching lacrosse to Native youth in Southwestern reservation territories.
Karen Joskow Mendelsohn ’76
Karen Joskow Mendelsohn’s peers shower her with adjectives such as generous, caring and resourceful.
For the past 41 years, she has been a role model and a leader to students and faculty alike at Stony Brook University. In her current role as assistant dean for academic and student affairs in the School of Health Technology and Management, Mendelsohn manages new curricula development, compliance with accreditation and licensing agencies as well as many more areas of responsibility.
Mendelsohn has also served as a clinical assistant professor of Health Sciences at Stony Brook since 1986. She spearheaded the creation of a 500-level course, health sciences and society, that brought together students from throughout the department that emphasizes working in multidisciplinary teams.
She strives to be a beacon of inspiration for students. Mendelsohn was an instrumental part of Stony Brook’s Returning Student Network, which provided support to non-traditional and part-time students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped students in the Respiratory Care Program graduate two months early to enter the workforce and help treat patients. Mendelsohn also gave generously of her time, meeting individually online with students to address their fears and anxieties.
Involved in her local community, Mendelsohn has served on the Board of Directors of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Suffolk County, the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life’s Board of Directors and the Stony Brook Child Care Board of Directors. She has hosted countless Cortland students from Long Island at her home in “freshman send-offs.”
A psychology major at SUNY Cortland, Mendelsohn earned a master’s in higher education and college student personnel administration from Indiana University in 1979.
Patti Anne Vassia ’65
After graduating from SUNY Cortland, Patti Anne Vassia spent two years as a high school physical education teacher and coach.
She decided then to move to Middletown, Connecticut, to take a role with the Northern Middlesex YMCA. It was a decision that benefited Vassia and the people of Middlesex Counties in the decades since.
Vassia went on to become executive director of the Middlesex United Way for nearly 20 years before founding and serving as president and executive director of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County from 1997 to 2007. She has been responsible for raising more than $30 million for her community and supported many people, particularly women and those from underrepresented backgrounds.
In addition to her work, Vassia has volunteered tirelessly on behalf of the community. She helped revive the Middlesex County chapter of the NAACP, was the first female member of the Middletown Rotary Club and served as board president or chairperson of seven other organizations.
Vassia has received numerous awards from charities and organizations, including the Governor William A. O’Neill Public Service Award from the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and the Middlesex United Way’s Community Service Award, the chapter’s most distinguished honor.
Since retiring in 2012, Vassia has continued to volunteer and dedicate herself to the community. As the current president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way, Kevin Wilhelm said, “I doubt that there has been any single person who has had a greater positive and distinguished impact in this region in the past 50 years. Her reputation is legendary and well-deserved.”
Distinguished Young Alumni Award
Ashley Crossway ’13
Ashley Crossway saw her passion for the athletic training profession start at Homer (N.Y.) High school, when Joseph Davies ’03, M ’08 taught an Introduction to Sports Medicine Class.
Crossway followed her mentor and graduated from SUNY Cortland with a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training.
At SUNY Cortland, Crossway was a residential assistant for two-and-a-half years, participated in the Women’s Rugby Club for three years and was active with the SUNY Cortland Athletic Training Club.
After Cortland, Crossway secured a graduate assistantship and an enrollment in the first accredited Doctorate in Athletic Training program at Indiana State University, where she later earned her degree among the program’s first cohort.
At Indiana State University, she continued to develop her passion for the profession and for advocacy, particularly in advancing diversity within athletic training. She was especially active in pursuing greater inclusion of the LGBTQ+ population. She advocated with the university to create change within their professional organization, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), toward members and their diverse patient populations.
Crossway and like-minded campus members created an LGBTQ+ work group aimed at changing the discriminatory climate in academia and the profession. It was approved by NATA in 2017. The association later approved the creation of a more permanent official NATA LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee. Crossway currently serves as the District 2 representative, covering New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Crossway and classmates were honored in 2018 with the Indiana State University Award for Inclusive Excellence.
Crossway then worked as an athletic trainer at Nazareth College while she continued her equity and inclusion mission. She obtained professional training to facilitate diversity training in athletic departments across the region.
In 2020, she joined SUNY Cortland as an assistant professor and coordinator of clinical education for the Athletic Training Program. Her roles include fostering excellence both in the baccalaureate program as well as encouraging transition to the new master’s program.
Therno Diallo ’16
Not long after he graduated, Therno Diallo began to volunteer with his alma mater to engage current students who might look up to him as a positive male role model and be motivated to stay and succeed.
The former sport management major and football student-athlete and coach with the Red Dragons now serves as the assistant director of facilities, events, operations at Rutgers University.
Since 2018, he has assisted the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association with recruitment, donor solicitation, on campus activities and with overall outreach to Cortland graduates as a member of the Alum from Day One Committee.
In 2019, Diallo was appointed to the association’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Committee, where he helps with the implementation of Cortland’s diversity efforts throughout campus.
Last July, SUNY Cortland’s Sport Management Advisory Board tapped Diallo, who is working for a Division I institution that competes in the Big Ten Conference. He mentors students, evaluates undergraduate and graduate curriculum and provides relevant and up-to-date information to faculty members on trends in the sports industry.
Diallo brings to that role the additional expertise that he gained while earning a master’s degree in athletic administration in 2018 from Canisius College.
Due to his work ethic and ability to cultivate relationships with colleagues in the industry, Diallo also was selected to participate in several professional development programs, including the Division III Institute for Administrative Advancement, the MOAA Rising Stars Program, and the NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar.
“As an educator and athletics administrator, I take pride in helping others grow to unlock their true potential —especially students,” Diallo said.
Rachael Forester ’12, M ’14, Ph.D.
Rachael Forester describes herself as being “hard on systems and soft on people” as she strives to expand diversity, equity and inclusion at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Forester earned a doctorate in educational leadership there, focusing her dissertation on white supremacy on college campuses.
She currently serves her second alma mater as associate director of the Office of Identity, Equity, and Engagement and teaches as an affiliate faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.
Additionally, Forester has started an equity consulting firm geared to universities and businesses.
She has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for the last eight years, forming lasting friendships with program graduates.
Forester experienced her first professional jobs at SUNY Cortland, first as a program assistant for orientation, later as a residence hall director and ultimately as an interim assistant director for the Multicultural Life and Diversity Office. Forester served as the president of the LGBTQ+ Staff and Faculty Caucus.
“I assisted in the development of all-gender housing, all-gender restrooms, and assisted in the creation of the SAFE ZONE program for LGBTQ+ ally development,” she said.
At SUNY Cortland, Forester received a bachelor’s degree in early childhood/childhood education and a master’s degree in English as a second language.
An alumna and a committed member of the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, she was chosen by current students to deliver the virtual keynote address at the university’s 11th annual Student Conference on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice on April 18.
Jack Scott ’72
Jack Scott is the founder and executive director of the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Center for Autism Related Disabilities.
During his more than 40-year career spent assisting children, their parents and educators to understand and address the autism spectrum as an educator, he has served since 1991 as an associate professor and program executive director at FAU.
Scott has secured almost $15 million in federal and state grants to further training and education on autism.
With a staff of 18 clinicians who assist more than 6,000 families in south Florida, the center provides support and training to schools and community agencies. The center also manages unusual, grant-funded projects to provide mentoring for children and youth with autism, matching them with a successful adult who shares many of their special interests.
“We have a three-day intensive parent training for parents with newly diagnosed children and a special outreach to African American families,” Scott said. “These families often do not know much about autism and we find that African American children in our region are often not fairly considered for specialized autism school services.”
He has authored in his discipline two books on autism, a 2000 book on instructional programming used to help train new teachers working with children with autism, and a groundbreaking 2020 book on Safeguarding Your Child with Autism.
“These children are at elevated risk, as much as three times greater risk for death in contrast to typically developing children,” Scott said.
He also wrote a booklet on adaptive training skills and six articles with national and international circulation.
Scott earned a doctoral degree in special education in 1988 at the University of Florida. He has an M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of West Florida and received a bachelor’s degree in history from SUNY Cortland.
Outstanding Alumni Volunteers
Joseph Eppolito ’74, M ’76
For more than three decades, Joseph Eppolito has faithfully served the SUNY Cortland alumni family as well as other organizations in the Syracuse and Utica areas.
A member of the SUNY Cortland Alumni Association Board since 1988, Eppolito has held many roles, including president from 1996 to 1998. One of his most lasting contributions was securing a $75,000 gift from then-president Judson H. Taylor that went toward the purchase of the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House. Eppolito has also worked as treasurer and finance chair and served on the bylaws and nomination, the finance and audit and Parks Alumni House committees.
Eppolito has been active with Kiwanis International, a worldwide service club, for many years, having been elected to or served in many posts, including New York governor, New York district chair and international chair. He has spent 19 years as a Key Club representative, working with community-minded teenagers from many Syracuse and Utica-area high schools. Key Club, the largest high school service organization in the world, promotes leadership, caring and inclusiveness.
At Syracuse University, where he is currently an adjunct professor in the Whitman School of Management, Eppolito has been faculty advisor to the school’s Circle K Club since 1992. He has served the Whitman School’s board both as secretary-treasurer and president and helped raise thousands of dollars for the Club’s scholarship fund.
Eppolito, who is married to Virginia Marcinkoski Eppolito ’74, started his career as a teacher. He went to work as the corporate human resources manager for Pyramid Companies in Syracuse and was also a financial advisor for the New York Life Insurance Company. Eppolito earned a master’s degree in social studies education from SUNY Cortland and has a master’s degree in personnel and industrial relations from Syracuse University.
Stephen Penn ’86
Stephen Penn has dedicated his time and energy to SUNY Cortland alumni and students alike.
An associate member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Awards, Scholarship and Recognition committees, Penn has given many hours to important meetings, actively assisting and brainstorming with others. He has especially helped meet the needs of alumni from underrepresented backgrounds who have been underserved and gone without recognition.
Penn also is an active member of the SUNY Cortland community through programs, training and events. His captivating presence connects with other alumni as well as current students. Penn has joined the university’s Black Lives and Liberation Forum series and has networked with others both in New York City and at the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House.
Penn works as house officer and fire safety and life director at the Warwick New York Hotel. He had previously worked at other facilities in New York including with the Denihan Hospitality Group and the Waldorf Astoria.
An economics major, during his time as a student Penn was founder and president of the Tennis Club, student director of Corey Union, member of the Gospel Choir, Black Student Union and the Economics and Debate clubs.
Nobody knows the SUNY Cortland alumni family like Nabila Khazzaka. For 17 years, Khazzaka, until her retirement in 2020, served as secretary II in Alumni Engagement. She was an important and friendly point of contact for many of the more than 80,000 SUNY Cortland alumni who ever picked up the phone, sent an email or letter or popped into the office.
Khazzaka’s tremendous work ethic and organizational skills behind the scenes at annual events like Alumni Reunion and Cortaca made sure that returning graduates had a great time at these major occasions. Whether it was stuffing hundreds of name tags, planning travel and events or greeting alumni for hours in the sun or the snow, Khazzaka always made everyone feel welcome.
An immigrant, Khazzaka was also an important role model for countless student interns. “My husband and I both came here from Lebanon without knowing a thing about Cortland,” she said. Khazzaka could sense when students needed advice, support or just someone to talk to.
She is currently enjoying retirement in Kernersville, N.C. with her husband Nadim and often spends time with her children, Natalie, Nadine and John.
“We always joked that she is everyone’s mom, regardless if you are younger or older,” said Executive Director of Alumni Engagement Erin Boylan. “She always took everyone under her wing. As an organization that is committed to welcoming all Red Dragons, I couldn’t have been blessed with a better person to be the Association’s first point of contact.”
Despite not knowing Cortland when she started, by the time she retired, Khazzaka fully embodied the essence of Cortland. Her kind nature and warm spirit - and infectious laughter - made a lasting impact on the greater university community.