Walking the Talk

Sharon Belle-Render

Emerita Counselor and `79/`85 alumna Sharon Belle-Render shares what about Brockport means the most to her, and how digging up potatoes as a child led her to establish two funds to help students in need at SUNY Brockport.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your connection to SUNY Brockport.

I’ve always been involved with music, because my dad was a musician and I was involved with that. Both of my parents just seemed to always make sure that we were involved or connected [with music]. As I was applying for colleges, my chosen major was Music and Elementary Education, and I minored in Geology. I received a four-year scholarship, the New York State Teacher’s Award. I received one thousand dollars every year all four years as an undergrad. I also had quite a few other scholarships that I came to Brockport with. But that Teacher’s Award, that’s what prompted me to say ‘Okay, teaching — that’s what I want to do.’

A big highlight [of my time as an undergrad] was going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for my internship and teaching 2nd and 6th grades there. And that was thanks to the encouragement of Dr. Jeannette D’Agostino-Baker. Now, I encourage every undergrad to go and take a trip overseas.

As an alum and an employee of Brockport, I wanted to help make sure people are connected [to education]. I’ve always had a certain percentage taken out of my paycheck, even as an undergrad and in my graduate work. After I retired, I stopped and reflected on how much of my life I spent helping and working on social issues. I remember being nine years old, helping my dad as he transported people for voter registration, or to the polls to vote. I remember helping him take seniors out that didn’t have anyone to take them shopping.

I also remember my father having friends that were farmers. He would get us up at five in the morning, and we would go out and dig up potatoes, because the farmers had to get them all up out of the ground on time so they wouldn’t rot. I started to realize more and more that, [between my childhood and career], I am definitely a humanitarian. I was the first African American hired as the Assistant Director of Student Activities and Greek Affairs. So I said, that’s what I would like to continue; if I have enough in my retirement to be able to contribute to what I already have given to Brockport, it’ll help support another student who really wants their degree.

Q: When was the last time you visited campus?

I’ll come sometimes just to check out everything. This [past] summer, as a matter of fact, I drove through and looked at the campus and saw the changes again. It’s blossomed into a really beautiful flower. As a freshman, I worked in the Immigration Office with Mrs. Val Kumar, and I worked for [Senior Academic Advisor Emeritus] Roy Agte, so a lot of things [I participated in] were just in the Rakov Building. Then we had the Union, of course. It had been quite a few years since we had brand new buildings. So to see us evolve in that way, it’s quite exciting.

Q: Tell us what inspired your decision to create not one, but two funds?


What really inspired me were the struggles that I had as an undergrad and as a grad student. I didn’t realize [it at the time]. It just seemed like all of us had to work two jobs, besides taking 16, 18, and 21 credits. I took 21 credits for maybe two years. At that time you had to take two majors [to become a music teacher]. It wasn’t combined. So you had to take all the Education courses and all the Music courses.


But I think we all have challenges no matter where we go and what we’re exposed to. And sometimes we need people to support us in that challenge, regardless of what that situation is. I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to be without money for months. I know what it’s like to not have transportation. We as a community must take a look at that and say to ourselves, what can we do for someone that is struggling? So we want to be as a family, as a community, collaborating with people who look like me. It’s our responsibility if we ask them to come, invite them to come, promise them this vision of completing a degree, you have to be there to make it happen.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the Sharon Belle-Render Student Opportunity Fund and the impact you hope it will have on our students.

[When I was a student], there weren’t too many grants that were created [for student emergency expenses]. When I was very active with the [Alumni] Board of Directors, and scholarships, we started to realize that there’s a big need for financial support and encouragement for students to continue their education. Because this is all about scholarship and excellence. So I said, this is what I’m going to do, because I know what it’s like, I’ve been there.

Q: Tell us what you are most passionate about in regard to SUNY Brockport.

The students. I love, I love, I love the students. They are remarkable, they’re brilliant. Their passion is to come to college. We’ve got to be able to embrace that and to try to get everyone through who’s there for a reason and a purpose, and not to impede them from their success. Especially students of Black, African-American, African, International, Caribbean backgrounds, and all those students who are coming to a totally, totally different world than their own, and to embrace them and let them know that, ‘Hey, we’ve got your back. You’ll get through this.’

Q: Why does giving back to your alma mater matter to you?

It matters a lot…if I’m going to be an alum to a college, or if I’m representing an organization or a committee, or a passion, or a commitment to something, if I’m going to talk about it, I’m going to walk it. So I’m here in the community, and I’m telling people about Brockport. And some people who look like me really think that they can’t get accepted to Brockport. So it’s my responsibility to make sure I share that, yes, you can go, and yes, you will graduate. I want to encourage everyone who looks like me that they can do it too, and be able to give back to their alma mater.

Back to Brockport Today



Posted: July 25, 2023