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Say Yes Alumni Spotlight

Meet Michaela Reitzel, Alumni of Stony Brook University and Say Yes scholarship recipient

As Michaela Reitzel prepared to graduate with a bachelor’s of science degree from the school of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University this past May, she reflected on her experience with Say Yes Syracuse, and how it changed the trajectory of her life for the better.

“Say Yes meant a chance at being able to achieve my long term goals,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to study at a college that was ranked fourth on College Magazine’s list of the 10 Best Colleges for Marine Biology, which allowed for many opportunities to come my way.”

Involved in many different extracurricular activities, Reitzel was eager to further her education after high school and pursue her goals and aspirations in the science field. She remembers hearing about Say Yes Syracuse throughout her middle school and high school years, and noted that her family saw it as an amazing opportunity to further their education with continuous academic and financial support.

Say Yes Syracuse provides full-tuition scholarships from a range of over 100 public and private college and university partners for eligible graduates to attend. The scholarships provide broad access for students who may otherwise have not been able to afford college due to significant economic and racial disparities.

Beyond the financial support, Say Yes Syracuse can help guide families to additional resources like academic support specialists, mental health clinics and legal services designed to help mitigate the systemic barriers to higher education.

When Reitzel began touring colleges during her senior year of high school, she learned that Stony Brook had a reputable science program that could possibly help further her dreams and drive the new positive experiences she was looking for. Upon arriving on the campus in Long Island, New York, the look and feel immediately reminded her of the city of Syracuse, making her feel like it was a home away from home. She kept this top of mind, and it ultimately led to her decision to attend there.

“It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d made the right decision by choosing to attend Stony Brook,” she said. “I am grateful to Say Yes Syracuse for being there to support me along the way.”

After learning basic biology, physics, and chemistry of the ocean, Reitzel began her upper-division classes to help deepen her understanding of a wide variety of organisms (marine invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals) and habitats (marshes, rocky intertidal, barrier islands, dunes, estuaries, and the open ocean), while gaining hands on experience in research vessels in the Atlantic Ocean. Going out into the field as part of her class assignments provided her with an in-depth look at the processes taking place in the ocean at each of these locations.

“We did things like recording temperatures and salinity and dissolving oxygen at each of the sample sites in order to see the variability across the locations,” she said. “I also conducted plankton trawls which I had the pleasure of analyzing both in the classroom and in a campus lab I was a part of. I was lucky enough to cast fish and snorkel as a part of my class assignments too.”

Reitzel noted that without the help of Say Yes Syracuse, she isn’t sure she would have gotten all of the hands on experiences that she did throughout her undergrad experience. Following her graduation from Stony Brook, Reitzel accepted a job working for the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries division in Iowa. She will work on managing a number of research projects and fisheries in six counties across the state.

“Though many may think that working in fisheries means I’ll only be dealing with fish, I will have the chance to work with turtles and shore vegetation too,” she exclaimed. “All of this is very exciting and I can’t wait to be able to put my waders on and just jump on in!”

Reitzel believes that Say Yes Syracuse has opened numerous doors for her educational and attributed to her personal growth.

“I encourage anyone interested to apply for a Say Yes Syracuse scholarship and consider the idea of attending a college beyond Central New York,” she said. “It was scary to move away at first, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made due to the many friends I now have, the amazing education I received and the wonderful opportunities I have as a result of attending.”