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Students Earn Top State Honors from SUNY Chancellor

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (April 22, 2010) -- Four SUNY Plattsburgh students were among those receiving the 2010 Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence at a ceremony presided over by State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher earlier this month.

Nishank Bhalla, a senior biochemistry major from India; Elizabeth "Betty" Lavoie, a senior biology major from Plattsburgh; Benjamin Pomerance, a senior political science and journalism major from Plattsburgh; and Carolyn Strauss, a December 2009 graduate from Binghamton, N.Y., who majored in environmental science, planning and management, were SUNY Plattsburgh's recipients.

They were among 228 students from 63 SUNY campuses statewide to receive the framed certificate and a medallion, traditionally worn at commencement. The students were honored for having an overall grade-point average of 3.8 and records of significant contributions to their campuses and community.

"The students we honor today have excelled academically and taken advantage of what SUNY has to offer outside the classroom," Zimpher said. "These students are proven leaders, athletes, artists, community servants and much more."

"These students are known to represent the best and the brightest that SUNY has to offer," said SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling. "We are immensely proud of their achievements."

Nishank BhallaBhalla has been on the dean's list all eight semesters of his SUNY Plattsburgh career; is a member of the college's Honor's Program and several honor societies including Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society; and is the recipient of multiple scholarships from SUNY Plattsburgh including the Hudson Science Scholarship in Chemistry, the Redcay Honors Scholarship and the CRC Press Freshman Chemistry Award.

Bhalla has presented numerous research projects at the national level, earning the Superior Research Poster Award two years in a row from Sigma Xi, the scientific honor society. He has served as a teaching assistant, an international orientation group leader for International Student Services and has logged in many volunteer hours with the Plattsburgh Student Service Corps; the Salvation Army, from which he received a certificate of appreciation; and the Faith Victory Association in Kigali, Rwanda.

Betty LavoieLavoie has presented a multitude of research projects nationally and earned, among other awards, the top poster honors at the National Association for Biology Teachers conference for her two-year-long research project, "Analysis of A-DNA from Maya Skeletal Remains Using the Mitochondrial Control Region."  She belongs to numerous national and regional honor societies, including Sigma Xi, ODK and Phi Eta Sigma, the freshman honor society. In addition, she has received numerous scholarships including the Hudson Scholarship for Academic Excellence and the Redcay Honors Scholarship.

A dean's list student every semester, Lavoie participated in an independent research project with Dr. Christopher Martine where she accompanied him to Kakadu National park and Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory, Australia, to collect Australian wild eggplant relatives. The group located a potentially new species of wild eggplant. Further research on the samples brought her to the University of Connecticut after their return to the United States.

She has served as a teaching assistant and a member of the Student Committee on Teaching Excellence and the Educational Technology Advisory Group, as well as completing many hours in volunteer positions across campus and in the community.

Benjamin Pomerance. Photograph by Neal Keach at Blair and Webber.Pomerance has been awarded more than a dozen scholarships for academics, leadership and community service and belongs to several national honor societies including ODK, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Sigma Alpha and Phi Eta Sigma. He has served as a student ambassador in the Office of Alumni Relations, an officer in the Honors Student Association and college-community relations liaison in the Center for Student Involvement where he helped organize the national volunteer "Make a Difference Day."

An avid community volunteer, Pomerance has supported fundraising efforts for Adirondack Regional Theater, Relay for Life, Nothing But Nets, the American Heart Association and the holiday toy drive coordinated by the Student Service Corps, among other efforts. He has served as a legal volunteer with Prisoners Legal Service, attorney Edward Meyers and the Legal Aid Society of Northern New York, in addition to serving as an intern with the Legal Studies Institute in Washington, D.C.

As a writer, he has been published in numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Lake Champlain Weekly, Cardinal Points and All Points North. He was a national essay contest grand-prize winner in the Hands Along the Nile Development Services Inc. Helping Hands Essay contest. As a singer, dancer and performer, Pomerance has participated in shows and productions by the North Country Ballet Ensemble, Ormstown (Canada) Ballet, Adirondack Regional Theater and SUNY Plattsburgh theater department. He is also a member of the Champlain Valley Singers and the SUNY Plattsburgh Sinfonia.

Carolyn StraussStrauss is a fall 2009 alumna of the college's Miner Applied Environmental Science Program and was recognized as the 2009 outstanding senior in environmental science. In addition, she is the recipient of a half-dozen scholarships, including the James A. FitzPatrick Scholarship, the Casella Waste Systems Scholarship and the Craig Koste Scholarship for Alternative Energy. Active in environmental issues, Strauss served as the president of the Earth and Environmental Science Club, vice president of the Environmental Action Committee, chair of the Biodiesel Working Group and was appointed to the Campus Committee for Environmental Responsibility.

She is a member of ODK and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies and has served as an intern with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the Clinton County Emergency Planning Committee and Office of Emergency Services, the Rensselaer County Natural Resources Conservation Service and Adirondack Park Agency. Strauss has also volunteered as a SUNY Plattsburgh admissions tour guide and peer recruiter, and with Clinton County Adopt-a-Highway, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Adirondack Humane Society.

The Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence was created in 1997 to recognize students who have best demonstrated, and been recognized for, the integration of academic excellence with accomplishments in the areas of leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts or career achievement.

Each year, campus presidents establish a selection committee, which reviews exemplary members of their college communities who are graduating. Nominees are then forwarded to the Chancellor's Office and are subject to a second round of review. Finalists are then recommended to the chancellor to become recipients of the award.

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