The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation sponsors the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team program by providing nearly $200,000 in scholarships annually. As a Bronze Scholar, Staffeld will receive a $1,000 scholarship and a special medallion at a ceremony later this month. Her application was one of 150 picked from 1,700 applications.
Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, is the largest honor society in American higher education with more than 1,285 chapters on two-year and community college campuses around the world. Nearly three million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 131,000 students inducted annually.
“Being selected as a Coca Cola Scholar is a prestigious honor,” said Marian Eberly, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at Corning Community College. “Renee’s commitment to realizing her goals is inspiring and a source of pride for all of us at Corning. She is one of our powerhouses.”
Staffeld’s nomination was selected by an independent panel of judges who consider a variety of criteria, including outstanding academic rigor, grade point average, academic and leadership awards, and engagement in college and community service in the selection process.
Expected to graduate from CCC in May, Staffeld will be attending Cornell University in the fall, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.
“My end goal is to be a veterinarian,” said Staffeld, who has accrued many hours working with animals on farms, in animal hospitals, and at rehabilitation centers. “Several years ago, as I watched a fawn die while lying in my lap and felt utterly helpless, a light bulb went off. I knew I needed to be a veterinarian. Since then, everything I’ve done has been with one purpose in mind: preparing me to help animals, to relieve their suffering, to fix what I can and stop the pain when that’s the best that can be done.”
Staffeld’s path has not always been this direct. She started life with aspirations to be a professional dancer and spent hours a day practicing ballet and modern. After acknowledging that dance might not provide a stable future, she pursued a variety of management positions but eventually could not shake her passion for animals. Stymied by a perception that mastering scientific concepts was beyond her reach, she considered careers like animal control officer, options that, she said, would allow her to work with animals and not need to understand science.
“Like many people, I struggled with the concept of what a cell is and what each organelle's function is,” said Staffeld. “It wasn’t because I couldn’t understand though; it was because I was telling myself I couldn’t. I had to adjust my perception and see my abilities differently. I decided I was going to do whatever it took to master science.”
And she did. She started believing in herself. She surrounded herself with people like David Pindel, her advisor and professor of biology, and Dave Rockwell, an associate professor of health, physical education, and recreation and the Phi Theta Kappa Advisor at CCC, who answered countless questions and encouraged her to reach beyond her comfort zone. She dedicated the last two years to doing well academically and understanding science. She co-founded CCC’s science club; she served as the regional president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society; and she works under Professor David Pindel as the Lab Assistant for General Biology I & II.
“Through a combination of everything – the exposure, the mentors, the opportunities – my outlook changed,” said Staffeld, who, in addition to the Coca Cola Bronze award has also earned the Conrad and Lucy Stemski Scholarship, Empire State Association of Two-Year College Biologists Scholarship, the 2014 SUNY Chancellor’s Award, the All New York First Academic Team award from Phi Theta Kappa, the American Chemical Society Award for Most Outstanding Chemistry Student at CCC, and will graduate with an honors diploma from CCC. “When I first looked into a microscope, I saw two views – one from each eyepiece. But, I’ve changed. Now, I see one focused image.”
Sounds a lot like her future: clear and in focus.