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President’s Opening Meeting celebrates success

President’s Opening Meeting celebrates success

08/25/2022 

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum stressed the importance of the university community’s ability to help individuals overcome obstacles during his Fall 2022 Opening Meeting remarks on Aug. 25.

In his annual remarks to faculty and staff at the start of a new academic year, Bitterbaum noted several positive news items and encouraging trends.

The incoming class of approximately 1,400 first-year students is a record high for SUNY Cortland, which received 11,700 applications for admission. The university also will welcome 500 transfer students from other institutions.

All In: Building on Success,” Cortland’s comprehensive campaign, has surpassed its goal of raising $25 million. The campaign will conclude this fall and it was designed to support five key institutional causes including support for scholarships, unique educational experiences, academic programs and faculty and nurturing SUNY’s healthiest and most athletic campus.

“We as a community have a responsibility – but I think a greater joy – of educating the next generation of students that in some ways for me are very different than the students I taught 40 years ago and in other ways are very, very similar,” Bitterbaum said.

Bitterbaum also lauded staff in the university’s Division of Institutional Advancement for working to raise more than $1 million for The Cortland Fund, which provides for immediate needs across campus, in each of the last three years. A Student Emergency Fund created during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised more than $475,000 to date and delivered more than 1,000 grants to students facing financial distress.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaffirmed SUNY Cortland’s accreditation status in June, praising the university’s faculty and staff for serving students and having a strong plan for the future.

Bitterbaum also highlighted several other topics:

  • Facility improvements continue across campus. An exterior lighting project will install 467 new LED lamps and 27 emergency blue light pedestals, which will create a safer environment and lead to a 50% savings in energy costs. Miller Building renovations are scheduled to be completed in September. Smith Tower’s renovations have been completed, making a 10-story building that houses 560 students more modern, comfortable and energy efficient. Other ongoing projects include sidewalk replacement across campus and the repainting of exterior windows in Old Main.
  • Alumni reunion returned to campus in July after being held virtually for two years during the pandemic. More than 600 Cortland graduates returned.
  • Reylu Gutierrez ’17 is one of many Cortland alumni success stories. An exercise science major, Gutierrez is now an accomplished jockey and placed sixth atop Barber Road in the 2022 Kentucky Derby.
  • Bitterbaum celebrated recent recipients of major SUNY system awards, including a Distinguished Service Professorship for Lynn Couturier MacDonald, Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence for Anne Burns Thomas, AnnaMaria Cirrincione, Heather Drew, Eileen Gravani, Li Jin, Chris Widdall and Kim Wieczorek as well as Chancellor’s Awards for Students Excellence for Jenna Kratz ’22, Lauren Roberts ’22, Melissa Safford ’22 and Kasey Vaughan ’22.
  • The Blackbird Film Festival, directed by Associate Professor Sam Avery of the Communication and Media Studies Department and supported by many student interns, returned to campus on May 19 to 22 of this year. It received 1,196 submissions. Of the 136 accepted films, 71 were from women writers or directors, 33 were from writers or directors of color and 30 were written or directed by LBGTQ+ filmmakers.

Bitterbaum also noted a few challenges on the horizon facing colleges and universities across the country, including student mental health, declining enrollment, financial and budget pressures and general increasingly negative general perceptions of higher education.

Cortland, however, is well-positioned to handle these issues and others because of the university’s longstanding commitment to student success and fostering a community that takes pride in caring for one another.

“That is the great celebration of this college,” Bitterbaum said. “First and foremost, we are a teaching institution and we do wonderful scholarship and service. But we do change students’ lives.”

This point was encapsulated in a thank you note to scholarship donors from Allison McDaniel ’22 that was shared by Bitterbaum. McDaniel, an inclusive education major who had a turbulent home life as a child in Dunbar, W.Va. and dropped out of high school at age 16, came to SUNY Broome and later SUNY Cortland as a non-traditional student. She thrived given a second chance in college and wants to give back to students in her new career as a teacher in the Owego Apalachin Central School District.

The support McDaniel received from faculty, staff, classmates and the donors whose scholarships made her education possible are all part of a greater Cortland community that make life-changing impacts on students.

“Being a member of the SUNY Cortland student body gave me a sense of community and belonging,” McDaniel wrote. “I was surrounded by professors that truly wanted me to succeed and being in my teaching block was like gaining 50 or so sisters. We supported, encouraged and helped each other. We were a team and we only win if we walk across the stage together.”


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