Alumni Association takes awards ceremony to Broadway
By Steve Seepersaud
The lights dimmed at Manhattan’s historic Edison Ballroom and Neil Berg ’86 took center stage wearing a feathered hat. This brief reprisal of Colonial Woody – a role he played as a student – gave the 250 alumni and friends in attendance a hint that an unforgettable Binghamton University experience was about to begin.
Berg, an accomplished Broadway composer, lyricist and producer, and Pat McGuinness ’85 led a group of 25 alumni performers through a Binghamton version of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. The lively number, referencing traditions such as Stepping on the Coat and co-rec football, was fitting for an event that builds tradition and pride: the Alumni Association’s annual Special Recognition Awards Ceremony.
On March 30, the association honored 14 notable Binghamton graduates for their engagement with the University and stellar career accomplishments. The event, held in the heart of Manhattan’s Theater District, also included performances by Berg’s wife, noted soprano Rita Harvey, and Joanne Borts ’82, actress and director.
The Alumni Association presented Gary Kunis ’73 with the Glenn G. Bartle Distinguished Alumni Award, recognizing his support of the University and his accomplishments in the technology industry.
Now a philanthropist and entrepreneur, Kunis retired as vice president and chief science officer at Cisco, which he joined at the company’s outset and helped build into the world’s largest technology company. He’s Binghamton’s first significant alumni donor, and his gifts have benefited the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, for which he is an advisor.
“I view supporting Binghamton as an exercise in payback,” Kunis said. “Alumni should view giving back as an exercise of repaying a debt, engaging in personal altruism and understanding their own self-interest.”
Having turned Nickelodeon into a cable television powerhouse with household names such as “SpongeBob Squarepants,” Marjorie Cohn ’78 is leading a team that will create thousands of episodes of new animated programming. She was hired as the first head of DreamWorks and Universal’s combined television animation business. Cohn received the Alumni Achievement Award, recognizing her industry accomplishments as well as her engagement with Binghamton University students.
“When I was a young producer, responsible for the budget and production plan of an entire show, I felt like I had been handed the keys to the kingdom,” Cohn said. “I felt it again when I took over development for Nickelodeon and had my first successful slate. And, now, at DreamWorks, building something brand new and getting to reinvent once again makes me feel every bit as exhilarated.”
Barry Chaffkin ’86 received the Edward Weisband Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service or Contribution to Public Affairs. He has spent nearly three decades in the child welfare system bringing families together. CEO and co-founder of Fostering Change for Children, he has supervised the reunification of more than 900 children with their families and the finalization of more than 900 adoptions from the New York City foster care system. The theme of family came through in his award presentation as Chaffkin took the stage with his son and recognized his Tau Alpha Upsilon brothers who attended the event.
“I get to help kids every day of my life,” Chaffkin said. “Young adults end up with families and opportunities instead of aging out of foster care and falling victim to all types of social ills. And I get to do it with the support of a core group of friends – including many from Binghamton.”
Laura Vollmer ’10 was visibly bursting with pride as she received the Lois B. DeFleur Distinguished Young Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni under the age of 35 who have demonstrated leadership as well as commitment to the University. Since graduating from Binghamton, she has remained engaged with the School of Management, serving on the Young Alumni Board, mentoring students, recruiting for PricewaterhouseCoopers – where she works in business development – and judging case competitions.
“I had such a great experience in the School of Management and I’m happy to give back,” Vollmer said. “Through [the PwC Scholars Program], I learned public speaking skills I still leverage, discovered my love of travel, gained Professor Elliot Kamlet as a lifelong mentor and friend and met my fiancé Evan Roth ’10, MS ’11.”
The following alumni received Medals of Distinguished Service recognizing their volunteer engagement with specific areas of campus:
- George B. Cummings II ’07 (Admissions)
- Doris Diaz-Kelly ’94, MA ’97 (Educational Opportunity Program)
- Penelope Harper, MA ’90, PhD ’97, MAT ’03 (Graduate School of Education)
- Bruce David Klein ’85 (Fleishman Center)
- Robert D. Kump ’83 (Watson School)
- Nelson Mar ’94 (Harpur College)
- Chelsea Reome ’13, MPA ’16 (College of Community and Public Affairs)
- Patricia Saunders ’65 (Athletics)
- Matthew Singer ’96 (School of Management)
- Edwin A. Torres ’10, MS ’14 (Decker School of Nursing)
See bios of our 2017 award recipients.
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