May 25, 2017

Assistant Professor Donna Gaines Receives Altes Prize

Donna Gaines, Altes Prize

(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - May 25, 2017) Donna Gaines, assistant professor of Social Science and Interdisciplinary Studies at the college’s Old Westbury location, has been selected as the recipient of the Jane W. and Wally Altes Prize for Exemplary Community Service, given annually by the Empire State College Foundation. The honor also comes with a cash prize. Gaines will receive the award at the Faculty Academic Conference in the fall.

President Merodie Hancock said, “It never ceases to amaze me how many of our faculty have strong and vibrant links to the communities where the college is located, and how they are able to leverage their academic expertise in the service of those in our communities, thereby strengthening our bonds with the neighborhoods from which our students come. I congratulate Donna on this significant honor.”

“I'm grateful and humbled to have been awarded the Altes prize,” Gaines said. “Community is a sacred concept to me – it informs every aspect of my work in the world – sociologically, spiritually and personally. Community protects us from existential terror, heals our alienation and soothes our feelings of powerlessness, binding us together as a force so much greater than any one individual. Love and service are at the core of everything we do here at SUNY Empire. I'm blessed to be part of this community, and to share in the great joy of serving our students, the college and our regional communities.”

The award is given to a faculty member who brings academic expertise to bear on issues in the community. According to Associate Dean of the Division of Social Sciences Frank Vander Valk, Gaines has a long record of using her academic expertise to build strong community connections, both within the community and between the community and the college.

She is particularly engaged in recovery issues of all types, and was very active assisting with physical recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Gaines, who is a licensed social worker, is known for a series of Saturday workshops she organized that brought together members of the college with local experts, speakers, students and Long Island community members. The workshops have addressed parent advocacy, addiction and recovery, as well as support for survivors of Hurricane Sandy. She organized a service-based organization, the Long Island Community Action Student Club, in which students worked on issues relevant to their lives as members of overlapping communities.

Gaines is described as a practitioner of “holistic mentoring,” and service-scholarship. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Binghamton University, an MSW from Adelphi University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from Stony Brook University. She also is a well-published journalist, author and scholar.

About the Jane W. and Wally Altes Award for Exemplary Community Service

The Altes Prize for Exemplary Community Service is presented annually to a faculty member whose outstanding community service uses research and insights from his or her academic discipline to address pressing social problems. The award was established by Jane and Wally Altes. Jane Altes served as the college’s long-time vice president for academic affairs and also as interim president. The award will be presented at a community open house at the recipient’s location later in the year.

About SUNY Empire State College

Empire State College, the nontraditional, open college of the SUNY system yearly, educates nearly 19,000 students worldwide at eight international sites, more than 30 locations across the state of New York, online, as well as face to face and through a blend of both, at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels.

The average age of an undergraduate student at the college is 35 and graduate students’ average age is 40.

Most Empire State College students are working adults. Many are raising families and meeting civic commitments in the communities where they live, while studying part time.

In addition to awarding credit for prior college-level learning, the college pairs each undergraduate student with a faculty mentor who supports that student throughout his or her college career.

Working with their mentors, students design an individual degree program and engage in guided independent study and coursework on site, online or through a combination of both, which provides the flexibility for students to choose where, when and how to learn.

The college’s 78,000 alumni are active in their communities as entrepreneurs, politicians, business professionals, artists, nonprofit agency employees, teachers, veterans and active military, union members and more.

The college was first established in 1971 by the SUNY Board of Trustees with the encouragement of the late Ernest L. Boyer, chancellor of the SUNY system from 1970 to 1977. Boyer also served as United States commissioner of education during the administration of President Jimmy Carter and then as president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

More information about the college is available at