Saturday, July 13, 2024

SUNY honorees reflect on journeys

From left: Kara Oatman and Christine Parmeter were this year’s two recipients of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

 

By Aleksandra Sidorova

Two SUNY Plattsburgh seniors received the highest honor SUNY can bestow. One spread her wings spending five years away from home, and another flourished in her hometown.

The SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recognized Kara Oatman, an adolescence education major with a concentration in biology, and Christine Parmeter, a psychology major minoring in business and neurobiology. They are among the 193 students from 62 SUNY campuses selected this year.

The Chancellor’s Award, given to well-rounded student leaders, encourages Oatman to reflect on what she was able to accomplish in her college career — something she forgets to do, she said.

“I think it’s a reminder of how important it is to recognize the effort and the energy that you put into your craft. It’s been a way for me to reflect on my past five years,” Oatman said. “For me, this award has been that moment that I’ve been able to slow down and give myself enough credit.”

Parmeter submitted a six-page-long personal statement for consideration for the award, and receiving it validated her hard work as a first-generation college student.

“I’m not afraid to grow — in fact, I’m motivated by it,” Parmeter said. “That’s what that award reflected, that the girl who went in fall 2020 is now a woman who has accomplished a lot, and I’ve grown a lot, and I found a new appreciation for life.”

 

OATMAN

College marked the first time Oatman was away from her home of Honeoye Falls, New York.

She began her studies at SUNY Plattsburgh in 2019.  Oatman was initially attracted by the opportunity to play basketball for Plattsburgh State and receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in teaching within five years. She stayed for the breadth of experiences that opened up to her.

Oatman was initially attracted by the opportunity to play basketball for Plattsburgh State and receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in teaching within five years. She stayed for the breadth of experiences that opened up to her.

“It was the slow buildup of seeing what is being offered and trying to get a little bit of experience in all the different aspects of the college,” Oatman said.

Oatman set out to try everything — an attitude she developed in high school. Connecting with others was a pillar in Oatman’s college career, allowing her to learn and grow beyond her concentration in her five years at Plattsburgh.

“You sign up for one specific program and you end up getting so much more,” Oatman said.

Oatman joined the Plant-Powered Club, a club dedicated to plant-based diets that is no longer active, because she is a vegetarian, and expanded her knowledge about nutrition. Her honor society, Kappa Delta Pi, allowed her to learn from her peers concentrating in elementary education. She is part of the Honors Student Association.

“Through all of the different classes, you meet such a variety of people who bring different personalities, and you get a chance to meet people from different backgrounds,” Oatman said.

She got involved with Shine On!, an organization instilling character strengths and life skills in schoolchildren and especially elementary-aged girls, and supported middle school athletes through Plattsburgh State Athletics’ mentoring program. She babysat for some families in the area.

Oatman works at Memorial Hall’s recreation center and spends most of her days student teaching at Plattsburgh High School. She said she’d like to tell her own future students to try their hand at many things, like she did in the journey that helped her grow from someone who is shy to someone who has valuable interactions every day.

“There’s never a day that I don’t have some sort of beautiful conversation with somebody that makes me realize how important that human connection is,” Oatman said.

Oatman said she will look back on everyday interactions she shared with her peers, but won’t miss Plattsburgh’s windy, frigid winters.

“Having little moments of studying in the library or waiting for a class to start or doing a science lab together — I think it was through all of those different experiences that really helped build a sense of support and of joy and of community that I don’t think you get when you don’t get an opportunity like this to meet a lot of people,” Oatman said.

Upon graduation, Oatman is returning home with hopes of teaching biology or science at a school in her region.

“It would be nice to be able to go back and reconnect to the place that I grew up, and after that, who knows?” Oatman said.

 

PARMETER

Parmeter, a senior psychology major with business and neurobiology minors, grew up in Plattsburgh, and plans to stay.

“I’m a family-oriented person through and through,” Parmeter said.

As Parmeter delved deeper into psychology, she discovered a passion for other disciplines. Business grew her charisma while giving her a reason to visit buildings she otherwise wouldn’t, such as Au Sable Hall. Neurobiology gave Parmeter a new perspective on the brain.

“Mind, spirit, body — it all melts together,” Parmeter said. “At least throughout all the courses I’ve taken, I feel like I have a more complete picture of the human experience, even though they’re all diverse and unique.”

If Parmeter focused only on her major, she could have graduated in three years, but she chose to nurture all her interests, both academic and creative. 

She found herself asking questions and doing the work to answer them by engaging in research. One moment she wondered whether the typefaces and fonts used in an essay made an impression on the reader — the next, she was presenting a fleshed-out paper at a conference in Washington, D.C.

Since she started college in fall 2020, she has seized every opportunity to socialize and meet like-minded people, whether virtually or in-person, and found herself drawn to the College Theater Association and Womxn in Leadership clubs. 

Parmeter also took English classes for fun, exploring creative writing. Although Parmeter has an extensive background in scientific research, she said it’s important for her to balance her academic rigor with creativity.

“That’s the balance I try to keep — for everything academic, try to do something fun and social,” Parmeter said. “I would suggest any student go out there and try something a little outside of their realm, because you’ll surprise yourself.”

Parmeter served as the vice president of the Honors Student Association for two years and was a peer mentor. The Redcay Honors Center in Hawkins Hall is one of her favorite places on campus, she said.

“I have to admit, the Honors Center is kind of, as cliche as it is, my second home on campus,” Parmeter said. “I just find myself loitering in there a lot.”

Parmeter was also inducted into the Psi Chi honor society for psychology, and served as both secretary and president of SUNY Plattsburgh’s chapter. Through her internship with STOP Domestic Violence, she offered support to community members reaching out for help. 

“It reminds me I’m in the right field,” Parmeter said.

Parmeter had considered colleges farther from home and attended a few open house events, but felt “uninspired.” SUNY Plattsburgh drew her in with its strong psychology and mental health counseling programs, passionate professors and opportunities to grow while staying home.

“I came for a lot of reasons, but I stayed for all of them,” Parmeter said. “I didn’t change those opinions over time. If anything, I only grew to love it more. In that case, I’m very fortunate to have chosen what I did.”

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