One by one, the recipients of the Frank G. Paul Medal of Excellence dipped their heads to receive the bronze medallion on its black-and-gold ribbon.
Thirty area high school students – one male and one female from each school – received the award for their accomplishments in math and science at a May 15 reception. Their futures will lead them in many different directions under the aegis of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — although, for many, the first stop will be at SUNY Broome.
With a love for biology, Kelly Perry of Whitney Point High School sees her future as a nurse – perhaps focused on obstetrics or neonatology. Alexander Amisimov from Vestal is a self-professed “car guy,” planning on a career in mechanical and then automotive engineering.
Union-Endicott’s Courtney George, on the other hand, doesn’t know what path she will take, other than pursuing a degree in Engineering Science at SUNY Broome.
That uncertainty is completely normal, according to SUNY Broome Professor Diana LaBelle, co-chair of the Engineering Technologies Department. A SUNY Broome alumna who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Ivy League Cornell University and a master’s degree in robotics from prestigious Carnegie Mellon, LaBelle’s career path resembles a winding river, flowing onward but in ever new patterns.
The reception’s keynote speaker, LaBelle discussed her career, common questions students face and life-lessons.
Her love of STEM perhaps first took root when she was a young child, following her father around as he made household repairs. Not ready for college after high school, she instead enlisted in the Marine Corps, where she became an aircraft mechanic and later an inspector, putting her stamp of approval on completed work.
As a SUNY Broome student, she questioned her future trajectory. She liked many subject areas and worried about making the wrong choices. The students in the room may feel the same, she noted.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My career shows that’s okay,” she said.
When she graduated from Broome – then BCC – she realized that she liked her alma mater, and ultimately wanted to help others achieve their potential. She taught her first class – a summer term lab – at SUNY Broome before she even finished her bachelor’s degree. From there, she taught classes in math and physics, worked as a systems engineer at BAE Systems for several years and eventually landed full-time in the classroom.
In some senses, her life path is coming full-circle, as SUNY Broome is working on establishing a future aircraft maintenance degree program.
“Nothing you do to educate yourself is ever going to be a waste of time,” she advised students.
She offered other life-lessons, too. Embrace change, and recognize that you may end up on a different career path than you originally imagined. That’s perfectly fine; it’s okay to try new things.
Develop time management skills, and recognize that there are situations where you can’t get everything done and need to prioritize. Focus on being a student and make sure you don’t put in too many hours at your off-campus job. If you need to, sell your car and take the bus rather than jeopardize your academic future.
Students also need to develop a support system. “We can help here with that here,” she said. “Look at everyone around you. These people are going to help you make it through the program.”
The importance of STEM
The Medal of Excellence’s namesake, Frank G. Paul, spent more than four decades as an IBM engineer and believed in math, science and education, said SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm. Frank Paul served as a SUNY Broome trustee as well as president of the Broome Community College Foundation, which provides scholarships to many students.
Math and science have always been important in human society, from ancient engineers who built roads, aqueducts and buildings that last to this day, to early mathematicians, physicians and scientists of all kinds who laid the groundwork for discoveries to come.
Scientific discoveries have changed our understanding of the world dramatically through the centuries and even the decades. To the young scholarship recipients, the moon landing is ancient history and even the space shuttle a quaint image of the past. Instead, they may live to see the first human beings set foot on Mars, Dr. Drumm said.
“It’s up to each generation to pursue that defining human mission: to push the boundaries of discovery, to increase our understanding of the universe and our world, and to make it a better place,” President Drumm said.
Alexis Van Donsel, of Vestal High School, said she appreciates the logical and rational nature of STEM fields. She plans to major in Engineering Science at SUNY Broome, and eventually combine her interest in engineering with architecture.
“I really like design and figuring out how it’s going to work,” she said.
Two medal winners – Courtney George of Union-Endicott and Dylan Palmer of Chenango Forks – learned at the reception that they also won the Francis and Lillian Paul merit scholarships. They will each receive $1,000 a year, with an additional $1,000 a year when they transfer to a four-year school to complete an engineering degree.
“I’m really excited and grateful, too,” Palmer said of the scholarship award. Math and science come naturally to this future electrical engineer, who has already interned at Raymond Corp. and Keystone Associates.
This year’s medal recipients, by high school, are:
John King Jr.
Mohammad Ali Moghaddasi