College of Staten Island women’s tennis star senior Ilona Stoyko was honored last night by the City University of New York Athletic Conference, taking home the conference’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor at the Michael Steuerman Scholar-Athlete Dinner held last night at John Jay College. Stoyko was on hand to celebrate with her family, friends, and CSI Provost Dr. Fred Naider. The rousing evening had Stoyko deliver words to the members in attendance, where a short video was shown, honoring her achievements. Baruch’s College men’s volleyball star Steven Coniglio was named Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, while Oshae Miller and Katarzyna Urena, both from Bronx Community College won distinctions on the Community College level.
To say that Ilona Stoyko has come to define the term “student-athlete” would be an understatement. The CSI Chemistry major who doubles on the Women’s Tennis team, Stoyko has been the flag-bearer for the program over the last four years, a career that culminated with CUNYAC supremacy, complete with a Postseason Championship for the first time since 1999 and first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III National Championship.
Stoyko’s collegiate story starts five years ago, when she made the trek to the United States from her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk in the Ukraine. Armed with only a few words of English and a pair of wide eyes, Stoyko began to traverse the landscape, quickly picking up the language and embracing the U.S. education system. Her exploits landed her at the College of Staten Island, where admittedly, she felt the culture shock. She began to look for comfort and a place to call home on the sprawling campus, and quickly found herself on the tennis courts. It only took a handful of swings before she was approached by the team’s coaching staff. A few days later, she was a member of the Dolphins’ tennis squad. Stoyko posted an 11-5 singles record her first season, a mark that included a dominating run in CUNYAC play, all at the No. 2 Singles position. Perhaps even more impressive, is that according to Stoyko, her work on the tennis team provided her with the necessary framework for her to excel in the classroom, keeping her organized, focused, and committed.
“The tennis courts are like my second home,” said Stoyko. “I quickly leaned on tennis to help me manage my time properly, be diligent, and keep my eyes on the prize, no matter what my goal is. It helped me assimilate to my time in the United States.”
What followed from there is a story of a true champion. Stoyko went from a timid first-year student to a CUNYAC All-Star on the field of play and an engaging and dynamic player in the classroom. She immediately gravitated to the sciences, where her love of chemistry began to take flight. While taking introductory courses she lent herself to the College of Staten Island Chemistry Department’s most prestigious research project on the “Synthesis of Ordered Nonporous Materials” led by Dr. Michal Kruk, a Top 100 High-Impact Chemist according to Thomson Reuters. Stoyko’s work with the program has grown through the years, and she became such a pivotal backbone to the project that she was asked to present findings at both the 2012 and 2013 CSI Undergraduate Research Conference. The work has been laborious but invigorating, and has given her passion to follow internal medicine beyond graduation.
“I absolutely love it,” she said “I love to explore new ideas and apply them to my love for chemistry and to new technologies. I have a passion for helping people, and it starts with this type of research. I truly enjoy it.”
By her sophomore season, Stoyko was fully invested in both arenas. On the court, the sophomore netter with the powerful cross-court forehand was boasting CSI’s best singles record at 10-5 (6-1 in CUNYAC) at both the Nos. 1 and 2 positions in the lineup and the team advanced to the CUNYAC Semifinals. Another 1st-team CUNYAC All-Star nod followed and she was named the squad’s most valuable player at CSI’s annual Awards Banquet. Her academic exploits began to take center stage as well. Stoyko was awarded the College’s Friends of CSI and Alumni Legacy Scholarships and was named the CUNYAC/Hospital for Special Surgery Scholar-Athlete of the Month in October of 2011. More than anything, Stoyko became immersed in the world of higher education, and she couldn’t be happier.
“I learned quickly that it has always been about managing your time and making sure you keep your priorities in order,” Stoyko explained. “Getting into medical school and playing tennis have always been priorities to me. For me, it’s always been a challenge but that’s part of what makes it enjoyable, especially when you can look back and recognize that the hard work paid off.”
Stoyko’s comfort level was obviously blossoming. The CSI standout led the Dolphins to their finest year in memory in 2012, advancing all the way to the CUNYAC Final, and Stoyko again posted a 6-1 record within the CUNYAC. Again, a 1st-team CUNYAC All-Star selection followed and another round of academic honors followed. Of course, the added laurels went hand-in-hand with added responsibility. Stoyko assumed captain duties for the intercollegiate squad and it came with added responsibilities in the classroom. Stoyko also began to progress in her experiences away from campus. In 2012, she began a volunteer position at the Newborn Department of the Richmond University Medical Center, and she expanded her undergraduate research work by researching at the CUNY Research Center. Stoyko admits that although the course work at times was overwhelming, it allowed her to appreciate her down time with tennis, and the rigors that are supposed to come with being good at what you do.
“We all get overwhelmed at times and we all have our bad days, but we all have goals, and if we work hard and stay focused on them, it’s always worth it,” she said. “I learned that no matter what I want to make sure I achieve my goals and I knew it could not happen unless I struggled sometimes too.”
Alas, Stoyko’s endeavors led her into an amazing 2013 season. The Dolphins finished with a program-best 17-3 campaign that landed them on the front porch of a NCAA National Championship Tournament appearance in mid-May. Stoyko was stellar the entire way, posting a 5-1 CUNYAC mark that culminated with a 5-4 win over Brooklyn College in the 2013 CUNYAC Championship. It was CSI’s first CUNYAC crown since 1999, and broke a string of 13-straight conference titles for Hunter College, who CSI defeated in the semifinal round, and where Stoyko led CSI to one of its five clinching points. Stoyko enjoyed a Player of the Week selection in 2013, and another 1st-team all-conference selection. But of course, on the cusp of graduation, her athletic endeavors only tell half the story. Stoyko was the recipient of the Dr. Elise T. Marcus Scholarship, the Dr. Mario J. Merlino Scholarship, and the Dr. Gladys Johnson Memorial Scholarship in 2013, and as recently as this spring, Stoyko was afforded the Rosemary O’Halloran Scholarship to Support Women in Chemistry. Now, in a fitting close to her academic career, Stoyko was named the City University of New York Athletic Conference’s Female Student-Athlete of the Year, the College’s first female recipient since 1999. For Stoyko, the showering of academic honors has been extraordinary humbling.
“I came to the United States five years ago and I realized this country is full of opportunities, and it always made me want to work and study harder,” Stoyko noted. “It’s an honor to be recognized by the CUNYAC and the other agencies that have given me awards and scholarship. They all make me want to push harder, because it’s so humbling to know that what you’re doing is being recognized by others.”
From a Ukrainian immigrant a half-decade ago to an overwhelmingly accomplished Scholar-Athlete today, Ilona Stoyko has truly epitomized the essence of a distinguished CUNY student, one who has never lost sight of what a quality education could afford her, who has lent herself to numerous activities and scholastic-based initiatives aimed at progressing herself to the leader she is today. Stoyko’s education will come to a close soon, as will her amateur tennis career, but Stoyko plans to continue both through graduate studies and by continuing to instruct tennis to youths while playing recreationally.
“I love tennis, and this year could not have ended any better,” Stoyko commented. “So many of my tennis goals have been accomplished and I couldn’t be happier. Academically I still have goals to reach. I want to get into medical school and am preparing for the MCATS. Tennis has kept me moving in that direction, and I’m looking forward to that coming to fruition soon.”