SUNY honors FLCC student for overcoming hardship

Headshot of Sarah Frost
Sarah Frost

Sarah Frost of Geneva, a graphic design major at Finger Lakes Community College, was among 45 State University of New York students honored in April with the Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence. 

The award recognizes students in the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) for their academic merit and strength in overcoming significant personal obstacles.

Frost, 38, has struggled with learning disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyscalculia, which makes it harder to do tasks involving math. She has also coped with COVID isolation and a physically disabling illness.

“Slowly but surely, I have started to regain my strength. I am so grateful for my teachers, I have no words that can equal the amount of gratitude I feel for them,” she said. “The same goes for my EOP support. Having weekly meetings where I can touch base with my advisor, Nicole (Siegwarth), felt like having family care for you.”

Frost also found encouragement in joining the student organization AALANA, which stands for African American Latino/a, Asian and Native American. She plans to transfer to a four-year school and continue her studies in graphic design.

“Sarah is a shining example of what it means to be an EOP student and a Norman R. McConney Jr. Award recipient. Her will to succeed is a testament to her perseverance, grit, resilience and determination,” said Lisa Thomas, director of the EOP program at FLCC. “Even when things seemed impossible, Sarah dug deep, utilized her resources, and turned things around. She continues to rise above her circumstances, and we are excited to see her continue her journey.” 

Frost encourages other students struggling with illness and disability not to give up.

“It’s going to be hard at times, but remember to talk to your EOP advisors. They will never steer you wrong, and they will always be there when you need them. Just keep trying,” she added.

The Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence is named in memory of a graduate of the University at Albany and former assistant dean for special programs at SUNY. McConney (1946–2016) and former Assembly Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve helped create EOP as a statewide program.

Frost attended an award ceremony in Albany on April 14 with Thomas and Siegwarth, the EOP academic support outreach specialist.

“I can tell you this right now, if not for EOP, I would not have made it this far. When I was running low on food, they assisted me. When I needed new school supplies, they were there,” she said. “I think that every school needs people like Lisa and Nicole because without them a lot of underprivileged students would get lost in the shuffle.”

“I have had the great fortune of working with Sarah very closely in my role,” Siegwarth added. “She is warm, talented, funny, and spirited. Her inner strength and motivation to be successful in life despite the many personal, academic, and financial hurdles she has faced is inspirational. I wish it was something that I could bottle and share with all of our students. I am so proud of her and her determination and cannot wait to see what comes next. She knows I will always be there to offer support and to cheer on her success.”  

Since its inception in 1967, the EOP has provided access, academic support, and supplemental financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. In its 55-year history, the EOP has served more than 78,000 students and evolved into one of the country’s most successful college access programs.

 In the current academic year, SUNY has nearly 8,000 EOP students on 50 SUNY campuses. EOP students often outperform their peers, with 74 percent of them graduating with a baccalaureate degree within six years.

Frost credited several faculty and staff for contributing to her success.

“I would like to give a special thank-you to my teachers and staff: Margaret Pence, Barbara J. Senglaub, Lacey McKinney, Nicole Siegwarth, Lisa Thomas, Dorren Allen-Carr, Sim Covington, Amy McGowan, Andrea Cornett, Suzanne Marino, Jodi Merklinger, Melissa Soules, and Aaron Sullivan. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without knowing it, you have helped make my dreams come true,” she said.

Grant provides $523K in funding for short-term career training

Instructor with student using virtual reality headset
Rick Hill, instructor for the Finger Lakes Community College Certified Production Technician program, works with student Sean O’Rourke as he views a simulation using a virtual reality headset on April 23 at the Bloomfield Central School Operations Center. The college has received $523,700 to cover student costs for CPT and 10 other programs.

Finger Lakes Community College has received $523,700 in federal funding designed to cover most or all of the cost for individuals who want to train for careers in manufacturing, construction, information technology and health care.

The funding comes from the Reimagine Workforce Preparation Training program, meant to encourage people to switch to careers in high demand fields without taking on debt. The lengths of the training programs range from six weeks to nine months.

FLCC has launched a website with full details at

“We live at a time when people need to switch careers more often to keep up with economic change. This grant eliminates a major hurdle for most people to switch careers for greater pay, advancement potential and job satisfaction,” said Todd Sloane, FLCC’s director of workforce development.

Courses offer training in the following areas:

  • Health care: enhanced phlebotomy, certified clinical medical assistant, certified nurse aide, home health aide, pharmacy technician, patient care technician
  • Construction: residential electrician, HVAC technician
  • Information Technology: CompTIA A+
  • Manufacturing: certified production technician, foundations in advanced manufacturing

Training is offered at several locations and work for some programs can be completed online. The certified production technician program, for example, is currently offered simultaneously in Bloomfield and Penn Yan two evenings per week with the instructor conducting in-person labs on certain Saturdays. Students in the class learn manufacturing techniques using virtual reality headsets, in addition to learning how to use hand-tools.

The College offers a regular series of information sessions at

FLCC staff can provide coaching in selecting and succeeding in a program, along with assistance in finding a job upon completion.

For more information, visit or call (585) 785-1670.

Muller interns know they’re part of something bigger

Two women examining tubs of aquatic plants
Amy Slentz of Geneva, an environmental studies major, examines aquatic plants with Maura Sullivan, associate professor of environmental conservation, after gathering them via canoe on the Honeoye Lake Inlet at Muller Field Station in Canadice. Photo by Jan Regan.

About two dozen interns have tackled 13 conservation projects over the last year at the College’s Muller Field Station at the south end of Honeoye Lake.

The projects involve monitoring the state of the animal and plant life at the field station and surrounding areas to generate data that can be used by a broader community of scientists and educators.

For example, student Amy Slentz gathered aquatic plants from the Honeoye Lake Inlet in summer 2021 to look for invasive species under the guidance of Maura Sullivan, associate professor of environmental conservation and coordinator of the internship program. 

FLCC is participating in iMapInvasives, a citizen science program in which residents can submit information about suspected invasive species for confirmation by experts. The College is also part of the aquatic invasive species monitoring program of Finger Lakes PRISM, which stands for partnership for regional invasive species management.

“The good news is that we did not find any of the new and emerging, especially problematic invasive species in the inlet channel during our summer sampling,” Maura said. They were looking for hydrilla, water chestnut and starry stonewort.

Magazine cover featuring bakery owner Sabrina MIller
The Muller intern program is featured in the spring edition of the Laker magazine. Click here to view the electronic version.

Amy also took part in a partnership project with the Bergen Swamp Preservation Society monitoring grassland birds at Taylor Marsh, 600 acres north of Honeoye Lake.

Some projects last for a few months, others continue over years with new groups of students stepping in as others graduate or transfer. Professor John Van Niel, director of the station, and a rotating group of students have been examining the stomach contents of fishers that have been caught by fur trappers to provide the state Department of Environmental Conservation with data on what the weasel-like mammals eat. (Read about it in the FLCC blog at

Students also monitored reptiles and amphibians (herptiles) on the station property, gypsy moths at the field station and Onanda Park in the town of Canandaigua, prothonatory warbler nest boxes at the station, and camera traps set up at the station and the East Hill Campus in Naples to catch images of animal life when humans are not around.

The students are learning scientific methods for collecting information about the natural world that can have policy consequences. For example, when invasive species are detected, local governments have to decide whether to spend public funds to limit or remove the species. 

This scenario played out last year as the city of Canandaigua debated whether to use an herbicide to combat European buckthorn in Lagoon Park, which runs along Lakeshore Drive behind Wegmans. FLCC faculty and students have assisted with projects to plant native species at the park and monitor progress.

“Students relish this opportunity to get hands-on experience, connect with the natural world, and contribute to a greater understanding of phenomena they study,” Maura said. “Although students might be working on individual projects, this helps cement the reality that they are definitely part of something bigger.”  

At the end of their internships, students have been sharing their findings and reflections with other students and faculty, and that may expand to public presentations, she added.

Amy said she values the professional setting that the internships create. “My internship and work within the Conservation Department has helped to nourish my innate passion for the natural world as well as cultivate a deeper enthusiasm around environmental work,” she said.

The Florence M. Muller Foundation has provided funding for the internships for the last three years. The foundation is the legacy of the late Florence Muller, who donated the field station land and buildings to FLCC in 1999 and set up funds for the improvement and operation of the 48-acre property as an education and research center. It had once served as a summer retreat for Florence and her husband, Emil.

Why the Finger Lakes is a great place to learn winemaking

Elizabeth Keyser raising a glass of wine
Liz Keyser became the new winemaker at a West Coast winery in February.

At FLCC, Liz Keyser discovered her intellectual curiosity and the kind of community a wine region could be.

Liz Keyser has harvested grapes on the southern coast of Australia and the Willamette Valley region of Oregon and worked as an assistant winemaker in Napa Valley.

Now, as the new winemaker at Rocky Pond Winery in Washington, she feels she has returned, in a sense, to her roots in the Finger Lakes some 2,500 miles away.

Amid the vineyards rising from the Columbia River, Liz, 34, has found the same mix of wine-making potential and community she enjoyed while enrolled in FLCC’s viticulture and wine technology program.

“That was always one of the things that really resonated with me about the Finger Lakes. There is that sense of community and a free-flow of knowledge from winery to winery,” she said, explaining that she found Napa Valley to be as competitive, but more secretive. “In the Finger Lakes, you’re pushing each other to get to the better spot, and it’s done with an open source mentality.”

Students, in particular, benefit from the region’s healthy mix of collaboration and competition, she added. Liz felt free to strike up conversations with adjunct instructors who had day jobs at local wineries and fellow students interning across the region.

Gina Lee, coordinator of the viticulture and wine technology degree program, agreed with Liz’s assessment of the Finger Lakes wine community.

Magazine cover featuring bakery owner Sabrina MIller
Liz’s story is featured in the spring edition of the Laker magazine. Click here to read the online version.

“It amazed me after starting this program how much knowledge, equipment, and help that industry members give each other throughout the year,” she said. “The industry is so supportive of us here on the academic side also. It truly makes me proud to be a part of it.” 

Liz’s interest in wine began after she graduated in 2010 with a marketing and communications degree from Miami University. She went back to Westchester County, where she grew up, and found work with a wine retailer. The job led to an invitation to join a California wine harvest in 2013.

“I just had a phenomenal time,” Liz said. “I was fully intending on returning to New York and continuing on with my cush wine-buying job, but I fell in love with wine production and knew that I had to stay on this side of the wine industry.”

She did some research and made a big decision.

“I think I shocked everybody in my family by saying, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go to this random community college in upstate New York,’” she laughed.

Liz felt some apprehension returning to school in her late 20s without a strong math and science background. She was relieved to find, as with many applied programs, the math and science skills are woven into their application.

“It was done in a way where everything was so supportive. Teachers really expect you to be honest about your background and what your base understanding is. But they really bring you through it to where your coursework is digestible,” Liz said.

“For the first time, everything was: ‘I want to learn more, I want to dig deeper.’ It was the first time I felt any real intellectual curiosity, and I knew that was the right choice for me,” she added. “Rob Wink’s plant physiology course, that is some of the most intense studying of my life and some of the most rewarding as well. It was the first time I had to sit down and throw myself at studying.”

While a student, she worked at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard & Winery in Dundee and developed a curiosity about other wine regions from Paul Brock and other faculty. After completing core classes, she went “harvest hopping” with classmates Greg Taylor ’16 and Bruce Stebbins ’17 to Hardys Tintara in McLaren Vale, Australia, and A to Z Wineworks in Newberg, Ore. These experiences only made her more committed to vineyard management and wine production.

“No harvest is ever the same, you always can do something a little bit different, a little bit better. It’s such a beautiful process, working with a natural product. It’s going to humble you year over year, and it’s going to make you want to come back,” she said.

Her first permanent, full-time winemaking job was as assistant winemaker at HALL Family Wines in St. Helena, Calif. She spent five years there before her friend and mentor Steve Leveque, an established winemaker on the West Coast, told her about Rocky Pond.

Liz was ready to take ownership of the winemaking process and drawn to this particular region in Washington state.

“The land itself is absolutely inspiring,” she said. “The vines themselves look so perfect and there’s so much potential wrapped up in these vineyards. Rocky Pond has a vision for the Columbia Valley becoming a wine region. In a way, it kind of reminded me of the Finger Lakes.”

Liz particularly likes the idea that she can be part of creating an identity for an up-and-coming wine region and re-create some of the experiences she had at FLCC. 

“It was a really special time in my life,” she said. “I am thankful for it every day.”

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