They have faced challenges and difficulties brought on by the pandemic, but like students at colleges and schools across the country, they are resilient and have stayed determined to accomplish their academic goals. Here, members of the Class of 2020 share their stories and their plans for the future.
Lumina Patel, Hospitality and Tourism Management
After working for more than a decade in the hotel industry, including at the Roosevelt Inn and Suites in Ballston Spa that she and her husband have a partnership in, Lumina Patel decided it was time to learn more. She began taking classes at the College in 2016. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the industry, she and her family are working hard to weather the storm and her outlook for the future is positive.
You already have a lot of experience in the hotel industry. Why did you decide to attend college for hospitality?
"My husband has been the manager at hotels and I’ve worked with him as an assistant and a secretary, but there was a lot I still needed to know. I wanted to earn a degree, so that I can go into the world and say ‘hire me’, so that I can work by myself. I want to go out on my own.”
What have you gained through the degree program here?
"I was inspired by Professor Ingrid O'Connell; she is the best. Because of her, I joined the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, so I can be aware and updated with any changes or new laws in the industry. I learned Hotel Management from Professor O'Connell and Restaurant Management from Professor Kim Otis. Professor RaeEllen Doyle inspired me to be a good public speaker. Also, I did a formal internship at our hotel as the Assistant Manager, working at the front desk, hiring people, scheduling, and managing the accounting, so I was able to do a lot more than I had.”
What was your experience like coming to the College as a returning adult student?
"After 21 years between high school and college there was a big gap. In the beginning, it was hard for me to start over. But I’ve been at the College for four years and it’s easy for me now. The diversity is nice.”
How has COVID-19 affected your family’s hotel and your outlook for your future career?
"We have been down 80 percent for occupancy for April and May so far. We are trying to survive and think positively right now. Whatever happens to everybody is going to happen to us. My general outlook on a career in the industry is very positive. People will still need to travel.”
Lumina plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Accounting and then work in the hotel industry, with a 10-year plan of owning her own hotel in the Capital Region. “My husband will love the competition. We will really have two hotels instead of one. We are partners.”
Thomas Krumm, Science: Biology concentration
This summer will find Thomas Krumm in his element, outside at Vale Park in Schenectady. A Science major with a concentration in Biology, he is one of the researchers, all SUNY Schenectady students and faculty, who have been studying the ecology of the park for the past few years. He’s happy to be back “counting frogs and worms.” (Note: Three to five students and faculty will be working primarily individually on data collection and adhering to safety protocols/social distancing outside in the park.)
What has your research focused on and what are some of your findings?
"We have been quantifying the effects of an invasive species of worm in the park, researching how that relates to a loss of amphibians in the park, trees uprooting, and the ecology of the woods. When we first started, we didn’t find any salamanders in the park, which were native to the region. You wouldn’t expect it, but worms actually affect a lot of different aspects of the ecology of this region. This summer we’re going to be counting frogs again to measure the amphibian population and doing an amphibian and worm census."
This sounds like great experience – conducting original research. How have you and the team presented your findings?
"We are in the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), so we presented at the statewide CSTEP Conference at the Sagamore last spring to students and experts in the STEM field. We also presented at the College’s annual STEM Day and at local schools."
What other research have you conducted while at the College?
"In Biology II, I was with a team of students who did a study on beta fish aggression, introducing them to different stimuli, including temperature, to see if they would get aggressive. If the temperature was hotter, their internal functions would move faster and they got more aggressive."
Through CSTEP and the Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP), you’ve taught science to younger students. What was that like?
"During the Spring 2019 semester, we taught an afterschool program called Crypto Club to kids in LPP. We taught them how to decipher codes with algorithms. Through CSTEP, we also taught during the College’s Summer STEAM Academy, showing kids in middle school the scientific method and then we reinforced that with scientific experiments like DNA extraction."
Thomas plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in Biology, followed by his master’s degree. He would then like to pursue a career in Marine Biology.
TeAna Taylor, Human Services (A.S. degree)
It was while volunteering with Mediation Matters, a local organization that works to “resolve conflict in ways that are non-adversarial and self-determined” that TeAna Taylor realized that she wanted to advocate for those in her community. She has had mentors and professors who have helped her grow in this work and have fostered her passion for activism.
What kind of work did you do as part of the Mediation Matters team?
"We would facilitate restorative circles, a time for each student to ask a question while students, teachers, and staff had discussions. I ran those at the middle schools and some elementary schools in Schenectady. We also ran re-entry circles. If a student was suspended they could come back and meet with parents, the teacher, principal, a security officer, and have a discussion, so students would feel welcome to come back to school and realize that what they did wrong wasn’t hanging over them. I thought, ‘This is great.’ There are a lot of issues not addressed in my community. I actually saw how I could start becoming an activist.”
It was while you were doing this type of work that you developed a 10-year plan. Tell us about it.
"I want to create an organization that supports people who are suffering from mass incarceration. I want to advocate for those incarcerated and I want to create a team of people to care about these people. I’ve had an incarcerated parent for 16 years and no one ever talked about it. I found out that I had friends whose parents were incarcerated. I’m very passionate about helping youth with incarcerated parents."
How have faculty and programs at the College helped you to grow?
"I have met awesome professors who have worked in this type of field, doing on-the-ground activism, like Professor Eileen Abrahams, Dr. Babette Faehmel, Professor Alicia Richardson, and Dr. Imari Shaw. I was also in the Student Volunteer Organization doing community service activities, like serving dinners at the City Mission of Schenectady and collecting books for the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. Professor Renee Adamany is the Advisor for the group and was a big influence on me as well."
While at SUNY Schenectady, TeAna was President of the African American Latinx Asian Native American (A.L.A.N.A.) Club and Student Volunteer Organization. She plans to transfer on for her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and remain active with campaigns including Release Aging People In Prison and HALT Solitary as well as the organization We Got Us Now.
Michael Labanowski II, Culinary Arts (A.O.S. degree)
Michael Labanowski II’s mother is no stranger to posting YouTube videos of cooking demos. This past Christmas he joined her, showing viewers how to make bacon wrapped peppers with crab stuffing for the holiday. It was a big hit with family and friends who tuned in.
It sounds like you are carrying on a family tradition as a Culinary Arts major.
"I’ve been cooking with my Mom since I was four years old, so coming to school and cooking came naturally to me. I grew up on a cul-de-sac and all of the kids would come to our house and my Mom would cook. She taught me a lot about the kitchen. My family is very supportive. They enjoy that I’ve found my niche.”
What was it like being on the College’s Hot Food Competition Team last year?
"We had a wonderful team and we learned a lot about teamwork and acceptance. I learned focus, creativity, and plating techniques. The coaches (Chefs Michael Stamets, Courtney Withey, Sebastian Marro, and Dana Muzzy) pushed us to be the best we could be. They were phenomenal mentors and we couldn’t have asked for better. My knife skills greatly improved from the practices. Also, aside from the team, Chef Robert Payne was a very big influence for me. He helped me through a lot of classes and homework assignments. He is a good mentor for a lot of people.”
What is one of your most memorable dishes?
"If had to pick one thing, I would say my Bolognese sauce served over pasta. It’s a combination of recipes from other chefs and my recipe. People say that they can’t stop eating it. I hope it’s true. I also had been making French toast for everyone at work that they really liked.”
How has the pandemic affected your work?
"I’m a Line Chef at Black and Blue Steak and Crab on Western Avenue in Albany and we’re closed down until further notice. So I’ve been doing my school work, cooking at home, exercising when I can, and biking.”
This winter, Michael plans to move to either Tennessee or South Carolina and open a food truck, investing in it with a couple of friends.