By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

People often discover who they are in college. The combination of true independence, coupled with exposure to new people, ideas, and experiences, makes the college years beautifully transformative. Dr. Nick Kocieniewski, SUNY Broome’s Director of Student Activities, can pinpoint the moment that he became the man that he is today to a single weekend during his first semester at SUNY Brockport – that weekend, full of campus activities designed to build friendships and promote self-discovery, shaped him both personally, and ultimately professionally. Dr. Nick develops every SUNY Broome student program with the same framework he benefited from as an undergraduate, curating enriching experiences that keep students connected, encouraged, and engaged. 

While many students find themselves in college, they also often find a community. As SUNY Broome honors Pride Month throughout June, we celebrate our LGBTQIA+ community of students, faculty, and staff who champion inclusivity, acceptance, and loving relationships. A firm believer in the power of representation, Dr. Kocieniewski embodies inclusivity in action, both on and off campus. 

Dr. Nick Kocieniewski was born in Buffalo, NY, and grew up in the Lancaster-Depew region as the youngest of three children. While “Dr. Nick” is outgoing and brimming with energetic confidence, “high school Nick” preferred to quietly fly under the radar. The man who currently oversees more than 40 clubs and organizations only participated in one extracurricular activity in high school. (To be fair, if you’re going to just join one club, being President of the German Honor Society and performing “Rumpelstiltskin” fully in the German language is a pretty impressive choice.)

After graduating from Lancaster High School, Kocieniewski ventured to SUNY Brockport with the distinction of being the only member of his family to live on campus.  

“I still vividly remember going to my overnight summer orientation and learning two critical things. The first was hearing the advice, ‘If you live on campus, don’t go home that first weekend,'” Kocieniewski reflected. “The second was learning the power of the ‘standing ovation.'”

A “standing ovation” was one of the dozens of icebreakers that Nick participated in during his orientation. A student simply had to pronounce that “this calls for a standing ovation,” which then cued any students in the vicinity to run, triumphantly hoist the requesting student on their shoulders, and cheer in their honor. 

Cut to the first weekend of the semester. Kocieniewski followed the advice to remain on campus and was sitting in the game room of his residence hall. On a whim, Nick chanted the call for a standing ovation and promptly a group came running. Kocieniewski had no idea that the guy holding him up on his left side would become his roommate throughout their undergraduate years, and the guy on his right would serve as the officiant at his wedding. That night, the “McLean Herd” was born, and Nick found his community. 

Brian Fitzgerald giving Dr. Kocieniewski a standing ovation on his wedding day. Photo Credit: Jenna Maul

As a chemistry/education major, Nick’s time not spent in a classroom or lab was spent with McLean Herd at Brockport’s “Late Night” programming. Kocieniewski loved that after a long day of studying, he could go to an improv show or a pop-up laser tag night with his friends, where food and fun were abundant. It wasn’t long before Nick went from attending late-night activities, to helping to plan and host events for his fellow classmates. His natural knack for building campus engagement was noticed by the student activities staff, who invited him to attend the Association of College Unions International’s (ACUI) annual conference as their student representative. Once again, the transformative power of college opportunities kicked in, and the soon-to-be chemistry teacher traded in a career in K-12, for a career in higher education. 

The third and most personally pivotal moment in Kocieniewski’s life also took place during his time as an undergrad. He bravely came out to his family and friends. 

“Being a part of such a safe, welcoming, and accepting community made me realize how much happier I could be by living as my true and authentic self. I was fortunate enough that my fear of rejection was unfounded,” Kocieniewski shared. “I was supported and loved by all the family and friends that mattered during those first few months, to my wedding day, to today.”

Just as Nick was about to graduate from SUNY Brockport, an interim position in the student activities office became available. Nick happily accepted the job and spent the next year designing late-night programs in an effort to combat high-risk drinking. When he wasn’t hosting student engagement events, he was touring the campus’ residence halls, giving presentations on topics like bystander intervention and safe social practices. But, as is the case with many critical but interim grant-funded positions, his role was not renewed. Thankfully, other opportunities within the world of higher ed remained ample.

A self-described “proud product of the SUNY System,” Kocieniewski spent the next decade simultaneously working for and earning graduate degrees from various SUNY institutions. While working his way up the student activities professional ladder at SUNY Delhi, Dr. Nick completed his master’s in higher education from Stony Brook University and his doctorate from the University at Albany. 

Throughout his career, Kocieniewski has remained deeply committed to promoting “Unity in Pride” on each of his college campuses. As a Safe Zone educator, Dr. Nick has dedicated his efforts to teaching others how to foster supportive and inclusive environments for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies. He has hosted everything from LGBTQIA+ vocabulary lessons and panel discussions, to workshops exploring the Cass Identity Model for the six stages of coming out. 

“I believe that small actions can make a big impact in people’s lives, both professionally and personally,” Kocieniewski said. “Representation is crucial to encourage us to find commonalities and build connections. Something as little as sharing your pronouns in your email signature makes more of a difference than people realize.” 

The Doctors Kocieniewski on their wedding day. Photo Credit: Jenna Maul

2021 was the year that Dr. Nick’s “life exploded,” but in the best possible way. Within a matter of months, Kocieniewski successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, accepted the Director of Student Activities position at SUNY Broome, and proposed to his then-boyfriend, now husband, Dr. Alexander Kocieniewski. All accomplishments that he proudly shares with his students. 

“Growing up, I didn’t have many people that I could look to for comparison,” Kocieniewski reflected. “I’m happy to be open with our students about my life in the hopes that I might be able to offer an opportunity of comparison.” 

Students interested in learning more about SUNY Broome’s LGBTQIA+ clubs and organizations are encouraged to attend the  LGBTQ+ Ice Cream Social to kick off the academic year. More information can be found on the Swarm!

Join Dr. Nick Kocieniewski for a delightful afternoon at the LGBTQ+ Ice Cream Social! This event is open to all members of the LGBTQ+ community, allies, and friends. Come and enjoy a wide variety of delicious ice creams, including dairy-free and vegan options, while connecting with others in a warm and inclusive environment. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

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