Christine Lovely, vice president and chief human resources officer, speaks during the 27th annual Staff Graduate Reception.

Staff graduates celebrated for academic excellence

For Jackie Doyle, earning a master of management in hospitality degree from Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business brought a sense of purpose and resilience. During her studies, she not only found herself juggling schoolwork with working full-time but was also caring for her mother in hospice.

“It was incredibly challenging but also profoundly special,” said Doyle, managing director of career management at the SC Johnson College. “It wasn’t just about balancing time and responsibilities; it was about the deep emotional connection I shared with my mom during her final days, which taught me the true meaning of dedication and love. In the end, those moments with my mom were precious, and they gave me the strength and motivation to keep pushing forward, especially when I wanted to give up.”

Staff members stood to be recognized during the ceremony.

Doyle was among 37 staff members honored June 13 at the 27th annual Staff Graduate Reception, hosted by the Division of Human Resources and the Employee Assembly to celebrate employees who earned college degrees this year, either from Cornell or another institution.

“Commencement is such an exciting time,” said Christine D. Lovely, vice president and chief human resources officer, who welcomed staff graduates and their guests to the East Hill Office Building for refreshments and recognition from senior leadership, faculty and colleagues.

“All of you here today have had a notably different experience than our more traditional students,” Lovely said. “And for that reason, it’s truly my honor and privilege to recognize you for reaching this milestone in your personal and professional lives. Your degree stands for more than the mastery of your field, as important as that is. It’s a sign of your dedication, strength and sacrifice.”

Family, friends and guests gathered to show their support, many of whom inspired and motivated the graduates along the way, helping fuel their dedication to earning a degree.

This year, staff graduates earned degrees ranging from an associate’s in nursing to a master of science in natural resources to a doctor of public health. For Cornell employees, these academic achievements were made possible by two educational benefit programs provided by the university: the Employee Degree and Tuition Aid programs. The Employee Degree Program assists staff in earning a degree at Cornell, while the Tuition Aid Program supports staff pursuing degrees at other higher education institutions. Both programs offer eligible employees tuition funding.

Lovely spoke on behalf of President Martha E. Pollack, who was unable to attend the event but wrote a message highlighting the importance of these programs to the academic excellence of the university. Pollack acknowledged some of the many reasons staff graduates decide to pursue these programs, such as professional advancement, a change in career or intellectual curiosity.

“Each of you has enriched your own lives and our academic community through your achievements,” Pollack said in the message. “Your degrees are a testament not only to your academic accomplishments, but to your tenacity. And they are a testament as well to those who have supported you along your journey: the family, friends and faculty who have motivated and encouraged you, many of whom join us today. Thank you, all of you, for all the ways you have furthered our academic mission and helped make Cornell the wonderful community it is.”

Jamie Crumb, facilities supervisor for the College of Veterinary Medicine, pursued an associate degree in applied science in facility management after admiring his supervisor’s expertise and ability to manage complex systems and address unexpected challenges.

“It left a strong impression on me,” said Crumb, who received his degree from Mohawk Valley Community College. “And so, as I progressed in my career, it became clear that I needed formal education and training to achieve my goal. I not only wanted to understand the operational aspects but also the strategic and leadership components that drive successful facility management. Pursuing a degree offered a structured way to build on the practical experience I already had, deepening my understanding of the discipline and preparing me for the responsibilities of a management role.”

Balancing schoolwork alongside full-time employment presented challenges, including time management, flexibility and finding a healthy work-life balance, the graduates said.

“To be honest, even though I selected a program designed for working professionals, it was still exhausting to pursue a doctorate while working full-time and navigating life’s challenges along the way,” said Laura Beth Santacrose, associate director of the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, who earned a doctor of public health degree from George Washington University.

“So many of my colleagues, past and present, joined online to watch me defend my dissertation and be hooded as a doctor of public health,” Santacrose said. “This was incredibly meaningful for me, both personally and professionally. It meant so much that I could share the fruits of this hard work – including this enormous research project and its implications ­– with them all.”

Staff graduates offer a unique perspective as they navigate Cornell through “the lens of both an employee and a student,” Lovely said.

“Today is proof that the best staff choose Cornell and use their benefits to expand themselves and their opportunities. Congratulations on a job well done,” she told the graduates.

Grace DePaull is a writer for the Division of Human Resources.

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