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Alumni Profiles

Six Alumni Athletes Taking the Pro Sports World by Storm



From NCAA tournaments, Olympic competitions, and international exposure, the past year has been a big one in athletics for SUNY. Among our many star athletes, we have seen a Winter Olympics medal winner, NFL, NBA, and MLB draft picks, and national spotlights on numerous athletes and sports around the world. For some, college isn’t the end of their sports journey. Many SUNY athletes take their successes while in college and turn them into professional opportunities and accomplishments in the world of sports, from playing to coaching.

A major sporting event featuring a SUNY alum will take place this month on the other side of the world. Boxing phenom Chris Algieri, a Stony Brook alumni and professional boxer, is preparing for the biggest fight of his career against Manny Pacquiao, to be held on November 22 in Macau, China. In the lead-in to the fight, Chris will be starring in the all new 24/7 HBO Boxing series that will begin this Saturday, November 8th. The all access show will let you into the life of Algieri as he trains and prepares for the fight against Manny Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight boxing title.

Along with Chris, here are some alumni currently making news in the wide world of sports:


Chris Algieri at Stony Brook University and in a boxing match

Chris Algieri

Professional boxer Chris Algieri graduated from Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Science. He then went on to enter the world of combat sports as a professional kickboxer which transitioned to professional boxing, where he grew from a prospect to a world-class contender to a world champion. Algieri is currently undefeated, standing at 20-0 and currently the WBO Light Welterweight Champion. He is approaching the biggest challenge of his career against one of the greatest boxers ever, the eight weight class champion and the HBO Boxing series sensation, Manny Pacquiao, on November 22 in Macau, China. The fight will be for the WBO welterweight boxing title.


Khalil Mack in uniform at University at Buffalo and with the Oakland Raiders

Khalil Mack

Khalil is from Fort Pierce, Florida and attended the University at Buffalo where he starred at defense on the UB Bulls football team. Drafted as the 5th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, he is currently an outside linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, where he has contributed 50 tackles in just 8 games, according to ESPN. Prior to his debut in the National Football League, as a Buffalo Bull Khalil set the all-time record for forced fumbles and tied the record for tackles for a loss in the NCAA.


Cleanthony Early in uniform for SUNY Sullivan and the New York Knicks

Cleanthony Early

Cleanthony attended Sullivan County Community College where he was awarded Division lll NJCAA player of the year for two consecutive years. Cleanthony is from Middletown, New York and was drafted by his hometown’s team, the New York Knicks, in the 2nd round of the 2014 NBA draft. Now in the pro spotlight, Cleanthony is currently averaging 7 minutes per game as a rookie.


Erin Hamelin at Empire State College and in olympic uniform

Erin Hamlin

SUNY Empire State College alumna Erin Hamlin is the first U.S women to win an Olympic medal in luge, which she accomplished by winning the bronze medal in womens’ singles luge at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Hamlin is continuing her success, as she recently collected a gold medal in the pre-season Lillehammer Cup in Norway with a come from behind win over Germany’s Julia Orlamuender.


Gary Johnson playing basketball for UAlbany and in Asia

Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson is a recent graduate and former University at Albany basketball player that has traveled across the world in pursuit of his basketball dreams. Gary traveled from his California hometown and attended the University at Albany on a basketball scholarship. While playing for the Great Danes, he helped the University at Albany capture its first victory in the NCAA Tournament at the Division I level in team history. He is currently playing overseas in the Asia Basketball League, where he plays small forward for the Saitama Broncos. Of playing basketball in Japan, Gary appreciates that “the culture here in Japan is very different but it has definitely been a great experience playing here.”


Tom Pokel coaching team Italy in IIHF World Hockey Championships

Tom Pokel

SUNY Fredonia’s Tom Pokel, a 1991 alum, is a former three-time team captain for the Blue Devils men’s hockey team. After graduating, the former defenseman received the opportunity to coach professional hockey in Europe. Pokel has been coaching the sport of hockey for over 20 years in the European leagues of Germany, Austria, and Italy. He is currently the coach for the Vienna Capitals, which are standing in first place in the Erste Bank Hockey League, the highest-level ice hockey league in Austria. Tom was also the head coach for team Italy when they competed in the 2014 IIHF World Hockey Championships in Belarus.


James Sanchez

Written by James Sanchez

James is a University at Albany graduate student assistant with the Office of New Media at SUNY System Administration.

November 4, 2014




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Alumni Profiles

SUNY Students and Alumni Take on Sochi




SUNY at the Winter Olympics. cross country skier in background.

One thing that SUNY has an amazing opportunity to do is brag about our outstanding alumni and all of the amazing accomplishments they achieve using their SUNY education!

All across the state, SUNY students are encouraged to excel both inside and outside of the classroom. For many students, sports training and competition become a significant part of their experience and can take them to great heights! With the 2014 Winter Olympics in full swing, we’d like to take the time to recognize some of our alumni who have represented Team USA at the winter games:

Not only do SUNY alums participate athletically in the Olympics, but they also work behind the scenes in televising the games. For example, Jim Carr of Carr-Hughes Productions and a SUNY Plattsburgh graduate, is a television entrepreneur-producer who consistently produces the Olympics and other international events for major networks like ESPN and CBS. We previously talked with Jim about his experience producing live sports television. Also, Stony Brook University alumni and producers Bedel Saget and Al Bello are covering the Olympics and have produced spectacular sports footage for the New York Times.

If you know of any SUNY alumni who we haven’t acknowledged here, please leave a comment with their name below and we’ll be sure to give them the recognition they deserve!

SUNY students on Team USA, including Ashley Caldwell of Empire State College, a competitor at the 2014 winter olympic games.Best of luck to Team USA and all of our supporting SUNY students and alumni!


Lesley Adewunmi

Written by Lesley Adewunmi

Lesley is a former graduate student assistant in the Office of New Media of the State University of New York. She earned a Master’s in Public Administration at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College in Albany, NY in spring 2014.

February 10, 2014

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Alumni Profiles

Erin Hamlin ‘11 Contender for “Best of U.S.” at 2014 Winter Olympic Games




Vote Erin Hamlin Best of U.S. Sochi 2014

Bronze-medal-winning Erin Hamlin ’11, SUNY Empire State College, is in the running for Female Olympian of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Hamlin is the first American ever in to win an Olympic medal in luge singles competition.

“I came in with no expectations, which was huge,” said Hamlin. “Training started to go really well and I got comfortable on the track early in the week. I started having pretty solid runs and so I thought this (winning a medal) could happen.”

Team USA is holding the contest on their Facebook page and Hamlin’s entry can be found at: Supporters can vote every day until March 17.

Erin Hamlin ’11, replies to questions at a press conference immediately after winning a bronze medal in luge, women’s singles, at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Photo/USA Luge

Erin Hamlin ’11, replies to questions at a press conference immediately after winning a bronze medal in luge, women’s singles, at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Photo/USA Luge

The other contest categories are: Male Olympian of the Games, Team of the Games, Moment of the Games and Fan of the Games. Winners will be announced during the “Best of U.S. Awards Show,” April 7, on NBC.

The 27-year-old of Remsen, N.Y., earned her associate online through Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning. A three-time member of the U.S. Olympic team, Hamlin also is a former national and world champion.

“I had a great experience with everyone I worked with at Empire State College,” said Hamlin. “It was the first college situation that was affordable and easy to manage while training and competing. Renee O’Brien was my advisor and mentor, as well as photography professor, and she helped me adjust classes and worked with my busy schedule, so I could complete my degree as efficiently as possible. As a proud New Yorker, I was very glad to have a state school program that fit my lifestyle.”

Hamlin was not the only member of the Empire State College community competing at the Sochi games.

Bronze-medal-winner Erin Hamlin ’11, and U.S. Olympic Teammate Ashley Caldwell ’14, both earned their SUNY Empire State College degrees online through the college’s Center for Distance Learning. Hamlin is the first American ever to win a luge singles Olympic medal. Caldwell finished 10th in women’s aerials. Photo/Erin Hamlin

Bronze-medal-winner Erin Hamlin ’11, and U.S. Olympic Teammate Ashley Caldwell ’14, both earned their SUNY Empire State College degrees online through the college’s Center for Distance Learning.

Twenty-year-old student Ashley Caldwell, a two-time member of Team USA, competed in women’s aerials and placed 10th at the games.

“It was surreal to see Erin win an Olympic medal yesterday,” said two-time Olympian and Empire State College student Ashley Caldwell. “I’m extremely happy for Erin.”

She has completed all requirements for her B.S. in business, management and economics, with a concentration in finance, and graduates this spring. Like Hamlin, Caldwell earned her degree online through the college’s Center for Distance Learning.

“With online learning at Empire State College, I could do my homework on the plane to Russia, on the way to the gym, in between training sessions, late at night, early in the morning and on days off,” said Caldwell. “Online learning at Empire State College allowed me the flexibility I needed so that I could still pursue aerials and also pursue my education, which has always been high on my priority list.”

A native of Ashburn, Va., Caldwell was a competitive gymnast for 11 years before she watched Olympic skiing on TV and thought it would be “totally awesome” to try aerials. After only three years of training, Caldwell made the U.S. Ski Team at a selection event in the beginning of the 2010 season and then went on to have an outstanding rookie season.

Later that year at the age of 16, Caldwell claimed top 15 results in her first three World Cup competitions. She finished 10th at the Olympics and claimed a silver medal at the U.S. National Championships, a feat she repeated in 2011.

Then, in December of 2011 and again in 2012, Caldwell sustained serious injuries to both her right and left ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments). Overcoming both injuries, she earned a silver medal in women’s aerials at the World Cup competition held Dec. 15, 2013 in Lake Beida, China, on her road to Sochi.


Cover image: Screenshot from U.S. Olympic Team on Facebook

Empire State College

Written by Empire State College

February 28, 2014

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Alumni Profiles

Rising UFC Star Paves His Way to Success In and Out of the Ring





It’s 6:00 a.m. and while many people in his town of Uniondale, New York are still fast asleep, Aljamain Sterling is up to start his day. He drives over to Uniondale High School where he teaches part-time until school is dismissed around 2:30 p.m.  At 3 p.m., he heads over to the school gymnasium to coach varsity wrestling before jetting out at 6 p.m. to make it to a jiu-jitsu or sparring class. And if he hasn’t crashed yet, he attends a kickboxing class at 7 p.m.

No, Aljamain isn’t your average teacher or wrestling coach. In fact, he is an undefeated MMA fighter in the UFC.

Aljamain began his path to the UFC when he transferred from Morrisville State College to SUNY Cortland as a physical education major with the mindset to wrestle. While at Cortland, he became a two-time Division III All-American wrestler. “My main reason for going to school was so I could wrestle,” says Aljamain. “It was my motivation.”

He is currently 9-0 with one win in his four-fight deal with UFC. And now, the pressure is on more than ever to defend his winning streak.

It was at Cortland where Aljamain was then introduced to mixed martial arts, or MMA.

“When I went to Morrisville, I went to school with the light heavyweight champion right now from New York, Jon Jones. He was training in Cortland and told me to come down to the gym.”

After training alongside UFC superstar Jon Jones and going on to win several Cage Fury Fighting Championships titles, Aljamain has proved he was ready to advance to the big leagues: UFC.

“My manager got a call for a short notice fight because one of the opponents got hurt,” Aljamain recalls getting the bid in February to fight in the UFC. “I wasn’t in the best of shape at the time because it came sooner than I was (expected to fight), but I was able to just get it down and perform at a high level”

Aljamain Sterling stands with raised hands  in the octagon at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 10 in July 2011

Aljamain Sterling stands with raised hands in the octagon at CFCC 10 in July 2011

He is currently 9-0 with one win in his four-fight deal with UFC. And now, the pressure is on more than ever to defend his winning streak.

“They (UFC) were cutting guys after two consecutive losses, sometimes three, and if you’re very lucky you get a forth shot,” says Aljamain. “But if you keep winning, they usually renegotiate.”

In order to stay in the heat of the competition, Aljamain maintains an intense training schedule even while teaching high school physical education part time.

“I try to train twice a day,” he says. “If I’m lucky I get to have run in between classes, or go to circuit lifting, or I can sneak out and head over to a jiu jitsu class.”

Even after the most hectic, ceaseless days, Aljamain remains dedicated to his lifestyle. “It’s the life I chose. I think it’s worth it for what I want to do.”

In the long run, he sees both teaching and wrestling as long-term goals.

“I look at teaching when it’s all said and done – I mean I can’t fight forever – that’s going to be my fall back plan.”

And as for MMA, “I think I’m going to have a lot of years to come. I’m smart with my training. I don’t beat my body up, so hopefully I have some longevity there. And it will be worth it.”

Aljamain is aware that his passion for MMA comes with unexpected risks and injuries, which drives his motivation to train hard and stay on top of his game.

He stresses that, when he was a student athlete, the secret to success was to be ambitious, but always be prepared for anything. This vigilance and commitment have led him to his success he has achieved today in and out of the ring.

The best advice I can possibly give is to give it 110% but at the same time make sure that you have your ace in your back pocket. Make sure you have a fall back plan. Because, you know, you’re only young for so long. So chase your dreams, go get it, and don’t let anyone tell you no.



Olivia Santo

Written by Olivia Santo

Olivia is a former student assistant in the Office of New Media for the State University of New York. She is an undergraduate direct and interactive marketing major with a minor in economics at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, NY.

March 25, 2014

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