OSWEGO — The statewide university system recently honored SUNY Oswego’s Christy Huynh, associate director of career services, and Dr. Richard Kolenda, assistant vice president for residence life and housing, with the 2017 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service.
Since recipients are considered professional role models for the entire university system, SUNY says: “Nominees for this award must transcend the normal definition of excellence by repeatedly seeking to improve themselves, their campuses, and ultimately, the State University.”
A SUNY Oswego staff member since 2002, Huynh earned support for the award for her creativity and innovation, strategic thinking, dedication to the college and to students’ success, and distinguished campus and community service.
Formerly coordinator of service learning and community service, as well as former assistant director of the Student Advisement Center, Huynh “has outdone herself in each position, and brought local, regional and national focus to her work and our institution,” wrote Gary Morris, director of career services.
Morris noted that Huynh’s achievements include helping the college attain the prestigious Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, strategically assisting the Office of Career Services to adopt a new “industry-centric” model, assisting hundreds of undeclared students to do self-assessments leading to majors and careers, using her role as a student conduct officer to teach students about their own core values, moving the college’s Mentor Oswego partnership with the Oswego City School District from one location to several, and presenting on award-winning SUNY Oswego innovations at the campus, state, regional and national levels.
“She intensely listens to others, carefully collects her thoughts, and has an uncanny way of summarizing the situation and then (most importantly) taking us to a strategic level,” wrote Morris, who described Huynh as “the ultimate achiever.”
Kathleen Evans, assistant vice president for student affairs, pointed out that Huynh has dedicated herself to continuous improvement, and in so doing has benefited hundreds of students and the community at large. Huynh, for example, earned certification as a facilitator of several complex tools to help her conduct student self-assessments, offer students advice in face-to-face meetings and present best practices for students, staff and community members.
Holly Horn of Binghamton University, president of the SUNY Career Development Organization (SUNYCDO), said she has worked closely with Huynh in her position as co-chair of the organization’s annual conference.
“Her thoughtful questions, attention to detail, knowledge of emerging trends in the field of career services and commitment to continued growth and development make her an ideal person for this role,” Horn wrote in recommending Huynh for the award.
Among her many contributions to the greater Oswego community, Huynh is board president of the United Way of Oswego County, and has been active with the organization and the college’s State Employees Federated Appeal since 2003.
“She made other people’s lives better through her own commitment to society and self-sacrifice,” wrote William Crist, a former United Way board president who is superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. “She continues to emblazon those traits in her present role in our United Way as a volunteer, leader and as a representative of higher education.”
Starting his career as a residence hall director in 1978, Kolenda rose through the ranks — earning a doctorate in education at Syracuse University along the way — taking over as director in 2008. His department employs about 30 professional staff and 400 students, operates 13 residential communities, houses 4,400 students each fall, oversees two fitness centers and supports extensive programming for residents.
“His dedication to professional service here at Oswego is unquestioned and greatly admired, and his high moral and ethical standards are incorporated in all that he does,” said Nicholas Lyons, vice president for administration and finance.
“I have had the pleasure to work with Rick on numerous issues relative to the residence hall operations and have found him to be a dedicated, hardworking individual who has helped to position Oswego as one of the strongest campuses in the SUNY system,” Lyons said. “Our residence hall program has been universally considered to be a model in excellence in the SUNY system and beyond, and Rick’s dedication and expertise have been major factors in this success.”
Landmarks of Kolenda’s time as director have been the opening of the Village, an award-winning townhouse development for upperclassmen, and renovation and revitalization of the existing residence halls.
“Rick, in his position, deserves much of the credit for the renewal that we have experienced in housing provided on our campus,” said Rameen Mohammadi, associate provost for undergraduate education and special programs. “One clear indication is how full our residence halls are at this time (even) while students can choose to live off campus. What they experience living on campus combined with a reasonable price — a price that remains the same for the student for all their years of residence here — are significant contributing factors.”
Educational programming for international students and others in Hart Hall Global Living and Learning Center, in particular, drew Mohammadi’s praise. “Without Rick’s vision and support this program would not have been possible,” he said. “Students in Hart Hall consistently have a higher retention rate than those who live off campus.”
Admissions Director Daniel Griffin noted that he and his staff must work closely with many departments on campus, but particularly with Residence Life and Housing as today’s large incoming classes generally hail from farther away than in years past.
“Rick understands this better than just about any department head on campus, and is one of a handful of professionals I can pick up the phone and call any hour of the day, any day of the week if we need help,” Griffin said.
Those recommending Kolenda for the award also made reference to his community service, including his years of coaching and other volunteerism in youth baseball.