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North Country Scholarship Program marks 15 years of investing in region’s top students

When it came time to decide where she would attend college, Zoya Hayes of Peru had no shortage of options.

She was accepted at several public and private institutions, both in and out of state.

Even Harvard couldn’t say “no” to the AuSable Valley High School graduate and offered her a spot on its waitlist.

“I started getting my offers, and I was going to be in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt no matter where I chose,” Hayes told attendees of the Plattsburgh College Foundation’s North Country Scholarship Celebration Breakfast.

That changed, however, when Hayes applied to SUNY Plattsburgh, where, instead of decades of debt, she was offered tuition assistance through a North Country Scholarship.

Now in its 15th year, the foundation’s North Country Scholarship program rewards top graduates of high schools in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties by providing up to four years of assistance toward the cost of attending the college.

“SUNY Plattsburgh allows me the chance to not even have to worry about tuition or a paycheck or a bill to have to deal with,” said the junior, who is double majoring in psychology and gender and women’s studies (and considering a minor in neurobiology).

Instead, Hayes, the recipient of one of two scholarships sponsored annually by Pepsi, has been able to focus on her studies and taking advantage of other opportunities at the college.

These include teaching lab courses and conducting research in the psychology department, serving as a research aide in the gender and women’s studies department, assisting Cardinal Athletics as the student lead for game day operations, and mentoring girls in elementary school through the Shine On! program — all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

Fellow North Country Scholarship recipient and Peru native Kolby Furnia has also benefited from the financial relief the award has afforded him. But it’s not just about the money, he told attendees of the breakfast, which served to celebrate and connect program donors and scholars.

“It allows me to call myself part of a select group of individuals, who also were selected to receive this award, which is something I truly am proud of,” said the political science major, whose scholarship is sponsored by Schluter Systems.

“It showed me that all of the countless hours I spent studying and working hard on all of my schoolwork in high school finally paid off.”

Educating, empowering and investing in the region’s students is the primary focus of the program, SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi explained at the event.

“The work that we have done and continue to do is in direct alignment with the university’s new strategic plan,” he said.

“Our Plattsburgh Next plan has four pillars, one of which is to engage the North Country region. and the North Country Scholarship program does exactly that. It supports the recruitment of local students.”

In 2022-23, 70 first-year scholars enrolled at SUNY Plattsburgh through the program, and, with donor support, the foundation was able to invest $300,000 in North Country Scholarships.

Among these were 31 named scholarships sponsored by community members and local businesses, including Community Bank.

“It’s very important that we seek out the best and brightest graduating high school students across the North Country and provide them access to quality education at an affordable price,” Kent Backus, Community Bank vice president and regional manager, said at the event. “At the end of the day, our hope is that those graduating students find gainful employment in challenging careers right here in the North Country.”

Furnia already has plans to do just that. Following the completion of his degree at Plattsburgh, he intends to go on to law school and eventually delve into local politics.

“Becoming involved in local politics will allow me to get my fill of politics and give back to my community,” he said.

For Hayes, the support provided by North Country Scholarship program donors and sponsors brings to mind the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

“You all sitting here are my village, and I couldn’t do this without you,” she said.

“So thank you from the bottom of my heart. and thank you from the rest of the North Country scholars who couldn’t be here to say it themselves.”


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