SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr. had the same reaction as many high school students do when they visit the SUNY Cortland campus for the first time.
Upon walking into the Student Life Center, Cortland’s 150,000-square foot space for fitness, recreation and dining, King said, “I see why you save this for last.”
King, who was named SUNY chancellor on Dec. 5, 2022, visited Cortland on Thursday, April 27. It was his 51st stop on a semester-long tour of all 64 SUNY campuses.
He visited with faculty, staff and students and received a broad Cortland tour that included Old Main, Bowers Hall, the Education Building and the Child Care Center. And he came away with a positive impression of the university.
“I think SUNY Cortland is a special place,” King said. “That comes across as you talk to students, faculty, staff and alumni. There’s a lot of passion for SUNY Cortland.”
“It really came across very clearly, this strong sense of community at SUNY Cortland. The students really appreciate the attention that they get from faculty … It’s also clear the students appreciate the support they have as they transition to what’s next; undergraduates who are doing research being mentored by faculty members, helping them think about graduate school and careers. The folks in the education program who are getting support. Not only getting placed for student teaching, but mentorship throughout their student teaching.”
Prior to becoming SUNY’s 15th chancellor, King served as the U.S. secretary of education under President Obama from 2016 and 2017 and had been the New York state education commissioner from 2011 to 2014. King had most recently been president of the Education Trust, a national civil rights non-profit that seeks to identify and close opportunity achievement gaps for students from preschool to college.
“It was a pleasure to welcome Chancellor King to our campus,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum. “We had several productive discussions about the direction of the university. I’m also very proud of all the students who were able to share details about their research, their passions and why SUNY Cortland has provided such a wonderful community for them.”
King met with President Bitterbaum, members of the President’s Advisory Council and Faculty Senate Chair Genevieve Birren.
The chancellor then spoke to science faculty and students in Bowers Hall about their ongoing research projects in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, biomedical sciences, physics and geology.
Some of the presenting students have participated in Cortland’s Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowships, which provide for eight weeks of full-time, student-led scholarly activity during the summer. Other students have participated in the annual Michael J. Bond ’75, M.D. Alumni/Undergraduate Science Symposium that connects current students with talented alumni who share experiences from their careers and research.
Emily McLean, a junior geology major from Bloomingburg, N.Y., is in her first semester doing research with Professor David Barclay. McLean is using GIS software to identify 15,000-year-old glacial features in the Adirondacks and had a quick chat with Chancellor King about how this type of research can help scientists predict what may happen in areas where glaciers are currently receding.
“I appreciate him coming to see what us students are doing on an everyday basis,” McLean said.
“It’s a lot of hands-on experience and you get to learn a lot of new skills that you wouldn’t necessarily learn in the classroom,” McLean added about her research. “Originally, this started from a project that I took from geomorphology and we were just trying to find new landforms. It turned into finding really cool end moraines and then we expanded it and kept finding more and more.”
Students who presented research include: Khi Atchinson, Kaleb Frierson, Brian Harahus, Olivia Langdon, Angel Chauca Rosendo, Jacob Scibek, Zachary Turlington, Nathaniel Turner and Adrian Valerio Urena.
A group of high school students from the Spencer-Van Etten Central School District bumped into Chancellor King as they toured Bowers Hall. King encouraged them to ask many questions during their visit and take advantage of financial aid and scholarships, no matter their college decision.
Next, Chancellor King visited with students and faculty in Cortland’s Urban Recruitment of Educators (C.U.R.E.) in Cornish Hall. Since 1998, C.U.R.E. has admitted more than 250 students through a competitive scholarship program that prepares them to teach in high-needs schools throughout the state. A majority of C.U.R.E. graduates continue in education as teacher leaders or administrators.
Chancellor King asked current C.U.R.E. students about their inspiration for wanting to attend Cortland and become teachers. He shared his personal story with students. King’s parents, both of whom were educators, died when King was young. He credits one of his high school teachers in Brooklyn with helping him find his way after the deaths of his parents. King started his career as a high school social studies teacher and went on to co-found Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston.
Cortland’s Child Care Center also welcomed Chancellor King for a tour of its facility. The center, which opened in 1993, serves both the children of students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as members of the local community. Child Care Center staff collaborate with students and faculty in the Early Childhood Development program to give SUNY Cortland students valuable fieldwork and practicum experience.
The chancellor’s visit concluded with a visit to the Student Life Center, a dynamic, multi-purpose recreational building open to students, faculty, staff, alumni and the greater Cortland community. The building features a six-lane swimming pool, a three-court gymnasium, an elevated running and walking track and areas for free weights and cardio. In addition to a 343-seat residential dining facility, The Bistro, Chancellor King also visited Outdoor Pursuits, which rents bicycles, kayaks and more to students who are looking to take advantage of the outdoors.
A reception of faculty, staff and local dignitaries, including Cortland mayor Scott Steve, gathered with the chancellor at the end of his visit.