Head shot of Karina Zayas

Students Who Soar: Honors Student Finds Passion, Path toward Graduate School at Buffalo State


Growing up in Rochester, New York, with a single mom and two siblings, Karina Zayas knew that money was tight. Going to college was not a given, despite Zayas’s strong affinity for science and math that propelled her into gifted classes and resulted in excellent grades in high school.

She discovered an affordable option in Buffalo State College, a State University of New York (SUNY) school located about an hour down the road.

“I was attracted to its proximity to home, its academic programs, and warm and helpful staff,” said Zayas, who began as a freshman in fall 2019 and graduated in May 2022.

In particular, staff members in the Financial Aid Office helped Zayas secure the necessary resources, including scholarships, to fund her education.

“They enabled me to go to college,” she said.

Zayas didn’t just go to college—she thrived. Soon after being accepted at Buffalo State, she was offered a spot in the Muriel A. Howard Honors Program.

“After asking a few questions, I realized the Buffalo State honors program has an amazing support system,” Zayas said. “I joined right away.”

Benefits of the program include the chance to live in Bishop Hall, the honors residence hall on campus.

“Living in Bishop is a really great way to stay involved,” Zayas said. “I also became part of the honors e-board and helped plan events, including the annual barbecue, trivia nights, and movie nights.”

In addition, the honors program staff, especially its director, Amy McMillan, provided needed support.

“I remember a couple of times when I was super stressed, I’d email Dr. McMillan,” Zayas said. “She definitely pushed me through it and got me on the right path.”

McMillan noted that Zayas was a joy to support because she made things happen for herself.

“Karina is just the kind of student we want in the honors program,” McMillan said. “She works hard but also finds time to engage with our program, other students, and Buffalo State as a whole. Karina was one of our honors ambassadors and always made new students feel welcome.”

Although Zayas initially planned to major in forensic chemistry and minor in computer information systems (CIS), she soon decided to flip the two disciplines.

“I found I really enjoyed the CIS classwork,” Zayas said. “It was the first homework I’d do, and I always looked forward to the classes. This is the kind of passion you want in a major.”

She said CIS was not what she expected it would be.

“They let you pick the area of computer science you’d like to focus on,” she said. “I wasn’t really into the hardware side as much as coding. I was able to gear my classes toward coding and languages.”

Zayas is now enrolled in Buffalo State’s master’s program in data science and analytics and will begin classes this fall. She was able to get a head start by taking two graduate courses her senior year.

“I felt a little lost about what I wanted to do with my career, and this program seemed like the best fit for me,” she said. “I began to look into what type of person should go into this career, and many of the values fit with my personality. I hope to become a data scientist and data analyst.”

She added that what she managed to accomplish while an undergraduate—maintaining a near-perfect grade point average, working three on-campus jobs, and getting involved in extracurricular activities—bolstered her confidence.

“I really challenged myself at Buffalo State,” she said. “I pushed myself to do things I didn’t think I could ever accomplish before going to college.”

Video by John Myers and Ken Giangreco, Buffalo State College Creative Services.