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Celebrating student excellence – Sept 2019

August 20, 2019

Celebrating student excellence:
PEF awards Joseph Scacalossi Scholarships to 10 exceptional students


The cost of college can make the dream of attending a difficult reality for many students. PEF’s scholarship program, launched in 1988 as a tribute to Joseph Scacalossi, a highly respected council leader at the state Department of Labor in New York City, is lightening the financial burden for 10 young people this year.

Every year, PEF awards $1,000 annually for four years to 10 students. The students, children, stepchildren, or wards of any active, retired, or deceased PEF member, must be high school seniors or freshmen in college.

The scholarship committee, comprised this year of Sheila Ambrose, chairperson; members Andrew Youngs, Maddie Shannon-Roberts, and Joseph Ugino; and Joanne M. Wright, PEF support staff, reviewed the applications. The winners were chosen by blind scoring.

“The fact that PEF commits funding for the scholarship is a testament to the strength of the union,” said Ambrose. “Everyone loves all the benefits, be it the great things like movie tickets and discounts. But the union also shows a commitment to the development and future of members’ families by offering these scholarships.”

Ambrose has been chair of the scholarship committee for three years. “I’m honored to be on the committee,” she said. “It’s my way of giving back to the union.”

She applauded the students for their hard work. “I offer congratulations to all of the recipients,” she said.

The winners for 2019 are, in alphabetical order:

Elizabeth BehuniakElizabeth Behuniak is entering her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania where she is studying electrical engineering. Elizabeth is on the Educational Outreach Committee of the Penn Society of Women Engineers and on the Events Committee of the Wharton School of Business Accounting Club. She graduated from Bethlehem Central High School where she competed in the New York State Championship Tournament for Science Olympiad and competed with the school’s Coding Team. She was a member of the girl’s varsity tennis team which won two Section II titles and two Suburban Counsel titles. As a tennis player, she individually won a Section II state title and qualified for and competed in the New York State Girls’ Varsity Tennis Championship Tournament. She was selected as the Outstanding Senior Athlete for tennis, and was a Times Union newspaper Allstar Tennis Player. She was a co-founder and president of the high school’s American Red Cross Club, where she helped organize several successful blood drives, organized middle school children to write holiday greeting cards to local U.S. service veterans, refurbished a high school display case to recognize and honor the high school’s alumni who have served, or are currently serving, in the military, assisted in installing several hundred smoke detectors in city properties in Albany and Schenectady, and recycled worn out U.S. flags. Elizabeth was a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, and the National Society of High School Scholars. She received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. In her free time she likes to run and play tennis. Parent: Nick Behuniak.

John ClancyJohn Clancy is entering his sophomore year at Cornell University where he made the Dean’s List freshman year. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial labor relations. In high school, he earned his Eagle Scout Award, was president of Student Council, and was the president of his school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. He is a recipient of the New York State Department of Education Scholarship for Academic Excellence and the New York State Senate Youth Leadership Recognition Award. He was also a member of his school’s Academic Decathlon team and was recognized as the New York State Academic Decathlon Individual Champion two years in a row. John also has been active in his community, completing his Eagle Scout Service Project by constructing a split rail fence for the Martisco Station Museum in Marcellus and working as a teen volunteer at Baltimore Woods Nature Day Camp. John enjoys camping, reading, swimming and hanging out with friends. Parent: John Clancy.

Sophie GerchikovSophie Gerchikov will be a freshman at Princeton University in the fall, where she plans on studying engineering. She graduated from Guilderland High School with highest honors. She is a Girls Inc. National Scholar and is a recipient of the 2019 New York State Board of Regents Academic Excellence, YMCA Outstanding Student, and Mount Holyoke College Book awards. In high school, Sophie was active in Chemistry Club, Engineering Club, and the school newspaper. She also ran on the cross-country and track-and-field teams. Outside of school, Sophie volunteered at Proctors Theatre, where she was named the 2018 Student Volunteer of the Year, and at the Shalom Food Pantry, where she packed goods for those in need. In her free time, Sophie enjoys running, cooking, writing, and playing with her bunny S’more. Parents: Jacob Gerchikov and Eugenia Urman.

Sara KuikenSara Kuiken is the daughter of Melinda and Ronald Kuiken of Valley Falls. She graduated in the top 5 percent of her class at Tamarac High School with a New York State Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, with Honors. Sara was also enrolled in the New Visions Scientific Research and World Health Program. In addition to excelling in academics, she served as president of Student Senate, Key Club, Project Happiness and treasurer of SADD and Class Council. She was a member of band, chorus, yearbook, Youth Activation Committee and National Honor Society, and served as the 2018-19 student liaison to the Board of Education. Outside of school, Sara is a member of the Uncle Sam swim team and takes harp lessons. She volunteers at St. Mary’s Massry Center and with Therapy Dog International. Sara is also employed at the Susan O’Dell Taylor school. In the fall, Sara is attending Utica College to study occupational therapy and will be swimming on Utica College’s swim team. Parent: Melinda Kuiken.

Morgan LeBeauMorgan R. LeBeau graduated from Shenendehowa High School in June, where she maintained excellent grades and was on the high achievements list. She will be attending the University of New Hampshire in the fall and studying elementary education, with a minor in special education and Spanish. Morgan was a member of the National Honor Society, the Key Club, and the Future Business Leaders of America. While in high school, she worked as a teacher’s assistant for several years at the Sara Marie School, and taught toddler sporting classes at Sportsplex in Halfmoon, while playing lacrosse through junior varsity level. Morgan was heavily involved in the Best Buddies Program and in her senior year took on a leadership position as the activities director. She volunteered at Cheryl’s Lodge in Clifton Park assisting students with homework. Morgan also took part in several initiatives with local nonprofit To Love a Child (TLC) based in Clifton Park, which provides aid and resources to children in Haiti and Zimbabwe. Parent: Donna Cavert.

Aleksandr LorencAleksandr Lorenc graduated with an honors diploma from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School in June, where he achieved academic high honors and the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. He was a member of the National Honor Society; the NYS Mathematics Honor Society; the NYS Science Honor Society; the Science Club; the NYS World Language Honor Society (German); the Coding Club, where he participated in the Siena College Coding Challenge; and served as secretary of the Mu Alpha Theta Math Club for two years. He earned his Eagle Scout rank in December 2018. For his Eagle Scout project he organized and ran an Operation Christmas Child drive for his church, soliciting donations and funds used to fill and ship boxes to children in need around the world. In high school, he was on the bowling team for all four years and was co-captain as a junior and captain as a senior. He earned the Scholar Athlete Award for all four years. At Our Lady of Grace Church, he is a member of the Church Group Peer Retreat Team where he helped lead younger youth at their annual church retreat. He has volunteered at Vacation Bible School for several years and at Breakfast with St Nick. For the past four summers, he has worked at the Boy Scouts’ Camp Wakpominee as a handicrafts instructor, this year as area director for handicrafts. He will be starting Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vt. this fall where he intends on double majoring in religious studies and computer science. He received a scholarship through the college. During his free time, he enjoys reading science-fiction books and playing video games. Parent: Todd Lorenc.

Raichel PhilipRaichel Philip just completed her freshman year in the Macaulay Honors Program at Hunter College, making the Dean’s List both semesters. A graduate of Bronx High School of Science, where she was an AP Scholar, Raichel is a pre-med student majoring in human biology. She received a merit scholarship to Macaulay Honors College, the New York City Council Merit Scholarship, and the New York State Scholarship for Academic Excellence. Raichel was a member of the National Honor Society, volunteering at school events and tutoring fellow students, and was secretary of the Seekers Christian Fellowship club. Raichel enjoys volunteering in the community, helping at church summer children’s outreach programs, at the local library, and at the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans tutoring middle school students. She also volunteered at NYU Winthrop Hospital and conducted research at Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. At Hunter, she interns at a hepatology lab and volunteers in the Emergency Department of Weill Cornell Medical Center. Raichel enjoys spending time with her friends, reading, and listening to music. Parent: Leelamma Philip.

Emily SchoenblumEmily Schoenblum attended Bethlehem Central High School where she graduated as a member of the Gladys E. Newell Chapter of the National Honor Society, was vice president of the Environmental Club, and was president of No Place For Hate. She will be studying biomedical engineering at Binghamton University in the fall and plans on a career conducting research toward the cure of brain diseases. Emily was president of a youth group, a member of the Bethlehem Youth Court, and volunteered as a teacher’s aide at the Ronald McDonald House, at soup kitchens and participated at a Walk for Epilepsy. She has also worked at a summer camp for two years and as an intern in the Albany Medical Center neuroscience lab. She enjoys music, traveling and Broadway shows. Parent: Paul Schoenblum.

Fatima SyedFatima Syed is a sophomore at UAlbany where she is studying accounting and finance. She was inducted into the Presidential Honors Society and is a Spellman Award recipient. Fatima co-founded the UAlbany Wishmakers (Make-A-Wish) on campus and currently serves as vice-president. She is a passionate reporter and writer at Albany Student Press. In her spare time, she tutors business law while pursuing her solo research paper in behavioral economics and game theory. She graduated from Bethlehem Central High School with honors and serves as the New York State Ambassador for Semi High Tech since 2014. She was the lead guitarist and singer of Acoustic Jams and performed for charity during high school. She is passionate about minority rights and in the summer of 2019 helped organize the Albany Sudan Rally. Fatima loves to dance jazz and ballet in her hometown of Glenmont. Parent: Tahira Zaidi.

Kiera WaxKiera Wax graduated from Lakeland High School as salutatorian of her class. She will be attending Hamilton College in the fall, where she will likely major in biology and minor in art. Kiera received the Con-Edison Westchester Scholar Athlete of the Week Award, the Superintendent’s Award for Academic Excellence, the Golden Dozen Award for Outstanding Achievements in Academics and Athletics, the AP Scholar with Distinction Award, and the National Merit Scholarship Program “Commended Student” Award. She was involved in the school’s UNICEF Club, National Honor Society, and was the public relations officer of the Spanish Honor Society. Kiera works as a brand representative at Hollister Co., and plays on the Hudson Valley field hockey club. She played field hockey all four years of high school, on varsity for three. She also participated in varsity track in 10th grade and junior varsity lacrosse in ninth grade. Kiera volunteers at the Yorktown Presbyterian Church food pantry, Jan Peek Homeless Shelter, Midnight Run, and Vacation Bible School Camp. She also volunteers as a field hockey coach for the Shrub Oak Athletic Club and as a youth elder in the Yorktown Presbyterian Church Mission Commission, where fundraising events were planned to fund mission trips to build homes and install clean water systems in struggling countries. Kiera enjoys photography, painting and hiking. Parent: Amy Coccodrilli.

CLICK HERE to view all stories featured in the September 2019 Communicator!