Eight Honored at Hudson Valley’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni and President’s Legacy Leader Awards

October 9, 2023

The Hudson Valley Community College Foundation's annual Distinguished Alumni Awards Brunch was held on Saturday, Oct. 7 in the college’s Bulmer Telecommunications Center.

The program celebrates alumni for notable contributions within their career fields and communities. This year, a new President’s Legacy Leader award was also introduced, to mark the accomplishments of an alumnus who is leading the way in creating a legacy of steadfast commitment to a strong future for Hudson Valley Community College.

Distinguished Alumni Award recipients with President Ramsammy
Neil Kelleher, President Ramsammy, Dr. Gayle Healy, Orville Abrahams, Brian Sano, Dr. Sohaib Chekima, Manik Elahi, George Whalen Jr. and Susan McDonough

The inaugural President’s Legacy Leader is Neil Kelleher ’91. This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are Orville Abrahams ’87, Dr. Sohaib Chekima ’04, Manik Elahi ’17, Dr. Gayle Healy ’91, Susan McDonough ’93, Brian Sano ’05, and George Whalen Jr. ’69.

“Congratulations to our 2023 Distinguished Alumni and our first President’s Legacy Leader,” said Dr. Roger Ramsammy, President of Hudson Valley Community College. “We are pleased to honor each of these individuals for their service, commitment, and contributions to our students, college and community. The success of alumni is a testament to the quality of an institution, and we are very proud to have so many Hudson Valley alumni giving back to the community, representing the college, and setting an example for current students to aspire to.”

2023 President’s Legacy Leader and Distinguished Alumni Award Winners


Neil J. Kelleher ’91
President Ramsammy and Neil J. Kelleher ’91

Neil J. Kelleher ’91, of Troy, is the chair of Hudson Valley Community College’s Board of Trustees. An alumnus and former employee of the college, he has served on the board since 2011 and was elected chair in 2015 following two years of service as vice chair.

Kelleher retired from Hudson Valley in 2010 after 23 years as physical plant supervisor and special assistant to the president for capital projects. He was a member of the Rensselaer County Legislature from 1990 to 2010, serving the last 14 years of that time as its chair. In his role as a legislator, he worked with the college on capital projects, budgets and master plans.

Kelleher has served as the opioid recovery coordinator for Rensselaer County since 2018 and is an advocate for addiction recovery services, having served for more than two decades on the board of the Hudson Mohawk Recovery Center, amongst his involvement with other community services and organizations. He is also a New York State Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA).

A 1991 graduate of Hudson Valley, Kelleher received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000 for his many civic and charitable accomplishments. This year, he is being honored as the President’s Legacy Leader for his decades of leadership in creating a legacy of steadfast commitment to a strong future for Hudson Valley Community College. He is the son of the late assemblyman and former City of Troy mayor Neil W. Kelleher, who served 30 years in the New York State legislature and inspired his son to pursue public service as well.


Orville Abrahams ‘87
President Ramsammy and Orville Abrahams ‘87

Orville Abrahams ‘87 serves as deputy commissioner for business advocacy and engagement at the New York State Department of Labor, where he is currently building a new department devoted to assisting businesses with challenges and issues arising from Department of Labor assessments, reviews, investigations, audits, and other matters that are difficult to resolve.

Abrahams earned an associate degree from Hudson Valley and a bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. from the University at Albany. He been a public service employee for more than 30 years, and has worked in community development for the Capital District YMCA and served honorably in the United States Army Reserve. He is a community activist with an interest in historical trends and how they have impacted various constituencies, and serves on several non-profit boards for organizations focusing on social and racial equality.

Abrahams and a team of volunteers developed the African Heritage Parade in 2019 with the goal of showcasing the cultures, achievements, and contributions of the African diaspora around the world. Today, it is the only parade of its type celebrating the diaspora in the Capital Region and is a proud and cherished cultural fixture of the area. The parade has consistently grown and become more inclusive; 2023 represents the third parade, and participants range from Ghana and Puerto Rico to countries throughout Asia and all the nations in the Americas.

Abrahams resides in Colonie with his wife Carra. They are proud parents of three children, Jamarrah, Khaleed, and Karina; and proud grandparents of granddaughter Jade.


Dr. Sohaib Chekima ‘04
President Ramsammy and Dr. Sohaib Chekima ‘04

Dr. Sohaib Chekima ‘04 is the president of the Annur Islamic School in Albany. Upon graduating from Hudson Valley in 2004, Dr. Chekima transferred to the University at Albany to pursue a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Business before going on to earn an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in International Business.

While working on his Ph.D., Dr. Chekima taught Arabic at Hudson Valley, the University at Albany, and Union College. He left teaching to work in the field of relief and development in 2015 before being asked to return to Albany and serve as president of Annur Islamic School in 2016, a position he had held ever since.

Dr. Chekima currently serves as the volunteer advisor to Hudson Valley Community College’s Muslim Student Association, as well as to the local Albany Inter-MSA, a body of all the Muslim student associations in the Capital Region. He continues to serve the community by sharing his expertise in fundraising, life coaching, public speaking, and counseling. He is a Khateeb, or preacher, and leads prayers at mosques both locally and nationally; he also volunteers with the Schenectady Police Department as a police chaplain and is involved in interfaith work.

Dr. Chekima is a husband and a father of four, and considers his family the best gift and achievement in his life.


Manik Elahi ’17
President Ramsammy and Manik Elahi ’17

Manik Elahi ’17 serves as outreach manager for U.S. Congressman Paul D. Tonko, and is responsible for strategic outreach, community affairs, and being an in-district ambassador for the eight-term congressman serving New York’s Capital Region (NY-20).

After moving to the U.S. at the age of 18 with the intention of going to college, Elahi earned his A.S. in Computer Information Systems from Hudson Valley in 2017. He was very active in campus life during his time at the college, and was elected by his peers to serve as the student trustee on the college’s Board of Trustees. He also served on the executive board of the Student Senate and as an elected executive committee member of the SUNY Student Assembly, the SUNY-wide student government organization.

These experiences kindled a passion for public service in Elahi, and he enrolled at Rockefeller College at the University at Albany, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. During college, he gained experience in the offices of then-Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, the SUNY SAIL Institute, and the New York State Senate. Upon graduating from the University at Albany, he spearheaded legislation for the New York State Senate majority whip’s office, with the added distinction of working on the largest legislative portfolio in the entire state legislature. He continues to serve as an active member of several civic, political, and advocacy organizations to advance the causes he believes in, and hopes to continue to work toward equity in the community, civility in politics, and a scientific and data-driven approach to public policy.


Dr. Gayle Healy ’91
President Ramsammy and Dr. Gayle Healy ’91

Dr. Gayle Healy ’91 is the dean of student development and director of the Center for Careers and Transfer at Hudson Valley. Her own experience as a first-generation college student, along with lessons learned from working with current students, guides her work and informs her focus on the holistic development and success of all Hudson Valley students.

Healy entered Hudson Valley with a major in data processing, but through trial and error, decided to pursue her associate degree in Liberal Arts. Upon graduation, she worked full time at the New York State Department of Labor while earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Russell Sage College, where she found her passion for psychology and education. While working at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Healy became a Career Zone trainer and a globally certified career development facilitator and trainer. Healy earned her master’s degree in Education with a concentration in School Psychology from the College of St. Rose. Years later, Healy earned her doctorate degree in Education with a concentration in Higher Education Administration from Northeastern University.

Healy has volunteered with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention Capital Region chapter since 2010 and has served as a board member and chair of the chapter’s education committee, working to destigmatize mental illness and ultimately reduce suicide. She currently lives in Brunswick with her husband Tom and their dog Molly.


Susan C. McDonough ‘93
President Ramsammy and Susan C. McDonough ‘93

Susan C. McDonough ‘93 received her associate degree in Criminal Justice from Hudson Valley Community College in order to follow her dream of becoming a state trooper. Early in her career, she discovered a lack of education and training in the field around animal cruelty laws, and developed an intense commitment to the proper education of officers in this area. Thanks to her expertise, then-Assemblymember Jim Tedisco consulted with her in drafting of New York’s felony animal cruelty law, better known as Buster’s Law, in 1998, leading dozens of other states to adopt similar statutes protecting animals.

A longtime leader of the New York State Humane Association, McDonough has successfully lobbied for legislation combating animal abuse and has worked tirelessly to have New York’s animal cruelty crimes codified in the penal code instead of in agriculture and markets law.

Over the course of her career, Sue has served as an investigator with the New York State Bureau of Criminal Investigation, spearheading animal cruelty cases for hundreds of animals. She has taught police, animal control, animal shelter employees, SPCA officers, and veterinarians how to recognize, report and investigate animal abuse crimes. She co-authored the training manual “How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in NY State” and was instrumental in the creation of the Animal Law, Ethics and Enforcement micro-credential at Hudson Valley to help educate students on legal issues surrounding animal cruelty.

McDonough has retired from the New York State Police, but has become the “go-to” person statewide for police, humane law enforcement and animal control officers handling challenging cases that need an expert perspective, and she travels around the state to share her knowledge and expertise. She is currently involved in efforts to establish an animal shelter in Rensselaer County to protect and care for animals who have no voice of their own.


Brian Sano ’05
President Ramsammy and Brian Sano ’05

Brian Sano ’05, of Troy, is the regional executive of National Grid’s Upstate New York Eastern Division, working with the communities served by National Grid to ensure safe, reliable energy service is provided to more than 600,000 customers in the region during both storms and “blue sky” days. He and his team work with community leaders and large commercial customers to strengthen economic growth, promote energy efficiency and move National Grid’s sustainable energy strategy forward to the benefit of all the communities they serve.

After graduating from Hudson Valley in 2005 with an associate degree in Electrical Construction and Maintenance, Sano spent the first eight years of his career in the field. He then began working for National Grid, first as a meter reader, before working his way up to director of gas operations and now to regional executive. Altogether, he has been with the company for 22 years and has consistently sought out opportunities to gain experience and involvement in each aspect of the company.

Sano also makes time to give back through involvement in several charitable and community organizations. He serves as the vice chair of the board for the United Way of the Greater Capital Region, as a board member for the Center for Economic Growth, and as president of the board of the Frear Park Conservancy in Troy. When not at work or giving back to the community, he can be found spending time with his wife and three children.


George W. Whalen Jr. ‘69
President Ramsammy and George W. Whalen Jr. ‘69

George W. Whalen Jr. ‘69 was born on May 23, 1949 in Troy and grew up in West Sand Lake, attending West Sand Lake and Averill Park schools as well as St. John’s Academy in Rensselaer before enrolling at Hudson Valley in 1967 to study banking, insurance and real estate. He graduated from the college in 1969 and went on to have a successful career in business, first at the Bankers Trust Company in Albany and then at George. A Fuller Construction, where he served as a project manager on the South Mall project in Albany, which is now the Empire State Plaza. He then decided to pursue his passion for the automotive industry, working for Hickey Ford and Bumstead Chevrolet and Subaru in Troy before purchasing the Jim Patrick Chevrolet Oldsmobile dealership in Greenwich in 1981. One of the youngest new car dealers in the state, he worked alongside his brother Timothy at the Greenwich dealership, now known as Whalen Chevrolet, for 40 years, until 2021, when he sold the business to the Mackey Auto Group of Saratoga Springs.

Whalen served on the Chevrolet National Dealer Council for several years, and also served as chair of the New York State Automobile Dealers Association and chair of the regional new car dealer organization ENYCAR. He remains active as a volunteer, supporting several charities and local organizations, including Families of SMA, an organization to fund research on a cure for spinal muscular atrophy. He is an active supporter of Hudson Valley’s automotive programs. He and his wife Tami reside in Greenwich, where they spend their retirement enjoying time with their four children and six grandchildren.

More Information

For more information on alumni activities at Hudson Valley, contact the college’s Alumni Association at alumni@hvcc.edu

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