2018 Community Breakfast Remarks

Presented Oct. 9, 2018 to elected officials, civic and business community leaders, and other guests of the college

As I am sure you all know, I am a newcomer, having arrived in Oneonta over the summer. Besides joining such a wonderful institution, I also have been settling into the community. One of the things I’ve quickly discovered about Oneonta is how welcoming it is. Whether I’m on campus or downtown, everyone is so friendly here. That means a lot to me.

Some of you may know that I came to SUNY Oneonta from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where I was serving as provost. Durango shares some similarities with Oneonta. Durango’s population is just over 18,000, and situated in the southwest corner of the state near New Mexico. So like Oneonta, it’s a small city surrounded by rural areas. While Oneonta is the City of the Hills, Durango is high up in the Rockies. In fact, Fort Lewis is almost 7,000 feet above sea level. The college enrolls slightly more than half as many students as SUNY Oneonta, and it serves a large Native American population. It’s a beautiful part of the country, and my seven years there helped prepare me for my role as president here.

Fortunately for me, I’ve come to a solid institution. SUNY Oneonta’s reputation is strong. It’s known regionally as a great value. It’s a fixture on rankings and “best of” lists year after year. Organizations such as Kiplinger and U.S. News recognize the college for its overall quality. Others, like Teacher.org and Colleges of Distinction, note individual programs as exceptional.

SUNY Oneonta also attracts great students. This fall’s incoming class is no exception. From an applicant pool of over 13,000, we’ve drawn a group that has an average high school grade of 90.6 and average SAT score of 1135. Nearly 30% of this year’s freshmen are students of color and almost 34% are first-generation students.

For nearly nine months out the year, Oneonta—both the campus and community—is home to upwards of 6,500 students. They really have a huge footprint here, not only as measured by population or economic impact, but also in terms of potential.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad to see the college involved in the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This is the kind of ambitious, creative undertaking that channels energy into building on the character of a community to become more vibrant, raise its profile, and explore new possibilities. I’m sure everyone here would agree that it would be fantastic if more of the students who come to Oneonta for college would stay here after graduation and put down roots.

To a political scientist like me, it’s exciting to come to a place where thoughts like these factor into key conversations. Although I’ve only been here a few months, it’s obvious that a lot of good things are happening in Oneonta. The college is pleased to help guide the Artspace study as part of the D.R.I. and we look forward to hearing more about other proposals for improvements. I know the Project Selection Committee has its hands full with an abundance of applications, which in itself is exciting. The word that keeps coming up around the D.R.I. is “transformative.” As it moves forward, I am hopeful that there will be opportunities for further collaboration between the city and college.

The state’s not only investing in the city, it is also investing in the campus. As many of you know, we held a ribbon cutting last month to celebrate the completion of a major renovation of our Milne Library. Milne is the number one destination for studying at SUNY Oneonta and it’s also a fantastic resource for community members.

That’s an important role for a public college. Whether its hosting a talk by Bryan Stevenson, who delivered our Mills Distinguished Lecture last month, or welcoming 400 BOCES students for an afternoon of career exploration as we did yesterday, SUNY Oneonta is unique in terms of how we can support the region.

Speaking of support, as a new president, it’s great to be able to report that the tradition of giving at SUNY Oneonta continues to grow. For example, we observed Philanthropy Awareness Day on September 25, and invited students to write personal notes to the contributors who made their scholarships possible.

Giving and gratitude go hand in hand, and these messages of appreciation make a difference in how donors feel about SUNY Oneonta. Right now, I’d say they feel pretty good because in 2017-2018 we raised a record $4.2 million in gifts and grants, pushing the foundation’s endowment past $61 million, the largest among SUNY comprehensives.

Our college is doing well, and yet this is a time of change, not only here, but also for SUNY.

Dr. Kristina Johnson became SUNY’s 13th chancellor in September of last year. She paid us a visit in July and spoke then about her vision for the university system, which includes four central themes:

  • Innovation and entrepreneurship;
  • Individualized education;
  • Sustainability; and
  • Partnerships.

The chancellor is passionate about this work and has charged each SUNY campus to drive it forward. I hope opportunities for town/gown partnership will take shape as she begins to frame in her vision. And the chancellor’s timing works to our advantage. SUNY Oneonta’s 2015 strategic plan is wrapping up and we’re looking toward creating a new one. Much of my work this year will be laying the foundation for that.

As a first step, I am conducting a comprehensive listening tour. “Pizza with the President,” a program we’ve organized in our residence halls, gives students a forum to share their thoughts—directly with me—about what we do well and what we could improve. I am conducting similar sessions with academic departments, administrative groups, community leaders and others so we can reflect on where we are as an institution and what we’d like to be.

My listening tour is one of four key institutional priorities this year. The second is an audit of the current strategic plan. We will review the initiatives and programs created under that plan, understand the resources we deployed, and most importantly answer the question: did it achieve what we’d hoped?

My third key institutional priority is to create the Division of Strategy, Planning and Effectiveness. The unit will support our strategic plan audit and also be a one-stop shop for data, managing the growing amount of information that we gather, and helping us use it to shape major decisions.

This year’s fourth key institutional priority is to create guided pathways for our students. Our intent here is twofold: first, when we discuss with students how they can achieve their goals, we want to be able to advise them with the highest degree of accuracy possible. In planning their educational journey, the way forward ought to be clear. Students ought to know exactly what to expect here.

Guided pathways also will help us allocate resources more precisely. As a public college, being efficient is one of our responsibilities, so knowing what it will take to help each student progress to a degree will allow SUNY Oneonta to anticipate needs better.

These four key institutional priorities—my listening tour, our strategic plan audit, a unit dedicated to strategy, planning and effectiveness, and guided pathways for students—will position the college to adopt its next strategic plan by January 1, 2020. Much of this is underway now, and I am excited about the challenges and collaborations ahead. It’s a privilege for a new president to come to school that is such good condition located in a place where so many people are working diligently to shape the future.

I’m glad to be here and I look forward to working within this community.

Thank you.

Back to top