Group of happy graduates in theior caps and gowns

Buffalo State Commencement Speakers Represent Array of Disciplines


Three highly accomplished professionals—two of them Buffalo State alumnae—will address the Class of 2023 during Buffalo State University’s 151st Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 20. Deneen Hernandez, ’88, former forensic examiner with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will deliver the Commencement address at the 9:00 a.m. School of the Professions ceremony; Mildred Otero, senior vice president for national impact with Leadership for Educational Equity, will speak at the 1:00 p.m. ceremony for the School of Education; and Raven Baxter, ’14, ’17, molecular biologist and educator, will address the university’s School of Arts and Sciences 5:00 p.m. ceremony.

Deneen Hernandez, Class of 1988

Head shot of Deneen Hernandez

Deneen Hernandez is an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians from the Cattaraugus Reservation in Western New York who possesses roughly 30 years of varied law enforcement experience.

Hernandez is a recently retired forensic examiner for the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory Division in the Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit in Quantico, Virginia. She was detailed to the Tattoo and Graffiti (TAG) program, where she examined and deciphered codes and symbols submitted to the unit to help identify suspected criminal or gang-related activity.

For the past 16 years, Hernandez has provided intelligence on suspected illicit gambling records, such as bookmaking or gaming devices, conducting forensic examinations on those documents to determine their legality.

Familiar with examination techniques in the preservation of evidence, Hernandez was also an adjunct faculty member in undergraduate criminal justice, forensics studies, and graduate public policy studies at various colleges and universities. She holds certification as a forensic examiner of illicit bookmaking records and gambling devices. She is also a certified instructor with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Public Safety (formerly the Bureau of Municipal Police), the New York State Commission of Correction, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Hernandez is a national trainer and board member for the National Partnership for Careers in Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security. She also volunteers with the Forensic Outreach Service in London, England. She is a member of the American Public University System’s Criminal Justice Industry Advisory Council, located in Washington, D.C. She volunteers for Pathful Connect, introducing the field of forensics to students, and is a cyber guide for eCyberMission, sponsored by the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program in Washington, D.C., assisting students with their STEM projects. She also serves as a member of the FBI’s American Indian and Alaska Native Advisory Committee and the lab division’s Diversity and Inclusion Network of Champions.

Hernandez received the 2020 Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Professional Team Achievement Award and Individual Award for translating and promoting missing persons posters in the Navajo language, which helps the U.S. Intelligence Community expand its source base and supports the efforts of the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives (Operation Lady Justice). She was also awarded Ragan’s 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity Award in the Social Impact: Community Affairs category, and the 2022 American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s Professional of the Year award.

Hernandez holds a bachelor of arts in political science from SUNY Fredonia and a master of science in criminal justice from Buffalo State, and is ABD (all but dissertation) in public service leadership at Capella University.

Mildred Otero

Head shot of Mildred Otero

Mildred Otero is the senior vice president for national impact at Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), a diverse network of equity-minded leaders at all stages of life and career. LEE is a free membership organization currently open to alumni of partner organizations including Teach for America, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, New Leaders, Latinos for Education, Urban Teachers, and Public Allies.

Otero is responsible for LEE’s national strategy, designing and developing life-changing civic leadership programs, experiences, and tools serving LEE members across the phases of four leadership pathways. She is also an adjunct instructor for the University of Miami, School of Education.

Before joining LEE, Otero served as chief education counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, where she managed the Senate majority’s education agenda and its policy development and strategy for children from cradle to career. Such efforts included legislation addressing early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, higher education, and adult education.

Before her tenure with the Senate, Otero served as senior policy officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she led the foundation’s federal advocacy efforts for the U.S. programs in Washington, D.C. In this role, she focused on policy advocacy that advanced the foundation’s college-ready and postsecondary success strategies.

Otero relocated to Washington, D.C., in 2003 as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Fellow, working for then-United States Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. She went on to work at the Children’s Defense Fund as deputy director for early childhood development and legislative assistant for United States Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and later as senior policy adviser for Senator Clinton until 2009, when she transitioned with Secretary Clinton to the U.S. Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development, collaborating in areas of education, youth, and social protection policy affecting the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Otero earned a bachelor of arts from the State University of New York at Albany and a master of social work from the New York University Silver School of Social Work.

Raven Baxter, Class of 2014 and 2017

Head shot of Raven Baxter

Raven Baxter—widely known as “Dr. Raven the Science Maven”—is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning educator and molecular biologist who is renowned for her aptitude in merging scientific concepts and popular culture. Baxter was born in Buffalo, New York, and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at Buffalo State, as well as her Ph.D. in science education from the University at Buffalo.

Baxter has a deep and broad range of expertise across both the technical and social aspects of science in molecular biology and protein sciences, science education, and communication. Her graduate research on protein chaperones focused on understanding their structural and functional evolution. As a professional scientist, she has worked in high-throughput drug discovery, using cutting-edge methods and tools to advance treatments for diseases, particularly neurodegenerative diseases.

Baxter has developed innovative methods to make science more accessible to people from all backgrounds and experience levels by incorporating creative outlets such as music, fashion, and comedy in her lessons. She is an advocate for science education reform who believes that everyone can learn science with the proper resources and support.

She is a highly sought-after public speaker who has provided engaging lectures for such esteemed organizations as Princeton University, the National Science Teachers Association, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, the Parent Teacher Association, and RTI International. In her talks, she inspires people to pursue their STEM dreams without feeling the need to conform to traditional expectations of what it means to be a scientist—a message further evidenced by her TEDx Talk “You Don’t Look Like a Scientist!”

Drawing on her knowledge base in STEM education and diversity issues in the STEM fields, Baxter sustains partnerships with companies such as Olay, Regeneron, and Brooks Running. Through these collaborations, she has informed work to close gender gaps within the STEM workforce, introduced high school students to laboratory techniques, and hosted international science fairs. These collaborations are part of her dedication to making science accessible through her platform of influence worldwide.

In addition to her work as a scientist and educator, Baxter has also founded the Smarty Party Shop, creating lively fashion apparel that celebrates scientific achievement and lets people, literally, wear their knowledge on their sleeves. In her free time, she serves as a mentor to countless students who are interested in the STEM fields, helping them develop their skills and reach their goals in life.

Baxter has been recognized in Fortune’s 40 Under 40 in Health list (2021), Forbes’s 30 Under 30 in Science list (2022), Ebony’s Power 100 list, and AfroTech’s Future 50 list (2022) for her immense contributions toward making science more inclusive and accessible. She has received the Woman of Distinction Award from the American Association of University Women (2022), the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence (2021), and the Asteroid Award for Diversity and Inclusion in Science Communication (2020). Her work has also been featured in the Washington Post, Scientific American, and Harper’s Bazaar.