Tuesday, October 18, 2016
President's Fall Forum
Performing Arts Center, Buffalo State College
Like the Sankofa, we will look backward a moment before moving forward.
The Sankofa is a metaphorical symbol that is often depicted as a bird in Ghanaian drawings, artwork, and other cultural contexts. The bird looks backward as she orients her body forward. Honoring the Sankofa today, I will begin with a look back at last year before we move to discuss the year that lies ahead.
Last year was a year of many accomplishments. We began fall 2015 with a sea of orange as we welcomed over 1,800 first-time students, our second-largest freshman class in over 25 years. During our 2015 fall forum, I asked you, members of the Buffalo State community, to not rest on your laurels. In fact, I asked you to dare to be more than good; I asked you to dare to be distinct.
At this time last year, we were just beginning our strategic planning process, and I laid out several important aspects to be discussed in the development of our next strategic plan. I appointed the College Planning Council under the leadership of Provost Perreault to coordinate the development of our strategic plan. I was not disappointed in the work of the College Planning Council. With the guidance of faculty members from our internationally recognized creative studies program, the CPC engaged in a process characterized by a sincere attention to shared governance. Faculty, staff, students, union representatives, College Senate and College Council members, and external stakeholders were all brought into the planning process to develop our strategic plan. Across many months and after many hours of completed discussions, multiple forums, and numerous revised drafts, we finally completed a forward-thinking strategic plan to present to the Buffalo State College Council for ratification. It was approved unanimously in early October, and we now have a roadmap to guide our work for the next five years. I thank each and every member of the college community for lending his or her best thoughts and boldest ideas to this process, and I thank the College Planning Council for its leadership.
The strategic plan affirms and brands Buffalo State as SUNY’s urban-engaged campus. The strategic plan presents well-developed and measurable goals that will guide our work over the next five years. The goals provide a framework for Buffalo State to truly be bold and distinct as we move forward. Our strategic plan will position Buffalo State to educate students through rigorous and engaging academic programs. We will foster an engaged campus community that encourages civic responsibility. Throughout every division and within every unit, we will enhance institutional effectiveness. As we move forward, we will reassign resources and seek new revenue streams so that we can provide the facilities and resources to support our activities.
In order to successfully meet our goals, we must do the work, and we must dare to move beyond the familiar to what is needed to educate today’s students, to respond within today’s higher education climate, and to secure the futures of our students as they leave Buffalo State.
The completion of our guiding strategic plan is a significant accomplishment from the 2015–2016 academic year; however, even as we developed our guiding plan, we had significant other accomplishments throughout our community last year.
Twenty-eight new full-time faculty members, 40 professional staff members, and over 20 classified staff members joined the Buffalo State community in 2015–2016. The additional commitment, dedication, and innovation represented by these new faculty and staff members are already being realized as we see these new faces settling into their departments and offices throughout our college. Would all new faculty and staff members with us today please stand so we can again welcome you to your college?
I welcome new members of our Buffalo State community, and as we review successes from last year, I encourage you to be a part of the change and innovation that is occurring here at Buffalo State.
During the 2015–2016 academic year, modifications were made within the curriculum, including four new 4+1 undergraduate-to-graduate pathways. These pathways include dietetics and nutrition to adult education, education areas that link to TESOL and exceptional education, and a professional science master’s pathway. In each case, the pathway allows current students to move smoothly from an undergraduate to a graduate program and complete both in five years, while also attracting students who can succeed in these programs.
We showcased student research and creativity once again at the 18th annual Student Research and Creativity Celebration. Under the leadership of Dr. Jill Singer, director of the Undergraduate Research Office, we saw the largest participation since the event’s inception in 1999. More than 500 students authored or co-authored papers or creative works, and more than 150 faculty members mentored these students.
We ate lots of birthday cake last year. We celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Buffalo State Child Care Center, which was established in 1976. We also celebrated both the 50th anniversary of the Great Lakes Center and the 50th anniversary of the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Obviously 1966 was a great year to start new programs at Buffalo State.
We saw the completion of the second phase of our Science and Mathematics Complex, the near completion of Caudell Hall, and the development of phase 1 of our Academic Achievement Center, located in Butler Library.
We ramped up our focus on sustainable transportation. The division of Finance and Management spearheaded a variety of efforts and brought the Zipcar and Reddy Bikeshare programs to campus, and instituted a bicycle-friendliness program.
We saw a reorganization of our technology services into functional areas and a name change to better represent the support provided by this division. The name coined was RITE—Resources for Information, Technology, and Education. Many exciting new endeavors have been forthcoming from RITE, including the FITT Academy. FITT stands for Fostering Innovation in Teaching with Technology. This unique and engaging professional development opportunity is designed to establish a faculty community of practice by using technology to enhance teaching and learning. This unique hands-on experience brought together faculty, instructional technologists, and design specialists to enhance teaching and learning. At the conclusion of the FITT Academy, scholars shared their experiences with the broader community. By all accounts, it was widely successful and has created a new standard of excellence for the integration of technology into the classroom.
Last year, we saw the reaccreditation of our industrial technology program by the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE); the reaccreditation of interior design by the Council for Interior Design (CIDA); and the reaccreditation of the Burchfield Penney Art Center by the American Alliance of Museums.
We also launched PAWS—Partnering Students with Alumni. This program, initiated by Alumni Affairs, links students with alums and college partners within our local business community.
Buffalo State’s Counseling Center stepped up to become the first and only college in Erie County to join the Suicide Prevention Coalition, demonstrating our leadership in the area of suicide prevention.
The Volunteer and Service-Learning Center coordinated over 450,000 hours of community service last year, linking students to the Buffalo community. A review of students engaged in service learning also revealed that these engaged students were more successful in the classroom and persisted at higher rates than those not participating in service learning. Thus, engagement in service learning and civic engagement is positively correlated with student success.
Graduating senior Saša Vann was named to the top 30 in the NCAA Woman of the Year nationwide competition, thus garnering recognition for her abilities as a scholar-athlete and bringing national recognition to her campus. Also, graduate student Ashley Weselak was awarded a Fulbright to teach in Rwanda.
For the fourth consecutive year, Buffalo State has received the HEED higher education diversity award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, recognizing our outstanding programs and processes related to equity and inclusion.
During the fall of 2015, we unveiled the presidential portraits of seven Buffalo State presidents. We honored the life and contributions of beloved faculty member Hank Mann by renaming the quad between the Savage Building and Rockwell Hall the Horace Mann Quad. And we celebrated the end of the Transforming Lives campaign that raised $27 million for campus priorities.
We also published the Buffalo State Impact Report, documenting the significant economic and cultural impact of Buffalo State on the Buffalo Niagara region. The total annual economic impact was estimated at $680 million. A special thanks to Dr. Fred Floss, department chair and professor of economics and finance, who measured and computed our tremendous impact on our community. Additionally, Art Conservation alum Malcolm Collum restored Star Trek’s iconic USS Enterprise that is now displayed in the Smithsonian; our Fashion and Technology Department wowed us again with the amazing Runway show—this time focusing on sustainability; and we embraced our commitment to graduating students in four years by launching our Roar in 4 program. A special thanks to Dan Heims, assistant director of New Student and Family Programs, who gave us the signature name for our four-year graduation promise.
It was an extraordinary year.
The year was not without its difficult moments. It was also a year marked by loss within our student community. We mourned the deaths of two seniors who died within weeks of each other. Their loss reminded us all of how a light can go out much too early and how important it is to embrace the talents and contributions of all members of our college community.
It was a year to remember on all accounts, but since pictures speak loudly, let’s see a brief video highlighting our 2015–2016 academic year.
The Sankofa moves ahead.
Armed with the knowledge of our past successes and the obstacles we face, we will move forward as a campus, just as the Sankofa moves forward.
As we begin this new year, guided by our strategic plan, we will recommit and deepen our focus on student success. I will ask all of you to elevate your work. There is no one who cannot deepen and improve the work that he or she is doing or his or her commitment to Buffalo State. Today I want to draw your attention to student retention, persistence, and completion.
Many of you have heard me speak of the many obstacles we face. There is a shrinking pool of high school graduates in Western New York. We are in a highly competitive environment throughout the state from sister public and private colleges. The funds to state-operated campuses continue to shrink. And there is not a week that someone does not share with me the need to change and advance our work. All these issues are important and worthy of discussion at length. But today, I want us to think about one specific focus for the 2016–2017 year. We will heighten our dedication and focus on the things we can control that are related to the retention, persistence, and graduation of our students.
Every year, degree-completing students tell me about the wonderful experiences they have had at Buffalo State and how their classes and experiences have prepared them to graduate and move forward to tackle exciting adventures and the next steps on their journey. But what I want to focus on today are those students who do not stay with us, those students who do not persist, and those students who did not find their ways to some of the best corners, advocates, and offices to help them succeed. What prevents students from succeeding? What stands in their way to success? Where are the gaps and how can we close them? How can these students find their way to success at Buffalo State and not drop out, stop out, or seek needed support at another institution?
I ask you to think about how you can be a part of the web of support for these students. How can you help retain a larger number of students at our campus and help them grasp that star of success and complete their degree programs?
For those of you who have not taken or taught general psychology in many years, let me remind you of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a conceptualization of what is needed to excel, succeed, and grow to one’s maximum ability. The structure is a pyramid of needs that must be met for actualization, or in our case, the successful degree completion of our students. Maslow argues, and I agree, that basic needs are foundational to successfully completing and achieving mastery. If you consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will understand how important each faculty and staff member is to the retention and success of our students. The most basic needs for our students are their physiological and foundational needs. They must have good and nutritious food, water, warmth, utilities, and all the basics. In today’s world, that would include availability of technology, Wi-Fi, and all the technological infrastructure. Without having these basic needs met, students cannot focus on their higher needs. Our dining services, campus services, residential life, and technological services play a crucial and defining role within the lives of our students.
If those basic needs are met, students can then focus on issues of safety. At Buffalo State, we have clearly defined that safety is “everyone’s business.” We have confirmed and articulated this understanding in our Buffalo State community-policing philosophy. Our University Police are central to our efforts related to safety, but each community member must play his or her part. Our community-policing philosophy defines the interlocking ways that we all must work together to develop and maintain a secure environment. From the lighting managed by Campus Services to the good judgment of all community members to educating the community on safe habits by University Police, safety is a community-wide effort.
When students have their basic needs met and find themselves in a safe environment, they can then begin the important work of developing friendships with peers and defining close relationships with faculty and staff members. These are valuable and important parts of all human experience, but in a college environment, we understand how important this is to students’ feeling a part of their college. How often is homesickness the reason first-year students leave to return to the comfort and familiarity of old friends and extended family? Just last month, I spoke at length with two mothers of first-year students who were experiencing homesickness. I expressed and the mothers concurred that connections with the Buffalo State family was the medicine that was needed.
We all play a part in helping students develop good relationships or facilitating appropriate peer-to-peer relationships. Within Student Affairs, there are many layers of programming that help students deepen their ties to members of the Buffalo State community. Residential and nonresidential programming, mentorship projects, programming for special groups, athletic teams, faculty-student connections, and student clubs are some of the many ways that students connect appropriately with other members of the Buffalo State community. There are also well-developed structures to help students overcome problems that might hinder such connections, and structures to sanction violations of campus norms, inappropriate behavior, or violations of the Student Code of Conduct. Many of these structures are within the Dean of Students Office.
The importance of settling into the Buffalo State family cannot be overemphasized. This feeling of Buffalo State’s being their home away from home allows students to then focus on the important business of classes, coursework, and degree completion.
Maslow would suggest that if the above needs are met—foundational, safety, and relationship needs—students will naturally progress to having their esteem needs met. In a college environment, we need to ensure that we have developed good academic roadmaps, strong advisement, well-prepared and delivered coursework, and appropriate opportunities for students to learn and proceed to degree completion. These opportunities come from many directions, but a student’s sense as a valued member of a department within a major on an appropriate academic path is best fostered by the role that faculty members play in the lives of students. Faculty members teach and guide students to find their academic and departmental homes, engage students in successful experiences, acknowledge that each student is a valued learner in our environment, and challenge students to do their very best.
From my many years as a faculty member, I know it is not always easy to guide each and every student; however, extending your reach to all students is necessary. We know students succeed at higher levels when they are engaged in high-impact practices; thus, every Buffalo State student should be afforded one or more high-impact practices. We know that students who are engaged in the community or service-learning opportunities have higher levels of persistence. Every student should be afforded this opportunity. Faculty members must be ready and prepared to develop a curriculum that prioritizes what we know will elevate retention and persistence. We already have significant opportunities for student research, service learning, study abroad, and community service, but are these opportunities available to all students? They are not! How can we extend these practices for all students?
We will no longer avoid the direction we need to go; we will not accept any excuse for not making the changes that are necessary. We will build on the good work of our Committee on Undergraduate Retention and broader discussions, and we will incorporate into our campus the programs and processes that will enhance retention and persistence at Buffalo State. In order to have the resources to do this, we will carefully assess all that we do and we will stop doing what is not working and move resources to promising avenues.
From the perspective of a college environment, Maslow’s self-actualization is the successful completion of a chosen degree. Whether our students Roar in 4 or Soar in 5, we must be committed to elevating their persistence and graduation rates. Our graduation rate has been flat for many years. Retention efforts have shown some fluctuations, but regardless, we have not made the necessary and significant changes that result in increased persistence and completion rates.
To further complicate the many needs that must be addressed to move a student to completion, it is important to note that although the needs may be hierarchical in terms of development, they exist simultaneously within the college student. Thus we, as a college community, must address and satisfy each need concurrently from Day One until degree completion. We must heighten our work in all areas, and we must understand how all areas work together.
I am not content with the explanations that are sometimes given me: some students were planning to transfer when they joined us; some students just want to be closer to home; some students just don’t feel challenged. If each of us in this room and across this campus can recognize the important role we play in the success of our students, we can move the needle of completion. If each of you realizes that you personally need to do a better job than you are doing to retain students and move them to graduation, then together we can move the needle. If each of us holds ourselves and our colleagues to the clear expectation that we each have a role in student retention, persistence, and completion, we can effect significant and positive change.
A break in any part of our web of support creates gaps. Our pyramid of support includes the foundational experiences and all of the many ways that we ensure a safe, connected, and engaged experience that moves students toward successful degree completion at Buffalo State.
I expect everyone—from the cleaner in Porter Hall, to the University Police officer who patrols Butler Library, to each faculty member, to each person who supports Student Life, to our finance and records officers—to embrace his or her role in student success. Pointing fingers and accusing others of what they should be doing is not a strategy for student success.
We have a new strategic plan. It holds us all accountable for student success. So let’s start this year and every year forward like the Sankofa. We will look back and be informed by our past, but it will not define our future. I expect measurable and significant increases in our measures of student success. Our five-year goal for student retention is 79 percent. This is ambitious, but not ambitious enough. We will reach and stretch toward an 80 percent retention goal. Unless we stretch to meet ambitious goals, we are failing to fully challenge ourselves and to fully embrace the success of our students. We will not stop there, and we will leverage the strengths of the college to support students as they persist each year until they graduate.
You are all my partners in elevating student retention, persistence, and completion rates. If you are with me on this journey, please stand, and let us together roar our affirmation that we will work together to advance our completion agenda.