With wintry weather howling outside the Corey Union Function Room, SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum this morning asked attendees of his annual January Opening of School Meeting to begin spring planting.
The intended harvest? Student success.
Sharing comments from students, staff and faculty members, Bitterbaum noted that many students don’t realize their potential. Positive and encouraging comments and actions from the faculty and staff who interact with students is the key to cultivating their curiosity, competence and confidence.
“If you listen to them — and I’m always bugging them about who’s important in their lives and what they’re curious about — they talk about this amazing cadre of people we have at this College, meaning the faculty and staff,” Bitterbaum said. “There is sort of an ethos, a culture and a spirit to how we change lives. And we do plant greatness in our students.”
That spirit of continual growth and improvement was evident in many of the campus highlights he shared:
Renovation of the 66-year-old Moffett Center into state-of-the-art academic space has begun. The building’s first-floor gymnasium will be transformed into a contemporary learning environment, including a skylighted forum space. The temporarily displaced mathematics and health departments will return to the building in Fall 2020 when work is complete, and economics, political science and Africana studies will relocate from their current home in Old Main.
Work will continue on the exterior of Park Center through spring and into the fall. The current brick façade will be replaced with a new skin that is far more insulated and environmentally sustainable.
Casey and Smith Towers, residence halls built in 1972, will begin to see upgrades starting in January 2020.
Alexis Blavos, an assistant professor in the Health Department, worked with a group of students to successfully petition the City of Cortland for the construction of a crosswalk at the heavily trafficked intersection of Tompkins Street and Prospect Terrace. Pedestrian-friendly curbs and a flashing beacon will soon be added to improve safety at this heavily used pedestrian link between campus, downtown and student off-campus residences.
Bitterbaum also mentioned a number of positive news stories about the College.
SUNY Cortland was ranked as the best college in New York state for health and wellness majors by Zippia.com in December. The College was lauded for preparing students for careers in health-related fields and for its admissions rates, graduation rates and the average cost of attendance.
Kyle Richard, a senior from Lakeview, N.Y., was recognized for being the nation’s 2018 Orange Bowl Courage Award recipient. Richard was shot twice after breaking up a sexual assault in progress in July 2017 yet he returned to the football field to captain the Red Dragons each of the past two seasons. He attended the Orange Bowl game in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Dec. 29 and was recognized at a coaches’ luncheon the previous day.
Richard, who has become an outspoken activist against sexual abuse, has also been honored with the Biden Courage Award for Bystander Intervention, was selected as the SUNY student representative to speak at Chancellor Kristina Johnson’s inauguration and was featured on SportsCenter prior to the 2018 Cortaca Jug game.
The College will soon have a new addition to its University Police Department, a male German shorthair pointer named K-9 Red. Red will be training as a bomb-sniffing and missing person-tracking working police canine and will serve as UPD’s four-legged ambassador.
Bitterbaum spoke about the challenges facing institutions of higher education, including the student loan debt crisis and a decreasing number of high school graduates. The College, however, is poised to take on these threats. The perceived value of a SUNY Cortland education led to a record number of applicants — 13,285 — for Fall 2018 enrollment. A diversity of programs and a plan to pursue further online course offerings will allow the College to deliver top-notch career preparation to the next generation of students.
In closing, Bitterbaum shared thank you notes from two SUNY Cortland graduates who credited faculty members with preparing them for life beyond college. He reiterated that the personal connections forged between faculty and students are just as important to the future greatness of students as coursework.
“We have to reach out to these extraordinary young men and women who are coming here,” he said.