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Wellness & Success

Students Learn What Leadership is Made of in New Virtual Academy

Zoom screnshot of student web meeting over celebratory graphics with phrase - Congratulations SUNY Student Leadership Academy Class of 2020

As students complete a considerably different fall semester, SUNY students were given an opportunity to add to their education with lessons on becoming leaders. 41 SUNY students graduated from the inaugural SUNY Student Leadership Academy hosted by SUNY’s Strategic, Academic and Innovative Leadership (SAIL) Institute. The SUNY Student Leadership Academy provided the next generation of leaders an opportunity to virtually connect with individuals from a number of industries, including several notable SUNY alumni from across the state, country, and world.

The Student Leadership Academy is a professional development program, open to both SUNY undergraduate and graduate students. This inaugural academy was designed to provide talented and committed SUNY students throughout the system with the leadership mindset and skills that are necessary to solve today’s complex global challenges and be successful beyond graduation. SUNY students were nominated and then selected to represent their campus this fall semester. Each campus is eligible to accept two students each for the no-cost academy. The aspiring student leaders engaged in a series of live virtual seminars, as well as stretch assignments in between each session.

Thanks to assistance from campus liaisons and a system-wide design team, the Fall cohort and academy was rolled out. With a strong focus on understanding one’s own culture and identities as they relate to their peers, community, and the world; expanding one’s personal and professional network; and learning storytelling skills and how to articulate one’s story to future hiring managers, the academy was packed with invaluable leadership advice and tools.

The students engaged in topics such as “Setting Yourself Up for Success in College, Knowing Yourself to Lead Others, The Power of Mentoring, Articulating your Story to Open the Door to Your Future, and Working with Diverse Teams: Cultural Intelligence to Include Others.”

During the academy, all students were given an assignment to identify a mentor. They were given materials and resources in order to reach out to a mentor themselves and stay connected with them beyond the academy. Leadership Development Manager Merissa McKasty notes, “SAIL made sure to give them helpful tools to begin the process of finding a mentor and was there to assist them along the way. This was crucial as finding the right mentor might take a bit more time than the student anticipates.”

SUNY SAIL Institute and Organizational Development Director Carolyn Mattiske also reflected on the academy, saying, “The students stepped up to the challenges this fall, and showed us what leadership is. I congratulate all of the graduates, and can’t wait to see what they accomplish in their academic and professional careers. The future is brilliant and bright with our SUNY students leading us forward.”

And, the graduating student leaders had plenty of positive takeaways about their experience:

Samantha Alvarez, a student at Westchester Community College, shared, “I thought that this program was positive because everyone in the cohort was respectful and contributed different perspectives. Although we come from different backgrounds, we were all able to come together to learn how to become a better leader. The resources we had access to in this program were exceptional. I personally enjoyed all of the guest speakers–they offered great advice!”

Aeon Blake, a student from Farmingdale State College, also had an enjoyable experience, “This Student Leadership Academy was positive, because it allowed the continuous participation among the cohort in team-building activities and group discussions. Not only did we get to voice our opinions but also heard what others had to say.”

For Caitlyn Roden, a student at SUNY Brockport, she now feels more comfortable leading, “Because of this program, I feel equipped to be a leader in every space I find myself in and understand that I belong in the space that I occupy. It will also help me work with diverse peoples and populations. The speakers were inspiring and empowering, and I will take with me so many lessons learned.”

For attendees, they had the opportunity to hear from individuals throughout SUNY, such as Chancellor Malatras and SUNY Student Advocate and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. John Graham, industry leaders and SUNY alums from organizations such as Regeneron, Fox Sports, Special Olympics New York, and many more.

The SAIL Institute is proud to expand the reach of this innovative development program and aims to include students from all 64 SUNY campuses in 2021. For information about how to get involved in the new year, visit

The full list of the graduates are as follows:

Shania Yearwood, University at Albany

Thalia Blankson, University at Albany

Joyce Akinmola, University at Albany

Deborah Oliveira, Alfred State College

Dylan Perlino, Alfred State College

Caitlyn Roden, SUNY Brockport

Taylor Inman, SUNY Brockport

Sadia Rifah, University at Buffalo

Leah Mariah Dsouza, University at Buffalo

Imani Ibrahim, Buffalo State College

Talia Peeler, Buffalo State College

Naomi Fata, Columbia-Greene Community College

Lauryn Gibbs, Cornell University

Alexandria Kirby-Williams, Cornell University

Chance Kelly, SUNY Empire State College

Aeon Blake, Farmingdale State College

Morgan Heller, Farmingdale State College

Nicole Gehan, Fashion Institute of Technology

Robin Lynch, Fashion Institute of Technology

Kai Blokhuis, Finger Lakes Community College

Me’ilani Nelson, Genesee Community College

Melisha Gatlin, SUNY Geneseo

Ngan Nguyen, Herkimer College

Maryam Masoud, Monroe Community College

Jennifer Russo, SUNY New Paltz

Kaitlyn Migliore, SUNY New Paltz

Jewel Joseph, SUNY Old Westbury

Teliah Doctor, SUNY Old Westbury

Evelynn Ashton-Grace Ritter, SUNY Oneonta

Cede Elizabeth Ramirez, Onondaga Community College

Si Po Ra, Onondaga Community College

Giovanni Harvey, SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Gaby Sorto, SUNY Polytechnic Institute

Blake Albano, SUNY Purchase College

Nayeli Frederick, SUNY Purchase College

Darius Parker, Rockland Community College

Gabriella Mayers, Stony Brook University

Anthony Machuca, Stony Brook University

Beatrice-Ann Amato, SUNY Ulster

Velisha Guillaume, Upstate Medical University

Samantha Alvarez, Westchester Community College

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Written by Julie Maio

Julie is the assistant director for student mental health and wellness for SUNY System Administration.

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