Two SUNY Oswego graduates from the Class of 2020 -- Ajaneé Fryar and Laura Piekunka -- are among 100 honorees statewide for the new Chancellor’s Undergraduate Scholarships and Graduate Fellowships for the State of New York. 

Grants of up to $5,000 will support students graduating this academic year with a SUNY associate’s or bachelor’s degree and who are continuing their education at one of SUNY’s 64 campuses for either a baccalaureate or graduate degree, respectively. 
Fryar, who earned bachelor’s degrees in adolescence education with an English concentration and in English, plans to continue toward a master’s in special education from Oswego. A double major in human development and in sociology, Piekunka was accepted to continue her studies in Binghamton University’s master of social work program, among other SUNY schools.
“The Oswego community is so proud of Ajaneé and Laura for their outstanding accomplishments and for being recognized by Chancellor Johnson as inaugural Graduate Fellows,” said SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley. “We have little doubt they will continue to excel in their advanced study and career path forward with support from SUNY Oswego and the entire State University of New York system.”
The program was announced in January 2020 during SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson’s third State of the University System address. Grants are funded through prior New York State investment in higher education to SUNY.  Eligible students are those who maintained a GPA of 3.3 or higher who are either graduates of SUNY’s community colleges who choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a SUNY college or university, or students graduating with a bachelors who will stay with SUNY to receive a graduate degree.
“We are immensely proud to recognize these exceptional students from across SUNY who have worked tirelessly to excel in their fields of study,” said Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “Their recognition as the winners of the Chancellor’s Graduate Scholarship Award will no doubt inspire countless other students to pursue their educational path at SUNY, and in turn we will continue to provide access and opportunities to invest in tomorrow’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.”  

Impacting students

For Fryar, earning a master’s in special education for grades 7 to 12 “is a continuation of my passion for educating and serving my community,” she wrote in her application. “Also, it will afford me a new set of skills and perspectives in education, teaching and children,” Fryar noted. “My teaching philosophy centers around teaching students how to become conscious, active, and successful members of society, and students with special needs shouldn’t be excluded from becoming functioning adults as well.”

A scholar of the college’s Teacher Opportunity Corps, which seeks to attract and retain teacher candidates from underrepresented groups in high-need schools, Fryar has a number of educators in her family who have provided advice and insight that confirm her interest in pursuing this path.

“I want to be someone in these students’ lives that they can look to beyond the classroom and support them in any endeavors that will help them blossom,” Fryar said. “I will be determined and patient because I am teaching children, not just students, and that is important for their success. I will also put effort into making my lessons impactful and relatable because knowledge is powerful and giving it to students with special needs is possible.”

For the road ahead, Fryar could not think of a better place than where she earned her undergraduate degree. “I believe that continuing this journey at SUNY Oswego is the best choice because of the resources, connections, mentors, and support that I know it has to offer,” Fryar said. “From my field experiences, I believe I have gained the prior knowledge to start working on becoming a transformative special education teacher.”

Giving back
Piekunka noted attending and graduating college was an opportunity she was not sure she could attain at first, but it has made a big difference in her life. 

“I knew SUNY Oswego would give me the best chance to thrive academically and personally,” Piekunka said. “I chose to attend SUNY Oswego because it would not only give me a high-quality education, but it would also give me the ability to afford a college degree.”

She made the most of the college experience and balanced a lot of fulfilling roles, including jobs with Auxiliary Services, the Office of Learning Services and off campus, as well as extracurricular activities, leadership opportunities, internships and assistantships.

“In my future career, I want to give back to the community that has given me so much,” Piekunka said. “I want to work in schools, hospitals, counseling centers, agencies and any organization which allows me to make a positive difference within the community and the lives of many.” 

In her application, Piekunka saw the fellowship as “a golden opportunity to continue a selfless education” within an affordable SUNY system that has made dreams come true for her and many other students.

“I am so grateful to SUNY for all it has given me. SUNY showed me how to admire inclusivity, diversity and obtain an affordable education through its efforts to make each student’s educational experience a personal one,” she wrote. “Because of my education at SUNY Oswego, I discovered my love for learning and community involvement.”

The Chancellor’s Undergraduate Scholarships and Graduate Fellowships support up to two students from each nominating campus. Awards will be made as grants to the students to be used to defray room, board, books, technology, childcare or other eligible costs of attendance.