Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service
Jerome St. Croix
Financial Aid Director Jerome St. Croix spent time working in admissions and coaching lacrosse at his alma mater, SUNY Potsdam as well as SUNY Canton and Jefferson Community College. However it was his family background that really prepared him for his eventual career. “I come from a large, close-knit family—I have seven older brothers,” he said, “and from a young age, I was instilled with the concepts of teamwork, cooperation, and responsibility.”
Those are the values that St. Croix brings to the financial aid office.
“I’m here to alleviate the fear and the sticker shock,” he said. “Because whether a college education costs $4,000 or $40,000, if the family doesn’t have the money, their student can’t go. We try to find the resources needed to make an education possible. It’s an investment, so we work with students and their families to formulate a plan.”
St. Croix’s “laid-back attitude” is valued highly by his colleagues. A changing student body, more adult students coming to MCC to train for new careers and a tight economy are among the financial aid challenges that have emerged over the past several years. St. Croix takes it all in stride.
“I try not to look at it as strictly money, but as an opportunity,” he said. “I’m here to help MCC students make the best investment, encourage them to apply for financial aid and help them understand the entire process.”
St. Croix, who leads frequent financial aid workshops for faculty, staff, and students, is highly regarded as a relationship builder and collaborator. “I never quite understood how individual awards were needed or how they played a part in functions that involved working cooperatively. But when I saw how excited my staff was that I received this award, it hit me. This isn’t really an individual award; it’s a recognition to be shared.”
St. Croix lives in West Irondequoit with his wife and three sons. He keeps his passion for lacrosse alive through coaching youth teams and refereeing. He also enjoys traveling and hiking.
Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Suzanne El Rayess
Suzanne El Rayess has lived in China, Syria, and Italy—and in a way she’s still on foreign soil.
“I live in Rochester, but I don’t live in Rochester,” El Rayess says.
As Professor of English for Speakers of Other Languages, El Rayess is immersed in the diverse cultures of her students every day — and she encourages them to embrace those cultures and teach others about them.
“These are adult students with rich experiences,” she said. El Rayess works those experiences into lessons and projects in what she refers to as “a holistic approach.” The students learn the language and culture of their new country not simply by working on English grammar, but by integrating reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
In the award nomination, El Rayess is praised for “helping students succeed through creativity and innovative teaching methods” in the courses she’s taught since 1980. These methods include having students write for the program’s literary magazine ESOL Voices, share photographs, and create multimedia projects on DVD. Her online class, ESOL 201 Advanced II: Reading/Writing includes podcasts and discussion posts.
Her efforts have contributed to an ESOL program with one of the highest departmental retention rates in the College. However, what she’s most proud of is seeing students succeed in the “real world.”
“Students leave our program with confidence, a career, a direction,” said El Rayess. “I see former students all over Rochester, and you know you’ve made a difference.”
Her work extends to activities outside the classroom as well. She has served on the Distance Learning Advisory Team, the Faculty Senate, and many college-wide committees. She has also traveled to Bosnia as a College representative and was a “mother” for three students from Chengdu, China who attended MCC last year.
El Rayess speaks Italian and “good Arabic for an American,” has studied Spanish, and is now learning American Sign Language. An award-winning photographer, she lives in Pittsford with her husband and enjoys visiting her three grown children and three grandchildren. She’s also a proud “end to ender” who has hiked the entire 560 miles of the Finger Lakes Trail.
Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service
During World War II, the British government produced motivational posters with the inspirational directive “Keep Calm and Carry On.” This could well be the personal motto of Jodee Biller, administrative assistant to the controller and recipient of the first Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Classified Service.
According to Biller, there’s never a dull moment in the Controller’s Office. However, over the years she has managed to conquer the chaos with a strong team of colleagues, outstanding organizational skills, and a distinct lack of fear.
“You never know what’s going to happen in a day,” Biller said. “It’s a lot of hard work. But I enjoy everyone I work with, and that’s key. Being there for the controller is the most important thing. I try to be as organized as possible so I don’t miss anything.”
When she first started at MCC as a student aide 17 years ago, Biller was a shy, easily intimidated recent high school graduate. But after spending years learning everything there is to know about the finance department, and completing her associate’s degree in executive secretarial science, she has become the backbone of an office essential to the financial workings of the College.
Biller is the liaison with Monroe County and New York state for billing all campus construction projects. She also handles reimbursement for travel expenses for college administrators and assists the controller with projects related to account services purchasing and the bursar’s office.
Perhaps Biller’s most notable assignment was during the implementation of the Banner accounting system. She acted as the liaison between the finance staff, budget office and consultants, coordinating the implementation and training schedules with the finance team and members of the college community. Biller continues to maintain the Banner system’s user access, setting up accounts and establishing security clearance for new users.
Recognized as a person who always “takes things to the next level,” someone who has the ability to conquer any predicament a new day may throw at her, Biller is also interested in learning new things.
“I’m always looking for a challenge,” she said.
Biller, who lives in Webster with her husband, stepdaughter, and son, enjoys hiking, attending her stepdaughter’s softball games, and traveling.