Four of Buffalo State College’s most accomplished alumni will be recognized during the college’s virtual 149th Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 15. The Distinguished Alumnus Award will be given to Linda R. Appleby, ’80, and Michael J. Garner, ’83, and the Young Alumnus Achievement Award will go to Raven P. Baxter, ’14, ’17, and Nathan Mroz, ’16. The ceremonies will be conducted virtually, starting at noon.
The Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes graduates who have significant achievement and recognition in their field; dedication to community service, civic affairs, and volunteerism; and demonstrated ongoing support for and loyalty to Buffalo State College and its mission. The Young Alumnus Achievement Award recognizes graduates of the past 20 years who have achieved significant professional advancement and have demonstrated service to the community, as well as loyalty and commitment to the college.
YOUNG ALUMNUS ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Raven “the Science Maven” Baxter is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed science educator and molecular biologist who works to advance science culture by creating spaces for learning that are inclusive, educational, and accessible. As an entertainer and content creator known for her unique style of combining science and music to teach and empower those in the STEM disciplines and beyond, she uses innovation in science education as a catalyst for social change.
Baxter is the founder of Science Haven, an organization that operates at the intersection of science, education, and the public sphere. Science Haven houses STEMbassy, a live web series that connects the public with science and technology professionals. She has reached more than 4 million viewers with over 200,000 followers, sharing best practices in science and education. Through her viral hit rap song “Wipe It Down,” she has been instrumental in educating the community about myths and facts related to COVID-19.
As the founder and lead organizer of Black in Science Communication, a group that works to build relationships in the science community, she equips others with the knowledge and resources necessary to share science with the world in their own way. She also owns and operates Smarty Pants, a clothing company that sells whimsical and stylish STEM-themed apparel and accessories, while donating a portion of its sales to scholarships for STEM students.
Baxter has quickly developed a reputation as a strong voice in the science community. She has been recognized as a global influencer in several publications, including Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list for 2020. A recipient of the prestigious Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship, she will complete her doctorate in science education at the University at Buffalo in May 2021, receiving the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in honor of her public service.
YOUNG ALUMNUS ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Nathan Mroz, owner and founder of the BFLO Store and BFLO Event Center, graduated from Buffalo State College with a bachelor of science in urban and regional planning. Already a successful entrepreneur in high school, he launched a photography business, Buffalo Scenic Prints, in 2007, selling his work online and to local gift shops. Upon graduation in 2012, he opened a stand-alone kiosk in the Eastern Hills Mall, where he sold his award-winning photos of the Buffalo Niagara region. By 2015, his business had expanded to a brick-and-mortar enterprise, the BFLO Store at Eastern Hills Mall.
Since then, the BFLO Store has grown to become the largest locally themed retailer in Western New York, specializing in designer apparel, home décor, gifts, and more. By 2020, Mroz had stores in the Eastern Hills Mall, the McKinley Mall, the Boulevard Mall, Walden Galleria, and Canalside Buffalo. In 2019, he fulfilled a lifelong dream when he signed with Kim and Terry Pegula, principal owners of the Buffalo Bills, to become the team’s official retailer. Mroz is committed to Western New York and to promoting the beauty and uniqueness of Buffalo Niagara through his photography, artistry, and vision.
At Buffalo State, Mroz published his senior thesis on the redevelopment of the Eastern Hills Mall, and in 2019, took control of the site’s former Sears department store. He then embarked on a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project of the 154,000-square-foot building, creating the BFLO District, a “lifestyle center” housing his flagship BFLO Store and BFLO Event Center, a high-end salon, décor retailer, bakery café, bar, restaurant, and soon-to-be state-of-the-art fitness center.
Mroz was awarded the Community Beautification Excellence Award from the Clarence Chamber of Commerce in 2019, and was named the chamber’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2020. He also received the Key Bank Sponsor’s Award from the Amherst Chamber of Commerce in 2019 and was included on the Business First 30 Under 30 list in 2021. He is a member of the Clarence Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
DISTINGUISHED ALUMNUS AWARD
Linda Appleby has taught music and has served as the musical director for countless theatrical shows, both professionally and for school districts throughout the area, over her 40-plus-year career. She has taught at numerous schools, including Buffalo’s Frederick Law Olmsted 56, City Honors, and South Park High School. Students under her direction have enjoyed a wide and varied list of accomplishments, including performances at Kleinhans Music Hall, Rockwell Hall, and Shea’s Theater; in three professional Broadway shows; and for Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello’s inauguration and heads of state in Albany.
Appleby has been an adjunct instructor of music at Villa Maria College since 2011 and was the director of the citywide Buffalo Select Chorus for six years, which brought together over 30 students representing various high schools throughout the city. The chorus was accompanied by some of Buffalo’s finest musicians, including Joseph Wooten of the Steve Miller Band. She also curated the Artist in Residence Program that serviced over 40 public and charter schools in Buffalo from 2009 to 2014.
Before the pandemic, she worked as music director for the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts production of Les Misérables, which won a Kenny Award for best musical in Western New York. She has served as a minister of music for area churches and is currently music minister for SS Columba-Brigid Church in Buffalo. She serves on the board of directors for Ujima Theater and as secretary for the historic Colored Musicians Club.
Appleby received a bachelor of arts in music education from Rosary Hill College in 1974, with a concentration in classical piano performance, and a master’s degree in student personnel administration from Buffalo State College in 1980. She also accumulated over 30 hours beyond her master’s in various courses offered throughout the city, with a concentration in special education, advanced teaching practices, and psychology.
In 2008, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown presented Appleby with an Executive Chamber Proclamation for services rendered to the children of Buffalo. She is also the 2009 recipient of the National Federation of Just Communities Community Leader Award in the Arts. She was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
DISTINGUISHED ALUMNUS AWARD
Michael Garner, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is a champion of the diversity market, making it his personal and professional mission to create a more diverse business industry by empowering minority-owned and women-owned businesses throughout the state.
Since joining the MTA in 2009, Garner has designed the country’s leading business development program for minority, women-owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises (MWDBE) based on dollars paid. Overall, through the MTA’s programs, New York State certified MWDBEs have been awarded more than $6.5 billion.
As the architect of the MTA’s Small Business Mentoring Program, Garner has transformed the largest transportation system in North America with a results-driven construction mentoring program. The program continues to break barriers for NYS certified MWDBEs that otherwise would not have contract opportunities in the transportation industry. To date, under Mr. Garner’s direction, the MTA’s Small Business Mentoring Program has awarded 451 contracts totaling $486 million to program participants.
Before joining the MTA, Garner held positions at the New York City Housing Authority and the New York City School Construction Authority. Over the course of his tenures there and at the MTA, Garner and his teams have been responsible for more than $13 billion in contracts and payments made to New York State and City certified MWDBEs and MTA certified DBEs.
He and his team have designed and implementing workforce strategies that have increased ethnic minority and women hires by 20 percent, which has further diversified the MTA’s 70,000-plus employee workforce.
Garner is an active member of the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem. He is the immediate past president and former chairman of the board of the founding chapter of One Hundred Black Men of New York City, an organization that provides scholarship, mentorship, and inspiration to hundreds of youths in the New York City area.
A frequent speaker on effective MWDBE programs across the nation, he has served on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s MWBE Team, Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s MWBE Advisory Committee, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s MWBE Advisory Council, and former Governor David Paterson’s Small Business Advisory Council.
Garner often serves as an adviser to public agencies and the private sector. He is a former treasurer of the New York/New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council and has served on the boards of Harlem Hospital and USA Rugby. In addition, Garner advises numerous U.S. cities and states on their minority business development and inclusion programs, including the City of Buffalo, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), and the State of New Jersey.