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Keuka College News

Rethinking First Impressions

American history is full of examples of people whose appearance, background, religion, sex, or race caused other people to discount them at the beginning, but who overcame that underestimation to make important contributions.

So said Dr. Christopher Leahy, professor of history and the 2014-15 Professor of the Year at Keuka College, in his keynote address Tuesday at academic convocation, which marks the official opening of the 2015-16 academic year. The ceremony includes a colorful processional with upperclassman bearing flags from around the world and faculty in regalia lining the sidewalk to Norton Chapel and applauding new students as they enter. This year, a record-setting number of new students experienced this symbolic rite of passage.

In Dr. Leahy’s address, the eight-year faculty veteran challenged students to resist the temptation to discount what someone else might teach them because of “superficial attributes.” He gave two examples from American history of individuals initially underestimated who defied expectations to make an undeniable mark: Al Smith, a NY State Assemblyman and four-term governor, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist and one-time Congressional candidate from Mississippi.

New members of the Keuka College Class of 2019.

“People underestimated both Al Smith and Fannie Lou Hamer,” Dr. Leahy contended. “In Smith’s case, his colleagues in the NY State Assembly believed they had nothing to learn from a Bowery Irishman whose accent and (Catholic) religion were suspect. In Hamer’s case, her impoverished background, her race—and her sex—led white Mississippians to doubt her resolve and ability to effect change… Enough people doubted them, or told them they could not succeed, that they might have started to believe it themselves. Yet they did not.”

According to Dr. Leahy, Smith’s lack of formal education and Catholic background garnered condescension from Ivy League-educated legislators from elsewhere in the state, when he first won his Assembly seat in 1903. Yet Smith fought to prove himself, committing legislative bills to memory, sponsoring bills of his own, and leading the commission investigating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Ultimately, Smith was elected governor of New York in 1917, served four terms and became the first Catholic to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. President in 1928.

The granddaughter of slaves and child to sharecropper parents, Hamer became a vocal activist in the civil rights movement, literally singing hymns to scores of African-Americans riding buses to voter registration stations throughout the state. Famous for the line “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer endured an arrest, jail beating and other persecutions to rally African-Americans and white students in the North to support civil rights. Her work helped bring national attention to the Civil Rights Bill championed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In addition to a run for Congress, Hamer also fought to win seats for African-American delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention; stymied in 1964, she succeeded by 1968.

Dr. Leahy even shared a personal instance of underestimation: as a high school sophomore in Baltimore, Leahy complained to a friend after just one class that his new European history teacher, Dr. Dan Allen, was a boring government bureaucrat with a funny accent. But Leahy learned quite a lesson as Dr. Allen—who’d overheard the complaints —dismantled every presumption Leahy made, in the next class and over the course of the year.

Professor of the Year Dr. Christopher Leahy, right, with President Díaz-Herrera.

An embarrassed Leahy was surprised to learn that Dr. Allen had a background in military intelligence with the U.S. Air Force, and spent four years working as the American embassy’s military expert in Czechoslovakia. Further, Dr. Allen was a friend of Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Georgetown University professor who helped shape American policy during the Cold War as Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Allen eventually became one of Leahy’s favorite teachers and inspired him to pursue a doctorate of his own.

Dr. Leahy closed with a 1910 quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that advocates credit be given to the individual who “strives valiantly,” in spite of coming short, “spends himself in a worthy cause;” and who ultimately experiences either the enthusiasms and devotions of high achievement or who “at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’”

Brief remarks to welcome new students were also shared Tuesday by College President Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera and Alan Ziegler, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees. The president encouraged students that the College will prepare them for the journey of their professional life, particularly through developing individuals who know how to apply digital technology within the context of their respective professions. The College’s Digital Learning@Keuka College (DL@KC) initiative includes a digital studies minor and incorporates digital literacy throughout the curriculum.

“My advice to you, Class of 2019, is to learn as much about this as you can. Learn to read and write code, the new literacy,” Dr. Díaz-Herrera challenged, posing questions aspects of DL@KC could answer within a number of academic majors. “You will learn that you have the power to do amazing things. When you graduate from Keuka College you will have that thread of digital literacy woven through all aspects of your education.”

Click here for more photos from Academic Convocation

Our Senator Offers His Take on Higher Education and More

Tom O’Mara is in his third term in the New York State Senate. He represents the 58th District, which includes Keuka College.

Recently, O’Mara was a guest on Keuka College Today, a monthly show hosted by Executive Director of Grants, Government Relations, and Compliance Doug Lippincott and aired on WFLR (96.9 and 101.9 FM, 1570 AM), part of the Finger Lakes Radio Network.
O’Mara offered his opinion on the state of higher education in the Empire State and discussed the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), STEM Incentive Program, and START-UP NY.
A graduate of Catholic University of America and Syracuse Law School, the senator explained why small, private schools such as Keuka College are important to our region and state, and how higher education shaped his life.

O’Mara also commented the last legislative session, which saw both the Senate and Assembly leaders arrested on corruption charges.

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AAUW Recognizes Keuka College Students

Wendy Axtell (l) and Joanne Seeley earn recognition from the American Association of University Women

Two Keuka College students recently received scholarships awarded by the Elmira-Corning branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Both students—Wendy Axtell and Joanne Seeley—are pursuing their bachelor’s degrees through the College’s Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP).

AAUW was founded in 1882 to unite alumnae of different institutions for practical educational work. In accordance with the goal of working for broader opportunities for women, the Elmira-Corning Branch of AAUW offers annual scholarships to women pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Axtell is earning her degree in organizational management at Corning Community College, while Seeley is pursuing her degree in nursing at Arnot Ogden Medical Center. Both earned an AAUW Return to Learning Scholarship.

“These amazing women share a passion to learn, and have overcome obstacles to pursue their education,” said Liz Walton, who serves on the Scholarship Committee of the Elmira-Corning Branch of AAUW Board of Trustees.

While attending class, Axtell worked full time as an executive assistant at Market Street Trust Company. When her daycare provider could no longer care for her three children, she made the “difficult decision to quit her job and devote her time to being a full time student and being at home with my children,” she said. “Going from two incomes to one, and the cost of tuition, has forced some lifestyle changes.”

But her connection to Market Street Trust Company continues, as she has provided assistance to the organization with some of its projects. Axtell believes she is still backed by the company’s leaders and board of directors, “which is such an amazing feeling to have the support of an organization I worked for four years,” said Axtell, who is also grateful for the backing of her family. “I hope that when my degree is complete, I can return if an opportunity arises.”

And with one year of her Keuka College studies complete, Axtell said she is “more convinced than ever” that she chose the right path.

“In the midst of my managerial finance class, I was able to learn the pieces of an organization’s financials that I had not been previously involved,” she said. “As I gain knowledge of what will be important to me as a manager, this helped me realize what my value can be as a leader of an organization someday.”

Walton is as confident as Axtell is: “Any organization will be fortunate to have Wendy join them, and I am sure the choice will be all hers.”

In addition to a Return to Learning Scholarship, Seeley received the Zelda Sadinsky Scholarship, which was first awarded in 2005. Sadinsky raised five children, and then, in her 50s, went back to college and earned her bachelor’s degree.

While attending classes, Seeley works at the Chemung County Nursing facility and was recently promoted to director of nursing. She plans to continue her studies and earn a master’s degree in geriatric nursing.

“While I have gained a great deal of knowledge through experiential learning, I came to the realization that in order to inspire professional growth in those under my supervision I must model the actions I would like to see,” said Seeley. “A proficient nurse takes responsibility for ongoing personal and professional development, especially when the goal is to provide outstanding care. Based on that belief, I began the process of obtaining my baccalaureate degree in nursing. As a professional nurse, I have the responsibility to maintain professional strength, not only to those I care for—but also myself, my colleagues, and the organization which employs me.”

Added Walton: “Joanne has a real passion and drive for learning, and is invested in what she does. We should all feel a huge sense of relief knowing that Joanne is in charge, should any of us become a patient at the Chemung County Nursing facility.”

Keuka College to Unveil New Turf Field

When Keuka College’s student-athletes arrive for practice, they will lace up their cleats and step on to a bright green field, marked with crisp white, gold, and black lines.

The teams will be among the first to play on the College’s brand new synthetic turf field. Construction on the new facility began in May, and has an anticipated completion date of Aug. 20, just in time for the Fall 2015 sports season. The field, part of the Jephson Community Athletic Complex, features a grey border to outline the playing surface and the signature Keuka College ‘KC’ inlaid at midfield.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Friday, Sept. 4 to mark the grand opening of the turf field. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Following the ceremony, the men’s soccer team take on the Pitt-Bradford Panthers in the Wolfpack’s first game of the 2015-16 season. In addition to the men’s soccer team, the turf field will be used by the College’s women’s soccer squad, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and the new field hockey team, whose first home game is Sunday, Sept. 6 at 1 p.m. vs. Ramapo (N.J.) College.

The addition of the turf field is just one part of the College’s on-going long-range strategic plan (LRSP), and will enhance the experience of the College’s student-athletes while helping with enrollment and retention. It also will attract more students to campus by increasing the number of sports offered. The debut of the field hockey team this fall, the 19th sport offered at Keuka, would not be possible without a turf field, said Director of Athletics Dave Sweet.

“Varsity athletics and intramurals plays such a big role in our students’ out-of-classroom experience that it has been recognized by the president and our Board of Trustees, so much so that it became part of our strategic plan,” he said.

According to College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, the turf field will help strengthen the caliber of student-athletes we are able to attract to Keuka College.

“The new turf field will also help retain existing student-athletes as we strive to provide them with the best on-campus experience,” he added.

Sweet said that unlike some turf fields, the new Keuka College turf field can be plowed during the winter for snow removal, a feature that will grant student-athletes earlier access to outdoor practice facilities leading up to the start of the spring sports season.

The field will also boast an enhanced sound system, elevated spectator seating, a full-perimeter fence, a shot clock for lacrosse games, and a paved walkway for access to the field.

Additionally, the College’s intramurals program will make use of the turf field, and Sweet said there is the possibility that Penn Yan Academy—which allowed Keuka to use its turf field over the years—will have access to the new field as well.

For photos of the construction, visit

Bill Turner Receives Stork Award

Posing with Keuka College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera (l) Bill Turner, the 2015 Stork Award recipient, accepts a clock from Corinne Stork

The 2015 Donald and Corinne Stork Award for Community Service was presented to Penn Yan resident Bill Turner at a noon luncheon on August 11.

Keuka College established the award to recognize those individuals who exemplify its historic commitment to the value and benefit of using individual initiative for the common good.

The award was named after the first recipients of the award, Penn Yan residents Corinne Stork and the late Donald Stork, in 1991.

Turner also received a proclamation written by New York State Senator Tom O’Mara and New York State Assemblyman Philip Palmesano, and presented by Yates County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mike Linehan. On behalf of the New York State Legislature, the proclamation acknowledged Turner’s service to his community.

Among the Yates County organizations that have benefitted from Turner’s time and talents are the Presbyterian Church, Penn Yan Racquet Club, Lions Club, Christmas for the Needy, Keuka Care Comfort Home, the Once Again Shoppe, Penn Yan Area Council of Churches Community Action Program, the Back to School Program, and the Elks Club.

Click for more photos from the luncheon.