By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

There was a time when Claudia Chermak hesitated to tell people that she was a student at SUNY Broome. The Binghamton native, who ranked third in her class of 377 students, was admittedly self conscious about the perceived stigma of staying in Broome County to study at her local community college, instead of moving away to attend a big university. Thankfully, her reticence was short lived, in part to some words of wisdom from her mom. “There are great opportunities at SUNY Broome. Experience them all!”

Chermak did just that. Over the course of her time at SUNY Broome, Claudia sought out every opportunity presented in her classes, clinical rotations, and as a student athlete. Listening to her mom certainly paid off, as Claudia was honored with a Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. The Chancellor’s Award is the SUNY System’s highest honor and acknowledges students for their outstanding achievements in academics, campus involvement, and community service. 

Claudia Chermak is a lifelong resident of Binghamton, NY. Like so many in our community, her parents are both SUNY Broome alumni and remained in the region to raise a family. As the middle of three children, Claudia and her siblings spent their days participating in Binghamton athletics. For Claudia, she was most at home in the pool, swimming competitively for 11 years. As her senior year of high school began, Chermak was unstoppable. She was excelling academically, was eagerly applying to top colleges and universities, and was about to have the best swimming season of her athletic career. But this was 2020… and her world (and everyone else’s) was about to shut down.  

“It started when my biggest championship meet of the season was canceled. I was upset, but I also fully believed then that the pandemic was going to blow over in about a month. So I used that time to work on my college applications,” said Chermak. “I had three big criteria for my college search. I wanted to find a school that had a strong reputation, that offered a pre-physical therapy program, and had a swim team. My college list ended up being mostly private, liberal arts schools.”

As the months shrouded in Covid-19 continued and more and more daily activities, including in-person classes at Binghamton High School, were canceled due to safety precautions, Claudia continued to focus her attention on her future college experiences. It was around this time that Chermak’s mother, who had a more realistic view of the pandemic’s longevity, suggested to Claudia that she reconsider going away to college, only to be confined to her dorm room. Why not enroll at SUNY Broome, live at home, and affordably complete her first semester or year (depending on the pandemic’s timeline) of college?

“I remember sharing with my mom that many of my classmates and even one of my teachers were questioning why, as the 3rd ranked student in the class, I was just going to SUNY Broome. And that’s when she reminded me that “just” was not part of SUNY Broome’s name,” shared Chermak. 

Even after harkening her mother’s pep talk, Claudia still waited until right before the deadline to accept her seat in the Physical Therapist Assistant: A.A.S. cohort.  During her advising meeting, Chair of Physical Therapist Assistant, Professor Denise Abrams,  explained how through selecting the correct courses, Chermak could complete her PTA degree while still being on track to eventually transfer to continue her studies in an upper-division PT program. By going this route, Claudia would have the practical and technical knowledge to directly enter the workforce after graduating, but also have the core courses completed for continued study.

Competing as a student athlete and getting involved in Student Activities truly enhanced Claudia’s SUNY Broome experience. Claudia sents her special thanks to Director of Athletics – Colleen Cashman, Director of Student Activities – Dr. Nick Kocieniewski, and of course, the great Coach Tom Carter. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

With her academic plans in order, Claudia moved on to exploring extracurriculars. When the  pandemic’s restrictions on swimming forced Chermak to regroup, she took up running with her siblings to stay in shape and to spend time outside during lockdown. This led to Claudia joining a summer running program through her local parks department. When the coordinator of the program learned that Chermak was coming to SUNY Broome, he immediately connected her to Coach Tom Carter. That connection led Claudia to run for Coach Carter’s women’s cross country and track and field teams, where she contributed to championship titles including the 2022 and 2023 NJCAA Region III Track & Field Championship.

When she wasn’t in training, in the classroom, or working with patients at her clinical rotations, Claudia balanced an on-campus job as a computer lab proctor and tried to attend as many student activity events as possible. 

Chermak’s high academic performance and committed campus involvement lead to her receiving a myriad of awards and scholarships including SUNY Broome’s Student-Athlete Academics Award, the Emerging Leader Award, the BCC Alumni Association Scholarship, the Paul and Mary Calice & Mildred Barton Memorial Scholarship, the Judith C. Peckham Scholarship, the Patrick O’Neil Memorial Faculty Association Scholarship, the Jack Sherman Toyota Scholarship, and a Presidential Scholarship, culminating with SUNY’s highest honor, the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

Claudia and her classmates sat for their board exams on July 5th. Claudia Chermak, PTA is in the process of applying for jobs in the region and is hoping to sign up for some fall road races to continue running for fun.

Are you interested in learning more about the exciting field of Physical Therapist Assistant: A.A.S.? Contact SUNY Broome’s Admissions Office for more information by calling 607-778-5001.

Claudia balanced her physical therapist assistant classes and labs with clinical rotations all across the community, working with patients of all ages. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

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