Commencement 2018 profile: Chenelle Seck
Sociology and EOP student excels in research, civic engagement
For Chenelle Seck, the pre-freshman Binghamton Enrichment Program laid the foundation for her success at Binghamton University.
“It teaches you so much in four weeks,” Seck said of the summer session offered on campus through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). “You take classes that count toward your GPA. It’s a rigorous academic schedule. You don’t have your phone. But It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It shows that you need to work hard. The program is intense and an accelerated version of the next four years.”
Over those four years, Seck became a dean’s list student, an accomplished researcher, a Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program Scholar, a JFEW (Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women) SUNY International Relations and Global Affairs Program Scholar and a civic-engagement volunteer in several organizations. She will graduate May 20 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Seck, a 21-year-old from the Bronx, applied to multiple SUNY schools, but chose Binghamton University based on its reputation and location.
“When I told my guidance counselor I was going to Binghamton, her response was: ‘You’re going to Harvard,’” Seck said. “She called it ‘the Harvard of the SUNYs.’ That’s when I knew I made the right decision.”
Seck came to Binghamton interested in economics, but soon declared sociology as her major after taking a class with Professor Bill Martin. She jumped into research while part of the Independent Undergraduate Research in the Humanities program. Seck’s examination of school segregation in the Southern Tier and the consequences of race and education on the classroom earned her a presentation at the Penn Honors Diversity Symposium at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Going there wasn’t intimidating because it was dedicated to diverse students all on the same page,” she said. “And they brought faculty of color in to speak with us. Having that representation was important. It was uplifting.”
Also uplifting was spending the spring semester of her junior year studying in Cuba. Seck researched the links between the country’s economy and education.
Seck said she was intrigued by the longstanding tense history between the United States and Cuba.
“I now have a better understanding of both sides and how the people of both countries feel about each other,” she said. “(The Cubans) aren’t as hostile toward the U.S. as you would think. They have a good heart, as a whole.”
Seck’s work in Cuba also enabled her to assist with a Cuban lecture series as a JFEW internship at the SUNY Global Center in New York City. Her other research includes a look at the history of African-Americans in Binghamton and an honors thesis called “Girlhood Interrupted: The Punishment and Policing of Black Girls in School.”
Showcasing humanities-based research is important to her.
“You can do research even if it’s not lab work and testing,” she said. “Going to the Penn conference helped because I thought: ‘This is where I would be going as a graduate student to focus on this research.’”
Despite her work, Seck knows that there is still room to grow as a researcher.
“Research teaches you a lot about yourself,” she said. “You have to sit down and write without a professor telling you what’s due. Research is a craft that takes time to develop. I’m in the early stages of it. I hope to get better with the guidance of the people I seek.”
Some of the Binghamton University mentors that Seck has sought out include sociology faculty members Michael West, Kelvin Santiago-Valles and Ricardo Larémont.
“Chenelle is one the brightest and most hard-working students in her cohort,” West said. “She is also generous of spirit and other-serving. She has done us proud as an undergraduate and we have the highest expectations for her going forward. She is, indeed, among the best we have to offer.”
When not conducting research, Seck is doing volunteer work for various organizations. She tutors high school students in U.S. history for the Binghamton High School Promise Zone; teaches local students about the campus as part of the Black Student Union Youth Program; and mentors young males at juvenile detention centers as part of U-TURN.
“I take pride in civic engagement because I wouldn’t be here if somebody didn’t take the time to do it for me,” Seck said. “You can’t just receive, receive, receive. You have to give back. I went to tutors, mentors and counselors when I was in middle school and high school. I have to help people get to the same place I am now.”
Karima Legette, a senior academic counselor for EOP, has worked with Seck over the past four years and has seen her growth.
“Extremely poised and reserved, Chenelle arrived at Binghamton with a sincere desire to expand her knowledge, as well as her exposure to new people and ideas,” Legette said. “We spent a great deal of time working together in that area early on, but once she found her fit, she took off; never looking back. Her interests are varied and she has been able to be inclusive with her activities. Chenelle’s professionalism and quality of work, both in and outside of class, are two areas that distinguish her from others.
“Chenelle’s study-abroad experience further developed her compassionate leadership style that has allowed her to build effective relationships with others, valuing the individual. Her scholarship will definitely be enhanced by these qualities. I know that her impact will be undeniable.”
Seck will continue her education this fall at Teachers College Columbia University, where she will pursue a master’s degree in sociology and education. She hopes to become a university professor and combine research and teaching.
“I’ve had a growing experience here,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and the people around me. Being honest with yourself and confident with yourself is important. It’s preparation for something bigger.”