Two of the eight New York college students recently recognized for excellence by the national Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) are SUNY Cortland seniors.
Physical education majors Jenna Kratz and Matthew Milano each earned Major of the Year, one of the highest pre-professional honors given by SHAPE to undergraduates in the fields of health, physical education, recreation and dance.
Among other accomplishments by these two students:
The pair will join 113 college students from around the country accepting Major of the Year awards in New Orleans, Louisiana, during a general session of SHAPE America’s annual national conference, April 26 to 30.
“This is our national governing organization in the fields of physical education and health,” said Helene Schmid, a Physical Education Department lecturer who nominated Kratz and Milano for the recognition. “It is a very prestigious award for our students. They are both exceptional majors.”
Juniors or seniors with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher who provide substantial services to their school or community for a minimum of two years during their undergraduate career may be nominated.
“Congratulations to those two students, it is a great accomplishment,” wrote Joey Martelli, advocacy and public affairs manager for the Annapolis, Maryland-based professional society, in a recent email. “We look forward to honoring these outstanding student majors this year.”
“They are introduced to other top students in the field from all across the country, building the next cohort of leadership in the field,” said Rebecca Bryan, interim chair of SUNY Cortland’s Physical Education Department.
It’s possibly the first time that SUNY Cortland has sent two seniors at once to accept a Major of the Year award, Bryan said.
“To my knowledge, Jenna and I are the first two students from SUNY Cortland to represent New York state in the same year,” Milano said. “If it did happen, it didn’t happen in recent years.”
Every institution with a SHAPE related major — P.E. and health, both of which SUNY Cortland offers — can nominate two students per major, Bryan noted.
Usually the university’s selection must first win the New York State Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance award for outstanding majors, called the J.B. Nash Award. Neither nominees Kratz nor Milano won in November 2021 during the annual conference in Verona, N.Y.
“But we did get the association’s Amazing People awards,” Kratz explained. This award is given by zones and sections to honor individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the profession.
“But I’m Ok with that, especially because we got the SHAPE America Major of the Year awards,” Kratz said.
Kratz and Milano both are enrolled in a special, four-plus-one program, which means they will earn a bachelor’s degree through the Physical Education Department and a master’s degree through the Health Department one year later.
They are very active in their field and in the wider campus community. Both joined the advocacy efforts for their future profession by participating in SPEAK Out! Day, when majors from across the U.S. traditionally gather in Washington, D.C., to converse directly with congressional representatives about the need to foster more vibrant physical education and health programs in America’s primary and secondary schools. Due to the pandemic, recent SPEAK Out! Days have taken place virtually.
“Matt has attended advocacy training, scheduled meetings with members of Congress, and advocated the importance of effective health and physical programs to our New York State Delegation on Capitol Hill,” Bryan said.
Kratz also met with her local congressional representative to make her point.
Outside the classroom, Milano leans into his concentration in adapted physical education by using a wheelchair in the Student Life Center to shoot hoops with classmates of all different abilities during Integrated Sports Club events.
“He has been an active member of our majors club, Alliance of Physical Education Majors (APEM),” helping to plan many club events, Bryan added. “He is a wonderful student and human who is fully engaged in his learning, a bright, young leader in our profession.”
“I think one thing that’s important is definitely to stay involved,” Milano said. “That’s one thing I try to tell the younger students as well when I have the opportunity.”
Kratz, in addition to being involved in many student clubs and organizations, interned with the university’s Institute for Civic Engagement office, organizing and managing a monthly health and wellness day for students and a virtual 5K.
“She is always a wonderful student to have in class, but working with her outside of class has truly shown me her integrity, her communication capabilities, her organization skills and her passion for advocating,” Schmid said. “Jenna is a leader in every sense of the word.”
“With the Institute for Civic Engagement I was primarily focused on mental health,” Kratz said. “I was injured a lot as an athlete in high school so I knew it really put a damper on my mood. Plus, when you’re not getting enough to eat, when you’re not exercising enough, you’re feeling sluggish.
“It’s such a stigmatized thing, and it shouldn’t be,” Kratz continued. “And I’m not afraid to talk about it. I’m not afraid to say, ‘There needs to be change.’ If something needs to be done, it should be done.”
Kratz currently is student teaching high school children at Liberty (N.Y.) Central School District, not far from her hometown. Milano will walk at Commencement in May but complete his student teaching next fall.
Meanwhile, a reward for their hard work awaits them in New Orleans.
“I’m very excited,” Milano said. “It’s definitely going to be an amazing opportunity to network with other professionals, sit in on different conferences and meetings, and hopefully to explore the city of New Orleans.”
“It’s such a culturally rich place,” Kratz said. “Plus I’m getting to meet physical education and health people from across the country. To make all those connections and learn from those different people, and see what I can bring back to my students, that’s the bigger thing to me.”
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P.O. Box 2000
Cortland, NY 13045
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