SU People


Schmitt Shoots!!
Eddie Gonzalez


Eddie Gonzalez |

Keeping Faith Through Hard Times

When Eddie Gonzalez ’02 was a child, he dreamed he had a conversation with God. “I remember telling my Mom that Jesus was sitting in her bedroom, and I asked him ‘What sneakers should I put on this morning?’ and he picked them out.” From that moment on, religion has played a large role in Gonzalez’s life. He believes faith will help him endure difficult times—and he speaks from experience. He has relied on his faith to get him through financial troubles, personal problems, and a rocky college career. “If I maintain a simple belief that God can pull me through things, if I just count on him, then I can achieve what I want,” says Gonzalez.

The 24-year-old Bronx native became a religion major at SU in hopes of reaching a better understanding about his relationship with God. “I went through a personal ordeal that led me to question aspects of my spirituality and why and how things happen,” Gonzalez says. “When you’re young you think that what’s happened to you is the worst thing that could happen to anybody.”

As an SU freshman in fall 1995, Gonzalez had aspirations of becoming a sportscaster. However, he found himself struggling with the cost of college and with his studies. Though he received help through the Student Support Services Program, he decided to leave after one semester. “My mother was on welfare and there was no money coming in,” he says. “I wasn’t adjusting well, my grades were hurting, and I pulled out before things became worse.” Gonzalez went through other false starts at SU, but credits a visit to his ancestral home of Puerto Rico with inspiring him to complete college. “My spiritual thirst grew in Puerto Rico, and I embraced the idea of giving college one last go,” he says. “I’m glad I did.” He returned to SU full time in fall 1999—and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in May.

Gonzalez found a niche on campus working for recreation services and excelled. As a student supervisor at Archbold Gymnasium, he oversaw training sessions for new student employees and found substitutes for people who were absent. Through his work he was able to pay part of his college costs. He also participated in the Emerging Leaders Conference in North Carolina, where he helped minority undergraduate students become aware of management opportunities in the recreation field. “Eddie takes his position as a role model seriously,” says Mitch Gartenberg, director of recreation services at SU. “He is the kind of person who willingly accepts responsibility and tries to be a problem solver rather than a problem creator.”

Gonzalez says being at Syracuse expanded his view of life and his understanding of others. “I find Syracuse to be a microcosm of everything that’s going on in the world,” he says. “Coming out of the Bronx opened my eyes to more than just what’s around me. It put me in a situation where people’s views either conflicted or meshed.”

After graduation, Gonzalez plans to continue with religious studies at a graduate school in North Carolina or teach religion at a Catholic high school. Despite all he has been through, Gonzalez believes his greatest challenges still lie ahead. “My hope for the future is to be a great father, a great husband, and a great family person,” he says. “This means more to me than career goals or even money.”

—Nia Davis



Diana Darris | Balancing Act

Schmitt Shoots!!
Diana Darris

As director of the Office of Disability Services, Diana Darris helps orchestrate an assortment of academic functions designed to level the playing field for students with disabilities. On average, more than 800 graduate and undergraduate students with a variety of physical and learning disabilities take advantage of the office’s services. These offerings are designed to ensure that the students’ college experiences are inclusive and productive. “There is never a dull moment in our office,” Darris says. “Our students are eager and bright, and there is always a new adventure on the horizon.”

Although Darris is new to SU, she is a veteran in the struggle for equal access for persons with disabilities. She completed an undergraduate degree in communications and dual master’s degrees in justice and public safety and judicial administration at Auburn University in Alabama, and later worked at the National Advocacy and Protection Center, part of the clinical law program at the University of Alabama. It was there that she began her career as an advocate for people with disabilities, investigating compliance complaints of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “I also worked closely with law students who were interested in understanding the intricacies of disability advocacy,” Darris says.

At one point, she worked as an internal investigator for Georgia’s Division of Rehabilitation Services in Atlanta, following up on clients’ complaints about rehabilitation violations. “Investigating my colleagues, who were serving as rehabilitation counselors, didn’t make me popular, but it helped me understand disability issues from the perspective of the people I was trying to help,” Darris says. “This experience made me realize that advocating for people with disabilities is my life mission.”

Darris was coordinator of disability services and university ADA coordinator at the University System of Georgia at Augusta State University before joining the SU staff in September 2000. Some form of disability services has existed on the SU campus for long time, Darris says. Now that such services are under the umbrella of the Office of Disability Services in the Division of Student Support and Retention, they are more efficient and better coordinated, she says. “Our office is ready to move forward with new, innovative programs. My goal is to develop a program of universal design that is inclusive of everyone. Student input is vital to our success.”

Darris and a small team of disability access specialists and academic service coordinators strive to provide equal access for all students with disabilities. They offer a variety of considerations, such as converting materials to alternate formats; providing interpreters and notetakers; and arranging for students with special needs to receive extra time to complete exams on a case-by-case basis. However, deciding which requests for assistance to honor is not always clear-cut. Darris frequently seeks guidance from other resources, such as the Justice Department, the Office of Civil Rights, National Standards, the Association on Higher Education and Disability, and SU students and administrators. “The law mandates that we provide reasonable accommodation, but sometimes there are differing opinions about what is ‘reasonable,’” Darris says. “There’s not a lot of case law in higher education, so in the absence of that, we must stay true to civil rights laws and do what we think is reasonable and rational. The challenge is finding the right balance.”

By attending national conferences, Darris has come to recognize that SU is in the forefront of higher educational institutions providing services to students with disabilities. In fact, she predicts that in the next three to five years the Office of Disability Services will become the top program of its kind in the nation. “Faculty members are helpful, the administration is totally supportive, and the students are wonderful to work with,” Darris says. “I believe SU offers one of the most innovative and comprehensive programs in the country because the University community cares deeply about meeting the academic needs of students with disabilities.”

—Christine Yackel


Schmitt Shoots!!
Elton Fukumoto


Elton Fukumoto |

Teaching Writing
with Legal Ease

A few years ago, legal writing instructor Elton Fukumoto’s job didn’t exist: Students picked up legal writing skills in their content-based classes or in sessions led by third-year students. But at the urging of professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, Syracuse and other universities are restructuring legal education to give greater focus to applied learning and the development of practical skills, including writing.

Today, the College of Law’s nationally recognized Law Firm Program, in which Fukumoto and five other faculty members teach, is a core component of first-year legal education. The yearlong course introduces students to such basic lawyering skills as writing, research, client interviewing, and negotiation. “You’re getting half your money’s worth in tuition by taking this course, because you learn how to go and find out what the law is,” Fukumoto says. “Legal writing is its own little universe. Once you figure out what the law is, you can apply it to the facts of the particular event. There are so many subtleties about legal opinions and readings. That’s why we need lawyers.”

Fukumoto developed his own analytic reading and writing skills while studying English at Harvard as an undergraduate, and at UCLA, where he received master’s and doctoral degrees. He began his academic career as an English professor at the University of Hawaii, but after seven years on the faculty, he decided to join the research staff of Hawaii State Senator Richard Matsuura. That experience led him to enroll at the University of Washington School of Law. After receiving a J.D. degree, he served two successive clerkships for justices of the State of Washington’s Supreme Court.

Fukumoto’s experience as an English professor, combined with his legal training, made him an excellent candidate for the SU position he filled last fall, says law professor Richard Risman, director of the Law Firm Program. “Our students are fortunate to have someone with such a range of skills,” Risman says. Faculty members also benefit from having Fukumoto as a colleague. “He’s easy to work with because, although he has a very impressive record and is extremely intelligent, he listens first before making suggestions or sharing ideas,” Risman says. “He also has a good sense of humor. It’s nice to be around people like that.”

Although the subject matter is sometimes less enjoyable than teaching his first love—literature—Fukumoto finds satisfaction in legal writing instruction because of the tangible impact it has on students’ lives. “The ambiguities in Jane Austen don’t seem to be terribly relevant at times,” Fukumoto says. “In law, you don’t have those concerns. The law is such a large part of our everyday lives, and it’s even more immediately relevant to these students. If they haven’t learned legal writing in my class, it will be tough for them at their first job.”

Fukumoto says he is encouraged by the University’s emphasis on writing in its Academic Plan. He is also pleased to find such a supportive and friendly atmosphere at SU. “Law school is a stressful place,” he says. “There is a tremendous amount of competition and pressure, especially during the first year, because all students are ranked. Despite that, however, the students are nice and work together.”

He particularly cherishes the moments in his classroom when a student asks a question that he hasn’t considered. “The student is not only following what I said, but has taken it to the next step,” he says. “When those lightbulbs flash on, that’s when you feel the rewards of teaching. That’s why I teach.”

—Margaret Costello



Schmitt Shoots!!
Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor |

Stage Presence

At age 4, Sean Taylor ’02 recorded the 1984 Grammy Awards show and watched it so many times that he memorized pop star Michael Jackson’s entire performance down to the last step of his moonwalk. Years later, as a student at Fayetteville-Manlius High School in suburban Syracuse, he started playing with a band. “As I grew up, music was always there for me, giving me something I could relate to,” Taylor says. “I can’t put into words how much music means to me and has taught me.”

At SU, Taylor, a television-radio-film major in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, was able to translate his love of music to a new level of personal accomplishment as a songwriter and lead guitarist for one of the most popular bands on campus, Cavern ( On stage, all four members of the group have very distinct personalities, but work together to generate an extraordinary chemistry that brings their music to life. Co-founder of Cavern and former high school bandmate Andrew Sullivan ’03 clenches his eyes as he sings with a powerful, soulful voice. Spencer Reynolds ’03 sits near the back of the stage, adding the rhythm of his drums to their songs. Ethan Gray ’03 appears laid-back and confident as he plays his bass. Taylor, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, flashes smiles at the audience and resembles the classic American rocker.

The band’s self-produced debut album, This Is Reality, was released in September 2001. The 10-track CD showcases the group’s diverse musical talents with a mix of soothing, emotional songs and plenty of rock ’n’ roll. For instance, there’s ample pop appeal on the cut “Change,” while an alternative sound fuels “Sterling Morning.” The album allowed Taylor to experience what he considers to be the best thing about being a musician: “creating something that you love and are proud of,” he says.

Something of a Renaissance man, Taylor also claims experience as an entrepreneur and a politician. In May 2001, he co-founded We Believed in Gravity Records, an independent label. As president, he is responsible for the company’s budgeting, marketing, and distribution as well as its legal department. In the political arena, he ran for the Fayetteville-Manlius Board of Education in 1999 and 2000. Although he lost both races, he garnered more than 40 percent of the vote each time.

What’s in store for Taylor now that he’s graduated? “Maybe a world tour,” he says. “I just hope that whatever I do I can end it like a Cavern concert, saying, ‘Thank you very much—it was a lot of fun.’”

—Jennifer Doop

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