Buffalo State will confer degrees on more than 2,050 undergraduate and approximately 600 graduate students during its 142nd Commencement celebration, Saturday, May 17, in the Sports Arena.
The College Council Medal will be presented to Alphonso O’Neil-White, Buffalo State College Council member emeritus, during the morning undergraduate ceremony. Former Buffalo State President Aaron Podolefsky will be honored posthumously with the President’s Distinguished Service Award at the afternoon undergraduate ceremony.
College Council Medal
Alphonso O’Neil-White retired in 2013 as president and chief executive officer of HealthNow New York Inc., a health insurance and health services company in Upstate New York. HealthNow is a BlueCross BlueShield Association licensee in Western New York and in New York’s capital district.
After taking the helm at HealthNow in 2003, O’Neil-White led the company’s dramatic turnaround and is credited with returning it to a position of consistent profitability and market leadership. HealthNow is widely viewed as a leader and innovator in the field, at the cutting edge of the dynamic changes sweeping the health-care marketplace.
O’Neil-White has considerable experience in the health-care arena, spanning national and state government affairs, executive management, health-care operations, and law. Prior to joining HealthNow, he served as vice president and general counsel for the organization now known as America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the preeminent trade association for the country’s health insurance industry. As a representative for the organization, he traveled throughout the country working on health policy issues, testifying before the United States Congress and state legislatures, as well as providing national media commentary on health-care issues.
He has experience in the public sector as well as the not-for-profit health-care sector, serving as senior labor counsel for Humana Inc. and as general counsel for Group Health Association Inc. O’Neil-White served as chair-elect of the Health Law Section of the American Bar Association and retains his license to practice law in two states and the District of Columbia. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and holds a law degree from the University of Louisville’s Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.
He has served as a trustee and director on a number of local and national boards, including the Buffalo State College Council, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the National Institute for Health Care Management, and the BlueCross BlueShield Association. He is a member of the executive committee of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the board of directors of the Buffalo Club. He is also chair of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. He was recently elected to the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; he previously chaired the board of the New York Fed’s Buffalo Branch as well as its Upstate New York Regional Advisory Board.
O’Neil-White resides in Amherst, New York, with his wife, Marcia, and their youngest son.
President’s Distinguished Service Award
Aaron Podolefsky, Ph.D.
Aaron Podolefsky served as Buffalo State’s eighth president. He took office on July 1, 2010, and held the post until July 31, 2013, when he stepped down because of health issues. He passed away on August 8, 2013, after a courageous battle with prostate cancer.
A bold visionary and advocate for higher education, Podolefsky selected “Celebrate, Serve, Imagine: The Promise of Buffalo State” for his inaugural theme to honor Buffalo State’s legacy and to demonstrate his commitment to preserving affordable and accessible education, the college’s role in community service, and the importance of transcending the economic challenges of the time.
During his ambitious three-year tenure, Podolefsky oversaw the opening of the new Student Apartment Complex; phase one of the Science and Mathematics Complex; the renovation of Rockwell Hall’s third floor; the renovation of the Campbell Student Union; and the new Technology Building. In addition, he extended Buffalo State’s service to the community with the opening of the Community Academic Center on Grant Street, which serves as a hub for programming for youth and families on Buffalo’s West Side.
During Podolefsky’s tenure, Buffalo State was twice named a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education, both times earning recognition for its commitment to shared governance.
From 2005 to 2010, Podolefsky was president and professor of anthropology at the University of Central Missouri, where he raised the university’s academic profile, initiated strategic and master planning efforts, cultivated mutually enriching campus-community partnerships, enhanced regional economic development, and launched landmark energy savings and sustainability initiatives.
Podolefsky previously served as provost and vice president for academic affairs (1998–2005) and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (1990–1998) at the University of Northern Iowa. He also taught and served as department head in Western Kentucky University’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work (1986–1990). Prior to this, he was associate chair and tenured associate professor of anthropology at West Virginia University (1979–1986), and was a research associate for the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research at Northwestern University (1978–1979).
He was a three-time graduate of Stony Brook University, earning master’s degrees in liberal studies (1973) and anthropology (1976) and a doctorate with distinction in anthropology (1978). Podolefsky also held a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from San José State University (1968).
He was the author of numerous scholarly works, including books, textbooks, and articles. Podolefsky was a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, elected by the organization’s executive committee in recognition of his significant contributions to the field of anthropology. His graduate field studies in anthropology took him and his family to the highlands of Papua New Guinea in the 1970s, an experience he oftentimes fondly recalled.
Podolefsky is survived by his devoted wife, Ronnie (who will accept the award), and his two sons and daughters-in-law, Noah and Molly, and Isaac and Laura, and a grandson, Nikola Aaron Podolefsky.