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Two women in green graduation gowns shaking hands.

ESF prepares to celebrate its December graduates. (File photo 2022)

ESF to Celebrate December Graduates

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Dec. 4, 2023 – The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) will award 110 degrees, including 14 master’s degrees and eight Doctor of Philosophy degrees, during the 2023 December Commencement at 3 p.m. Dec. 8 at Hendricks Chapel. A reception will follow at ESF’s Gateway Conference Center.

“Graduation isn’t just a milestone, it is a testament to our students’ extraordinary potential,” said ESF President Joanie Mahoney. “Sharing this day with our graduates and those who have supported them is a highlight for the ESF community. We are also honored to recognize the achievements of our Graduates of Distinction, alumni who are living ESF’s mission to improve our world.”

ESF is celebrating graduates with several events throughout the week.

Student Speaker: Rowan Nothnagle

Rowan Nothnagle (Caledonia, N.Y.) is a biochemistry major who came to ESF with an associate degree in Natural Science and Library Arts through an advanced college program from sixth to 12th grade. Nothnagle served as the social media manager and vice president of the Alchemist Society, and department senator of Chemistry for the Mighty Oak Student Assembly. He served as a Student Ambassador tutoring fellow students, was a 2022 Orientation Leader, and co-led the Orientation Leadership team in 2023. Additionally, Nothnagle served as a Teaching Assistant for General Chemistry lab and lectures. His engagement in research projects under the guidance of Dr. Gyu Leem and Dr. Leanne Powers resulted in presentations at industry events. He was instrumental in revitalizing the Student Spotlight on Research in 2023. Nothnagle plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

Student Marshals: Jenifer Lemus Sagastume and Nicole Byrnes

Jenifer Lemus Sagastume (East Meadow, N.Y.) is an Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Natural Systems Applications. As the vice president and co-founder of the Latin American Student Organization, she orchestrated community-building events, including “Paint a Pot” and “Pottery Making.” Her scholastic dedication secured her a spot on the President’s List and earned her the Class of 1951 Scholarship. Lemus Sagastume engages in the Teach For America Ignite Fellowship and internships at Brookhaven National Laboratory. She is also a volunteer with Pets4Luv and informal local clean-up initiatives.

Nicole Byrnes (Brewster, N.Y.) is a Chemical Engineering and Paper Engineering major. She served as President of the SUSChemE Club, steering the club’s growth and orchestrating events. Byrnes was on the 2021 yearbook staff. She received numerous scholarships, including the Syracuse Pulp and Paper Foundation and Asimov scholarships. Her scholarly contributions extend to volunteer engagements, cleanup initiatives, and organizing a cost-free fishing event for children.

Graduates of Distinction

Three ESF alumni will be honored during Friday's commencement. Graduate of Distinction Awards will be bestowed upon Dr. Mercy Borbor-Córdova ’99 & ’05; Richard Centolella ’85; Gabrielle Sant’Angelo ’13.

Dr. Mercy Borbor-Córdova ’99 & ’05 Environmental Science

Borbor-Córdova will be honored with the Graduate of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award.

Borbor-Córdova’s lifelong interest in the environment began as a child in the diverse landscape of Ecuador. She earned a bachelor’s degree in oceanography at Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) in Guayaquil. She pursued a Fulbright Scholarship that brought her to Syracuse, N.Y., for graduate degrees at ESF working with Professor Charles Hall. After graduating, Borbor-Córdova returned to Ecuador to serve as Chief of Environmental Control for the City of Guayaquil. A postdoctoral opportunity took her to work in climate and society at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Col. The issues of climate and society have been a centerpiece of her professional work. Her career has focused on weaving scientific evidence into environmental-climate policy and decision-making. In 2010,

Borbor-Córdova served as Deputy Minister of the Environment for Ecuador for three years. Her work included the first National Strategy for Climate Change and environmental policy implementation in the country’s 24 provinces. Borbor-Córdova now serves as an associate professor at the University of ESPOL in Ecuador, where she conducts research in partnership with different stakeholders. Her work has contributed to the National Adaptation Plan and climate resilience measures for cities and has increased awareness around the interactions of ocean, climate, and human health.

Notable Achievement Richard Centolella ’85 - Landscape Architecture

Centolella is the recipient of the Graduate of Distinction - Notable Achievement Award.

With more than 38 years of his professional life dedicated to the planning and design of landscapes around the globe, Centolella, Partner at EDSA, has acquired a vast portfolio of over 300 projects, including works that have redefined the social, economic, and environmental landscapes of numerous communities worldwide. His projects have positively influenced the tourism industry and economic vitality of entire regions. In each project, he demonstrates an unparalleled ability to adapt his design to the essence of each location, creating spaces that leave lasting impressions on visitors. A benchmark of Centolella’s leadership is his ability to focus the team to include environmental conservation and sustainability ideals into the landscape while respecting cultural sensitivities. With Centolella’s leadership, his designs have enhanced the aesthetic appeal of locales and significantly contributed to economic growth.

Gabrielle Sant’Angelo ’13 – Environmental Studies/Environmental Policy, Planning, and Law

The Graduate of Distinction - Incipiens Quercu (Young Oak) Award will be presented to Gabrielle Sant’Angelo ’13. The award is given to a recent ESF graduate who exemplifies ESF's commitment to environmental stewardship.

Sant’Angelo is a motivated individual with a passion for land use, open spaces, and environmental stewardship. Sant’Angelo advocates for making greenspace accessible to all communities, bridging the gap between diverse populations and the natural world, while exhibiting a deep-rooted commitment to conservation efforts. Her career path includes management positions with the Texas Discovery Gardens, Nine Pin Ciderworks, and the New York Farm Bureau. She serves on the board of directors for New York Urban Orchards and has been appointed to the Historic Heath Farm Advisory Committee for the town of Bethlehem, N.Y.

In her role as Executive Director of the Pine Hollow Arboretum and collaborative efforts with other organizations, Sant’Angelo has found ways to connect with underserved communities to provide free transportation and access to the Arboretum. Sant’Angelo is assisting in conservation projects that will influence the greater regional and national environment for future generations. She established a partnership with the National American Chestnut Foundation and ESF graduate students to conduct research at the Arboretum examining the Chestnut Tree stand and the Asian Chestnut Gall Wasp.


The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is dedicated to the study of the environment, developing renewable technologies, and building a sustainable and resilient future through design, policy, and management of the environment and natural resources. Members of the College community share a passion for protecting the health of the planet and a deep commitment to the rigorous application of science to improve the way humans interact with the world. The College offers academic programs ranging from the associate of applied science to the Doctor of Philosophy. ESF students live, study and do research on the main campus in Syracuse, N.Y., and on 25,000 acres of field stations in a variety of ecosystems across the state.