Public Relations major Richards receives SUNY McConney award

Roger Coda
Aliah Richards with EDP Director Rachel Skemer

Aliah Richards (left) with Educational Development Program (EDP) Director Rachel Skemer at the awards event in Albany.

Aliah Richards, a senior Communication: Public Relations major from Queens, is one of 45 students from throughout the State University of New York selected to receive its Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence.

The award recognizes outstanding Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) students for their academic merit and strength in overcoming significant personal obstacles throughout their lives.

Ms. Richards is Fredonia’s third recipient of the award that honors Mr. McConney, who dedicated his life to advancing legislation to address the needs of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented New Yorkers and helped to draft legislation that created SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

Richards was honored at a ceremony in Albany on April 14.

“She has maintained her focus all along, having high standards for herself and consistently improving academically, and growing in all aspects of her life." - EDP Director Rachel Skemer

“The students we celebrate today have their own story on how they got to SUNY, but they are unified by their incredible perseverance in pursuit of their academic dreams,” said SUNY Interim Chancellor Deborah F. Stanley. “Despite personal hardships, these individuals are driving forward to change the world.”

“Aliah is an amazing young lady,” said Rachel Skemer, director of Fredonia’s Educational Development Program, the equivalent of the EOP at SUNY. A strong internal drive enabled Richards, a first-generation college student, to overcome challenges that she and her father faced during her first semester at Fredonia, Ms. Skemer said.

“Despite this pressure, she moved forward with her education, keeping the primary thought that having an education would provide her with the opportunity of being in a better position to assist her father and to have an overall better quality of life,” Skemer explained.

“She has maintained her focus all along, having high standards for herself and consistently improving academically, and growing in all aspects of her life. She is self-motivated, hardworking, not scared to seek resources to sustain her growth and has always been able to maintain a healthy balance in her life,” Skemer said.

Through the organization Gyrl Wonder, a professional pipeline that assists young women of color, Richards mentored younger African American girls preparing to go to college or having difficulties in their classes. At Fredonia, Richards was mentored by women in the Western New York area on how to network with companies to create opportunities and gain the necessary skills to succeed in a global community. Some skills developed during this experience enabled Richards to obtain an internship at Boston-based McNiel Gray & Rice Strategic Communications.

On campus, Richards, who has a minor in English, has written articles for The Leader student newspaper, served as a night desk attendant in a residence hall, held a part-time job, is on the e-board of the African Student Union and takes time in her busy schedule to mentor many of EDP peers.

In addition to the McConney Award, Richards has received the Ralph Wilson Jr. and Jeffery J. Wallace awards established through the Fredonia College Foundation, and will be inducted into the Chi Alpha Epsilon honor society.

Richards, who will graduate Cum Laude in May, plans to attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree in Public Relations. Currently in the application process and awaiting responses, Richards has already been accepted at Syracuse University. Her goal is to work in public relations in the entertainment field.

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