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President Highlights Faculty Engagement in Opening Remarks

President Highlights Faculty Engagement in Opening Remarks


SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum welcomed faculty and staff back to campus Thursday in an opening address that praised the faculty’s dedication to their students and highlighted recent achievements in academics, student engagement, community well-being and physical campus improvements.

The College has bucked a national trend of declining enrollment, receiving a record of more than 13,000 applications for the Fall 2018 semester. Bitterbaum cited SUNY Cortland’s graduation rate — third-highest in the 64-campus SUNY system — as well as the professional success of graduates as reasons why the College remains so attractive to prospective students. Within 12 months of Commencement, 98 percent of SUNY Cortland graduates are employed or pursuing further higher education.

Affordable tuition and low student debt are among other reasons why the College is thriving. For the second consecutive year, Money magazine recognized SUNY Cortland as being in the top 5 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities on its annual “Best Colleges for Your Money 2018” ranking.

New and expanding College programs will further enhance the institution’s reputation, add to the academic experiences of SUNY Cortland students and ultimately benefit the surrounding community.

For example, the SUNY Cortland Institute of Applied Geospatial and Drone Technology will be created out of a $100,000 Downtown Revitalization Initiative award presented to the City of Cortland in July. The Institute will be led by members of the College’s Geography Department and serve as a resource for entrepreneurs and start-up companies involved with geographic information systems (GIS) technology.

“We hope to do more with the city,” Bitterbaum said. “If we have a successful city, we’ll have a successful college.”

Several College initiatives will reach well beyond the immediate community. The School of Education, for example, is in the process of organizing the Institute for College Teaching, which will allow faculty to share their teaching expertise and innovation with peers across the SUNY system.

Bitterbaum noted a number of recent grants and awards received by faculty, including:

  • $610,210 to Angela Pagano, associate professor of biological sciences and Dominick Fantacone, coordinator of the Master Teacher Program, from the Office of Naval Research for “Engaging the Next Generation STEM Naval Workforce: Using Communities of Practice to Build Capacity.”
  • $165,198 to Kevin Sheets, associate professor of history and Randi Storch, professor and department chair of history, from the National Endowment for the Humanities for “Forever Wild: The Adirondacks in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.” It is the fifth time this program, which has become an annual professional development event for teachers throughout the United States, has received NEH funding.
  • $290,796 to Katherine Hicks, assistant professor of chemistry, from the National Science Foundation for “Enzymology of Bacterial Nicotinic Acid Catabolism.”
  • $137,000 to Santanu Banerjee, assistant professor of biological sciences, from the National Science Foundation for “Specification of Excitatory Fates in the Spinal Cord.”
  • $3,311,360 to Claire Soules, project administrative officer for the Migrant Education Tutorial and Support Service Program, from the New York state Department of Education for “Migrant Education and Tutorial Services.”

SUNY Cortland’s commitment to international education is providing life-changing opportunities to both students and faculty. Of the College’s May 2018 graduates, nearly one out of five (18 percent) studied abroad at some point, Bitterbaum said. SUNY Cortland sponsored 106 international students during the 2017-18 academic year. Faculty exchange programs also have a significant impact, as the College sent 13 faculty members abroad and hosted five visiting scholars between 2016-17.

“Students who go abroad and come back are changed,” Bitterbaum said. “it’s one of the highlights of their academic careers.”

Many SUNY Cortland students also have transformational experiences in applied learning, which includes student research, service learning, volunteerism and field study. A total of 2,549 students —  approximately one third of the student body — generated 155,519 hours of applied learning activity during the 2017-18 academic year. These students learn skills they can take into the real world. They become more engaged academically and in their communities because of their participation in applied learning activities.

Construction projects around campus are making SUNY Cortland a friendly, safer and more attractive place as well. Sidewalks were rebuilt between Old Main and the Miller Building this summer. A similar project is underway between Memorial Library and Cornish Hall and is expected to be completed in September. The exterior of Park Center will be renovated in a multi-year project that began recently.

Corey Union will soon open three new campus eateries under the management of Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC), including Union Station, a coffee shop, Grains & Greens, which will feature salads, sandwiches and vegetarian fare and Pomodori, an Italian and pizza-focused eatery. This area of Corey Union will also include a new seating area that will become a place for students, faculty and staff to connect and relax.

These projects are part of $300 million in new construction and renovations on campus since 2003. Future updates are planned in Moffett Center, Memorial Library and Van Hoesen and Bowers halls.

Bitterbaum encouraged faculty and staff to join students at SUNY Cortland’s Sesquicentennial birthday weekend, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5 and 6. It will be one of many ways the College celebrates 150 years of excellence during the 2018-19 academic year.

One SUNY Cortland student and one recent graduate were highlighted by Bitterbaum as profiles in courage.

Senior Kyle Richard was presented with the Biden Courage Award for Bystander Intervention earlier this year after he was shot once in each leg saving a young woman from a sexual assault at a Long Island party in 2017. Richard, a linebacker and team captain on SUNY Cortland’s football team, has been invited to represent the SUNY student body as a speaker at Chancellor Kristina Johnson’s inauguration ceremony in New York City on Sept. 14, 2018.

Kaley Clavell ’18 underwent a major surgery to remove a tumor in her jaw between her freshman and sophomore years. Musical therapy she received from the staff at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital kept her in high spirits and she was recognized by the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine as a patient who embodied the positive effects of music therapy. Clavell also became a champion for the Head and Neck Cancer Foundation’s “Faces of Courage” campaign, a SUNY Chancellor’s student excellence award winner and last spring was among a handful of Cortland students who presented at a national teacher education conference. 

Bitterbaum recently received a thank you note from Clavell, a childhood education and early childhood education dual major from Suffern, N.Y. who accepted a full-time teaching position this summer. She received a tremendous amount of support and encouragement from faculty in the School of Education when she was forced to miss time after the surgery.

She wrote, “I owe all of my success to the education program, especially C.U.R.E. (Cortland Urban Recruitment of Educators), and the amazing teachers I met in my journey at Cortland. A thank you to these professors and to Cortland I can assure you is not merely enough. I am so grateful for everything the College has done for me.”

“That’s who Cortland is,” Bitterbaum said. “She is proud and I am proud of our faculty and what you have done.”

Bitterbaum urged faculty to continue to work closely with students such as Clavell, as even small gestures may have a massive impact in their lives.

“I think what makes this College great is obviously you,” Bitterbaum told faculty. “The stories I hear are extraordinary. The reason our students are successful is because you are successful.”