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Balkan Receives Make a Difference Award From On Point for College


“Professor Balkan goes above and beyond to help his students engage in the classroom, on campus, and in the local community.”

That comment from Hersheena Rajaram ’19 sums up student and alumni accolades for Leonard C. Ferguson Professor of Economics Erol Balkan, a recent recipient of the Make a Difference Award from On Point for College (Utica, N.Y.).

According to its website, “On Point for College helps traditional and non-traditional students overcome the barriers to higher education. We support our students from application through graduation and beyond.”

Rajaram said that she was grateful to have had Balkan as an academic advisor, professor, club advisor, and mentor throughout her time at Hamilton. “He was a great sounding board for all topics, from classes to networking and career exploration, to ensure I was successful in college,” she said.

Gabrielle Wierda ’21 has helped Balkan raise funds for refurbished laptops for students at On Point during her time at Hamilton. “Professor Balkan … goes the extra mile when he hears of a student in need because he truly cares about providing the foundation for every student to succeed,” she said. “This award is much deserved for the amazing work he has done.”

Kevin Marken, Utica director of On Point, called Balkan “a partner in research projects involving and benefiting students, fundraising for laptops, as well as finding creative collaborative solutions to help our students and area communities.”

Shaghayegh “Sha” Lashgari ’24 said she learned of Balkan while researching Hamilton and discovered that he is Turkish and conducts research focusing on the refugee diaspora. “As a Turkish speaker, refugee, and as an individual interested in refugee research, I reached out to him expressing my appreciation for his work and hope of being able to engage in similar work.”

Lashgari later became aware of Balkan’s On Point laptop project and through placement of Hamilton students for research and internships. “As an On Point student and On Point alumni board member, [this news] filled me with joy and hope. I knew that at Hamilton I would have an ally that I could turn to for guidance and support,” she said. 

“Since the first email long before I was admitted to the College, Professor Balkan has offered his wisdom and guidance generously. And when I came to campus he made sure he was my advisor and has been there for me throughout my first semester,” Lashgari said.

Amar Kassim ’20 worked with Balkan through On the Move, a refugee advocacy group on campus over which Kassim presided. “Professor Balkan urgently invited us one afternoon to his office to communicate his idea: a ‘refugee solidarity month,’” Kassim recalled. He said the group worked with Balkan to execute his vision to involve Hamilton’s campus with issues facing refugees locally and globally. “We hosted talks, organized film screenings, ran a clothing drive, and fundraised for On Point for College. Our success would have not been possible without Professor Balkan, a beacon of hope at Hamilton College.”

Of the award, Balkan said, “It is certainly nice to be recognized for one's work in the community, but what makes me happier is the fact that my humble efforts are contributing to these young people in achieving their dreams.”

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