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Spotlight Shines on Keuka College DRIVE graduate

Robert Lonie

Come next Monday, Robert Lonie will get a taste of the Hollywood experience when he attends the official screening of a documentary featuring his success on the Keuka College campus, at a special film event on inclusive college learning programs at Rochester’s Little Theatre. It’s the latest achievement in a remarkable life that has seen him become an inspiring advocate for inclusive education.

The “movie premiere” of a 7.5-minute micro-film documentary on Lonie himself will be part of a three-film screening that starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Little Theatre, 240 East Avenue, Rochester on Monday, May 4. Two other short films on inclusive learning will be screened and Lonie will also be part of a panel discussion after the showings. (Screenings take place in Theater 5, Winthrop Street entrance.)

“This is big. Robert’s going to have a limo and all that. He’s all excited,” said John Luppino, director of the DRIVE program, which stands for Diversity, Responsibility, Inclusion, Vision and Experiential Learning.

DRIVE is a collaboration between Keuka College, the Yates County ARC, and the Penn Yan Central School District. In the program, Keuka College students serve as peer mentors to young adults with intellectual disabilities as they assimilate into the college environment and explore their personal goals. Upon completion, DRIVE students receive an Award of Higher Education at Commencement. Lonie graduated from DRIVE in 2013.

He was the first DRIVE student to live in a campus dorm, and during his course of study, provided clerical support part-time in a number of offices across campus. Since finishing the DRIVE program, Lonie still rotates weekly to those offices, and has continued to volunteer in DRIVE classrooms, Luppino said. He also serves as an advocate for the DRIVE program, and for inclusive learning on other college campuses. In 2013, he received the New York State ARC (NYSARC) Self-Advocate award for his leadership and personal growth and for positively influencing the lives of others.

“Robert’s vision is just amazing. He’s always about five years ahead of us with his thoughts and where he’s going—lots of self-direction,” Luppino said, describing how Lonie and his mother Cheryl Lonie, were living in the Elmira area when they first saw a news article about the DRIVE program. Soon after, the two moved to the Penn Yan area so Robert could attend.

Students like Robert Lonie, who complete a four-year certificate program through DRIVE, earn an Award of Higher Education during Commencement.

“His film is so great because it covers all the things we know about Robert and all the aspects [of what makes our DRIVE program successful],” Luppino said, referring to Lonie’s micro-film, part of “The Opportunity Project,” created by the Institute for Innovative Transition at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, with funding from the Golisano Foundation.

According to Luppino, Lonie was involved in the decision-making of how his documentary would be crafted, chose each of the people who would be interviewed, and made the decision not to speak himself until the end of the film.

“It’s very telling about what he’s done here,” Luppino explained, adding that Robert is something of a celebrity on campus, because “everybody knows Robert and Robert knows everybody. Robert’s always wanted to go to Hollywood and do this kind of thing. That’s one of his dreams.”

A second micro-film documentary features the personal success of Monroe Community College student Cori Piels, and the two films on Lonie and Piels will be paired Monday with the 25-minute national film “Rethinking College.” Produced by Think College, “Rethinking College showcases students with intellectual disabilities attending inclusive programs at campuses across the nation and the success stories emerging there and here at home.

Robert Lonie's personal successes are seen in his micro-film. (Movie still provided courtesy Institute of Innovative Transition, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester.)

A discussion panel, moderated by Martha Mock, an associate professor who directs the Institute for Innovative Transition at the Warner School, follows the screenings and will include Lonie, Piels, Meg Grigal, co-director of Think College and Dr. David Basinger, chief academic officer at Roberts Wesleyan College. The discussion is intended to provide insight into the positive impact and outcomes that access to higher education provides for students with intellectual disabilities. The film screenings and discussion are part of the “Move to Include,” initiative, a collaboration of WXXI and the Golisano Foundation.

While the call for increased inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities may have yet to gain concerted traction nationwide, Keuka College has been ahead of the curve with its DRIVE program.

“I stress to my students that although inclusion is our norm, what we take for granted here is not necessarily the norm all over,” said Assistant Professor of Education Alice Harnischfeger, who teaches two Keuka College courses requiring education majors to log eight to 15 hours in service to DRVIE students on campus or with the intellectually disabled at local ARC sites. At the end of each course, a written reflection is required.

“Numerous students report that while they were worried about logging enough hours in the beginning, by the end they wanted to put in more,” she described, adding that many continue working as DRIVE mentors after their time in the class has ended.

“I try to teach them that they will take their inclusive-mindedness out to the community,” Harnischfeger said.

An image from "The Opportunity Project - Robert Lonie" helps emphasize the positive outcomes for Lonie and other students with intellectual disabilities—and for those they impact too. (Image courtesy Institute for Innovative Transition, Warner School of Education, University of Rochester.)

Affection for Lonie runs deep in Strong Hall, where the Division of  Education is housed.

“Robert’s always over here and he feels like a part of our building. Everyone on campus knows him. So we’re excited about this,” she added.

To that end, the Division of Education is sponsoring a bus to Rochester Monday and thus far, Harnischfeger said she’s heard from 22 interested faculty and students eager to cheer and support Lonie at his film premiere. Luppino also expects his staff and others to attend as well.

Each film shown as part of the “Move to Include” screening will be open captioned and a sign language interpreter will be provided for the discussion. For questions about the event, please contact the Institute for Innovative Transition at 585-275-2454 or email To find each of the three films online, search the Institute for Innovative Transition’s YouTube channel. For more information on the Institute itself, visit

Spirits High on Special Day

On the far side of the court, between two sets of bleachers, several cheerleaders—some sporting white jerseys, others maroon – wave pom-poms. Just like the student athletes cruising the basketball court at Keuka College, they are represented by a mix of special needs students and their fellow classmates. It doesn’t matter which side scores, which student makes a basket or catches a pass, the cheers continue and the pom-poms keep on waving.

Penn Yan unified players warm up on the court

This is the spirit of the Special Olympics, where children with various physical and developmental disabilities play sports simply for love of the game. And Wednesday, that spirit was in full force as third to sixth graders at the Penn Yan and Dundee school districts met on the basketball courts at the Weed Physical Arts Center for the first-annual Special Olympics Unified Sports tournament. The event was sponsored by the College’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, with a number of SAAC members volunteering to help organize, officiate and run the tourney.

Two unified, or mixed, teams from each school competed, with the Penn Yan students sporting blue or orange jerseys while the Dundee teams boasted maroon or white uniforms. After the backdrop of rock music during pre-game warm-ups, each team was announced to the fans in the bleachers, jogging onto the court and lining up in rows in front of reserve team seats– just like high school and college teams. Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Blackburn welcomed the crowd and the athletes to the tourney, sharing the motto of the Special Olympics:

“Let me win,” Blackburn recited from memory. “But if I cannot win, let me at least be brave in the attempt.”

Teachers, administrators, classmates and families of the Special Olympians from each district were on hand to support the unified teams, with smartphones and cameras at the ready. In the top row of bleachers, classmates from the third-grade integrated classroom at Dundee, held up signs, cheering loudly for the athletes on the court below.

“The entire class petitioned to come – they wanted to support their classmates,” said Dundee Superintendent Laurie Hopkins-Halbert, a 1990 graduate of Keuka College. “They made signs and they’re yelling for their teams.”

Hopkins-Halbert said just the looks on the faces of the Special Olympians when they caught a pass or made a basket were a thrill to see.

“They have been so pumped to do this – and it’s an opportunity they don’t usually get. They have worked so hard at practice, and have put a lot of time into this. It is so exciting to see our kids out here,” she said. “Our regular students who are here have been phenomenal models and teachers for our [special needs] students as well. It’s just a win-win for everybody.”

Speaking of win-wins, at the Dundee team bench, wheelchair-bound third-grader William Smith met David Hull, who is also in a wheelchair. Hull is a 2012 graduate of the Keuka College DRIVE program, (diversity, responsibility, inclusion, vision, and experiential learning), which is a collaboration between the Yates County ARC, the College and Penn Yan Central School District. The DRIVE program provides 18-21-year-old special education students an opportunity to assimilate into the college environment and explore their personal goals.

“It’s awesome – honestly, I think I’m smiling more than they are out there,” said Mike Wainwright ’15, an occupational science major at the College, who volunteered to serve as a referee, and hopes to work with the special needs population as an occupational therapist after graduation. “It’s a rewarding experience to see the love of the game and smiles on everybody’s faces.”

More smiles appear on the court, as an attendant in a yellow volunteer T-shirt pushes William’s wheelchair, while William carries the ball in his lap. The pair make a pass to teammate Trey Brown, wearing No. 10 for the white Dundee team, and Trey makes a two-point basket. As Trey’s personal aide, also in a yellow T-shirt, lifts her arms in a V-sign for “victory,” the crowd in the stands goes wild. As the 10-minute half draws to a close, the crowd begins the countdown and the cheers erupt again.

During a snack break between games, Trey Brown joins his family on the bleachers, snacking on a cookie. Asked how he’s enjoying the tournament, Trey laughs and smiles in delight. “It was good, playing with William Smith in my class, and having friends here to watch,” translates Trey’s mom, Dawn Brown.

Trey Brown, right, smiles at a fellow teammate while waiting for the action to start on the court.

“It really makes his day that his family came to see him – we’ve got daddy and grandmas and grandpas from both sides – and Joshua and Bart and Frankie and Nick,” Brown adds, referring to Trey’s friends from school. “I was surprised that his general ed classroom got off for the day to come be spectators, too. That was nice they all made posters.”

“It’s really about tolerance, empathy, understanding and opportunity,” Hopkins-Halbert said. “I’ve heard nothing but positives from everybody.”

Penn Yan's orange team celebrates with the trophy and cheers for ALL the Olympians!

Simmons Showcases Photography at Keuka

Abby Simmons loves the Finger Lakes. Perhaps that’s why its rolling hills, rural landscapes and colorful foliage feature prominently in her photography.

sunset, tractor, silhouette, abby simmons, finger lakes, landscape, rural, field, orange

Simmon's sunset shot of a tractor in a local field

One night, heading to her parents’ farm in Bellona, Simmons crested a hill near Tomion’s Farm Market (off Route 14A) and noticed a tractor in a nearby cornfield. She pulled over and was absorbed in taking dozens of photos of the tractor’s silhouette against the setting sun, when her parents drove by.  They stopped when they saw her wading through the field with her camera.

“They catch me doing that a lot,” Simmons said with a smile.

The tractor at sunset image and many others will be featured  in the Lightner Gallery at Lightner Library at Keuka College Sept. 2 – Oct. 31. An artist’s reception will be held 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, where light refreshments will be served.   Gallery hours may be found online at

This will be Simmons’ first solo show. Her work first caught the eye of Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art and curator of the gallery, during last winter’s staff and faculty art exhibit. Simmons has worked as a staff member for Keuka’s D.R.I.V.E program for the last year-and-a-half. (more…)

Nuns, Crayons, and Music Men

Members of the student affairs staff were in the Halloween spirit as they captured first place with their box of crayons group costume.

What do a box of crayons, a bag of pepperoni, Flo of Progressive Insurance fame, a prom-going zombie, the Ball Hall tower, and a fox have in common?

Ariel Scott

They were all characters who won the annual Halloween costume contest held on the Keuka College campus Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Tracy McFarland, associate vice president for student development, portrayed the crayon box, while Eva Moberg-Sarver, director of student activities; Eric Detar, chaplain; and resident directors (RD) Kevin Perry, Tim White, Rebecca Capek, Margeaux DePrez, and Kelsey Deso posed as the crayons.

McFarland and her colorful crew earned first place in the group category.

Amanda Burlingame

Junior Ariel Scott (zombie), an organizational communication major from Unadilla, received the top prize in the scariest category, while the most original prize went to Amanda Burlingame, a senior adolescent mathematics/special education major from Keuka Park, for her portrayal as Flo.

Nathan Calabria

Jennie Snyder

The top costumes in the male and female categories went to Nathan Calabria (the fox), and Jennie Snyder (pepperoni). Calabria and Snyder, part of the D.R.I.V.E. program, earned $30 each for their efforts.

Sue DeLyser

For staff and faculty, a Halloween hat contest with desk-to-desk competition, was held. Human Resources Manager Sue Delyser, earned bragging rights with her ‘hat’—the Ball Hall tower.

Each contestant received a gift certificate to the Terrace Café courtesy of AVI Fresh, the College’s food service provider.

More Halloween photos.

Make it 6 in a Row

In 2011, CSCY volunteers washed fire trucks at the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department.

For the sixth straight year, Keuka College has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which has administered the Honor Roll since 2006, admitted 642 colleges and universities for their impact on issues from literacy and neighborhood revitalization to supporting at-risk youth.

Honorees are chosen based on a series of selection factors including the scope and innovation of service projects, the extent to which service-learning is embedded in the curriculum, the school’s commitment to long-term campus-community partnerships, and measurable community outcomes as a result of the service.

In the past year, Keuka College students dedicated nearly 96,000 hours of service to the community. Here are three of the many local organizations and programs that benefit from the time and talents of Keuka students: Milly’s Pantry, a local food pantry; Celebrate Service… Celebrate Yates, an annual day of community service organized by students and the Yates County Chamber of Commerce; and the DRIVE (diversity, responsibility, inclusion, vision, experiential learning) program, a partnership between the Yates ARC, Penn Yan Central School, and the College that provides on-campus learning and life training skills to area students with special needs, ages 18-21.

CNCS oversees the Honor Roll in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Campus Compact, and the American Council on Education. It is a federal agency that engages more than 5 million Americans in service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit