When a member of Buffalo State’s rugby team suggested to Johnathan Ciolek that he sign up for the club team, Ciolek, then a freshman, was skeptical.
“I’m a really small guy,” said the junior journalism major. “Even though I wrestled and played soccer in high school, I thought I’d get broken in half.”
However, he decided to give the sport a try.
“I went to their first practice and I’ve been there ever since,” said Ciolek, who now plays scrum half, a position similar to a football quarterback, and helped the team achieve three wins this season.
Ciolek, who grew up in South Buffalo and attended St. Francis High School, said he never envisioned himself playing rugby in 40-degree rainy weather or stepping out of his comfort zone in the myriad other ways he has at Buffalo State.
During his sophomore year, he was hired as a resident adviser in North Wing residence hall, where he enjoyed serving as a sounding board for freshmen getting adjusted to college life. And he joined the Record, the college’s student newspaper, where he’s covered a range of hard news and feature stories that will fill a portfolio he can use when he looks for jobs after graduation.
“I’d definitely recommend getting involved on campus,” Ciolek said. “Your friend group expands so much. Also, networking is a big benefit of joining clubs and organizations. In rugby, there are alumni who have connections and different areas of expertise. And that could help me, too.”
Ciolek’s adventurous spirit has expanded to other activities. He rode a mountain bike for the first time last summer, and he plans to try snowboarding this winter.
“Buffalo State has opened me up to want to do so much more,” he said.
Ciolek, who will be the first person in his family to graduate from college, was a dedicated student in high school, aiming to make his parents and grandmother proud. His grades qualified him for acceptance into the college’s Muriel A. Howard Honors Program, which includes a generous scholarship.
Through the honors program, Ciolek has had the opportunity to take a selection of classes specifically designed for honors students, including Jewelry Making.
“I never imagined I’d take a jewelry-making class,” he said. “I think the honors program offers so much diversity when it comes to classes and interactions. It really helps students grow.”
Having the honors scholarship also inspired Ciolek to apply himself academically. His grade point average hasn’t dropped below 3.5 and is currently at 3.86 overall.
He’s discovered that courses in his major, such as Feature Writing and Media Literacy, have been his favorites. Journalism professors, including Joseph Marren, who also serves as his adviser, have helped him achieve his goals.
“Professor Marren and I connected right away,” Ciolek said, “I feel like he’s been the driving force to make sure I stay on course.”
Marren described Ciolek as a quiet student leader.
“When he was in my class, he did the work and contributed in other ways, such as in discussions, that showed me he could lead,” Marren said. “That impressed me.”
Annemarie Franczyk, associate professor of journalism who is the Record adviser, said Ciolek is one of the finest students she’s had in 27 years of teaching at Buffalo State.
“His thoughtful approach to his studies and hard work on his assignments always produced exemplary material that earned A’s in my classes,” Franczyk said. “In fact, I’m using one of his past writing assignments as a model for current students to follow. His writing, whether it is a class assignment or a story for the Record, is mature and a pleasure to read.”
Serving on the Record and on the rugby team also resulted in deeper friendships than Ciolek ever imagined he would find in college. He now shares an off-campus apartment with two of his teammates.
“We’re more than a club sport,” he said. “We’re a family. Through stressors and struggles, the rugby team has been there for me. Honestly, being able to bond with them and embracing rugby culture is one of the best things that’s happened to me.”