Wurtsboro Native is SUNY's 'Top Student'
By Dan Hust
ALBANY November 27, 2007 Let’s put it this way: Don Boyce is the top SUNY student.
Not “a” top student “the” top student.
No, not in grades. The Wurtsboro native is doing well as a grad student at SUNY Albany, but success has arrived for him in ways most college students never experience.
“It’s an overwhelming experience,” he acknowledged.
The 24-year-old actually has an office in downtown Albany, where he oversees a staff of nearly a dozen people who’ll tell you they’re working for a genuinely nice guy.
A guy who happens to be called President of the SUNY (State University of New York) Student Assembly.
And Student Trustee on the SUNY Board of Trustees.
And Commissioner of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education.
And Trustee on the New York State Higher Education Services Commission.
In other words, he’s the go-to guy if you want to know why, how and what SUNY students are thinking and doing, and he’s tasked with communicating that to not only SUNY’s leadership but to politicians that include senators, assemblypeople and even the governor himself.
He’s rubbed shoulders with top business and political experts and helped draft reports that will chart the future of higher education in the state and nation.
In short, it’s been an education way beyond what his associate’s and bachelor’s in business administration gave him.
But it’s his academic career that got him there in the first place.
Campus politics draw him in
Raised in Yankee Lake by parents Don and Janet Boyce, Boyce graduated from Monticello High School in 2001.
He had flourished at Monticello, joining the Debate Club and the Academy of Finance experiences he deems “priceless.” And outside of school, the Eagle Scout was nominated for and won the Governor’s Youth Award in 2002, thanks to then-Mamakating Supervisor Mary Barbuti.
He enrolled at Orange County Community College without a clear career goal in mind, but the college’s vice president of student development asked him to get involved with the Student Senate, and things just started to snowball from there.
He was appointed as a student senator in the spring of 2002, then elected to the position in the fall, subsequently being named president. As part of his leadership duties, Boyce served on the college’s board as the student trustee, learning a great deal about how the budget and the local legislature influence such an institution.
As a result, he was offered an internship with the New York State Community College Trustees Association.
He also began his ongoing involvement in SUNY’s statewide Student Assembly, serving on its Executive Committee as Treasurer.
After gaining an associate’s from Orange, Boyce transferred to SUNY Albany to obtain his bachelor’s in business administration, focusing on finance.
“I’ve got a passion for the business side of things,” he said.
That, coupled with his interest in public policy, brought him to the attention of SUNY Albany’s Student Association, where he became the chief financial officer, managing a $2 million budget.
He also ended up serving an internship with Lehman Brothers, and now he’s finishing up his master’s in public administration. He expects to graduate in May and hopes to find a job as a financial markets regulator.
In the meantime, he’s been busy building up one stellar resumé.
SUNY Student Assembly chief
Last year he served as vice president of the SUNY Albany Graduate Student Organization, but this year he ran for and won the presidency of the SUNY Student Assembly the statewide organization that represents the more than 400,000 students attending the 64 campuses of the country’s largest public university system.
As a result, he was automatically named the new student trustee on SUNY’s Board of Trustees, with a chance to make and influence policies statewide. He even co-chairs the board’s Student Life Committee, with a focus on diversity.
His term as Student Assembly President began in June and will only last a year, so he’s already knocking on doors, picking up the phone and pounding the pavement to promote his twin themes of communication and advocacy.
Students regularly contact him for advice on policy issues involving tuition, security and healthcare, while senior SUNY leaders routinely ask him to help them make decisions about those same issues.
He tries to avoid petty squabbling but is open to criticism and certainly seeks advice from others, including mentors like Orange County Community College President Bill Richards.
“It’s such a challenging job,” Boyce admitted. “All [Thanksgiving] break I’ve been in front of the computer!”
And not all of that time is Student Assembly-related (or, lest we forget, his academics).
Influencing education’s future
Boyce was named to both Governor Eliot Spitzer’s Commission on Higher Education (CHE) and the Higher Education Services Commission (HESC).
CHE has given him the opportunity to work on the future of higher education with such luminaries as the presidents of Cornell and New York University “an intense, intense process,” he said.
A draft report will soon be given to state legislators, and they will see Boyce’s efforts on the CHE’s Committee for Economic Development, Workforce Development and College Alignment.
“My words are in the report my comments, my initiatives,” he remarked with both pride and awe. “... The decisions of this report will hopefully map out higher education for the next 25 years.”
As for HESC, “I don’t think I realized the impact I’d have on this board,” he said.
HESC oversees TAP (Tuition Assistance Program), the largest educational finance program in the country and often the key support mechanism for SUNY students struggling to afford their education.
But that’s one of his easier tasks, as HESC’s board meets just twice a year to determine policy.
Most of his time is divided between the Student Assembly and classes and as many trips back home as he can squeeze in.
“I try to come home once a month mostly because I need a good meal!” he said with a laugh, relating happy experiences of canoeing, swimming, making tomato sauce, even splitting endless piles of wood to heat the family home through the long, cold winter.
And mom Janet, an RN; dad Don, a Mamakating Highway Department employee; and sister Jenna, a student at Orange County Community College, are quick to remind him of what matters and where he comes from.
“Those humble beginnings keep me grounded,” he said.
A keen observer of Mamakating and Sullivan County politics, Boyce would love to return home to work someday, but he realizes that opportunities await him in Albany and New York City.
It seems clear, however, that wherever he ends up, Donald Boyce III will continue a reputation for hard work, likely in a mix of public and private service.
In other words, he’ll stay busy.
“I blame that on my parents!” he laughed.