Laurence Soroka and Cerise Oberman Establish Expeditionary Studies Endowment Award | SUNY Plattsburgh
A key tenet of Plattsburgh’s Expeditionary Studies (EXP) curriculum is the need to plan: plan for the short and long term, plan for oneself and others and plan for realities and possibilities.
The program’s founder, Laurence Soroka, and his wife, Cerise Oberman, recently made their own plan: to provide deserving EXP students financial support by establishing the Expeditionary Studies Endowment Award.
“We’ve found the college to be an extraordinarily comfortable and supportive place,” said Soroka, from his office on the corner of Broad and Beekman where he has a bird’s-eye view of campus. “The college has been good to us, and we wanted to contribute to its growth and creativity. This gift is our way of giving back a little of what we’ve gained over the years.”
Soroka, an associate professor, started what is now a degree program not from a clear, direct path but from of an idea whose time simply had come.
When then-Provost Dr. Thomas Moran put out a call in 1997 to faculty for new program ideas to “celebrate location,” Soroka suggested studying the outdoors. Though his Ph.D. is in American studies, he taught climbing in Minnesota before moving east 27 years ago when Oberman took the job as dean of what is now Library Information and Technology Services.
As luck would have it, Soroka found a college job upon his arrival in Plattsburgh. “A professor of literature had left and the English department was looking for someone with my background to teach. I was fortunate,” he said. Soroka spent his first 12 years on campus teaching in the departments of English and history, but since then it’s been all expeditionary studies.
“We were initially attracted to the area because of the uncluttered climbing areas and the ease of getting to the mountains to ski and the lakes to paddle, not to mention the proximity to Montreal,” noted Oberman. “We planned to stay for three years, but the support and opportunities at the college kept us here much longer.”
Three years quickly turned into nearly three decades. Today the couple looks forward to retirement in the town they now call home.
While they have long supported SUNY Plattsburgh financially, they decided to make a gift that will have a lasting impact on students. The endowment will fund deserving students enrolled in the undergraduate EXP capstone “Senior Expedition” course.
“Our dream would be to see the endowment grow to support all EXP senior expeditions, which would let all students dream large.” A few EXP students have been able to travel to Thailand, Italy, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam without financial support. Establishing the endowment is Soroka and Oberman’s way of helping more students have that opportunity.
The Expeditionary Studies Program hit its 10-year anniversary this academic year and now offers not only a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s degree. New department chair Jerry Isaak, associate professor, inherited a robust program with well-known faculty to deliver the innovative curriculum.