SUNY Oswego senior biology major Christian DiBiase recently earned a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest such recognition in the statewide system, for outstanding work spanning classrooms, research labs and fieldwork to help others.

DiBiase, who holds a perfect 4.0 grade-point average while tackling demanding academic programs in his biology major and chemistry minor, has maximized his opportunities inside and outside the classroom.

James MacKenzie, professor and chair of biological sciences, called DiBiase “one of the most intelligent, hardworking and independent students I have ever worked with,” knowing him as a teacher, academic advisor and research mentor for DiBiase’s “outstanding” participation in researching the effects of PCBs on freshwater mussels.

DiBiase also has worked with biological sciences faculty member Poongodi Geetha-Loganathan to study the biochemical process of browning in apples. With faculty Kamal Mohamed and Matthew Baker, he has researched artemisinin, an anti-malarial agent, in the previously unstudied artemisia plant that is native to Western North America.

In addition, via a connection from faculty member Cleane Medieros, DiBiase traveled to Brazil in summer 2019 to study the potential effects of organic nitrates on alleviating hypertension in rats.

“The research opportunities and the faculty I’ve worked with have been amazing,” DiBiase said.

DiBiase has presented research at the national Sigma Xi conference and the regional Rochester Academy of Sciences Conferences, also obtaining local and regional grants to support his projects. Other awards in his time at Oswego have also included the Norman and Elsie Gillette Outstanding Senior in Biology Award and Patti McGill Peterson Honors Program Award.

Realizing possibilities

With a strong academic background that could have opened doors anywhere, the Ravena native had his eyes on a SUNY school because of its affordability, and liked Oswego’s beautiful campus and state-of-the-art Shineman Center. 

Oswego’s Possibility Scholarship, a merit- and need-based comprehensive scholarship for students planning to enter the STEM field, cinched his decision to study at the lakeside college. “I received an amazing scholarship that pays for everything,” DiBiase said. “It makes it easier to focus on my studies.”

DiBiase also put time into involvement that meets his passions and interests, including volunteering for the on-campus Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps and for Oswego Hospital. “I’ve always liked volunteering and helping others,” DiBiase explained. 

One of the most memorable experiences was participating in SUNY Stands with Puerto Rico, a summer 2018 experience on that island helping inhabitants rebuild and recover from extensive hurricane damage. “To be a part of addressing that and meeting people who have gone through that really provides insight,” DiBiase said. “It puts your life in context, and makes you grateful to be able to help.”

DiBiase also took part in the college’s alternative break activities by working in an HIV/AIDS clinic in New Orleans and by serving as a group leader for a trip to Washington, D.C., working with Food and Friends to deliver tailored meals to people with chronic illnesses and requiring specific dietary accommodations.

He also has served fellow students as a peer advisor to first-year biology and zoology majors, a teaching assistant for an introductory biology course and secretary for the Pre-Health Club.

“You do not need to talk with him for long before you realize he has a true passion for learning, experiencing everything he can, and helping people,” MacKenzie said. “What is even more remarkable is that he does all of this in an extraordinarily personable and humble manner.”

The week after graduation, DiBiase is even getting married before relocating to attend a graduate physician assistant program at Barry University in Miami. The 27-month program will prepare him for his goal of becoming a practicing physician assistant.

“I have always held an interest in healthcare and in one day operating in a position that is devoted to the welfare of others,” DiBiase wrote in his personal statement. “Altogether, my interactions with patients and experiences with the demands and rewards of working in a healthcare environment have solidified my desire to become a physician assistant, for it is a role in which I know I can make resounding impacts in the lives of others.”

About the award

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras and the SUNY system celebrated 135 students earning SUNY-wide awards in an April 14 virtual ceremony.

“Our students have sacrificed so much over the last 13 months. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we mark the milestones and celebrate the brilliance, vision, resilience, and community stewardship of SUNY’s best and brightest,” Chancellor Malatras said in conferring the awards. 

“It is my great honor to present the Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence to these truly incredible students,” Malatras noted. “Undeterred by the challenges of a once-in-a-generation health crisis, they have all overcome significant odds to pursue their academic passions, become campus and community leaders, help and inspire others, and foster a better world for us all. Congratulations to all the winners, and a heartfelt thank you for making the SUNY system proud.”