Biology faculty, instructors, and graduating seniors attended a virtual Senior Send-Off in May.

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop Niagara University’s biology department from honoring its students during Senior Send-off, a recent tradition that gives faculty the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of their graduating class. Although the event was held virtually, the spirit of the event remained unchanged.

A comedy routine featuring Dr. Mark Gallo and Dr. William Cliff was a highlight of the send-off, during which students were recognized with departmental awards and members of the faculty were “roasted” by students. A slideshow of senior spotlights, highlighting the students’ best memories in the program, their next steps, and advice they have for incoming freshmen, was played throughout the ceremony.  

“It was such a great event, it really went better than I had hoped for,” said Dr. Cassandra Marnocha, one of the professors who organized the send-off. “There were laughs and even some bittersweet tears. We all wish we could have done it in person, but it was such a mood lifter to be able to see all their faces again.”

The students were happy to have the opportunity to connect with their professors one last time, as well.

“I'm really grateful that the biology department was able to host a virtual Senior Send-Off for us, and it was great seeing almost all of the bio students, faculty, and staff in one place,” said Logan Slother, a Sanborn, N.Y., senior who will be working as a patient care technician at WellNow Urgent Care and plans to apply to physician assistant school. “I was excited to be part of an event that recognizes our four years of hard work and achievement. I especially enjoyed being asked to help put together the faculty ‘awards’ that poked fun at our professors. The Senior Send-Off … was the best event possible under the current circumstances. It showed me one final time that our biology department truly cares for its students, and I'm happy to have been a part of this year's event.”

Award recipients included Molly Balbierz, who received the Morton Medal for Excellence in Biology, which goes to the graduating senior with the highest GPA. Hailey Bicknell received the Reedy Medal, which is given to a student-athlete who demonstrates excellence in biology. Balbierz, Julia Rak, Anthony DiCecca, Slother, and environmental sciences major Michael Glazier were given Highest Honors for maintaining a 3.75 or above in their major.

For Joy O'Brien, a Blairstown, N.J., native who will be attending the University of New Hampshire in the fall to get her master’s degree in microbiology, the send-off was a way to get closure for her four years at Niagara while reinforcing the relationships she had made during that time.

“I really liked that the faculty emphasized they want us to stay in touch with them,” she said. “It really means a lot to me and my fellow classmates.” She added that Dr. Marnocha's opening remarks were a special part of the ceremony. “You could really tell that she was incredibly proud of us, and it meant a lot to me, because she is my research professor and mentor.”

The event was an emotional one for Kaleigh Block. The Rochester, N.Y. senior, who was accepted into Iowa State University’s master’s degree program in geology and environmental science, said she also appreciated the opportunity to catch up with her professors and chat about things other than course work or academics.

“I realized that it was likely one of the last times I may interact with some of my professors,” she said. “I really value the relationships I've built with all of my professors over the past four years, and it was great to see their faces again and to hear that they appreciate us just as much as we appreciate them. It was truly a bittersweet way to end my college career with the professors I've spent so much time with over the past four years.”

The send-off held special significance for Dr. Marnocha, as well.

“Most of these students came to Niagara University and the biology department in fall 2016, and that's when I also came to Niagara and the biology department,” she said. “They were my first ‘batch’—the first class of students that I've had since they were freshmen. I wanted to make their last semester feel just as special as it would normally.”

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