Thursday, October 17, 2019
Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State
It is my pleasure to once again provide my opening year address. I am happy to welcome you to the Burchfield Penny Art Center, and I send greetings to those of you who are viewing my comments from the Campbell Union Social Hall or other locations.
We, members of the Buffalo State College community, have settled into another academic year, and hopefully we are all finding our stride as we move forward. There is much to celebrate as we appreciate where we are as a campus and the many accomplishments that have been made and the new goals that will soon be completed as we move forward. And, of course, there is still much work to be done as we meet or exceed our current goals and work to achieve campus aspirations within a highly competitive and budget-constrained environment.
But first for a few introductions. In the audience, we have new faculty and staff that have joined us since last fall. Would all new faculty and staff members with us today please stand so that your community can officially welcome you to Buffalo State once again?
Welcome, again, to Buffalo State College, and I look forward to seeing the manifestations of your many accomplishments as you add your expertise to our already outstanding contributions from existing faculty and staff.
Before I dive into the current year, I would like to remind us of some of the events and projects that shaped and occupied our thoughts, minds, hours, and days during the last academic year.
We began fall of 2018, by welcoming another outstanding group of students to our campus. As usual, the summer before the start of the new academic year was busy as we prepared for our new students. That time of the year is always particularly electric with the excitement of new students permeating campus and the sparks flying as continuing students return. And then returning and new students quickly fall into the normal pattern of friendships, extracurricular activities, classroom experiences, and other obligations that define college days for most of our students.
As we look back on the 2018 academic year, it is clear that every division was making significant efforts to address the needs of our students and to elevate students to continued success. Within the division of Academic Affairs, faculty and staff implemented new mechanisms and offerings to support students. Starting last year, at the end of each semester, the academic community sought to support students preparing for the end of the semester by building out a Bengal Study Night. Several departments provided review sessions for courses that are seen as particularly challenging for some. In two-hour blocks, faculty provided intensive review sessions to better prepare students to be successful as they entered the final exam period. Additionally, walk-in tutoring was available for both math and writing classes. These, along with the normal stress-relieving activities—group games, relaxation activities, therapy dogs, and plenty of pizza—were provided through a collaboration between academic departments, academic commons, and the Weigel Health Center. Over 300 students each semester attended the Bengal Study Night, so it struck a chord with our students as they sought support in coursework and stress reduction at the end of the semester.
The academic departments also refined course offerings, updated or developed new courses, and continued to advance the teaching mission of the college. Among the many curricular changes that were developed and implemented last year were the following:
The development of a statistics in insurance certificate. This 15-credit undergraduate program is designed to prepare students to enter the actuarial or financial profession as well as to provide a strong background in statistical analyses. Students will be prepared on the completion of this certificate to tackle qualifying exams given by the Society of Actuaries and the Causality Actuarial Society.
Among the many changes we saw within the curriculum were the development of new courses within our honors general education options. Honors developed, and sought and received permission to add, an honors American history seminar, a non-Western civilization seminar, a Western civilization seminar, and a diversity seminar.
You may have heard that courses on positive psychology have become extremely popular across the country. The University of Pennsylvania has been providing these courses for some time, and when Yale developed a course in positive psychology in 2018, to media acclaim, it immediately became the most popular course ever taught at Yale. In just three days of opening the class, one-quarter of the entire undergraduate student body had signed up for the course. So, indeed, positive psychology is something that addresses an academic area of interest and one that students feel is personally relevant. Not to let other campuses outdo us, we have developed our own positive psychology course. PSY 120: Happiness, Hope, and Humor, has been approved as a social science general education course and Professor Karen O’Quin is teaching it for the first time this semester, enrolling well over 100 students. The course is an introduction to positive psychology and includes such topics as happiness, altruism, hopefulness, and humor. It also explores determinants of well-being such as forgiveness, gratitude, and social support. Clearly this course is destined to be both popular on campus and one that may contribute to self-mastery and development for those seeking out this course.
We also saw the re-emergence of the Africana Studies major on campus last year. The revived major is now available for students on campus, and it comes as a content area that has great popularity among our students. This interdisciplinary major will provide benefits across majors for those who wish a grounding and understanding in Africana studies that can only serve to advance any field of study or career path and may be a perfect double major for many students.
We also launched the Master Educator Program last year through a collaboration between the School of the Professions and the School of Education. Within the School of the Professions, the question was asked what would be the impact if those who research and teach the art and craft of teaching and learning interfaced with faculty eager to become master educators? The result was a well-crafted collaboration and mentorship between the two schools. Special thanks to then Dean Mayrose, now interim provost, for creatively seeking a way to advance teaching and to put Buffalo State College on a path to lead others.
I had the opportunity to hear from faculty at the end of the spring semester who had been a part of the first cohort of the Master Educator Program. I was thrilled to learn of the many benefits that had been achieved during this collaboration. What I learned was that measurable and potentially far-reaching changes were already being manifested in the classroom. Students and faculty were more engaged, students were taking more responsibility for their learning, and faculty were clued into gaps that were occurring within the classroom well before an exam was given, thus providing an opportunity for early intervention and enhanced learning to occur. I cannot totally recount the richness of what this process has been for our students and our faculty that participated in the Master Education Program, but faculty eagerly shared many positive results. Please talk to the deans of either the School of the Professions or the School of Education or those faculty engaged in the institute to learn more about this amazing program.
Telling our story was in high gear last year, as we added to our messaging about the merits of a Buffalo State College education. Informally, every time an administrator, faculty member, or staff member is before an audience, we are telling our story. When any member of the faculty or staff is asked, “How is everything at Buffalo State?” and you answer, you are telling our story. In more formal, clear, and organized ways we tell our story through the Buffalo State website, the stories that are developed and written by Marketing and Communications, the interviews that we give, and the many responses we provide to questions or concerns about any person, department, or project that is related to Buffalo State College. The 2018 academic year was full of opportunities to tell our story. I hope you enjoyed hearing our stories and participating in telling our transformative story.
Last year, we added another theme to the way we told our story. During 2018, we included the theme “Believe. Inspire. Achieve.” In these simple three words, we described the arc of what we aspire to do with each and every student who joins our college. We first begin by believing in our students. We believe they are here because they or a decision-maker in their family has decided that Buffalo State is a good fit for them. We have admitted them in good faith, and we believe they can be successful in completing a degree from our campus. We are dedicated to inspiring our students, just as they inspire us. We know because our students tell us that they want us to be their guides, their mentors and their supporters. Thus, we have the capacity to inspire them to new heights. We can inspire students to see the strength and abilities within themselves that might not always be as clear to them. With a focus on excellence, engagement, and social responsibility we strive to support our students to success. We believe we can steer them to the path of achievement that garners the degree completion as they soar on to competitive careers or advanced study. Believe, inspire, achieve has been added to our storyline to clearly represent the arc of student academic and personal development on campus.
Our enhanced storytelling had a positive impact on the students who looked seriously to join our campus as new students. We saw a 29-percent increase in the fall student open house attendance, and then in the spring, we saw the largest spring open house in the history of the college. Clearly our message as SUNY’s urban-engaged campus that supports an ever-diverse group of students was resonating with prospective students. We augmented our storytelling by increasing our social media presence on all forums and we rolled out the college’s first-ever mobile billboard advertising strategy; the first of any college in Western New York to do so.
During 2018, we made significant changes on campus through the committed leadership of Student Affairs staff members. You may have noticed the amazing orientation programs for our new students and the high-quality engagement programs throughout the year that led to record attendance. We continued to bring new programming on campus to better serve our students.
One such new program was a new way to advance health on campus. The Weigel Health Center partnered with other divisions to move the campus to understand the many collateral areas that have a direct impact on health. One such issue was nutrition. It is clear that healthy eating patterns contribute significantly to overall health or you might say poor eating habits contribute to poor health. In alarming numbers, we see adolescents and young adults today being affected by illnesses correlated with lifestyle choices. Increasing numbers of students who are pre-diabetic or diabetic is one such issue. A significant project to address such issues was the opening of the Nutrition Education Counseling Center in Caudell Hall. This center brings together Weigel Health Center, the Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics Department, Athletics, Dining Services, and Residence Life to provide comprehensive nutrition counseling and dietetic services to our students both in the center and in other locations across campus. With a growing and troubling number of young people facing diabetes and the significant negative health consequences of poor nutritional habits, this program is an important addition for campus.
Last summer we completed the phase-one replacement of the athletic field. The new resurfaced Coyer Field is showing its stripes and providing an outstanding and visually stunning field for our teams. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, I suggest it is well worth a walk across campus to gaze at the new field—or, better yet, join your Buffalo State College family for the homecoming football or soccer games next weekend.
In addition to Coyer Field, the division of Finance and Management was extremely busy overseeing, executing, and preparing facility projects across campus. Every project from the large, such as the Science and Math Center to open in the spring; the medium, like the renovation, refit, and rebuild within the Butler Library; and the small, like the sidewalks and repairs across campus, all are completed under the skillful leadership of Finance and Management. We have a large and aging set of buildings, so the work in this area is never-ending. One of the highlights for me in late spring was to see the skeletal structure of the planetarium take form, but as you now know, we have advanced beyond those early days as we watch the final phase materialize for a spring opening.
I will mention just three other things that may not be as obvious as the observable projects that occur throughout the Finance and Management division. Buffalo State College this year joined a partnership of other major anchor institutions across Buffalo in a procurement initiative project. This was an initiative that emerged from the Greater Buffalo Racial and Equity Roundtable. Twelve major businesses have come together to better understand and leverage our purchasing policies and explore how our policies can be mission-aligned with local companies. As a state institution, we have many layers that govern how we handle procurement, but nevertheless this is an important project for institutions like us that wish to align, when possible, our needs with local providers, including those businesses owned by women and members of underrepresented groups.
Under the leadership of Finance and Management, we have also initiated a 200 Acres Team. The partners in these discussions include those who were initially within the 200 acres that were once the Buffalo State Psychiatric Hospital. The partners are Buffalo State College, the Richardson Complex, and the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. This provides an opportunity to discuss matters that uniquely affect us all such as grounds, facilities, joint beautification, parking constraints, or event management.
Supported and overseen by the division of Advancement are all external fundraising efforts of the college. To this end, the largest fundraising event each year is the spring gala. Last spring the theme was “Under the Big Top.” That evening we were able to both showcase the talents of our students and highlight some of the unique academic programs on campus. By all accounts, it was a splendid evening. It had all the fun of a great party; the pizazz that keeps everyone engaged; the mission that allowed everyone to know the importance of supporting students with scholarships; and the rekindling of old and new friends that brings people back. It was a huge success and exceeded the fundraising projections for the event.
The first year of our new Alumni and Visitor Center has been a significant success. Not only has it been a wonderful location for alumni and friends to gather, but it has become quickly a community center where hundreds of campus and community programs have been hosted. I frankly don’t know how we managed without it, and the feedback has been positive from internal and external visitors.
And, finally, a central issue for Finance and Management in 2018 was our budget rebalancing. We did meet our rebalancing target for last year, but more importantly, we have implemented a strategic resource and planning process that will guide us as we move forward. Administratively, we will continue to explore and implement efficiencies and develop alternative funding sources as we move forward. It was a year of many new projects, sustaining good work in process, implementing best practices to guide our future work, and rebalancing our expenses to better align with existing revenues.
As always, pictures speak louder than words, so let’s watch a video highlighting some of our moments from last year.
Turning to our current year, I begin by reminding us that higher education, like every sector in this country and beyond, has faced or is facing radical and disruptive changes. Higher education is not the landscape it has been in the past. The critical voices challenging how we do our business, the cost of higher education, and the ability of higher education to meet the public-, industry-, and workforce-needs have never been louder and more disruptive than they are today. Technological advances, creative solutions, cultural changes, and personal preferences have spread like wildfire throughout our higher education world, this is undeniable, and this is impacting how we fulfill our mission to educate the next generation of leaders.
We have seen this relentless disruption in other fields, and now it is firmly here. We have seen other sectors adapt, morph into something else, or sometimes fade away and die. The overarching issue that is the same in all sectors is continual change, not one-and-done change, but change that continues at record speed. Change that at times takes our breath away. Change that forces us to look at what we are doing and how we are delivering on our mission. We are in a marathon that has no end in sight. We must not only adjust, rework, and modify how we educate students, but we must make revising and adapting our norm.
Let me take an example that touches all of us but is outside of higher education. This example is familiar to us but does not challenge our cherished beliefs or widely held norms.
The revolution and continued need to adapt within the banking industry has changed personal and business banking in significant and mind-blowing ways. Most, if not all of us, remember banking in the pre-technological period and the time when patience was seen as a virtue, personal service was a hallmark of good banking, and most people had great trust in their chosen bank. Those days are gone.
Well, perhaps some of you are the age of my children and really don’t remember this. I, however, remember standing in long lines to cash or deposit a check. I remember using deposit slips to list multiple deposits when putting several checks into the bank. I remember needing to be aware of how many days after you made a deposit you would need to wait before your money would be available to you. I remember paying my bills each month by written checks, and I recall needing to be physically present when you wanted to do any banking transactions—and, of course, producing identification when these banking services were needed. And does anyone remember going to the bank to negotiate traveler’s checks before taking a trip out of the country to have access to your funds while traveling? Does anyone else remember those days?
From paper to ATM to bank app, the way we do banking has been revolutionized over the last 50 years. It did not change overnight or all at once and the revolution has not been fully recognized. Banking of yesterday now seems antiquated compared to our technological, faster, and multi-entry banking industry of today. Grabbing cash from an ATM on the way to a restaurant, depositing those infrequent checks by opening your bank app and scanning it, moving money between accounts effortlessly, and paying bills virtually would have seemed laughable in my early adult years. However, this and more are the current state of personal banking. And if your bank does not meet your needs or the speed and ease that you want to make transactions, you immediately move your cash to another bank.
The current banking industry realizes that they are pressed to innovate in new ways. The revolution is not over. The current competitive banking industry is now looking to digitize every aspect of the banking business. Customer demand for even more high-tech services, connectivity between management apps and various bank accounts, and faster banking has become loud and unrelenting. Generation Z will have even more challenging demands than the current millennials and even us old folks have begun to desire a banking experience that is more responsive than even our current system, and we are no longer willing to be patient with our bank. When we don’t like the services, interface, pace, or rates, we just move to another bank and wait to be lured back. Loyalty to a bank or a higher education institution has been replaced by continued demands, a focus on services, and a persistent desire to know what you are offering that is new, better, faster, more advanced, and delivering services in ways that are superior to those in the competitive market.
So why do I share this with you? It is because higher education has been and continues to be facing a revolution of our own. We are in the middle of it, we have been responding, but we will need to continue to address our current landscape and pressures and we must pick up the pace.
I share this video to frame what we are facing here at Buffalo State and throughout United States higher education. Watch and listen to how higher education is not the higher education of the past.
Higher education cannot hide from the reality of the sea of change that we swim in today. We must embrace the new higher education environment and set our goals to educate, innovate, and graduate students who are ready to lead in our shifting and complex world of today and tomorrow. The best way to respond to those critics of higher education today is by shaping an educational environment that maintains higher education to be the elevator of mobility that has characterized public education for the last six decades. Immigrants from around the world, working- and middle-class families, returning veterans, people historically marginalized in this country, and those striving for advancement have entered the elevator from sub-basements to the first floor and have moved upward in social and financial mobility after acquiring a Buffalo State College education. This is a proud Buffalo State tradition—one we cherish and will continue as we move forward.
We frequently draw attention to our diverse student body and indeed we have an amazingly diverse and vibrant campus student body and a growing diversity among our faculty and staff. Our programming and inclusive practices have once again been acknowledged by Insight in Higher Education for the seventh year in a row with the HEED award. This is something to be proud of, and we will continue our support and focus on equity and inclusion on campus.
Today’s students are in large numbers what is now termed Generation Z, those born between 1995 and early 2000s. These students on our campus were born into a digitized world. They have grown up in a world where they watch a YouTube video to learn to bake a cake or change a tire; Google information and answers for the simple and the complex question; are connected to their phone to communicate, navigate, make purchases, and perform countless everyday activities; and utilize apps that many of us have never opened. They swim in our digital sea effortlessly every day. Generation Z has been exposed to the critics of higher education from their parents, journalists, politicians, and all those who can and do criticize higher education unfairly or fairly from a variety of locations. We’ve heard them all, you know them, and hopefully, each of you have challenged those critical voices by articulating the amazing value of a Buffalo State education. These students have less patience than previous generations and when faced with obstacles they often look for other options or other institutions where they hope obstacles will not exist. They need advice and encouragement to stay the course.
Generation Z is a highly entrepreneurial group. They have been watching influencers for most of their lives. They have seen examples of individuals who have developed a personal brand, marketed their brand on social media, and frequently they have been financially rewarded for their entrepreneurial and creative activities. These stories are viewed on small screens and seem to illustrate success is not that difficult. They come to us with ideas to be the next great someone who invents, designs, or produces a thought, idea, concept, or product that will make them someone who is followed by thousands if not millions of others while achieving financial gain. We need to ground these views within the real advantage of a college education.
Clearly higher education in general and Buffalo State has made many modifications to respond to our changing landscape. The use of technology to capture and share student records, the incorporation of Blackboard as our current learning management tool and the implementation of our version of Starfish—the Bengal Portal—are a few of countless examples that have been beneficial and will be more valuable as we fully implement and have a universal usage of strategic and frequently changing technologies. Technical advancement has touched all aspects of our college work from orientation apps, to student accounts, to facility use, to business processes, and we have steadily incorporated digital solutions within our everyday college work.
As we move through this year and beyond it is paramount that we ignite innovation in ways that touch all aspects of our work. A solution that may have been effective 10 years, five years, or two years ago may not be fully effective today or in the future.
Igniting innovation is ongoing. It is clear that technology plays a part in addressing the educational needs of students today. We need to re-evaluate the technology and technological support that is needed today, the digital solutions that address contemporary concerns, and we must revisit how to best employ solutions. It was not that long ago that voice mail and email were seen as the standard to advance communication on campuses. Today we know that these now old ways have become noise and are frequently ignored by Generation Z and others. We must continually renew, review, and assess the best way to communicate with all segments of our community including the students we seek to support.
I shared with you earlier the success of our pilot Master Educator Program and several years ago, I shared with you the success of faculty who completed the FITT academy. These are both wonderful steps toward igniting innovation within the classroom. This year the Master Educator Program continues the coaching model that was launched last year, these coaches will begin to share information and coach faculty within their home departments, and the cohort will share teaching strategies learned, research on twenty-first-century skills, and expand faculty involvement in this remarkable program. Stay tuned for a plan to be shared with faculty at the January provost welcome meeting to expand this program to reach a greater number of faculty. This is igniting innovation in the classroom in ways that will enhance the success of all students.
Engaged students are successful students. We have remarkable examples of engaged faculty throughout the college. Just this semester we have launched a video presentation highlighting some of these remarkable faculty. In September, I shared on my blog and in the Daily the significant engagement occurring when Associate Professor Sue Maguire from Anthropology works with students during the archaeological field school at Old Fort Niagara, and just yesterday, I shared a glimpse into the engagement in computer informational sciences being led by Professor Sarbani Banerjee. Examples will continue to be shared throughout the year to highlight and celebration engaged faculty who are igniting innovation.
Examples of engaged faculty occur across campus and within every academic school. Just this semester, Associate Professor Robert Warren and four students published together in the Journal of Urban Ecology, not only reinforcing our scholarly connection to our urban-engaged mission but providing an outstanding research process and competitive edge for his students. The article published, “Long-term Lichen Trends in a Rust Belt Region,” uses data they collected to show how pollution and drought-sensitive lichen have disappeared from the postindustrial area in Western New York. What a wonderful example of how engagement deepens learning and facilitates future opportunities!
As a campus, we have done a great deal to increase high-impact practices for our students. We have increased the number of service-learning classes, we have internship opportunities in some key areas, we have increased the number of students who are participating in study abroad programs, and we have held steady opportunities in the early and later undergraduate years for students to be involved in undergraduate research. We need to expand these opportunities and connect students to what we know are elements that accelerate their success.
Too many students. for vastly different reasons. seem unable to take advantage of these high-impact programs. Igniting our innovation means we will remove as many barriers as possible from participation in these programs and we will strive to increase our outreach and encouragement for students to be truly engaged.
I wonder if the reality of the digital sea is preventing some valuable connections between students and campus mentors? Are we assuming that students are more self-reliant, more in touch with information, and more independent because information is so readily available in so many virtual ways? Are we making assumptions that are not allowing us to meet students where they are today? I think we are!
Students often tell me and others that they want more contact with faculty and staff, not less. They express a clear longing for campus mentors and guides. So, it is important to not confuse swimming in a digital sea with a lack of desire for close, consistent, and deep connections with campus faculty and staff.
In a recent New York Times article, Anthony Abraham Jack wrote an essay titled “I Was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren’t the Hard Part.” In this article, he recounts his experience as a student at Amherst, a private college. In this poignantly written piece, he describes the otherness of a first-generation student. Assumptions his college made of him because of what he looked like. How he could not share his family life for fear of rejection and how truly different he felt from those around him. I believe even on our campus that has many first- and second-generation students, students sometimes feel adrift. When students are connected to their faculty members, coaches, advisers, or staff they are anchored into the institution in ways that they truly feel supported and know that we care. I have many examples of students that have shared with me how it was the support and mentorship of a faculty member, staff member, or a coach that made all the difference in their success. These stories are recounted often with tears of joy. Some of you in this very room have been such a support for a student or many students and you have shared what a difference it has made.
But unfortunately, I also hear from students who do not always feel supported and sometimes feel marginalized. Igniting innovation means reaching all students; it means innovatively reaching students who may be about to become adrift. Many of these students like Anthony are doing well in classes but are feeling disconnected and seek what they feel will be a different experience by leaving us. How can we be proactive and innovative in addressing this disjuncture among our Generation Z students? Remember they have grown up in a digitally- connected fast-paced world where moving to the next best option is more natural to them.
I am challenging all of us to ignite innovative approaches to address this new and ever-changing environment that is the new norm. This means and will mean that change is what you should expect, what you should embrace, and what is necessary to meet our mission.
This fast-paced and always morphing world hits every part of our campus. Each division will address what it means to tackle challenges in this new environment. Creating greater efficiencies, meeting the needs of all students, supporting our mission inside and outside the classroom, and aligning our work with the reality of our current financial situation is the work of every section of our campus. We will ignite innovative strategies, build on successes, and evolve and respond to the current and future higher education environment. Every person, every department, and every division must be all in as we ignite and implement innovative strategies.
We will lead in this sphere, and as SUNY’s urban-engaged campus, let’s move ahead and model what we can do together as innovators and leaders in higher education.
I am counting on you all to ignite innovation within your office, workspace, department, division, and classroom.