Stories from the Class of 2023: ‘Where there’s life, there’s hope’

Kim Nelson celebrates as she crosses the stage on May 20 during FLCC Commencement.

Kim Nelson was headed home to Naples one day in 2019 when she looked toward the FLCC main campus and noticed something about the sunlight there.

“I was driving down the road, and God said this is where I want you to be.”

She stopped, walked into the One Stop Center and started asking questions. Sara Carey helped her fill out the application and the financial aid forms.

It was spur of the moment but a long time coming. Kim chose chemical dependency counseling as her course of study. She had struggled with addiction for about 40 years following a life marred by sex trafficking and a suicide attempt. At age 61 and clean for a decade, she wanted to help others find a path out of misery.

“When you save one addict, you don’t just save one, you save the whole family,” she said.

Kim walked across the stage at Constellation Brands Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center on May 20 to get her diploma, finishing with a 3.74 GPA. This fall, she’ll enter the Keuka College bachelor’s degree program in social work much more prepared than she was for her associate degree work.

“I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer when I started. It’s amazing the things I’ve learned from this college,” she said.

Kim immersed herself in her coursework and took advantage of all the services FLCC has to offer, spending entire days on campus. When she wasn’t in class, she’d be in the writing center or the Incubator, a science tutoring center, or getting assistance from the IT Helpdesk. Nick Aiezza, professional tutor in the Write Place, says her skills grew “by leaps and bounds.”

She spent time in the Math Center, working with coordinator Marilyn Grzenda. “I could never have done so well in math without her patience and understanding that math 50 years ago was not the college level it is today,” Kim said.

“My overall experience is that FLCC made me feel so loved. The people are totally amazing. They didn’t frown on me or make me feel ashamed,” she added. Her advisor, Professor Mary Murphy, “gave me so much courage and inspired me so much.”

Kim had bad days, she said, but staff, including Melissa Soules, the disability services coordinator, encourage her to keep going.

Now Kim offers the same encouragement to others. “Where there’s life, there’s hope. Even though you’ve been through a rough life and had bad things happen to you, you don’t have to remain a victim. You can be a survivor.”

SUNY honors student for overcoming obstacles

posed shot with 3 people, one holding certificate
FLCC student Josh Bauer with SUNY Chancellor John King, right, and Cesar Perales, vice chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

Joshua E. Bauer of Interlaken, a business administration major at Finger Lakes Community College, was among 46 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.

Bauer, 20, who is scheduled to graduate with his associate degree on May 20, is a 2021 graduate of South Seneca High School. Bauer’s aspiration is to become a helicopter pilot and pursue a career in aerial cinematography and drone photography despite significant medical and financial issues.

Continue reading “SUNY honors student for overcoming obstacles”

A delayed dream, realized at FLCC

As a teen in the 90s, Dawn Pietropaolo thought she wanted to be a social worker and serve children.

Today, she does exactly that in a local district, but her story is not so simple.

Head and shoulders photo
Dawn Pietropaolo

As she finished high school in the Rochester suburbs, her family discouraged her from pursuing social work. 

“My entire family was against college and against that profession in general,” she said. 

Instead, Dawn got married and had four children, raising them and volunteering at their school. She has no regrets about her time as a stay-at-home mom, but a divorce led her to revisit her old dream. When her oldest, Juliana, applied to FLCC, Dawn enrolled in the human services program.

“We were freshmen together. We were in the same classes. It was a blast, and honestly, it gave me the confidence to keep going,” Dawn said of the camaraderie she shared with her daughter.  Continue reading “A delayed dream, realized at FLCC”

FLCC to open ‘Keeping a Promise’ photo and poetry exhibit

Man on kayak
A photo by Joe Ripperger in the “Keeping a Promise” exhibit at FLCC.

The Williams-Insalaco Gallery 34 at FLCC will open an exhibit of photography and accompanying poems inspired by the photos on Thursday, March 2.

The exhibit, “Keeping a Promise,” features photographs by the late Joe Ripperger with poems by his aunt, retired FLCC humanities professor Barbara Murphy. The title is a reference to Murphy’s work to complete the exhibit after Ripperger passed away in 2019.

Murphy will give a talk on March 2 from 2 to 3 p.m. and welcome guests at an opening reception from 4 to 6:30 p.m. The events are free and open to the public. The gallery is on the first floor of the main campus at 3325 Marvin Sands Drive. The exhibit runs through April 7.

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FLCC announces students on the fall 2022 dean’s list

Finger Lakes Community College announces the dean’s list for the fall 2022 semester. A total of 461 students earned this honor.

To be eligible for the FLCC fall dean’s list, full-time students enrolled in a degree or certificate program must earn a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and have completed 12 or more credit hours. Part-time students are included in the spring dean’s list.

Below are the students listed by county and town. Students from New York City’s five boroughs are listed under New York City.

Continue reading “FLCC announces students on the fall 2022 dean’s list”

Ryan Kovar’s FLCC toolbox

 Ryan Kovar '12, poses with one of his illustrations. Photo by Rikki Van Camp
Ryan Kovar ’12 poses with one of his illustrations at the College’s Williams-Insalaco Gallery 34. Photo by Rikki Van Camp

As the pandemic shutdowns began in 2020, an opportunity for Ryan Kovar ’12 opened up.

Ryan, a graphic design graduate of FLCC, got a message from a children’s book author who had seen his work on

A year later, “Wildly Perfect” hit the market, featuring his playful, quirky images to accompany verse encouraging individuality and self-confidence.

Wildly Perfect Book Cover showing children riding an elephant
Ryan Kovar ’12 illustrated the 2021 children’s book “Wildly Perfect.”

Ryan, who has another children’s book in the works, talked about his journey as an animator and illustrator at his Williams-Insalaco Gallery 34 art gallery exhibit at the main campus. Ryan honed his own individuality and self-confidence at FLCC before he transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology to study  film and animation.

“It was a great transitional period,” he said of his associate degree work. “I learned so many different programs and design principles that it provided me a toolbox to be able to pull from when I was doing projects at RIT.”

New ways to create

Ryan chose FLCC after graduating from Canandaigua Academy in the wake of the Great Recession.

“It wasn’t really financially in the cards for me to go immediately to a four-year college,” he explained, adding, “I had been diagnosed with learning disabilities while I was in high school. I had overcome a lot, but I didn’t feel confident that I could adjust to this new kind of mindset, new environment.”

Cartoon flamingoRyan found his FLCC classes challenging, in part because he had to learn how to move from drawing on paper to using digital tools. He credits faculty for their guidance as they introduced him to the different facets of graphic design in a manageable way.

As an individual with autism, Ryan used art to express the thoughts and feelings he had trouble sharing verbally. Elaine Verstraete helped him sharpen his illustration style, which embraces the unusual and absurd.

“Elaine encouraged me to be myself artistically,” he said. “She gave me the opportunity to learn so much more about illustration and the illustration process. A lot of what she taught I still remember to this day. She was a big influence.”

John Fox showed him how to make an animation sequence. “It was really cool that he gave me and others a chance to get a taste for that before moving on to RIT, where I studied it full time. It definitely reinforced that I do enjoy this and I can do this, and I’ll get better in the future.” 

Ryan took sculpture with Barron Naegel, who organized his recent gallery show, and graphic design with Liz Brownell. “She helped me a lot with understanding the concept of design and transitioning from traditional to digital,” he said. 

“I had never tackled working in programs like PhotoShop before, and it was a struggle to learn it,” he added. “It’s hard for anybody to change or try something new, but it’s especially hard for someone on the spectrum to break the routine. Almost everything I originally struggled with at FLCC is a tool that I can easily use nowadays. I think I wouldn’t have done quite as well at RIT if I didn’t have that early experience.”

Finishing his general education classes at FLCC also helped him focus at RIT on his film and animation courses. While there, he was able to direct three animated short films. His senior project, “Hunt or Be Hunted” has been featured at short film festivals.

The next book

Since graduating from RIT in 2016, he has created a range of art as a freelancer, from magazines and print advertising to short films and a cartoon series. Ryan often gives animals a comical aspect with unusual colors and human expressions, and he draws outlandish creatures with odd mixes of tentacles, eyes, fins and feathers. 

“I specialize in creating fun, whimsical illustrations of cartoon characters, animals and fantastical other-worldly creatures, who can express a wide range of emotion through clear expressions and strong poses,” he said. “Making the unusual relatable is what drives me to create.” 

“Wildly Perfect,” with text by Brooke McMahan, is available on Amazon where reviewers praise the message as well as the illustrations, which one reader called “captivating and clever.” Last year, another children’s author reached out to Ryan. He wrapped about 50 illustrations for “Wake the Wolf” by Maurizio Lippiello over the summer and is waiting to hear on a publication date. He is also working on text and illustrations for his own children’s book.

See more of Ryan’s work at and on Instagram: @kovarcreations.

Well-timed: Kevin Stottler’s story

An encounter with a professor leads to a career in the positioning, navigation and timing industry.

In the mid-2010s, Kevin Stottler ’20 was working for a company that made encoded plastic cards. Think hotel key cards, gift cards, ID cards.

Head and shoulders image of Kevin Stottler
Kevin Stottler ’20

He wanted something more engaging, but this was before the Great Resignation when job interviews were harder to come by. “I think without a degree I was having trouble getting traction with other employers,” he said.

Kevin decided to contact Sam Samanta, coordinator of the smart systems technologies program, whom he had met at a job fair at the Victor Campus Center about six months earlier.

“I was like OK, I need to get some more stuff on my resume here to have a leg up looking up for more challenging jobs.”

In less than two years Kevin had an internship, then a job with Orolia, a manufacturer of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems in Rochester that serves a wide range of industries. “Anything that needs precise time to work,” he explained, “data centers, telecommunications systems, banks, broadcast networks, and there’s a bunch of defense applications.” Continue reading “Well-timed: Kevin Stottler’s story”

IT alumni say keeping skills sharp is key in this ever-evolving industry

Adam Keuer ’13 is the assistant IT director at the Mozaic human service agency in Waterloo and a 2013 graduate of the networking and security associate degree program, now called networking and cybersecurity. Photo by Jan Regan

As assistant IT director for Mozaic in Waterloo, Adam Keuer ’13 enjoys designing the computer networks that help his colleagues at the human service agency get their work done. 

“I have always been a very logical thinker,” he said, referring to the tasks involved in getting computers to talk to each other efficiently and securely. “It feels like home for me.”

Home took a while to find. Adam logged a years-long trek through three majors at two other colleges and a detour into retail management before finding his way to FLCC’s networking and security program.

His story is not uncommon among the College’s IT alumni, some of whom found their niche in unexpected ways. Continue reading “IT alumni say keeping skills sharp is key in this ever-evolving industry”

26 earn GED, opening doors to work and higher ed

Graduate speaking at podium
Colleen Blough-Shear of Hemlock, who earned a general equivalency diploma at Finger Lakes Community College, was among the speakers at a graduation ceremony in June at the main campus.

Twenty-six residents of five counties earned a general equivalency diploma (GED) through Finger Lakes Community College over the last year.

FLCC offers free day and evening classes to help students prepare for the GED exam in English or Spanish. Classes are offered in Canandaigua, Geneva, Lyons, Newark, Penn Yan, Sodus, Victor and Wolcott.

Program advisors also offer students assistance with selecting career goals and enrolling in post-secondary education and training.

Students are admitted into the program all year and are given a flexible time frame for completing it. New students entering GED classes must take an in-person pretest in math and reading.

For more information, email or call (585) 785-1431.

The full photo album is on the FLCC Flickr page.

This year’s graduates are as follows:

Hemlock: Colleen Blough-Shear

Bloomfield: Anamari Reyes
Canandaigua: Kimahri Dunbar, Benjamin Kraft, Clayton Woodard
Farmington: Michael Williams, Kennedy Kirk, Travis Wuilliez
Geneva: Tyler Copeland
Naples: Oliver Abraham
Phelps: Jacob Senecal
Shortsville: Lehi Weed
Victor: Caitlin Hoad, Jacob Kleiman

Seneca Falls: Angelina (Alex) O’Connor, John Reid

Clyde: Tia Salmon
Ontario: Lily St. Denny, Stacie White, Amanda Wright
Palmyra: Joshua Hall, Lacey Robbins

Savannah: Rachael Ruffle

Penn Yan: Calli Knapp, Bryant Miller

502 students named to FLCC spring 2022 dean’s list

A total of 502 full- and part-time students were named to the Finger Lakes Community College dean’s list for spring 2022.

To be named to the dean’s list, students must have a 3.5 grade point average and meet other criteria as follows:

Full-time students are eligible if they are matriculated – meaning enrolled in a degree program – and achieve a 3.5 grade point average for the semester (12 or more hours of earned credit) with no grade below passing and no incompletes.

Part-time students are eligible if they are matriculated, have completed a minimum of 12 credit hours at FLCC, earn a combined total of at least 12 credit hours for a given year and achieve a 3.5 grade point average with no grade below passing and no incompletes. The student must be part-time for both semesters. The dean’s list for part-time students is compiled at the end of the spring term only.

Continue reading “502 students named to FLCC spring 2022 dean’s list”