One of the recent recipients of the 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence was SUNY Ulster student Gulnar Babayeva, who is studying from Azerbaijan. Babayeva accepted the award as she continues her education to the masters level in a field she never would have imagined.
Landing at SUNY Ulster and exploring the American education system wasn’t Babayeva’s plan when she decided to travel to the United States with a bachelor’s in American Studies from her home country. Instead, Babayeva was supposed to simply work at a special needs camp in High Falls, NY and return home during the offseasons. That plan was changed after meeting a local judge’s wife, Jo Shuman.
Shuman had given Babayeva a ride from the bus station to the camp, a misunderstanding for both women. Shuman thought that Babayeva could be a runaway teen; Babayeva thought Shuman was affiliated with the camp she was to be working at. Shuman drove the eager woman to the camp, asking for only one thing in exchange: to keep in touch.
Throughout Babayeva’s first summer at the camp, she kept in touch with the Vosper-Shuman family and experienced something new to her: the arts. The family encouraged Babeyeva to explore this deep interest at local SUNY Ulster, which she did. Graciously, the family also offered their own home to Babayeva so that she could take full advantage of the educational opportunity.
Babayeva accepted the offer, adding, “I feel like I won the lottery.”
One degree later, and while working on another, Babayeva is getting the most out of her friendship with the Vosper-Shuman family and SUNY Ulster. She recognizes three families in her life: the first in Azerbaijan, which she still keeps in touch with via video chat; the second, the Vosper-Shuman family; and the third, SUNY Ulster.
She has been deemed an “excellent student” by Iain Machell, Professor and Chair, Dept. of Art, Design, Music, Theatre & Communication at SUNY Ulster. But Machell doesn’t need to be the one to attest to her ability; Babayeva earned a 3.9 GPA in pursuit of her A.A. Fine Arts: Visual Degree, Fall 2011 while working two jobs and volunteering on the side.
Machell adds that Babayeva’s success is product of a perfect union between her and SUNY Ulster. “She willingly gets involved in leading any projects that interest her, with a strong passion for her studies and her fellow students at SUNY Ulster and the immediate community. I can’t think of any student who has got more from the opportunities we offer at SUNY Ulster.”
When not in class throughout her time at SUNY Ulster, one could find Babayeva at her post as director and designer for SUNY Ulster’s Slate, Art and Literature magazine; Visual Arts Club President; Student Admissions Ambassador; a SUNY Ulster Mentor Success [SUMS] program mentee; member of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society (while she maintained her place on the President’s List); or SUNY Ulster Printing & Graphic Services specialist where she currently interns. Supervisor Bob Johnson uses the words ‘optimistic’, ‘energetic’ and ‘eager’ to describe the student. Johnson adds, “her self-motivation is inspirational.”
When asked about her experiences in the Hudson Valley, including at SUNY Ulster, Babayeva recalls “I believe I’m just lucky. I never thought I would end up here.” Comparing SUNY Ulster to the universities in her home country, Babayeva adds, “The quality of the education here is much better. I never got to experience what I was learning. I only read books and studied. At SUNY Ulster, they let me think, analyze and create on my own.”
For her achievements, she has received the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for “Outstanding Academic Achievement and Contributions to the University Community” as well as SUNY Ulster President’s Awards for Excellence in Student Leadership in 2012 and Student Initiative in 2011.
Babayeva hopes to be working with traditional or digital media art as a full-time professional following her pursuit of a bachelors and masters degree in art.
Maxwell is the Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.