Ellen Shapiro, Diana Montoya RSC ’13, Jillian Beecher RSC ’10 and Katrina Sierson RSC ’11, SGS ’12 in the New York State Assembly Chambers.
By Joely Johnson Mork, MS, SGS ’08
Albany, New York is home to the state legislature, state courts and dozens of agencies that have an impact on the lives of more than 19 million New Yorkers. Sage’s two campuses are ideally situated for students, alumni and faculty members to take full advantage of this educational laboratory that the state capital offers. Avenues for enlightening internships, the potential for meaningful post-graduate employment and opportunities to combine scholarly expertise with public service make the intersection of Sage and State a very busy and exciting place.
As President Susan Scrimshaw put it, “Sage has it all right here.”
New York’s long-running Assembly and Senate internship programs offer students from any major the opportunity to directly participate in state government and the legislative process. Interns work full-time in the Assembly or the Senate for the duration of the session (January to May), and they earn 15 credits as well as a stipend.
Philip Kwashie in the New York State Assembly Chambers
Philip Kwashie SCA ’15 is following a legal studies pathway in the Law and Society program and recently completed an Assembly internship. “Initially I wanted to attend law school,” he said. Two members of his family in Ghana are lawyers. “But after taking a few classes in political science, I became really interested in public service.”
The internship made state government come to life. “We got the full experience of working in the legislature,” Kwashie said, “and at the end of our time, we were able to participate in a mock session where we got to debate bills. It made it all so real to us.”
Politics and Policy major Lena Persico RSC ’15 also took part in the Assembly internship program. “I was placed with a relatively new assembly member from Syracuse, who did not have any full-time staff in Albany,” she said, “so I was in charge of running the Albany office schedule.” Persico had more responsibilities than most other interns, and she stepped up. “I used my research skills to help draft legislation. I met with concerned citizens and organized groups from across New York State, and made valuable connections in Albany.” The internship program includes an academic course and a research paper; Persico’s paper on genetically modified foods was one of nine selected out of more than 120 to be published in the Assembly’s Distinguished Intern Report.
The Excelsior Service Fellowship Program
“Recruiting new ideas, fresh talent, and energy is a great way to transform state government, as we continue to build New York,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a press release announcing the Excelsior Service Fellowship program. This initiative, established in 2013, funnels the best and brightest of the state’s recent college grads directly into meaningful opportunities within New York government.
The program places new graduates into two-year, well-paying full-time positions in the Executive Chamber and at 41 state government agencies and authorities. The highly competitive program had room for only 80 graduates in the first year. Prospective fellows must apply and go through an interview process to vie for a spot. Ten members of The Sage Colleges’ Class of 2013 were named Excelsior Fellows – no other college had more. In 2014, seven Sage students were appointed.
The fellowship program not only offers students a foot in to some big doors, but also provides state government agencies with focused, passionate employees. Arin Starzyk earned her master’s degree in Forensic Mental Health from Sage in 2014. She was appointed to an Excelsior Service Fellowship position in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, where she works in the Office of Program Planning, Research, and Evaluation.
“Working within the criminal justice system has been such a great experience,” Starzyk said. “One of my personal and professional goals is to create positive change in the world, and I can’t think of a better way to get started on that than through the fellowship.”
Brian Thomas graduated in 2013 with a Master of Art in Teaching from the Esteves School of Education. “I was planning to become a social studies teacher,” he said. Thomas applied for an Excelsior Fellowship and received an appointment at the NYS Governor’s Office of Employee Relations. “I never thought I’d be working in government, but now I would be happy to stay on [past the two-year fellowship term].”
Placing an educator in a state government office might seem like a mismatch. In fact, Thomas said, “the social studies curriculum in New York prepares you to teach about government.” In addition, the work he is doing for the Office of Employee Relations often utilizes his education planning skills. “I worked on putting together a number of different trainings, including one on delegation and how to delegate work to the employees you supervise.”
Alumni and Their Influence
Sage alumni – from recent graduates to seasoned professionals – shine in many positions throughout NYS government.
Kathryn Bamberger was working in the publishing industry when she began studying for her MBA at Sage’s School of Management. She completed her capstone course in 2001, shortly before taking a position with the NYS Department of Agriculture, where she worked for 13 years as an international trade and marketing specialist.
Bamberger is now the international trade and investment specialist with Empire State Development, New York’s chief agency for promoting economic development in the state. “My client base includes all New York companies and their manufactured products and exportable services,” she said. “I partner with many organizations – public, private, and non-for-profit – who are also working toward assisting the growth of the NYS economy.”
Her position requires interaction with nongovernmental organizations as well as with intergovernmental entities. “Sage absolutely prepared me for the work I’m doing today,” Bamberger said. “The professors and many of my classmates were leaders in business and government around Albany, as well as across the state. Together, they helped bring real-world knowledge to the MBA program, and is it helpful to renew those connections today.”
James Cox attended Sage Evening College and took most of his classes on the Albany campus. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting in 1988 and went on to become the New York State Medicaid Inspector General. Cox appreciated Sage’s flexible schedule, which allowed him to continue working full time, while taking as many classes as possible in evenings and on weekends. A number of other factors also made Sage the right choice for Cox.
“I really liked the learning environment – the intimacy of Sage’s classrooms. I would never have considered a school with huge lecture halls,” he said. “Also, the amount of contact and availability of my professors was outstanding. They were a tremendous asset to me.”
Cox had previously been employed as a New York State police officer, and he was working for Amtrak during his time at Sage. Upon graduation, he was offered a public service position with the federal Department of Health and Human Services office located in Albany. Cox completed his 23-year federal career as regional inspector general in Chicago. About working in public service, Cox said, “I immediately felt the value of working for the benefit of the public. I got a lot of inner peace from that.”
Cox recently retired from his position as Medicaid Inspector General for New York State, a position he was appointed to by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2011. He called his work as inspector general “a wonderful culmination of my law enforcement career and my background with the federal government.” The mission of the inspector general’s office is to identify and detect fraud in the Medicaid program and to recover improperly extended monies, while promoting high-quality patient care, he said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do to make sure that New Yorkers receive the services they need.”
Erin Crotty has lived in the Capital Region her whole life, except for a year she spent in San Francisco. “Russell Sage was definitely on my radar,” she says about the school from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1988.
“I started out as a biology major,” she said, “but I wasn’t really feeling it. Then, I took one course in political science with Helen Upton, who was legendary on the campus. I became smitten with the thought of studying political science.”
A Sage internship led her to Governor Mario Cuomo’s office. “That experience further solidified my interest not so much in politics, but in policy. I am really motivated by being able to make a difference,” she said, “and that is what drew me into state government: the fact that you can have such a large impact in a positive way on people’s lives – and, on the environment, as it turns out.”
Crotty was the first woman to hold the position of commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, an agency with an annual budget of close to $1 billion. She was instrumental in developing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which targets power plant carbon dioxide emissions. In 2013, Crotty became the first woman executive director of Audubon New York, the 50,000-member state program of the National Audubon Society.
Christopher Galindez graduated from SCA in 2013 with a degree in Graphic and Media Design. His position as a designer at the NYS Office of the State Comptroller Retirement Communications started out as a Sage internship.
“I was concerned at first that the position wasn’t going to be a good fit for me,” Galindez said. “But when I got there, I found a group of very forward-thinking designers working with the interesting challenge of creating materials to represent an elected official.”
Galindez enjoyed the internship so much that he applied for a job in that office after graduation. He was hired on a full-time basis in January 2014.
Sheila Poole, acting commissioner at the NYS Office of Children and Family Services, earned her master’s degree in Community Psychology from Sage in 1990. Poole was born and raised in Troy, so she grew up very familiar with Sage’s reputation for excellence. Her decision to attend Sage for graduate school was validated when she looked into the Community Psychology program.
“I had the opportunity to meet with then-department head Patricia O’Connor, who was considered one of the nation’s best thinkers on community psychology,” Poole said. “She was a big selling point for me.”
The opportunity to take classes on a part-time schedule was also very appealing to Poole, who was working full time in the non-for-profit mental health sector. “I took evening classes and some weekend seminars and was able to continue working while I earned my degree,” she said. “Sage really recognized that many graduate students hold full-time jobs and was very supportive of that.”
In her role at the Office of Children and Family Services, Poole leads an executive agency that employs more than 3,000 people and oversees child protective services, foster care, adoption and and child care services throughout the state. The Office also runs the New York State juvenile justice system and directly operates 13 juvenile justice facilities.
Cosimo Tangorra, Jr., Ed.D., who earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership at Sage’s Esteves School of Education, is deputy commissioner for preschool through 12th grade education in New York state.
Tangorra enrolled in Sage’s Educational Leadership program after 10 years as a superintendent in central New York. “I hadn’t been involved in true scholarly research in a number of years and I wanted to prevent a sense of routine from creeping into my work,” Tangorra said. “Bob Bradley [former director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents and Educational Leadership chair] promised Sage was the answer and it changed everything.”
Tangorra completed his doctorate in December 2013 and was named to the state post seven months later. He oversees elementary and secondary education throughout the state, from accountability and assessment through educational design and technology and professional development for teachers. Tangorra said his goals include helping school districts make connections between the state’s requirements and their own unique populations, and helping districts respond to shifting funding streams.
“I have a strong belief that education serves democracy, that a free society depends on an educated populace,” said Tangorra of the ideals that inspired him to pursue a career in education. Before he joined the state department of education in July, he was superintendent of New York’s Central Valley School District. He has also served as superintendent of the Ilion, Trumansburg and Oppenheim-Ephratah school districts, as a school principal and as a special education teacher.
Students past and present are not the only members of the Sage family who are having an impact on state government. A number of Sage professors and adjunct educators are involved with public service in ways that benefit the state, their students, and The Sage Colleges.
Lori Quigley is professor and dean of the Esteves School of Education. She specializes in literacy education and culturally relevant pedagogy. Quigley is a member of the Seneca Nation and frequently works on behalf of Native American people.
Quigley is very active in public service. She is the president of the New York Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and holds a position on the Teacher Education Advisory Group, which advises NYS Education Department Commissioner John King on matters pertaining to teacher and school leader preparation. She was also appointed to serve on the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment) Task Force to review and provide recommendations on the current implementation of the new edTPA certification assessment.
“My service on various committees in New York State only serves to strengthen the knowledge base of the various constituent groups,” Quigley said. “Because of my 30-plus years as an educator and administrator, my experience allows me to add voice to the discussions and policy decisions that directly impact the work we do.”
In 2010, both Quigley and President Scrimshaw were appointed by then-Governor David Paterson as members of the NYS Minority Health Council.
“One of the goals of the Minority Health Council is to promote and educate the public,” Quigley said, “specifically underrepresented groups, on the current health issues and resources available to New York State residents. I take information shared at Council meetings and disseminate that information to various constituent groups across New York State – mainly both rural and urban Native American communities.”
Political Science Professors Professor Pamela Katz (right) and Stephen Schechter (rear) with students.
Pamela Katz, professor of Legal Studies and Political Science, is involved in coordinating Sage’s Legislative Internship Program, and she is also a founding faculty member of Sage’s Public Advocacy and Civic Engagement (PACE) major.
On her own time, Katz has been actively monitoring and documenting the actions of the NYS court system for the past decade. Her project, State Court Watch (www.statecourtwatch.org), spotlights NYS court decisions and is funded by the Law, Youth, and Citizenship program of the NYS Bar. State Court Watch also offers interviews with NYS high court judges, utilizing student interns to help update and maintain the extensive site.
On the importance of learning about and being involved in state government, Katz said, “The vast majority of judicial activity takes place in state courts as opposed to federal courts. New York state laws and local government impact our day-to-day lives much more than does the federal government.”
Stephen Schechter, professor of Political Science, has taken part in a lengthy list of projects with groups including civic organizations, local government, and international partnerships. He is the director for the Council on Citizenship Education and co-founder of the NYS Consortium for Civic Learning. Like Katz, Schechter is a coordinator for Sage’s Legislative Internship Program and co-founded the PACE major.
He took a leave of absence from 1987 to 1989 to direct the NYS Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, which organized a range of educational and entertaining programs, including an Emmy-winning documentary. He also served in the mid-1990s as research director for the NYS Commission on the Capital Region, which developed strategies for local governments to work together toward saving tax dollars.
The importance of civic education is an overarching theme in Schechter’s work, both on campus and off. He wrote the core curriculum for the NYS 12th grade civics course, Participation in Government. According to Schechter, civic education can be described as a learning triangle with three main aims. “It encourages people to see themselves as citizens, fosters learning about government and politics, and promotes the decision to actively engage in and practice citizenship.” Schechter compares these three facets of ideal civic life with the Russell Sage College motto, “To be, to know, to do.”
Public service is a powerful way of living your citizenship, and one that can have a different impact than community service. “I’d say there is a bit of a democracy deficit,” Schechter said, “in which people are doing community service in the sense of physical labor and charitable work, without learning how to make a civic contribution to the political world in which they live.” It is important, he says, for young people to get the message that community service is not a substitute for public service.
Joan Dacher, professor of Nursing and founding director of the Doctor of Nursing program, has long been a leading voice in education and advocacy for palliative care throughout the state. In addition to many other affiliations, she sits on the board of the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York State, which examines policy and provides advocacy for palliative care programs statewide.
Dacher is also the chairperson for the NYS Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan’s Palliative Care Committee. Cancer is becoming a form of chronic illness for many people, and the number of cancer survivors is growing, leading to changing health care needs for these individuals. The NYS plan is part of a federally mandated expectation that all states have a cancer control plan in place. New York’s Palliative Care Committee brought together leaders in the field to discuss and document the nature of such care in New York today.
“What we wanted to do was make the plan reflect all of the changes that have been happening in palliative care – and there have been lots of changes,” Dacher said. “There are many more hospital-based palliative care programs, and there are more opportunities for health professionals to become certified in palliative care. By bringing a high level of awareness to palliative care, it was also a way of saying to oncology providers, ‘Your patients need this.’” Palliative care is also being seen understood now as something that should begin from the moment of a cancer diagnosis, she said, not at the end of life.
In 2013, Dacher was invited to give the plenary speech for the annual NYS Department of Health Conference. The event revealed how the right public service efforts can change thinking and behaviors that directly affect people’s lives.
“Cancer and palliative care were highlights of the conference,” Dacher said, “and it was incredibly exciting to see that when people talk about the tenets of good cancer care, palliative care is [now] a big part of it.”
MaryEllen Tedesco is an adjunct faculty member at the School of Management and SCA, and she directs Sage’s MBA/Organization Management online programs. Tedesco is also a two-time Sage alumna: She received her bachelor’s degree in Public Administration in 2008 and completed her master’s degree in Organizational Management in 2010.
In addition, Tedesco is employed as the assistant director of personnel at the NYS Police, overseeing the agency’s civilian hiring processes statewide. “Right now, I am teaching employee training and development as a human resources topic,” Tedesco said of how her public service work influences her roles at Sage. “There are so many stories I can bring to the table – crazy things happen every day [at the NYS Police]. In the classroom, there is an intimacy. I call it ‘Vegas rules;’ what happens here stays here, and so we are able to share and learn from real stories.”