2021 Graduate Award Recipients

Congratulations to all of the 2021 awardees!

This award is presented to a person (or persons) whose assistance played a significant role in helping a graduate earn an Excelsior University degree.

Jose M. Barajas

Jose M. BarajasJennifer Ann Barajas, of Manhattan, Kansas, nominated her husband, Jose M. Barajas, also of Manhattan, Kansas, for this year’s Student Support Award. Jennifer nominated her husband for his unwavering support throughout her time earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2018, a Master of Business Administration in 2020, and a Master of Public Administration in 2021.

Jennifer Barajas comes from an abusive past marriage and nine previous lost pregnancies. When she met Jose, she says he created an environment in which she was accepted and loved. When Jennifer retired from the U.S. Army and enrolled in a bachelor’s program with Excelsior, Jose encouraged her every step of the way. He also stood by her side through all three of her pregnancies throughout her years studying with Excelsior. In February 2021, she completed her third degree with Excelsior; throughout her time fulfilling her educational dreams, Jose cared for the children and pushed her to complete her studies. An Excelsior alumnus, Jose completed a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business and Management in 2014. He retired from the U.S. Army in June 2021.

Jennifer says of her husband, “His devotion to my educational journey, support when life threw us curve balls, and celebrations when I achieved what I never thought possible are what have allowed me to complete not 1 but 3 college degrees in the last 4 years.”

This award recognizes the leadership and vision of founding trustee Lt. General Arthur J. Gregg [U.S. Army (Ret.)]. General Gregg chaired Excelsior’s Board of Overseers and guided the transition to independence as a private institution, becoming the first chair of the Board of Trustees. With a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, General Gregg has contributed greatly to Excelsior’s service to the U.S. military. The award is presented to a graduate who is on active duty in the U.S. military and who demonstrates outstanding academic and career or professional achievement.

Matthew David Ingelido

Matthew David IngelidoMatthew David Ingelido, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, completed a Bachelor of Science in Natural Science, in November 2020 with a 3.95 GPA. He has been a member of the U.S. Air Force since 2009.

Ingelido has been on multiple assignments in Europe and the U.S., as well as on three deployments to the Middle East and Central Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He has received the John L. Levitow Award, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the 2016 97th Air Mobility Wing Logistics Readiness Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and NATO E-3A Component 2020 Allied Command Operations Military Member of the Year Award. He has also been involved in the community, organizing Wingman Warrior Day and leading the 2019 Geilenkirchen Thanksgiving Festival.

Ingelido has been the recipient of multiple scholarships such as from the Air Force Sergeants Association and the Geilenkirchen Top-3 Organization. Since earning his bachelor’s degree, he has been accepted into a graduate program with Western Kentucky University, pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental and Occupational Health Science.

This award is given in memory of Catherine Craig-Erhardt, a member of Excelsior’s staff beginning in 1980. From 1984 until her untimely death in 1986, she served as Excelsior’s liaison to the military. The award recognizes and commemorates her commitment to helping military servicemembers attain their educational goals and is presented for service to others, commitment to education, and for academic, professional, and personal achievement.

Bryan C. Maass

Bryan C. MaassBryan C. Maass, of North Bergen, New Jersey, completed a Bachelor of Science in National Security in January 2021, summa cum laude, with a 4.0 GPA. Maass is a senior enlisted advisor for the III MEF Operations Training Group of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Maass enlisted in the Marine Corps as an infantryman in 1995. During his time in the Corps, he conducted multiple deployments, including both Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He has been stationed at such places as Fort Story, Virginia, as an instructor of the Amphibious Reconnaissance School, at Force Recon Co, I MEF, Camp Pendleton, California, as a reconnaissance platoon sergeant, and at the U.S. House of Representatives as a Department of Defense congressional fellow for Rep. Darrell Issa.

Maass graduated from multiple specialized schools and has held numerous billets as a sniper and Force Recon team member. He has received the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat V and silver star in lieu of sixth award, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon with gold star in lieu of second award, and various unit awards.

This award is in recognition of Charles W. Laffin whose vision and leadership gave momentum to a fledgling Community College movement and left a legacy of opportunity to millions of adult learners. In gratitude for his invaluable service to Excelsior University, the faculty of Excelsior presents this award for academic excellence and outstanding achievement. To be eligible for the Charles W. Laffin Jr. Memorial Award, the graduate must have earned credit from a Community College before attending Excelsior University. The graduate must have received a master’s degree from Excelsior University (non-Nursing).

Brandon Carl Bryan

Brandon Carl BryanBrandon Carl Bryan, of Huntington, Texas, completed a Master of Science in Management in May 2021 with a 4.0 GPA. He is a chief warrant officer four with the U.S. Army, a demonstrated master logistician, speaks three languages, and was recently selected to serve as an academic instructor at the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career College at Fort Rucker.

Bryan is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for actions taken in Afghanistan and has completed six operational and combat tours in his 21 years of service, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Poland, Korea, and Germany. He has served in numerous assignments from squad to division-level.

In addition to his master’s degree, Bryan earned a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from Excelsior in 2015 and an Associate of Arts in Humanities from Barstow Community College in 2013. He is the first in his family to both join the military and earn a master’s degree.

This award is presented in recognition of Excelsior University alumnus Dwayn Hanford. As past president of the Excelsior University Alumni Association and Alumni Leadership Council, a C. Wayne Williams Award recipient, and adjunct instructor, Hanford is a strong advocate and ally of Excelsior and the mission to educate 21st-century public sector leaders and citizens. The recipient of the Dwayn Hanford Award has completed a public service degree with academic excellence and significant community involvement.

Benjamin Dennis Williams

Benjamin Dennis WilliamsBenjamin Dennis Williams, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, completed a Bachelor of Science in National Security in November 2020, cum laude, with a 3.65 GPA. Williams is an audio-visual technician currently pursuing positions with the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Williams earned his degree while serving on active duty in the Navy as a first-class electronics technician responsible for the safe navigation of a nuclear submarine. Williams has served onboard a fast-attack submarine on two deployments, safely navigating more than 40,000 nautical miles out of Connecticut. He has also led a team of 15 men and conducted repairs to outboard cabling and navigation systems. His team was awarded several Navy Achievement Medals and Flag Letters in recognition of their work over a three-year period.

Williams has volunteered locally at several schools as a field day facilitator teaching sportsmanship and safety to elementary school children. He has also volunteered with the Toys for Tots program, collecting toy donations during the holiday seasons. In addition, he volunteers on a regular basis with the Larksview Foundation, a medical nonprofit out of Pennsylvania that has conducted multiple highly successful mission trips providing support, education, and critical medical care to more than 10,000 patients in remote communities.

This award was created in recognition of Dr. Long’s service and contribution to Excelsior University. He was regarded as an expert in nuclear education and a proponent of the link between training and education and the safe operation of nuclear facilities. Students selected for this award must work in the nuclear power industry and be a member of the American Nuclear Society.

Nathaniel Cox

Nathaniel CoxNathaniel Cox, of Oswego, New York, completed a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering Technology in October 2020, with a 3.72 GPA. Cox is a nuclear operations instructor for Exelon Generation.

Cox joined the U.S. Navy directly out of high school and earned the Master Training Specialist certification during his time as a radiological controls training manager. He trained nuclear operators and served aboard the USS Florida. He attended Excelsior following his time in the Navy and was hired by Exelon shortly thereafter. “Excelsior taught me that learning how to write is learning how to express yourself,” he says.

In addition to his bachelor’s degree, Cox has earned Senior Reactor Operator certification and Expert Instructor INPO certification. He is a member of the American Nuclear Society and Alpha Nu Sigma Honor Society.

This award recognizes the leadership and vision of founding trustee Jean Smith. Smith’s career in banking has been characterized by a deep commitment to institutions that are devoted to improving society. Her passion for social justice informed her work with Excelsior, first as an overseer and later as a trustee, as she worked to support its students. The award is presented to a graduate who has demonstrated outstanding academic and professional achievement in the world of business.

Dwayne Omarie Murray

Dwayne Omarie MurrayDwayne Omarie Murray, of Suffolk, Virginia, completed a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business and Management in January 2021, cum laude, with a 3.71 GPA. Murray is a retail services specialist (RS) in the U.S. Navy.

Earning a business degree has improved Murray’s ability to recognize as well as understand the structures and various elements of an organization and the intricate relationships they serve to grow and operate any business. Upper management noticed Murray’s heightened understanding, which led to him gaining greater responsibilities, including managing 48 sailors in the daily operation of two barbershops and laundry facilities that serve 4,500 sailors and overseeing maintenance actions for 56 divisional spaces. Murray also participates in volunteer activities, career days, and fundraisers to improve morale of the crew.

In addition to his bachelor’s degree, Murray earned an Associate in Applied Science in Administrative/Management Studies from Excelsior in 2016.

This award recognizes the leadership and vision of founding trustee Joshua L. Smith. During his three years as chair of the Excelsior University Board of Trustees, he encouraged Excelsior to expand graduate degree programs. Smith, a retired professor and director of the Program in Higher Education and Center for Urban Community College Leadership, New York University, School of Education, dedicated his career to education. This award recognizes the sacrifices graduate students have made to serve others while balancing their own academic studies. The recipient of this award has persevered in their education while also volunteering in an organization such as the military, a medical agency, non-profit group, or place of worship.

Trayvious Sherrod Wilson

Trayvious Sherrod WilsonTrayvious Sherrod Wilson, of Albany, Georgia, completed a Master of Science in Health Care Administration in July 2020 with a 3.92 GPA. Wilson is physical therapy technician with the U.S. Navy.

Wilson has always been passionate about helping others and assisting when and where he can without the need for compensation or recognition. He says, “I have taken part in numerous beautification projects along the California coastline, mentored young boys and girls that have been victims of bullying, and provided warm meals to hundreds of homeless men and women in California, Texas and Georgia; all while being provided the opportunity to further my education through Excelsior University.”

Wilson is the recipient of several awards, including the Naval Medical Center San Diego District Sailor of The Year Fiscal Year 20, 2020 United States Presidential Volunteer Service Award Recipient, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and Army/ Baylor PTA Program New Horizon Award. In addition to his master’s degree, Wilson earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences from Excelsior in 2017 and various certifications such as Associate Certificate of Life and Health Insurance, American Heart Association (AHA) BLS Provider, and USMAP Medical Assistant.

This award is given in memory and recognition of the vision and contribution of Marvin Curling to the development of collaboration between industry and education through the integration of corporate-sponsored training and college-level learning. A New York Power Authority training superintendent, Curling motivated employees at NYPA to persist in educational advancement and helped establish degrees in technology at Excelsior (then Regents). In honor of the superior model of collaboration that he helped establish, the New York Power Authority contributed the endowment to maintain this annual award which is presented to a graduate who achieved outstanding academic achievement while pursuing a degree in a technology program.

Avinash Gonsalves

Avinash GonsalvesAvinash Gonsalves, of Peekskill, New York, completed a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology in February 2021, magna cum laude, with a 3.75 GPA. Gonsalves is a building engineer for CyrusOne Data Center.

Gonsalves’ interest in technology stems from his childhood fascination with the emerging technologies of the 1990s. He built hobby electronic projects, repaired household systems and home automation devices, and always wanted to the learn the “magic” behind functioning electrical and computer systems. He attended electrical trade school and later participated in an apprenticeship program at a fertilizer plant in Goa, India. In 2010, he married and moved to the United States where he furthered his education and career.

In addition to his bachelor’s from Excelsior, Gonsalves earned an associate degree in electrical technology from Westchester Community College in 2014. Gonsalves has an electrical certification from Father Agnel Industrial Training Institute, is a certified data center professional, is certified by OSHA for 30-hour construction safety and health, and is a member of Phi Theta Kapp International Honor Society.

This award is presented to a health sciences graduate in memory and recognition of the contributions of Michael J. Cooley, a beloved and dedicated adjunct health sciences faculty member. The recipient of the award earned a health sciences degree and embodies exemplary academic achievement and exceptional perseverance. This graduate accepts the challenges that befall an adult learner and embraces the opportunity to grow academically, professionally, and personally within the health sciences discipline.

Rainier Templo Vicencio

Rainier Templo VicencioRainier Templo Vicencio, of Long Beach, California, completed an Associate in Science in Health Sciences in February 2021, with honors, with a 3.68 GPA. Vicencio is a health care specialist and non-commissioned officer in charge of obstetrics and gynecology for the U.S. Army.

Vicencio is a first-generation Asian American whose father immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1991. His father struggled with school and a career to give his family a better life. After high school and witnessing lifesaving CPR, Vicencio enrolled in an EMT program. He became a nationally certified EMT on his third try of taking the national registry exam. “I finally found something that I was good at. I’m honored to have served my community as a first responder,” says Vicencio. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army as a combat medic.

Vicencio used what he learned from studying to be an EMT in his time serving as a soldier and medic. Now, Vicencio is a sergeant and says, “I fully understand the sacrifices my father made for me, and I can truly say that he is proud.”

This award is given in recognition of Dr. Mildred L. Montag’s national leadership in nursing and nursing education and her distinguished contribution to the development of the nursing programs offered by Excelsior University. The graduate selected to receive this award has completed the Excelsior University Master of Science in Nursing program and has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and excellence in all the nursing courses, including the capstone course.

Elizabeth Joy Stringfellow

Elizabeth Joy StringfellowElizabeth Joy Stringfellow, of Monticello, Arkansas, recently completed a Master of Science in Nursing Education in October 2020 with a 4.0 GPA. Stringfellow is an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

While enrolled in Excelsior’s graduate program, Stringfellow taught full-time and worked part-time as a registered nurse in an intensive care unit. She has used the knowledge and skills she gained in the degree program to promote nursing excellence in her rural community of southeast Arkansas. Stringfellow has introduced innovative instructional methods to her peer faculty, and her capstone project has laid the foundational work for creating mentorship opportunities for nursing students.

In August 2020, Stringfellow was appointed as the program coordinator for the AASN Program at the University of Arkansas’ Monticello School of Nursing. In January 2021, she was appointed to the board of directors for the Arkansas Center for Nursing. In addition to her master’s degree, she has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Arkansas at Monticello (2010).

In recognition of Dr. Robert P. Mahoney’s outstanding contributions to liberal arts education at this University and his devotion to serving his community, this award is presented to a liberal arts graduate who completed his/her degree in the face of significant challenges and demonstrated a dedication to community and volunteer service.

Fareeha Syeda Ziyan

Fareeha Syeda ZiyanFareeha Syeda Ziyan, of Lahore, Pakistan, completed a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in February 2021, cum laude, with a 3.54 GPA. Ziyan is head of special education needs at the Centre of Inclusive Care in Karachi, Pakistan.

Ziyan was able to complete her degree while working long hours as a special educator. She often had to search for time to complete her assignments and exams in between commutes. She financially supported her family and had to deal with racism in the workplace. Despite these adversities, Ziyan was able to use her knowledge, experiences, and degree program to give back to the community via her practice as a special educator.

Ziyan has been a guest speaker at Beaconhouse School System–Karachi for its Global Dignity Day event for the topic “Inclusion and Dignity” in 2019; participated in the International Symposium on Cognitive Research & Disorders Virtual Summit in 2020; volunteered for Project Imdad, a service providing free mental health care and counseling services to health care workers on the front lines of COVID-19 in 2020; and was a guest speaker at the People of Determination International Exhibition & Conference Virtual Platform for the topic “Inclusion: A Mindset” in 2021.

This award is given in memory and recognition of the distinguished contributions of Ruth V. Matheney to nursing and nursing education, her nationally acclaimed leadership toward progressive, patient-centered practices in the classroom and at the bedside, and of her wise and willing counsel to the Excelsior University nursing programs. The recipient of this award has completed an undergraduate degree in nursing at Excelsior University and has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement.

Anthony Scott Craney Fortenberry

Anthony Scott Craney FortenberryAnthony Scott Craney Fortenberry, of Jackson Heights, New York, completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in February 2021, magna cum laude, with a 3.84 GPA. Fortenberry is the chief nursing officer of the Community Health Project in New York, New York. He is currently enrolled in Excelsior’s dual degree RN to Master of Science in Nursing Leadership and Administration of Health Care Systems program.

Fortenberry has been a registered nurse for more than 15 years and currently works in a community health center that provides comprehensive health care services targeted toward New York’s LGBTQIA community. His work extends to health advocacy and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, with a focus on delivering health equity and social justice. He serves as the co-chair of the National LGBTQ+ Primary Care Alliance and co-chair of the LGBT Task Force for the National Association of Community Health Centers.

Fortenberry says, “My nursing practice is built upon the framework of patient-centered nursing, and I strive to empower patients through advocacy, education, and support.”

This award recognizes the leadership and vision of founding Trustee Dr. Robert E. Kinsinger. As the first chair of Excelsior’s Board of Overseers, Dr. Kinsinger built upon his earlier relationship to Excelsior as a vice president of the W.K. Kellog Foundation. While at the foundation, Dr. Kinsinger encouraged and supported the development of the Regents College nursing degree programs, an interest that he carried forward into his work as an overseer and later as a Trustee. Eligible graduates must have completed a master’s degree through Excelsior in either the School of Graduate Studies or the School of Nursing. The graduate must have volunteer and/or career experience in a non-profit organization.

Alice Caressimo

Alice CaressimoAlice Caressimo, of Franklin Square, New York, completed a Master of Science in Nursing Education in February 2021 with a 3.5 GPA. Caressimo is a registered nurse with Northwell Health and a faculty clinical instructor for Adelphi University.

Working in medical surgical/rehabilitation, especially during COVID-19, has allowed Caressimo to grow as an individual by learning and appreciating the bigger picture. She says being a nurse is most rewarding because she is able to be an advocate for patients in their most critical times.

Caressimo is a member of the American Nurses Association and has certifications in phlebotomy and basic life support from the American Heart Association. She also has a Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Manager certificate. In addition to her master’s degree, Caressimo earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Excelsior in 2016.