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Amanda Castelan

ESF Senior Receives Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence

SYRACUSE, NY – April 19, 2024 – Called “auntie” by the students she mentors in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) senior Amanda Castelan has made it her mission to help fellow EOP students acclimate to life at college.

That commitment to others earned her the Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence. The award recognizes outstanding EOP students for their academic achievements.

She was among 52 SUNY students honored by SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr. at a reception at the Franklin Terrace Ballroom in Troy, N.Y.

EOP is a college-access program that supports talented New York state students who, due to challenging financial and educational circumstances, have not had the same opportunity as others to achieve their academic potential.

"Amanda’s dedication to academic success and the well-being of her peers exemplifies the transformative impact of higher education,” said ESF President Joanie Mahoney. “We look forward to following her achievements as she progresses along her life's path.”

“Amanda has served as an EOP Mentor for three years focusing on helping first-year students,” said Divya Kirti, EOP counselor at ESF. “Because of her passion for mental health and emotional well-being, she is often the person her peers go to if staff are unavailable.”

Castelan, a biotechnology major, struggled her first year and credits her EOP counselor with helping her not only survive but thrive through one-on-one meetings, assistance with time management and study skills, and tutoring.

Inspired by the help she received, Castelan wanted to be a “big sister” to younger EOP students. She spent the next three years mentoring students.

Castelan affectionately refers to her fellow EOPs as “my students,” “my little brothers,” and “my little sisters.” That affection goes both ways with students calling her "auntie" because Castelan says, “I’m always in their business checking in.”

“It's important to me they know they're not alone because I know what it feels like coming in freshman year alone and not having anybody here,” she said.

Hailing from the Bronx, Castelan is a first-generation college student. “I'm the first to get away from the city, the first to move away from home, so it was a big step.”

That step was complicated by the Covid pandemic, which set off an anxiety disorder. She credits EOP with helping her connect with a therapist to get her the help she needed.

“Because I had my anxiety disorder and learned how to cope with it, I want to help others. I tell my EOP students how important mental health is going into college. I make sure they know to prioritize their mental health,” she said.

Castelan originally planned on becoming a veterinarian, but a conversation with Dr. Lee Newman, chair of the chemistry department and pre-health coordinator, changed that by suggesting she go to nursing school.

Now Castelan plans to become a psychiatric nurse and spread the word about the importance of mental health. She’s applied to SUNY’s Pre-Medical Opportunity Program and will be applying to nursing schools.


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.