Our alumni are the proof that a SUNY education launches students into success in every facet of life. From legislators and scientists to musicians and astronauts, SUNY alums help build a better world. So let’s celebrate! Follow along this month as we highlight a few of our brilliant alumni from across the system.
No. 1 Mitski – SUNY PurchaseBorn in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother, singer-songwriter Mitski (Miyawaki) ’13 moved around during her youth, living in over 13 countries around the world, before graduating from high school in Turkey.
She wrote her first two albums at Purchase College in the studio composition program, She self-published her first, Lush, in 2012. She collaborated with a 60-person orchestra on her second album, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. It was her senior project.
After graduating from Purchase in 2013, Mitski Miyawaki (monomonymously known as Mitski) moved to NYC and went on to release her third critically acclaimed album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014), on the label Double Double Whammy. Rolling Stone magazine listed her as one of the “10 New Artists You Need to Know” in its February 2015 issue.
In 2016, Mitski’s fourth album Puberty 2 appeared on many Best of 2016 lists, including at #3 on Time Magazine’s Top 10 Best Albums. Her song “Your Best American Girl” landed at #2 on NPR’s list of Top 100 songs for 2016 and was named the 13th best song of the 2010s by Rolling Stone magazine.
In 2019, Mitski declared “her performance at Central Park’s SummerStage in 2019 would be her ‘last show indefinitely.'”(vulture.com)
She moved to Nashville, then released her 6th album, Laurel Hell, in 2022.
Mitski opened for Harry Styles in the summer of 2020 on his Harry’s House tour. She opened for Lorde in 2018 on her Melodrama tour.
No. 2 Eileen Collins – Corning Community College
Eileen Collins was an aviation pioneer her entire career. She was the first woman to command an American space mission and pilot the space shuttle, and is one of the Air Force’s first female pilots.
Collins was in the first class of women to earn pilot’s wings at Vance Air Force Base and was their first female instructor pilot. She was only the second woman admitted to the Air Force’s elite Test Pilot Program at Edwards Air Force Base.
NASA had such confidence in her skills as a leader and pilot that she was entrusted to command the first shuttle mission after the Columbia disaster, returning the US to spaceflight after a two-year hiatus.
Since retiring from the Air Force and NASA, she has served on numerous corporate boards and is an inspirational speaker about space exploration and leadership.
No. 3 Awkwafina – University at Albany
Nora Lum earned notoriety as the first Asian female rapper, “Awkwafina,” when her self-produced music video went viral on YouTube in 2012. She wrote the lyrics in her dorm room while a student at the University at Albany a few years earlier, a time when only close friends knew of her alter ego. Today, everyone knows Awkwafina — a comedian, a TV host, a movie star, and perhaps most importantly, an inspiration for girls and young women all over the world.
Lum was born in Queens to a Chinese-American father and South Korean immigrant mother who died when Lum was just four years old. Her paternal grandmother influenced Lum’s outgoing nature and bold sense of humor. Lum attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts where she played trumpet and fueled her love affair with hip hop by writing rap lyrics and recording beats. She continued to write and record in college, and added stand-up comedy and personal essay writing to her creative portfolio. Lum graduated with honors in 2011, with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and women’s studies. UAlbany English professor Dr. Thomas Bass remembers her as “super smart and funny, an extraordinary writer, and a real standout among her fellow students.”
In 2012, Lum was fired from her first publicist job in NYC when her music video went viral on YouTube. The self-produced parody of the boastfulness of conventional rap lyrics garnered millions of views, sparking Awkwafina’s status as an Asian American pop culture phenomenon. Her debut album, “Yellow Ranger,” appeared in 2014. She was profiled in the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival selection, “Bad Rap,” along with three other Asian American rappers, and collaborated with comedian Margaret Cho in the music video for “Green Tea.” Lum co-hosted MTV’s weekly late-night talk show, “Girl Code Live!” and hosted her own scrappy web series, “TAWK,” on Verizon’s go90.com.
2018 was a breakout year for Lum. She released her second rap album, “In Fina We Trust,” and shined as Constance in the film, “Ocean’s Eight.” She stole the show as the lovable and eccentric Peik Lin Goh in “Crazy Rich Asians,” and hosted iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards and Saturday Night Live. The Hollywood Reporter named Awkwafina one of “Hollywood’s Rising Stars 35 and Under.” And Lum isn’t slowing down: She’s the voice of Courtney in “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” due out later this year. She currently is filming the sequel to “Jumanji,” and will star in the upcoming Comedy Central scripted series, aptly named “Awkwafina,” inspired by her upbringing in Queens.
Despite her increasingly busy schedule amidst a rapidly growing career, Lum visited UAlbany as part of the New York State Writers Institute (NYSWI) Fall 2017 Visiting Writers series. She spent time with former professors including Times Union senior writer Steve Barnes, who taught Lum in four journalism courses. Lum joined Barnes for an on-stage interview that addressed her life and career, and Asian representation within the entertainment industry. Lum held a meet and greet with students and autographed copies of her recently published travel guide, Awkwafina’s NYC. “She expressed deep and abiding love for her alma mater at every opportunity,” said NYSWI Director Paul Grondahl.
No. 4 Ingrid Michaelson – Binghamton University
ngrid Michaelson is the daughter of a classical music composer and started taking piano lessons at the age of 5. After graduating from Binghamton, she cultivated her interest in music by performing at a coffee house and teaching theatre to kids when she got a call from a manager who discovered Michaelson’s homegrown music on her MySpace page. Within months, her music could be found in commercials, Grey’s Anatomy, and One Tree Hill.
No. 5 Stanley Tucci – Purchase College
Stanley Tucci is an actor born in Peekskill, New York.
He has directed five films and appeared in over seventy, including The Devil Wears Prada, Easy A, The Terminal, and Road to Perdition, as well as more than a dozen plays, on and off Broadway.
He starred in Julie & Julia, opposite Meryl Streep, and The Lovely Bones, for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actor.
He has won five Emmy Awards; one for Winchell (1998), one for a guest appearance on the comedy series Monk, one for being a producer of the web series Park Bench with Steve Buscemi, and two for a six-part food and travel documentary series on CNN titled Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy for which he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series in 2021 and 2022.
Tucci was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (2003), and a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children, for The One and Only Shrek! alongside Meryl Streep.
He’s well known as Caesar Flickerman in the blockbuster film trilogy The Hunger Games.
Tucci had his start on the Broadway stage, playing a soldier in the Broadway play The Queen and the Rebels (1982).
Tucci made his feature debut as a hood in John Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor (1985) and soon developed into a highly respected character actor in films like Billy Bathgate (1991), The Pelican Brief (1993) and the HBO biopic Winchell (1998).
Alternating between independent films and big-budget features, Tucci earned recognition with his delightful performance as proud Italian chef Secondo Pilaggi in Big Night (1996), directed by Campbell Scott from a script by Tucci.
He played Puck in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) and directed the indie film Joe Gould’s Secret (2001).
He played Adolph Eichmann in Conspiracy (HBO, 2001) and Stanley Kubrick in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (HBO, 2004).
Tucci had roles in Burlesque (2010), Spotlight (2015), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and Margin Call (2011).