Nomination from Raquel Schmidt, Chair and Associate Professor in the Exceptional Education Department
Sisi is a cornerstone of the overall positive culture in the Exceptional Education Department. In addition to being the longtime coordinator of our Sunshine Club, which collects voluntary donations from faculty to send flowers, cards, and gifts to colleagues who are ill or have experienced a loss/hardship, she represents the campus in myriad other ways. She has always attended every campus event (open houses, orientations, teacher tailgates, and other recruitment & student events). As a longtime member and former chairperson of the Awards committee, she has been instrumental in planning and overseeing the annual Awards Ceremony in the Social Hall. Sisi maintains personal relationships with longtime donors and their families and will often “check in” with them just to say hello and see how they are doing. She does this because she genuinely cares, not because she has to or is prompted to do so. Sisi also does this with former students, and professor emeriti. She has also represented BSC well in the statewide community by her role as past president of the New York State Association for Bilingual Education (NYSABA).
My nickname for Sisi is “Sunshine Express”, not only because of her official role as leader of the department’s Sunshine Club, but also because of her seemingly endless effervescence. It is authentic and often seems to grace others at a time when it is most needed. Continue reading and view her full award profile at the Professional Development Center website.
Shannon Budin, professor of exceptional education, has amassed an impressive record of service to Buffalo State, and her work at all levels has been exemplary. She is extremely generous with her time and continuously represents the college and the State University of New York system well, especially in professional activities at state and national levels.
Budin is a noted expert on exceptional education who demonstrates a passion and commitment to sharing her knowledge. She works frequently with individual and groups of students to support their scholarship and continuing professional development. She has served as a faculty member for undergraduate research fellowships and supervised roughly 30 graduate students in their master’s projects or theses. She is held in high esteem by her colleagues, who note her willingness to contribute to committees and provide leadership at the department level.
Budin’s strong collegial reputation coupled with her deep knowledge base have made her a sought-after contributor on high-profile state and national projects. Budin also understands the importance of sharing her knowledge and scholarship with wider audiences and disseminating her work. She has presented or co-presented more than 60 times at local, state, and national or international conferences. In addition, she has authored or co-authored more than 23 scholarly works, including peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and reviews, and other scholarly publications.
In addition to serving on various local committees and boards, Budin regularly volunteers her time in community schools to help faculty and administrators meet student needs. She regularly provides council to districts who request assistance. She has provided more than 17 presentations, in-services, and workshops and has engaged in long-term projects that benefited community partners. She has, for example, authored studies and reports on topics in exceptional education for the Buffalo Public Schools and Maryvale School District.
Tamara Horstman-Riphahn, executive assistant to the dean of the School of Education, has consistently provided value to Buffalo State far beyond the requirements of her job. She has transcended the normal definitions of excellence and serves as a role model of superior performance in service to the college.
Horstman-Riphahn organizes, manages, and ideates Buffalo State’s award-winning International Professional Development Schools Consortium (IPDS) in school sites across five continents. She serves as the program’s record-keeper, financial wizard, and communications officer. This program has contributed immeasurably to international renown for the college, teacher candidates, and faculty at Buffalo State and has established meaningful, ongoing connections with a network of educators around the world. Due in no small part to Horstman-Riphahn’s efforts, the program recently received the coveted Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award for innovative international education programs.
In addition to her work with the IPDS, Horstman-Riphahn assists in the recruitment and retention of student-teacher candidates, serves as a technological resource for the School of Education, maintains the school’s website, and edits the school’s biannual newsletter for alumni and donors. She assists faculty members in achieving publication in peer-reviewed journals, organizes events, and works with community agencies on partnership programs. She adds more responsibilities each successive year, and her expertise on all matters related to the School of Education has made her an indispensable member of numerous college task forces, committees, and teams.
Horstman-Riphahn is a superior writer, an out-of-the-box thinker, a facilitator, and a team builder. Her modest attitude belies an indefatigable and seemingly boundless energy and intellect. She makes it her regular day’s work to translate the vague and insubstantial into the precise and real. She is an extraordinary member of the campus community.
Pixita del Prado Hill, professor of elementary education, literacy, and educational leadership, has demonstrated a passionate and continuous commitment to invest her considerable talents in teaching, scholarship, and service in the advancement of clinically rich practice through the cultivation and enrichment of school-university partnerships. Her insight, vision, hard work, and peerless ability to plan, implement, and measure the impact of this important work has propelled the Professional Development Schools Consortium (PDS) model begun at Buffalo State in the 1990s to national and global prominence.
Del Prado Hill assumed the leadership of the Buffalo State PDS in 2012, and quickly became the creative force behind the expansion and development of the partnership consortium into a global phenomenon unlike any other in New York state. Teacher candidates at Buffalo State College are prepared for their profession in a richly contextual, pedagogically diverse, dynamic environment in schools across the Western New York region and now, because of del Prado Hill’s visionary leadership, on five continents. Today, the Buffalo State PDS Consortium includes more than 45 New York schools that have formal signed agreements to work with our candidates and with our faculty to address the issues of teaching and schooling in a contemporary, vibrant, interactive collaborative led and inspired by del Prado Hill.
Each year, the PDS follows a thematic strand of value and importance to the advancement of social justice in schools and communities, an innovation brought to the PDS by del Prado Hill. Last year’s focus on “Engaged Partnership” led to formal study, school-based action research, and improved student engagement strategies in classrooms across the PDS. This year, she organized and inspired the faculty to develop the “Resilience Project,” a deliberative scholarly and service-oriented effort to focus on trauma-informed practice and building resilience. Perhaps the most concrete evidence of this massive undertaking is exemplified in the newly published book, Doing PDS: Stories and Strategies from Successful Clinically Rich Practice (2018, Information Age Publishing), of which del Prado Hill was a co-editor. A second book focusing on measuring the impact of successful school-university partnerships is forthcoming.
Del Prado Hill’s teaching evaluations are some of the best in the School of Education. She includes service learning in all three of her major courses and in 2016 was recognized for her outstanding commitment to service learning with the Buffalo State Volunteer and Service Learning Reciprocal Partnership Award. She developed Club Hola, an extracurricular opportunity for IPDS returning candidates who wish to continue to practice and use their Spanish language skills.
Jevon Hunter, Woods-Beals Endowed Chair in Urban Education and associate professor in the School of Education, has developed an exceptional record of encouraging and supporting student research and scholarship across campus during his time at Buffalo State. His role as a mentor evolves as he works with students over time, from introducing them to a subject to coaching them through exhaustive work to connecting them to their chosen career fields.
He has mentored 13 undergraduates representing multiple disciplines, departments, and schools. Collectively, his mentoring efforts have yielded five conference presentations alongside undergraduate students at local, regional, and national conferences; seven conference presentations in which undergraduates presented their transformational work as a result of his direct mentoring; and six research projects under his immediate supervision.
His work with undergraduates focuses on the intersection between discipline-specific literacy and technology, as well as social justice education efforts. His unique research efforts have even involved high school students whom he recruits to Buffalo State and then supports in conducting undergraduate research, advocating a “grow your own” model of undergraduate research.
In addition to his tireless dedication to students, Hunter has made major contributions to the Elementary Education, Literacy, and Educational Leadership Department. He has provided research and expertise at the highest academic level and has enhanced the department’s overall knowledge and outlook, especially in developing curricula within a diverse population. He is approachable for students and colleagues, and he offers a positive perspective and graciousness that inspire others.
Lawrence Maheady, professor and Horace Mann Endowed Chair of Exceptional Education, is a distinguished, remarkable, and internationally known teacher-scholar. He elevates the status of his department, Buffalo State College, and the State University of New York through his scholarship and teaching. Students, faculty, practitioners, and teachers across the nation benefit from his research. He is a committed educator who focuses on the training of pre-service teachers so that they can use effective, evidence-based instructional practices.
His research is related to evidence-based practice, improving education and student learning, educational reform, teacher preparation, designing practice, and teaching strategies. To date, Maheady has authored or coauthored over 90 articles in peer-reviewed journals, 12 book chapters, and three books; presented his work at over 200 international, national, and state-level conferences; and conducted more than 300 staff development sessions in 29 states.
Journals include the Journal of Evidence-Based Practices for Schools, Intervention in School and Clinic, the Journal of Behavioral Education, and Teacher Education and Special Education. Book publishers include John Wiley & Sons, Sage, McGraw-Hill, and Prentice Hall. His newest book, High Leverage Practices for Inclusive Classrooms, in press, will be published by Routledge and the Council for Exceptional Children.
Maheady’s work is of significant merit both nationally and internationally. He contributes to the Wing Institute, founded in 2004 and named after Ernie Wing, an outstanding educator and child advocate who was an early champion of evidence-based education and quality services for children with special needs. Maheady is also a consultant for the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform (CEEDAR Center). The goal of the center is to help states and institutions of higher education reform their teacher and leader preparation programs, revise licensure standards to align with reforms, refine personnel evaluation systems, and realign policy structures and professional learning systems. His vita is replete with examples that speak to the number and breadth of editorial boards, advisory boards, committees, and task forces on which he serves for the greater good.
Nomination from Wendy Paterson, Dean of the School of Education
Sometimes we forget that diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of work with children, adolescents, and families who have members with special needs. Her work with community agencies and families spills into her work with students at Buffalo State. As a graduate adviser, her door is always open. As a mentor for projects at both the undergraduate and graduate level, she goes the extra mile, but perhaps the best testimony to this quality comes from a former student:
"I wanted to say a huge thank you for everything you have done for me these past four years. Not only were you someone I looked up to, but you were also someone I could talk to and get advice from with anything. Thank you for always believing in me with everything I do, and for always being such a positive influence on me."
She is sought out by our students. Her gentle, yet well-informed demeanor made her an ideal choice as the graduate associate chair for the important programs in the department. Her leadership in this area led to the first 4 + 1 program in early childhood (undergraduate) with exceptional education (graduate), a program that has helped the School of Education log some of the highest retention and graduate enrollment rates on campus. As part of her dossier for promotion, her students responded to her teaching and advisement. Student evaluations are some of the highest in the SOE averaging 4.8 or higher on a 5.0 scale.
Continue reading and view her full award profile at the Professional Development Center website.
The annual Celebration of Community Engagement recognizes students, faculty, staff, and community partners who make a difference locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, through civic and community engagement initiatives.
Reciprocal Partnership Award: Presented to the faculty member and community partner who best demonstrated the principles of reciprocal, collaborative, and mutually beneficial partnerships. This may include the identification and recognition of each partner’s needs, issues, and challenges or assessment and reflection around the partnership with the goal of improving and sustaining the collaboration for long-term success.
Mary Cummings, Elementary Education, Literacy, and Educational Leadership, and Andrea Todoro, Principal of the West Buffalo Charter School, have forged a strong relationship and remain in close communication regarding the changing needs of the students, many of whom are language-learners who need specialize instruction and extra time with focused attention. In her courses, Cummings has provided a service-learning component that broadens her students’ experiences and strengthens their understanding of the community. The support of Buffalo State’s Teacher Education students provides the children at West Buffalo Charter School with 1:1 attention, critical to their language development and success in school.
Leadership in Community Engagement: Awarded to a member of the campus or community who has built and strengthened institutional commitments to service-learning, civic engagement, and community engagement by demonstrating efforts to deepen and expand Buffalo State’s role as an urban-engaged institution, conducting meaningful community-based research, and/or working to foster long-lasting impacts on students and communit
As a faculty member in the Elementary Education, Literacy, and Educational Leadership Department, Hibajene Shandomo has developed local and international opportunities for her students to engage in meaningful and life-changing service-learning experiences. Her on-going participation and contributions to the local and international community throughout her career merit this recognition. The partnerships she has forged have benefitted children, families, communities, classroom teachers, and building leaders. Through her teaching, scholarship, and service, she has made significant contributions that have deepened and expanded Buffalo State’s role as an urban-engaged campus.
Kathy Wood, associate dean in the School of Education, has consistently demonstrated excellence in her job. She is particularly skilled at managing myriad committees on behalf of the School of Education, handling all curriculum in the school, and serving as an advocate and compassionate mentor for students.
From her first leadership role with the Center for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education (CEURE) to her current appointment, Wood has built a well-respected and widely recognized reputation as an advocate for positive change in urban education at Buffalo State and in the Western New York community. Her passionate commitment to developing, implementing, and strengthening programs of support for students in urban settings has taken many forms, but none so critical to the diversity of the profession as her innovative leadership on the Urban Teachers Academy (UTA), a new collaborative effort between Buffalo State and the Buffalo Public Schools designed to encourage students in the district to choose teaching as a career as early as eighth grade.
The UTA is only the most recent of Wood’s persistent and influential activities to engage faculty and students in service learning through civic engagement. In 2012, she and faculty colleagues developed a learning community for freshmen that incorporated civic engagement and community activism. She also organized a new minor sequence of study in urban civic education and, as the graduate complement to an undergraduate curriculum in urban civic education, she helped launched an urban education master’s degree program.
Wood’s work ethic, strength of character, and indefatigable energy are evident in all her activities. In the community, she serves on the boards of directors of the Buffalo United Charter School, Autism Services, and the Buffalo State College Child Care Center. These many “extras” require a devotion of time and effort far beyond her already extraordinary service to the college as a member of the Assessment Advisory Board, the Students of Concern Care Team, the College Planning Council, the Research and Creativity Council, and the PDS Advisory Board, and as chair of the Orientation Steering Committee and many others.
Dianne McCarthy, associate professor of elementary education, literacy, and educational leadership, contributes to the wellbeing of the campus, her department, students, and the larger community in many ways. She is an excellent teacher and scholar who enriches the lives of faculty, students, and school partners.
McCarthy’s service to the campus includes many years as a member of the Buffalo State College Senate, during which time she served on numerous committees, including the Academic Plan, Curriculum, Faculty and Staff Welfare, and Senate Intellectual Foundations Oversight committees. She represents the interests of the School of Education and her department by serving on the Teacher Education Unit Professional Advisory Council. She also serves the School of Education and teacher education at Buffalo State more broadly through her leadership in assessment, especially in accreditation review by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
Supporting the needs of her department, McCarthy has served on the Assessment, Bylaws, Personnel, and Honors and Awards committees. To enrich the professional lives of Buffalo State’s teacher candidates, she served as the faculty moderator of the Elementary Education Club. During the time of McCarthy’s leadership, the national governing body honored the Buffalo State chapter with four awards. Through her influence, the group has sponsored book clubs, guest speakers, and community service at local agencies such as the Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Through her participation in the Buffalo State Professional Development Schools (PDS) Consortium, McCarthy has served the larger Western New York community by providing professional development and partnering in a STEAM grant with partner school St. Gregory the Great.
Teacher education has undergone many changes in recent years, and McCarthy has helped faculty and students adjust accordingly. After learning that teacher candidates were being challenged to pass the mathematics portion of a new certification exam, she offered to host intensive study sessions that included online work during the January term. McCarthy approached this initiative with a great deal of compassion, helping students who struggle with mathematics to be successful.
Jevon Hunter, Woods-Beals Endowed Chair for Urban Education and associate professor in the School of Education, has cultivated the next generation of critical educators through an active agenda that blends instruction and research activities. His work with graduate students stands as a particular testament to his efforts.
Hunter has mentored 20 graduate students from across different disciplines, departments, schools, and universities. Since 2013, he has delivered 23 conference presentations alongside graduate students at local, regional, and national conferences; served as a lead instructor on independent study courses; chaired master’s theses; and participated as a dissertation committee member. In addition, he coauthored an article on the educational benefits of Twitter in the English language arts classroom with two former Buffalo State graduate students who are now in doctoral programs. The article was recently accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
While Hunter has an impressive array of publications on urban education and African American youth, his scholarship has been particularly notable for his hands-on work with graduate students, whose projects focus on the intersection between literacy and technology, as well as social justice education efforts. Many students seek to work with Hunter specifically because of his innovative and important work in the field of literacy. Hunter’s mentorship has helped graduate students realize their potential to go on for doctoral degrees, piqued their interest in research, and fostered their creativity, critical thinking, and writing skills.
Not only does Hunter conduct groundbreaking work in the field of urban education; he also expects his students to participate in that work, and he makes sure that the student researchers and participants feel full partnership in the dissemination of the work. Experiential benefits for graduate candidates range from their earliest forays into urban schools to confident submission of professional writing for publication. Hunter has logged many exhaustive hours of work with graduate candidates during the summer, during regular classroom hours and clinically rich practice experiences in Buffalo State’s partner schools, in multiple incidences of out-of-class engagement in the community, and in doctoral study.
Nomination from Julie Henry, Chair and Associate Professor, Elementary Education and Reading
Julie consistently engages in acts of kindness to support faculty and students in our department. She organized 30 students to sign up for the Bengals Dare to Care Day in September and made sure they were assigned to two projects relevant to our major.
Julie welcomes everyone into our office with a positive can-do attitude. Students who enter our office always get a cheerful greeting and a respectful response from her. She finds out the answers to questions quickly and competently so that students trust that we have their best interests at heart and that we know how to collaborate with others on campus to get the job done. Julie Wholf is a caring Bengal who makes Buffalo State College a better place for everyone!
Nomination from Pixita del Prado Hill, Professor, Elementary Education and Reading
Bacon Hall 302 is the heart of our department, and Julie has created a very positive space that is both welcoming and helpful to students and faculty. Not only does she respond quickly to the many requests she receives, she does so with a warm smile. We truly appreciate Julie!
View her full award profile at the Professional Development Center website.
Angela Patti, assistant professor of exceptional education, is a master teacher who actively engages students in learning and truly cares about their success. Dedicated to continually learning and evolving as an educator herself, she serves as an exemplary model for teacher candidates. Patti is known to develop strong relationships with her students and advisees and stays connected with many of them in their subsequent academic and professional careers.
In her time at Buffalo State, Patti has prepared or co-prepared eight education courses and five field experience or student teaching courses. The diversity and number of courses she has prepared or taught demonstrate her deep knowledge of the discipline. Moreover, her participation in a co-teaching pilot shows her willingness to explore new teaching techniques to best meet student needs. She also excels at developing and offering supplemental learning experiences for students. As a leader in the International Professional Development Schools program, she has led two student trips to Chile, delivering life-changing experiences for students.
Patti is involved in a variety of professional and scholarly activities. While at Buffalo State, she has published seven articles in peer-reviewed journals and served as a co-editor for a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal on evidence-based practices. She has also delivered 23 professional presentations at the international, national, state, or local level. She has skillfully linked her scholarship to her teaching activities, developing an expertise in co-teaching and implementing powerful international experiences for teacher candidates.
She is highly engaged at all levels of service, including chairing college committees, serving the community as an adviser for the pilot expansion of the New York State Master Teacher Program in the area of special education, and volunteering at the Explore & More Children’s Museum’s special program for children with autism and their families, “Au-Some Evenings.” Her passion, professionalism, and tireless devotion to students and colleagues make her an integral member of the department.
Lisa A. Rafferty, chair and associate professor of exceptional education, represents a model of teaching, presents a unity of teaching and scholarship, and clearly demonstrates a commitment to the mission of higher education for advancing the quality of life for children and families. The results of her dedication to teacher education are enjoyed by teacher candidates and her faculty colleagues in the School of Education and at P–12 schools served by partnerships with Buffalo State.
Rafferty has taught a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses at Buffalo State offered in traditional, hybrid, and online formats. She has also taught doctoral level courses in the University at Buffalo/Buffalo State College Joint Special Education Doctoral Program. Students under her mentorship have published in peer-reviewed national journals and presented at the New York State Council for Exceptional Education conference.
She serves or has served as a contributing and highly regarded member of numerous committees within the department, School of Education, and college. Her service as the Best Buddies chapter co-adviser helped the chapter become a self-sufficient organization that was recognized as the Overall Outstanding College Chapter worldwide in 2012. At the state level, she served on the board of directors of the New York State Association for Childhood Education International and the New York State Council for Exceptional Children.
Rafferty is actively engaged in the facilitation and dissemination of scholarship. She has authored or co-authored more than 20 scholarly works. Her scholarship includes 12 peer-reviewed published articles (10 of which she is first or solo author), and 47 professional conference/workshop presentations. She served as co-editor for the journal, Exceptional Individuals, and currently serves as manuscript reviewer for multiple journals, and is an invited member of the editorial review board of the journal, Education and Treatment of Children. She has earned national recognition as a scholar and researcher.
Beverly MacKenzie, secretary 2 in the School of Education Dean’s Office, is widely recognized as one of the hardest working, most dedicated, and knowledgeable employees on the Buffalo State campus. She has the ability and motivation to manage the daily secretarial needs within a school that is, by itself, the size of a small college—and accomplishes her many responsibilities with unfailing kindness and a keen sense of humor.
MacKenzie manages all communications for the dean’s office, which requires that she exhibit an outstanding command of detail with a warm and efficient personal style. She is as adept at managing communications with the New York State Education Department, SUNY, and other SUNY deans’ offices as she is at handling disgruntled or confused students and faculty. Regardless of their stature or status, MacKenzie treats all people with respect and courtesy.
The work of the dean’s office ranges from budget management to international travel to daily requests for meetings. MacKenzie is able to successfully organize and manage these activities and more, even when time is tight, paperwork is complicated, or schedules are conflicting. Her natural ability to be flexible, listen carefully, and find and suggest solutions to challenges contributes to the smooth operation of the office.
While forms and procedures demand most of her time, she never forgets the human dimension of her work. She volunteers as a coordinator for the Employee Assistance Program, a New York State assessment and referral service to promote employee wellness. And MacKenzie is an ambassador for goodwill and professionalism with faculty, staff, donors, and the public school and community members for whom she is a primary contact.
David Henry, associate professor of elementary education and reading, has established a record of accomplishment that makes him one of the most valued faculty members at Buffalo State. A scientist and mathematician, he has a distinguished record of outstanding teaching and an innate drive and matchless ability to enrich the profession. He works tirelessly to improve the effectiveness of all teachers through professional development and study, to push teacher candidates to attain higher levels of performance through student-led research, and to seek excellence beyond the borders of Buffalo State.
Henry recently took on a voluntary leadership role in Governor Cuomo’s Master Teacher Initiative, a collaboration between the governor’s office and SUNY that seeks to reward excellent teachers of math and science in New York State by providing them with high-quality professional support. In addition, he has integrated the Regents Reform Agenda into educator preparation, guided professional development of science educators, provided service to Buffalo State’s Professional Development Schools initiative, contributed to the NSF-funded Constructing Physics Understanding Project, and served as co-leader of the Western New York Physics Teachers’ Alliance.
Henry’s commitment to teacher education has been unwavering. When a local school district asked for Buffalo State’s assistance in creating a STEM program, Henry helped design a program that met the needs of the district’s students and worked with teachers to ensure that the program met New York State learning standards. People continue to seek him out because he is widely trusted and deeply respected, and he will deliver on whatever task he is involved with.
Lisa Rafferty, associate professor of exceptional education, is a bright and effective teacher who has consistently maintained high professional and ethical standards. Her performance in teaching, research, writing, and assigned professional responsibilities has been exemplary.
Evidence of Rafferty’s excellence in teaching is comprehensive and compelling. Her student course evaluations, observations by peers and colleagues, and letters from students indicate that she is an excellent classroom teacher. Students recognize Rafferty as an expert in her field who can relate to their learning needs, stretch their capacities to learn, and treat them as valued pre-professionals. She routinely uses innovative, evidence-based practices in both traditional and online courses. Her effectiveness covers a wide variety of courses at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.
In addition to imparting important lessons to students in the classroom, Rafferty is involved in a significant number of activities and membership on numerous committees that support student growth. Of particular note, she is chair of her department’s awards committee that assists students in developing their portfolios and recognizes their outstanding work; she is also the co-adviser of Buffalo State’s chapter of Best Buddies, which was named as the nonprofit organization’s Outstanding College Chapter of the Year in 2012.
After graduation, many of Rafferty’s former students maintain professional relationships with her as she continues to provide advice and guidance in their scholarly and service endeavors. These students often use information and instructional strategies learned in Rafferty’s classes as they teach their own classes. Not only have these students become lifelong learners, but Rafferty has also become their lifelong teacher.
Lynne Sommerstein, lecturer in the Exceptional Education Department, has advanced the ideal of diversity at Buffalo State by providing leadership for several important programs and activities. In doing so, she has enriched the lives of countless members of the college community and beyond.
In 2001, Sommerstein cofounded the College-Based Transition Program (CBTP), a Buffalo Public Schools program housed on the Buffalo State campus. The program offers college-age individuals with severe intellectual or developmental disabilities the opportunity to study alongside their same-age peers in a modified academic setting. To date, more than 80 Buffalo State professors have incorporated the program into their classes.
In support of the program, Sommerstein also founded the Buffalo State chapter of Best Buddies, a global nonprofit organization that creates one-to-one friendships, integrated employment opportunities, and leadership development for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The chapter pairs Buffalo State students with CBTP students and individuals from community organizations such as People Inc. In 2012, the Buffalo State chapter was named the Outstanding College Chapter of the Year at the 23rd annual Best Buddies International Leadership Conference.
In addition, during the past two years, Sommerstein has spearheaded the “Spread the Word to End the Word” program on campus. This international initiative was developed to end the use of the word “retarded” and to encourage more respectful and inclusive language. In championing these various programs, Sommerstein adds to the long and distinguished tradition of leadership by the Exceptional Education Department at Buffalo State.
Awilda Ramos Zagarrigo, assistant professor of exceptional education, has excelled at advising students since joining the Exceptional Education Department in 2008. Immediately upon her arrival at Buffalo State, she spent a great deal of time and effort learning about the advisement process. She attended advisement workshops each semester, shadowed her mentor during advisement sessions, and asked her mentor to observe and critique her during her first advisement sessions. Zagarrigo quickly learned the process, the requirements a student needs for graduation, and the department policies for advisement.
Because exceptional education majors become dually certified in special education and elementary education, advisement for these students is complex. Zagarrigo has thoroughly studied the requirements and is now the most trusted source of information, for both students and fellow advisers, about course scheduling in this program area. Her efforts have resulted in more timely graduation for students.
Zagarrigo is frequently in her office beyond normal office hours. She has an open-door policy and is always welcoming to students and colleagues. She meets with students when it is convenient for them, as early as 5:00 a.m. or as late as 9:00 p.m., as well as on weekends. She responds to students by e-mail and phone in a timely fashion and has even used Skype to contact advisees who are studying abroad. In addition, she works closely with the Career Development Center and the Disability Services Office to refer students for additional services.
Zagarrigo goes beyond what is expected when helping plan her advisees’ academic careers. She advises, counsels, and mentors each student with thoughtfulness and a caring attitude. She sees her role not only as an adviser but also as the person who is always available to support students in all ways during their time at Buffalo State. Students feel comfortable going to her for advice in many areas of their lives and for a shoulder to lean on during challenging times. In that way, she is also a mother figure to many students.
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