Hannah Daignault didn’t know what she wanted from school or a career when she enrolled at SUNY Schenectady County Community College nearly two years ago. Now, she’s on a path to become a surgeon.
After returning home from a yearlong stint at Brigham Young University in Utah, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate’s father suggested she start taking classes at the local school.
Less than two years later, Daignault sits on the SUNY Schenectady Board of Trustees, and after graduating this spring, she plans to finish her four-year degree before heading off to medical school.
“When I came back home, I wanted to go to a local school and start out slow and figure out what I wanted to do,” Daignault said during a recent interview at the college. “I took a science class and loved it, and I just kept taking science classes.”
She always loved animals and thought she could perhaps become a veterinarian, scoring an internship with a local vet through the college. While her interest in veterinary medicine faded during the internship, the experience provided her with the opportunity to discover a new interest and goal to strive for. During the internship, she got to observe a specialist surgeon who visited the vet’s office to perform surgery on a dog.
“This is what I want to do. I want to be a surgeon,” she said.
Daignault, a 2014 graduate of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, credits the faculty and staff at SUNY Schenectady and the opportunities she leveraged while at school there to set her up for the next step in her life and career. Daignault has been accepted at the University at Albany and is still waiting to hear back from Union College, Cornell University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, her three top choices for continuing her studies. She said the college’s affordable price allowed her to make progress toward a degree while figuring out her true interests and passion.
“What made me come was definitely affordability, but what made me stay was the faculty and staff,” Daignault said.
She joined the SUNY Schenectady Board of Trustees this winter as the board’s sole student representative, where she will serve as a liaison between the board and students, and present a unique student perspective in discussions about budget, strategic planning and other college business. And as an added benefit, Daignault said she is gaining valuable experience about how governing boards operate.
“I liked the idea of advocating for students,” she said. “There is so much that goes into it. It’s fascinating, really.”
Daignault listed financial needs as one of the top concerns for students, suggesting more should be done to connect students with resources available to them. She also highlighted the importance of the college’s food pantry and noted that many student groups host fundraisers to support the pantry.
“I don’t think everyone considers that basic need of hunger, but it’s a huge problem, especially when you are thinking about classes and being a student,” she said.
Daignault has also benefited from the college’s mentoring program and opportunities to conduct student research. She was paired with mentor Michelle Ragucci, director of academic services, who helped Daignault navigate the stresses and challenges of college.
“It’s like having a big sister,” Daignault said.
Daignault is also working with professor Syeda I. Munaim, a biologist, on potential research into a bacteria that is associated with cystic fibrosis. And she has worked as a tutor herself, helping other students with their schoolwork.
Citing the experiences and opportunities that have shaped her life over the past two years, Daignault said other residents in the city and broader community “should absolutely come and take advantage of all of the different resources” at the college.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do and it’s incredible, it really is, how much has happened in the last two years,” Daignault said.