President's Remarks - August 2015

Dr. Kristin Esterberg
SUNY Potsdam President
August 27, 2015

Welcome back! I remember vividly this time last year, when I was still learning my way from my office to this hall. I can't believe it's a whole year later, but it's such a pleasure to open the academic year with you.

This is an auspicious year—the beginning of our bicentennial celebration.We have been pioneering since 1816, and now, in our bicentennial year, we are going to continue to lead the way:

  • By becoming SUNY's preeminent creative campus.
  • By demonstrating our leadership in applied learning.
  • By showing how we can become a model of inclusive excellence up here in the North Country.

This year's seniors are our bicentennial class, the Class of 2016, and we look forward to seeing all of their accomplishments in this milestone year. Likewise, the class that is entering this year, the class that is coming on campus as we speak, is also poised to make college history.

The shape of this entering class helps us to understand what is to come as we enter our third century of excellence in education.

The Admissions team has done a wonderful job bringing this class of 860 students in. But I want to reiterate that we are all part of the Admissions team.Over the summer, it took the whole community to make sure that those students who were accepted actually came here to Potsdam. It took the whole community to provide our new students with financial aid, to advise them and enroll them in classes, to get them housed, and to provide orientation for the students and their families.

For every one of you who played a role, for every person who helped a lost family member find their way, for everyone who met with or advised a student, who made sure our campus was inviting, who answered a family member's questions, or went out of your way to help a new member of our community feel welcome. Thank you.

I heard personally from so many parents and family members how welcomed they felt. How warmly they were treated. How professional our staff were. Thank you.

As you join me in the Freshman Funnel at 3:45 p.m. between Barrington Drive and Massena Drive near the Student Success Center, you will be able to see what our entering class looks like;

41.7% (371 of 890) students of color

34% (303 of 890) from New York City

28.1% (250 of 890) from the North Country

.3% (3 of 890) international

3.1% (28 of 890) from out of state

I've met many of these students and their family members during orientation.And I've challenged them, during their time here at Potsdam, to try something different. To grow in ways that are not necessarily comfortable or easy.To have a conversation with—and to truly get to know—someone who is not like them, someone who is different from anyone they've grown up with. I've asked the students' family members to support them in that growth. And I'm asking you to help them with this as well.

For our students who come from the city, Potsdam is awfully dark at night. It's quiet. There are skunks here, and raccoons, and deer. People say hello to you, even if they don't know you. On their drive up to campus, they may be wondering why on earth they went some place so incredibly small and far away.

For our rural students, Potsdam may also feel incredibly different. They may never have seen so many different people in one place before. They may never have spent much time in a city larger than Watertown, maybe Syracuse. For our white students, they may never have met so many people of color before.

Our city students may never have met someone who hunts or fishes before. They may never have gone camping or hiking or even gone barefoot in the grass.

This provides us with an extraordinary opportunity, and a challenge. To help these students, and ourselves, learn to live with each other, to value each other, and to learn from each other. To become a model of inclusive excellence. Where all of us learn and thrive and grow.

We have been working hard all summer to get ready.

Over the summer, the President's Council met for a two-day retreat on inclusive excellence. I've asked each member of the Council to develop a strategic plan for diversity and inclusive excellence in their own areas. We have begun to develop the toolkits that each of us will need.

Working with the members of the Diversity in Action Coalition, I have restructured the DIAC. Under the leadership of Latesha Fussell, the steering committee will be a smaller group, with a committee structure that allows anyone who wants to do the work of inclusive excellence on our campus a place to do so. You can look forward to an email from me early in the semester with an invitation to join our work.

The expanded space for the Center for Diversity will be open in January. And while we were not successful in bringing an external candidate for the director position, Louise Tyo has graciously stepped into this role on an interim basis and we look forward to her leadership there.

I am proud to announce that we will begin this fall searching for a full-time chief diversity officer for our campus. As we prepare ourselves to become a model within the SUNY system, it is clear that our campus needs someone who can provide strategic leadership on our diversity initiative, someone for whom this is their sole responsibility.

This focus on inclusive excellence, on ensuring that all members of our campus community are welcome, is key to student success. Our job as a campus is to ensure that all of our new students—and all of our continuing students—have experiences and opportunities that enable them to succeed.

Our applied learning initiative presents an extraordinary opportunity. Over the summer, I was able to watch Tim Messner's experimental archaeology class launch—and paddle—the dugout canoe they built using traditional tools that they crafted themselves. Now that's what I call applied learning! Over this year, we will continue to strengthen our efforts in applied learning, so that ultimately every student will have the opportunity to complete an internship, a study abroad opportunity, research with a faculty member, or some other creative project, in which they can apply what they are learning in a real world setting.

We know that experiences like these help our students succeed, and help them to thrive after graduation.

As I've said in the past, student success is both a moral imperative and a financial one. Making sure that all of our students succeed through graduation is the right thing to do. Improving our retention and graduation rates also helps our bottom line.We need to ensure that every student who comes here, stays here, and sees their way through to graduation.

Last year, I worked with SUNY on a five-year plan to bring our enrollments and our expenses, especially personnel, into balance.It was a difficult year, I acknowledge, and this year looks much the same. We are not in balance yet. But I'm proud to say that we hit our budget targets for the year, and I want to thank all of you who deferred expenses, who did more with less, who did things differently, and who did without. I ask you to continue with the same caution over this next academic year and to continue to seek out new, more efficient ways of doing things. We didn't get into this position in one year, and it will take more than one year to get out of it. But we are making progress, however slow and painful.

In the realm of our comprehensive campaign, I want to congratulate our Advancement staff for just recently hitting the incredible $30 million mark, with $2 million left to go to reach our increased goal of $32 million. You might remember that we have been so successful, that we've actually had to raise the goal, twice. What a great problem to have! This last phase, our Third Century Challenge, will be the final bicentennial push for the campaign, as we look to all of our celebrations in 2016. I want to thank all of you who have contributed (and for those who haven't yet, there's still time, right?), and those who continue to work toward the success of the Take the Lead Campaign. It has taken so many to get us to this point! Thank you.

We have relatively few newcomers to our campus this year, but I am delighted that Dr. Judith Kirkpatrick has joined us as our interim provost. Our provost search committee continued over the summer, and I expect candidates to be coming on campus early this fall.

Before we introduce our new colleagues, I just want to emphasize how grateful I am to be working with such an extraordinary campus community. I have said repeatedly that we have everything we need in order to succeed into our third century. We have a spectacular location and a beautiful campus. We have a talented and creative faculty and staff. We have amazing students. As we enter into our third century, we have the opportunity to create new traditions, even as we honor our rich and distinguished history.

I am looking forward to a wonderful bicentennial year with you.