SUNY Canton Employees Earn Meritorious Recognition for COVID Testing and Response


SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran recognized three employees for coordinating the college’s massive COVID-19 testing program.

“After a tremendously challenging year, I decided it was fitting to give a special Meritorious Service Award to a team of three whose work deserves the collective gratitude of the entire campus,” Szafran said.

RJ Thayer, Lenore VanderZee and Courtney Bish stand in the Miller Campus Center.
Pictured (l to r) are SUNY Canton Online Student Engagement Coordinator Richard J. (R.J.) Thayer, Executive Director for University Relations Lenore VanderZee and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Courtney B. Bish.

The college president announced that Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Courtney B. Bish, Online Student Engagement Coordinator Richard J. (R.J.) Thayer, and Executive Director for University Relations Lenore VanderZee received the award in a video address. “They developed and led our testing process,” Szafran said. “It was an enormous and overwhelming task.”

In total, the college conducted more than 28,000 student and employee tests during the 2020-2021 academic year. Bish, Thayer and VanderZee were responsible for scheduling and managing thousands of tests weekly, supervising testing volunteers, and working with area health officials, in addition to communicating state and local guidance to the entire SUNY Canton community. “When vaccines became available, they informed every one of their eligibility,” Szafran said. “No one had to guess where to go or how to sign up.”

Bish has worked at the college for nearly 20 years and was also selected as the 2021 recipient of the SUNY Canton College Council’s Excellence in College service Award. It is the first known time in college history that anyone has earned both honors simultaneously. Her colleagues describe her as a kind professional administrator and role model. She also both embodies and embraces the campus ethos “Everyone is Welcome Here.” She lives in Gouverneur with her husband, Rafael, and their son, Dominic.

Thayer has worked at the college in several capacities since 2013. Currently, he helps promote campus events and activities to the college’s substantial online student population. He’s also the director of SUNY Canton EMS, overseeing the college’s student emergency medical service. Thayer completely developed the college’s student response team, which adds greatly to the safety on campus. As an active member of the community, he is a volunteer firefighter and EMT. He lives in Colton with his wife, Megan, and their daughter, Aurora.

VanderZee began her career at the college as an adjunct instructor specializing in American Government and Politics, Contemporary Global Issues, and Middle East History and Politics. Her courses are noted for promoting free and open dialogue on contemporary issues with an emphasis on representing all sides of complex topics. In 2013, she became SUNY Canton’s Executive Director for University Relations, a leadership position that oversees the college’s Public Relations Office and the Small Business Development center, both of which have earned numerous accolades and awards. She serves on several local boards, including the Canton Chamber of Commerce, the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and the Canton-Potsdam Hospital Board of Directors. She lives in Canton with her husband, Sean T. O’Brien, who is an associate professor at the college who teaches English. They have two sons, Ciaran and Finn. 

“I’m proud to call Courtney, R.J., and Lenore my colleagues,” Szafran said. “Their outstanding leadership during the past year has ensured a safe environment for us all.”

The President’s Meritorious Service Award is presented annually to deserving employees at the college. It is determined entirely by the SUNY Canton president following recommendations from the college’s faculty and staff members. Each of the recipients received nominations from the greater college community for recognition. Szafran also selected a faculty and a staff member as recipients of the recognition.

About SUNY Canton

Discover SUNY Canton, where innovation meets opportunity. The college’s career-focused educational programs emphasize hands-on and applied learning opportunities in digital design, engineering technology, health, information technology, management, public service, and veterinary technology. Faculty members bring real-world experience and exceptional academic expertise to the classroom. As a leader in online education, SUNY Canton offers unmatched flexibility with hundreds of courses and 23 comprehensive degree programs offered completely online. The SUNY Canton Kangaroos compete at the NCAA Division III level and will be transitioning to the SUNYAC in Fall 2024. In addition to its 15 traditional teams, SUNY Canton offers coed varsity esports and cheerleading.