September 15, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 11 – September 15, 2014


This ‘n’ That

A college president’s life is filled with meetings, taking up more than half the time in an average week. Some meetings are with groups (Deans Council, Executive Council, College Council), others are with individual faculty, staff, or students who want to discuss something that is affecting them, and some are to meet people from the community who might want to work (or who we might want to work) with the College in one capacity or another. This past week was no exception. Here are some highlights.


Monday began with a meeting with SUNY Canton’s UUP President and Vice President, who wanted to talk about some changes that had been made in the faculty evaluation process and on the forms that we use. Changes in these areas tend to be closely scrutinized, since they affect faculty in very important ways—how they are evaluated, promoted, and tenured. The particular changes had been made before I came to Canton, and involved a policy requiring faculty with continuing appointments to provide a compelling reason if they didn’t want to participate in student evaluations, and involved the new departmental matrices that indicate what is expected for promotion and tenure. After some discussion, we collectively decided that we will hold an Open Forum for faculty to be able to discuss all issues related to evaluation, promotion, and continuing appointment. I’m sure we’ll have a vigorous discussion, and hopefully will come to consensus on key issues. We’ll then take appropriate action and make any necessary changes so that we’ll wind up with a process that we can all stand behind.

Later in the day, I met with the Faculty Senate’s Continuing Appointment Appeals Committee. President Hoffman had suggested that they broaden their scope to include making recommendations on all matters related to Promotion and Continuing Appointment. Two particular issues came up. The first, once again, had to do with the new departmental matrices, specifically, what was to be the process for making changes in them? After some discussion, we decided that the Committee would draft some legislation on this for consideration by the Senate, who would then forward a recommendation to me.

The other issue had to do with how to distribute discretionary salary funds when the College gets them from SUNY. Once again, we decided that the Committee draft some legislation, after getting input from both faculty and non-faculty professionals who are eligible to receive such funds. The legislation would then be considered by an expanded Faculty Senate, inviting the non-faculty professionals to participate.  The final recommendation would be made to me as well. The only proviso that I gave the committee was to not recommend that the funds be equally distributed across the board. My opinion here is that since the funds are discretionary, we need to come up with criteria of what should be rewarded and how it should be evaluated. Across-the-board awards are by definition non-discretionary.

Tuesday began with my first meeting with the College Council. The College Council is essentially a Board of Trustees for the College, whose charge is to make sure we’re moving in appropriate directions and to raise any issues of concern. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with several of its members in one-on-one meetings earlier in the year, and know about the deep care and affection they have for our College. The main topic on the agenda was for me and several others in the campus leadership to update the Council on what had been happening for the past few months, and to let them know about some of the new directions we were planning to go in. Something I hadn’t quite expected was that several of the Council’s members said that they were aware of many of the updates, since they read THE WEEKLY BLAB! Anyway, the upshot of the meeting was that we concluded that SUNY Canton was in an excellent position to move forward, and that we all had confidence in our leadership team and in our faculty and staff to accomplish our ambitious goals.

This was followed by a meeting of the Foundation’s Audit Committee, which has a charge of ensuring that the College Foundation’s financials are in order. We reviewed the recent outside audit, which gave the College Foundation a clean bill of health. The audit was then recommended for approval at the next Foundation Board Meeting, which is on September 19.

The Deans Cabinet met later in the day. Among the issues taken up was international programs, and some measures we are taking to increase the number of international students at SUNY Canton. A former colleague of mine, Dr. Raj Sashti, will be on campus this week talking to faculty and staff about how we might expand our international programs, including assisting faculty to get Fulbright grants, developing summer programs, recruiting students from Brazil, and making SUNY Canton more of an international hub for the North Country. Raj is a nice guy with an excellent track record of accomplishment, and is doing this for us on a pro bono basis. I hope you’ll all have a chance to meet him. The Deans Cabinet also discussed Wave 2 of the Open SUNY online initiative (we’re participating and have submitted several of our online programs for inclusion), and how we might simplify the math leveling process used in admissions decisions.

On Wednesday morning at 8:00, I met with the St. Lawrence County Workforce Investment Board for the first time. As its name implies, the WIB is focused on improving job skills and opportunities for people in the county. The main topic of the discussion was recent changes in the Federal Act providing funding for these efforts.

At 9:30, I met with the Foundation’s Finance and Investment Committee. We received a report on how the Foundation’s assets are invested, how those investments are balanced, and what the returns have been. The Committee concluded that we are receiving a good return on our investments, and that things are going well. This will also be reported at the September 19 Foundation Board Meeting.

At noon, I hopped into the car and took off for Albany for a meeting of all the SUNY presidents. The trip was pleasant and uneventful, especially since I figured out how to use the car’s cruise control. I checked into the Holiday Inn Express, which is located really close to SUNY Central, and is thus really convenient. The meeting began with a reception and dinner, held in the former federal courthouse which has been given to SUNY and beautifully rehabbed. About 45 of the 64 presidents were there. Since we were seated by geographic region, I was at the table with the various SUNY presidents from the North Country. After a nice dinner, we were all asked to introduce ourselves, say how long we had served as president, and give a sound bite about how our College supported “systemness”—a phrase meaning working together with the rest of SUNY as a system. We were also asked to give some input into how the SUNY system helps us as individual Colleges, and what the system might do better. It probably won’t surprise anyone to know that the top issues were to communicate better and sooner, before decisions were already made. The one bad thing that took place at the party was that I asked Kristin Esterberg, the president of SUNY Potsdam, if she knew what the score had been in the Canton-Potsdam men’s soccer match. She checked, and they had beaten us 4-0. Oh well, we’ll get ‘em next time.

Thursday, we had various meetings on some major issues affecting the system, including Start-Up New York (which we’re approved for, and have started to work with some companies for) and Open SUNY. I had been asked to say a few words about my views on online education, so I spoke about converged instruction (when a course is offered simultaneously in multiple modalities, allowing students to switch back and forth) and how SUNY Canton has been a leader in online degree offerings. An interesting statistic is that 75% of students surveyed see no significant difference between the quality of online and face-to-face courses. Another was that most students are unaware that tuition is much lower for online courses through SUNY than it is for the University of Phoenix and other pure online providers. Both indicate that there are some opportunities for us. The meeting broke up at about 1:00. I got the car and drove home to Canton. The weather looked a bit threatening, but it never got worse than a few sprinkles, and I got home about 6:00.

On Friday, the big event was closing on a house in Canton. I’m now the proud owner of the former Wells House on Judson Street Road, which has a strong connection with the College. More on the house in the next issue. Now I’m waiting for my furniture to come up, in two phases. When we get settled, I’ll have an open house.


No Comments on Pre-Testing?

In last week’s BLAB, I wrote an opinion piece on an article that appeared in the New York Times on pre-testing. I was interested in hearing any SUNY Canton faculty views on the subject, but the only person I heard from was a faculty member from SPSU. So, I’ll ask again—I’d like to hear from our faculty about what they think of pretesting, and if they’ve ever tried it in their classes. Use the “Leave a Comment” box at the bottom of the blog. C’mon—I know you’ve got some thoughts about this…


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with the word rain. Our winner was Rhonda Rodriguez. Others getting all five right included:  Misty York, Carmela Young, Laura Richards, Anne WIlliams, Renee Campbell, Janet Livingston, Melinda Miller, Rajiv Narula, and my sister, Drorit Szafran.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. It precedes “Come Again Some Other Day”. Rain, rain, go away.
  2. Someone stupid forgets to do this. Come in out of the rain or Save for a rainy day.
  3. According to both Longfellow and the Ink Spots, “Into Each Life” this happens. Some rain must fall.
  4. What always gets the Carpenters down. Rainy Days and Mondays.
  5. Movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise about Charlie Babbit’s savant brother, Raymond. Rain Man.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Staying with our weather theme a little bit longer, things have turned cool as of late. Thus, this week’s trivia contest has answers all associated with the word “cool”. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Stop! Take it easy!
  2. Slang for “jail”.
  3. Vegetable-based phrase meaning “in complete control of his emotions”.
  4. Movie where the sheriff told Paul Newman, the lead character, that they were having “a failure to communicate”.
  5. Classic jazz album by Miles Davis, featuring recordings by his nonet from 1949 and 1950.
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September 8, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 10 – September 8, 2014


Engagement Coming

As most of you already know, we will be doing a pilot project just after the third week this fall to see which of our students are engaged in their studies. Faculty will be asked to enter one of the following grades for each of their students:

  • Engaged: Showing up to class, participating in class, turning in their assignments, getting decent grades on early assignments.
  • Not Engaged: Spotty attendance, not participating in class, missing assignments, getting low grades on early assignments.
  • Not Present: Not present at all, or missing nearly class days.

We’ll then collect and analyze the engagement grades. Students who are engaged will get a letter congratulating them. Students who are not engaged in some of their classes will get a letter offering them help and encouraging them to take advantage of the various resources available on campus—office hours from their instructors, help from our tutoring centers, to speak with an advisor or counselor, etc.  Later, we’ll correlate the engagement grades with mid-term and final grades, and with retention to see the patterns that are present.  Please note that this does not replace the current MTS system–you should still use that to report students who are in trouble.

There’s a lot of evidence that indicates that students who get off to a good start tend to finish with higher grades and have better retention rates and graduation rates. In fact, doing engagement reports after the third week of the term is now a best practice, as identified by several agencies that study this sort of thing.  This isn’t very surprising—students who engage early have more of a platform to build on and don’t have to rely on last minute cramming. Back at my previous college, some faculty used the engagement grades in a proactive manner—they told their students about the engagement grades, and explained about how important a good early start was. The result, they reported, was that their students did better throughout the semester.

Coin coin 2

To try to get our students to focus on their studies, I’ve also adopted something from the military. When the military wants to celebrate an achievement, they issue a challenge coin.   I’ve already told our students that in conjunction with our student veterans organization, we’ll be giving each new student who successfully completes their fall semester with a 2.0 average or better and in good academic standing a special SUNY Canton challenge coin. It wouldn’t hurt to mention both the engagement grades and the challenge coin to your classes when you get the chance


Flunking an Exam is Good?

f-school-letter-grade-600x400[1]There was an interesting article in the New York Times on Sunday entitled “Why Flunking Exams Is Actually a Good Thing”, written by Benedict Carey (a science reporter for the Times and the author of the book How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens). You can see the full article by clicking here. In the article, he asks:

Imagine that on Day 1 of a difficult course, before you studied a single thing, you got hold of the final exam. The motherlode itself, full text, right there in your email inbox — attached mistakenly by the teacher, perhaps, or poached by a campus hacker. No answer key, no notes or guidelines. Just the questions. Would that help you study more effectively?

“Of course it would,” he declares. Having a copy of the final in advance would allow you to focus on what the professor thinks is important in the course. Every time the professor mentions something that was on the exam, your ears would perk up. You’d wind up with an “A” on the exam, but would have gotten it by cheating.

Now suppose that instead of getting a copy of the actual exam, he argues, you were given a similar pre-test on the first day of class. You’d fail it, of course, since you haven’t learned the material yet. Nonetheless, by seeing the sort of questions the professor asked and seeing what you got wrong, you’d know what to pay attention to in the class and would do better. Some faculty have tried this method, and found that on average their students did 10% better on their final exams. He concludes:

The (bombed) pretest drives home the information in a way that studying as usual does not…Testing might be the key to studying, rather than the other way around. As it turns out, a test is not only a measurement tool. It’s a way of enriching and altering memory.

The article goes on to explain that part of the reason that this works is that we often misjudge how well we know something—we think we understand it better than we actually do. We also think we’ll continue to remember what we know now, even though we forget over time. Highlighting and chapter outlines only make enhance this feeling of false fluency. Testing overcomes this false fluency—it exposes what we don’t know. Studies show that if quizzes are given soon after a student has read a particular passage, the student will remember the material better on a final two months later than if the quizzes were given two weeks later.

Carey states:  This is the idea behind pretesting, one of the most exciting developments in learning-­science.

Since this article appears in a major newspaper, and is based on a forthcoming book, there is an implication that pretesting is something new. In fact, it’s not new at all. Lots of faculty are well aware that pretesting is a good idea and there are even better ways of doing it than giving a pre-test to be failed on the first day of a course.

One of the best versions of pretesting I’ve seen was from a math professor who (for example) on a Monday, assigned her students three basic questions about the material that was going to be covered the following Wednesday, and so on each day. This was done on an online Learning Management System (LMS) like Angel, so that the students could be randomly assigned the questions from a test bank of different versions of the same type of problem. The students would be expected to read ahead, try to answer the questions, and then bring their attempts as an “entry ticket” to the next class. No entry ticket? No entry to the class. The result was significantly better comprehension and higher grades.

These results are not surprising. Every faculty member knows that if the students look over the class material in advance, even if they don’t understand it, the subsequent lecture (or lab or whatever) becomes far more effective and the student learns more. The problem is that most students don’t look over the material in advance. The “no ticket, no entry” policy is one way (and not the only way) to get them to do it and to help themselves in the process. No doubt you can think of other ways that will be effective in your courses to get the students to look over the material in advance.

There’s a second form of pre-test that I personally have found to be extremely effective. About a week before an hour exam, I give students a very big homework assignment with questions that are of a similar nature to what will appear on the exam. In fact, I often take the questions off of previous years’ exams. Instead of calling this a “Big Homework Assignment”, I use a little psychology and label it “Practice Exam”. I ask students to try solving it themselves and then give an extra help session some evening a few days before the exam. They have to bring their attempt at the practice test as an entrance ticket to the help session, and that help session is the only place they can get a copy of the answer sheet to the practice exam. This method accomplishes lots of good things:

  • Students become more familiar with the type of questions you want them to be able to answer.
  • Students thank you for giving them a practice test, whereas they groan when you give them homework assignments.
  • Trying to solve the practice test focuses the students on what is important in the course.
  • Since the students will want the answer sheet, they will attend the help session in very high numbers—my experience is that most of even the poorest students will show up.
  • The help session becomes very effective, since the students have prepared for it, and are highly focused since they know that similar questions will appear on the exam.
  • Grades on the exams improve, as do grades in the course, without having lowered standards in any way. This leads to better retention and graduation rates.
  • Students realize that you are on their side and trying to help them, resulting in better evaluations for you.

Something else that this article advocates is also well known—test early, and test often. A course with only a mid-term and a final as assessments is not a very well designed course from the point of view of student learning. Students need to be assessed constantly, from the very beginning of a course. Homework, quizzes, pre-tests, etc. should be given, which give students a chance to get things wrong (and learn what they didn’t understand) when the stakes are low and when there’s time to remediate the situation.

So now you know the secrets to helping your students do better and improving your evaluations in the process. And just think, if you do it and measure the results, you too can get an article published about you in the New York Times.

I’d love to see some comments on this from our faculty. Please use the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the blog to do so.


Thank You Admissions!

It has been a strong recruiting season for SUNY Canton, due to hard work by our admissions staff, ably led by Molly Mott, now joined by our new Director of Admissions, Melissa Evans. Of course it’s not the admissions staff that are solely responsible for bringing in the class—our faculty, financial aid office, student services, and so many others are involved in the effort. It may be a cliché but it’s absolutely true that attracting and retaining students is everybody’s job. Now that this fall’s class is in, it’s time to turn our attention to retaining them and bringing in this spring’s class. The admissions recruiters are about to go on the road to their respective territories around the state, telling prospective students about the great education they can enjoy here.

To thank our admissions staff, I had the pleasure of hosting a party in their honor at the Alumni House. We had planned it as an outdoor barbeque, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Our food services colleagues braved the rain and still did the cooking outside, but we eaters had to move indoors. The food was excellent as always—hamburgers, hot dogs, Portobello mushrooms, and lots of side dishes went well with the wine, beer, and soft drinks that were served. It was great to meet all the recruiters and other admission staff and their significant others, and a pleasant time was had by all. Now back to work!


Sports News

The good news continued for the men’s soccer team. On Friday at 4:00 PM, I was there to watch them beat Sage College by a 1-0 score. While Sage put up a good fight, SUNY Canton dominated most of the game. Jose Menendez scored the winning goal in the 28th minute, deflecting in an excellent free kick by Nick Escalante. Austin Lamay got his second clean sheet (no goals scored) as goalie. A fun aspect to the game was the participation of large numbers of pee-wee soccer players from the local area who came out hand-in-hand with the varsity players at the beginning of the game, and who played their own mini-game at half-time.

On Saturday at 2:00, I saw what may be the game of the year, with SUNY Canton playing Skidmore. Skidmore had come loaded for bear (sorry, couldn’t resist), defeating SUNY Potsdam 4-1 the previous day. Skidmore was predicted to be #2 in the Liberty League in the pre-season coach’s poll, behind only St. Lawrence, and ahead of Union, Hobart, RPI, Vassar, RIT, Clarkson, and Bard.

I had gotten to the game a bit early and the weather seemed dubious—it had been raining on and off all day. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the weather cleared a bit at 1:45, and stayed clear throughout the game.

In a wonderful surprise, just before the game started, I was called onto the field and was awarded a framed jersey to welcome me to the community and as a strong soccer supporter. The jersey was personalized with my name and with the number 11, which was significant to me for two reasons: my favorite professional soccer player is the great Didier Drogba (who plays for Chelsea) and whose jersey number is 11; and in graduate school, my research was on nuclear magnetic resonance of Boron-11. You can see the award video below.

The first half of the game was very hard fought, with both teams being roughly equal, though Skidmore dominated the number of shots. The half ended in a deserved 0-0 tie.

Early in the second half, Hunter Mowery tore down the left hand side of the pitch and cut in sharply. He passed the ball perfectly to Randy Mayer who was cutting from the other side, who put it nicely in the left corner, scoring his first collegiate goal.

Skidmore tried hard to tie it up but to no avail—the game ended 1-0, giving goalie Austin Lamay (who had 7 stops) his third clean sheet in a row. The ‘Roos are now 3-0, and well positioned for the rest of the season. Great job, men!



Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with the word fair.  Our winner was Terri Clemmo. Others with all five correct included Lenore VanderZee, Donna Matoes, Rajiv Narula, Brandon Baldwin, Nicholas Kocher, Alan Gabrielli, Bruce Hanson, Carmela Young, and Rhonda Rodriguez. Here are the correct answers:

  1. Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. Fairy Tales.
  2. ________ in love and war. All’s Fair.
  3. 1964 movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison about making a Cockney flower girl into a society lady. My Fair Lady.
  4. The Simon & Garfunkel song asks “Are you going to” there. Scarborough Fair.
  5. Someone who deserts you when the going gets rough. Fair-Weather Friend.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Just to show that the BLAB is always fair, and since the weather has been a bit rainy as of late, all answers to today’s challenge contain the word “rain”. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. It precedes “Come Again Some Other Day”.
  2. Someone stupid forgets to do this.
  3. According to both Longfellow and the Ink Spots, “Into Each Life” this happens.
  4. What always gets the Carpenters down.
  5. Movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise about Charlie Babbit’s savant brother, Raymond.
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September 1, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 9 – September 1, 2014


Ice Bucket Challenge

I’m pretty sure that everyone has seen this by now, but last Monday, I participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge to support the fight against ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I was challenged by two people—first by David Gerlach, our Vice President for Development, and then by Tony Collins, the president of Clarkson University. Fighting ALS is a very worthy cause, since ALS is a disease that is extremely debilitating, leading to loss of physical abilities and even death. I still remember seeing the movie Pride of the Yankees and seeing what happened to Lou Gehrig, culminating in his famous speech when he told the crowd he had the disease:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest many on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”

Other well-known individuals with ALS include Dennis Day, Jacob Javits, David Niven, Stephen Hawking, Charles Mingus, Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter, and Mao Zedong.

I got emails from various people on campus who had seen President Collins’ challenge, asking if I was going to respond. I’ve always admired Lou Gehrig for his accomplishments and character, so participating in the challenge was a very easy decision to make. After some discussion, we decided to do it on Monday so that students could watch. At first I was going to go home and change into something that I didn’t care if it got wet, but when I watched the video of President Collins doing his challenge in a suit, I decided to go with the jacket and tie I wore that morning.

The challenge took place at 4:00 PM in the plaza in front of the Miller Campus Center. Lots of faculty, staff, and students came by to watch and many of them took videos with their phones. The PR folks at Canton also came to film the challenge and the Watertown Times (the main newspaper for the North Country) came to cover the story. We had decided that it would be fun to have Roody, Canton’s mascot, do the honors, so at 4:00 PM I took my place in front of a park bench and Roody climbed up. I gave a short statement about supporting the fight against ALS and challenging my fellow SUNY Canton presidents to participate.

There were two buckets—one 2/3 full of water and the other full of ice. I poured about half the ice into the water and the crowd started chanting “More! More! More!” so I added as much ice as would fit. I handed the bucket to Roody, turned around, put my arms out, and said “OK”. Roody immediately started to pour, not dump, the ice water on me, taking his sweet time doing it! You can watch the video for yourself below.

Afterwards, I dried off a bit and got interviewed by the Watertown Times reporter. When he asked me how much I would donate to fight ALS, I told him I wasn’t sure, since “my assets are frozen!” You can see their coverage by clicking here.

Hopefully my small effort helped spread the word and raised a little money for ALS. Various sports teams at Canton also took up the challenge and the next day, President Kirsten Esterberg at SUNY Potsdam joined in. If you’re reading this and haven’t yet participated, consider this my challenge to you.


Funeral Services

At noon on Thursday, I attended and gave a welcome at an awards ceremony for our Funeral Services Administration program students. There were about 40 students present, all dressed up for the occasion. I congratulated them on their achievements and told them about an Art professor I knew at my first college whose research was centered on funerary art of the Italian Renaissance. When I asked her what had made her choose that unusual topic, she gave me the look one reserves for the very foolish and said: “Isn’t how you’ll be remembered one of the most important things in the world?” Of course she was right.

While Funeral Services Administration to some may seem an unusual choice of major, it is of critical importance, since it impacts families at their most vulnerable moment, and preserves the memory of their loved ones. Despite (or perhaps because of) the very serious nature of the field, I’ve found that people working in the area (our faculty included) all have wonderful senses of humor. One joke they like to tell here that I’ve picked up is that since SUNY Canton offers both Early Childhood Education and Funeral Services Administration as degree programs, the College obviously has you covered both coming and going!



Lunch with Karen St. Hilaire

Right after the award ceremony, I dashed off to The Club for lunch with St. Lawrence County’s County Administrator, Karen St. Hilaire and our own Lenore VanderZee (Executive Director of University Relations). We had an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on how the County and SUNY Canton could work together even more closely, especially to promote economic development. She was pleased to hear that we were considering reviving a legacy program in Hospitality Management and was interested in several other of our ideas as well, offering to introduce us to several individuals who might be able to help us bring these ideas to fruition. Ms. St. Hilaire has devoted much of her career to economic development and entrepreneurship, which are important areas for our college. I’m certain that we will be working together closely on a number of issues, and hope we will frequently be seeing her on our campus.


What Does the Fox Say?

Later on Thursday, I met with St. Lawrence University’s president William Fox. While I had met him earlier at a meeting of the Associated College Presidents (the associated colleges are SUNY Canton, SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson University, and St. Lawrence University), this was my first chance for a one-on-one meeting with him. We met in his office and had a pleasant discussion about SLU’s history and how we might cosponsor some activities to give our students more of a chance to interact.

For those who don’t know, SUNY Canton was founded in 1906 as the School of Agriculture, and located on the SLU campus (which was founded in 1856). It was the first post-secondary college authorized by the New York state legislature. We remained on the SLU campus through a number of name changes—to the New York State Agricultural and Technical Institute (ATI) in 1941, and the State University of New York Agricultural and Technical College at Canton (ATC) in 1965. While land for a separate SUNY Canton campus was acquired in 1961 and groundbreaking occurred in 1962, construction didn’t begin until 1965. After moving to our new campus, the old campus became part of SLU.

After our discussion, President Fox showed me around the SLU campus. The original SUNY Canton buildings are still there and one still has its original name, Payson Hall, which is also the name of a building on our current campus. Another of our original buildings is used as their admission office. Many of the buildings at SLU are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The campus also enjoys an attractive new student center.

I look forward to meeting with President Fox again in the future, and to working with him in the future.


Our State Fair is a Great State Fair—Don’t Miss It, Don’t Even Be Late

On Friday, I drove down to Syracuse with Melissa Evans, our new Director of Admissions, and Lenore VanderZee to participate in SUNY’s exhibition at the New York State Fair. Growing up in Syracuse, I had attended the fair pretty much every year I lived there, and always having a great time. It’s a gigantic fair encompassing many buildings and dozens of acres, with tons of exhibits, rides, food venders, and events. An entrance ticket is $10 and parking is $5, which are both quite reasonable. We left at 8:00 AM and after a quick stop for coffee in Watertown, reached the fairgrounds (a little west of Syracuse) at 10:30. SUNY had only gotten a few parking passes which were all gone by the time we got there, so we parked across the street in one of the large lots. It was a short walk to Gate 3, and then a short walk to the SUNY exhibit where Canton had a few tables. Other colleges present that day were SUNY Stony Brook, Downstate Medical, and Schenectady Community College.

I may be slightly biased but I thought our exhibit was the best. It included a “test your reflexes” exhibit designed and built by one of our EET majors as a senior project, a very elaborate solar heating system, several items associated with our veterinary science program (including cutaway models and a hairball from a cow’s stomach!), as well as the usual view-book and informative materials. Our mascot, Roody ‘Roo, also made a guest appearance (as did Stony Brook’s Wolfie), pulling prizes out of his pouch.


Lots of people stopped by—some were alumni, some were businessmen with a relationship to the North Country, many were potential students, and some were people who wanted to know more about the exhibits. It was lots of fun to talk to and interact with the various visitors, especially when they saw the giant hairball and wanted to know what it was. We’d ask them to pick it up and guess, and if they were right, we’d give them a backpack or a T-shirt. When they found out what it was, reactions ranged from “eeww” to “cool”. Several kids went to get their mothers to touch it.

We wrapped up at about 7:00 PM, when the crowd turns more adult and the traffic in the buildings drops off drastically—at night, it’s all about the rides, food, and shows. We packed up the remaining stuff, walked over to the car and after dropping Lenore off at Shoppingtown Mall for some weekend family fun, Melissa and I headed home, talking about future admissions initiatives, arriving back in Canton at about 9:30.


Sports News

It was a great weekend overall in sports, both professional and at the College. I enjoyed seeing our women’s soccer team get off to a great start, thumping Paul Smith’s College 6-1 in their opener on Saturday in beautiful weather, and then beating Vermont Technical College 4-0 on a rainy Sunday. I didn’t see it since I was coming back from the fair, but on Friday evening the men’s team also beat Paul Smith’s College 2-0 in their season opener. The men dominated throughout, with an impressive 13-0 in differential in shots on goal.

Also on Saturday morning, SUNY Canton held the Kangaroo Invitational Cross Country Meet, hosting teams from SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Plattsburgh, Johnson State College, and Clarkson University. Clarkson won both the men’s and women’s races overall, but the top men’s runner was from SUNY Plattsburgh and the top women’s runner was from SUNY Potsdam. SUNY Canton came in 4th overall. I got to fire the starter’s pistol for both events, and have to admit it was a bit disconcerting to see dozens of runners coming straight at you and hoping they wouldn’t run into you.

We also hosted volleyball against SUNY Potsdam (Friday afternoon), Houghton College (Friday evening), and SUNY-IT (Saturday), winning all three matches in clean sweeps. Fantastic job, ladies!

In professional soccer, my favorite team Chelsea beat Everton by a 6-3 margin, with new acquisition Diego Costa doing quite well, scoring in the 1st and 90th minutes. There was a 10 minute period in the second half when five goals were scored: an Everton own goal and two goals for each side. As a result, Chelsea is now in first place in England’s Premiere League, with main rivals Manchester City losing to Stoke and now in 4th place, and Manchester Union in another tie, still not having won a game and in 14th place. The only other undefeated team is Swansea, and Chelsea will be facing them next Saturday.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with corn. Our winner was my own sister, Drorit, who lives just outside Houston, TX. Others with all five correct included Terri Clemmo, Rajiv Narula, Patricia Todd, Rhonda Rodriguez, Sarah Todd, Carmela Young, Thomas Sauter, and Desiree LaBoeuf-Davis. Here are the correct answers:

  1. You get this if you stay out on the beach too long. Sunburn.
  2. Major purveyor of orange soda. Sunkist.
  3. Florida’s nickname. The Sunshine State.
  4. A little further north, it’s known as Petro-Canada. Sunoco or Suncor.
  5. Great Bill Withers song about an absent love, from 1971—It hit #3 on the US singles charts. His biggest hit was “Lean on Me”. Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

In honor of the New York State Fair, all answers to today’s challenge contain the word “fair”. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel.
  2. ________ in love and war.
  3. 1964 movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison about making a Cockney flower girl into a society lady.
  4. The Simon & Garfunkel song asks “Are you going to” there.
  5. Someone who deserts you when the going gets rough.
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August 25, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 8 – August 25, 2014


The Year Begins!

The academic year began last week at SUNY Canton and we are off to a great start. Monday started with an orientation session, this time for non-traditional students. It was held in the Kingston Theater and there were about 100 students present. The Theater is a very nice facility capable of seating some 220 people, with a nice stage in the front, a sound mixing platform area on stage left, and a very good lighting system. It was great seeing so many non-traditional students—they are a very important part of our campus community and our overall enrollment.

Later on Monday, I gave a welcome to the students in the Education Opportunity Program, which is a one-week summer bridge program with over 100 students in it. Many of the students are the first in their families to go to college and many come from less affluent families. It is quite successful—students participating in it having significantly higher retention rates and earning higher GPA’s—so it literally has the power to change students’ futures.

Tuesday was taken up by Deans Council and Executive Cabinet meetings. The Executive Cabinet has been focusing on reviewing the Facilities Master Plan so that strategic decisions can be made on issues to address first. At the meeting, we decided to divide the campus into three categories: academic space, student support space, and infrastructure. We had a discussion on what the top priority was for each of the areas. As a first step for the academic space, the deans and the provost will work with the faculty to identify what needs to move on campus in order to create “departmental homes” for each of our academic programs that will allow (to the extent possible) their faculty offices, labs, and classrooms to be together. We’ll also be identifying academic spaces that are in need of an upgrade, as well as facilities that need to be added. In the student support area, the top priority was upgrading Chaney Dining Hall. The first phase of this upgrade is taking place now. Input will be gathered as to other improvements needed for Chaney, and a phased plan for accomplishing these improvements will be created. We’ll also be identifying other support areas that are in need of future improvements. In the infrastructure area, a list of “must do” improvements will be generated. All of these will be brought to an EC meeting in a few weeks for review and prioritization. The final plan will be shared with the campus community, and we will be posting updates on our progress on a periodic basis. As most people are aware, funding for improvement of facilities comes from multiple sources—annual state appropriations, extra funding from the legislature, campus year-end funds (unspent money in the budget swept up at the end of the year), and funds raised through grants and donations. Funds from some of these sources are earmarked for specific projects, so depending on in what pot money becomes available, projects may “jump the line”.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I attended my first men’s soccer match at Canton, a scrimmage against Jefferson Community College. While both teams played well, the ‘Roos had a solid defense and our offense dominated throughout most of the game. We won the game 1-0. I had the pleasure of meeting the players and the coaches after the game—they’re a great bunch, hailing from across New York, Canada, Puerto Rico, and West Africa. We should have a great year.

Wednesday began with a coffee and Danish reception sponsored by UUP, followed by the annual State of the Campus Address. The address was given in the Kingston Theater and there was quite a turnout—it was standing room only in what I am told was the biggest such turnout of all time. Liz Erickson, (moderator of the faculty) introduced me and I spoke for about 25 minutes, starting with a brief recap of my background and an introduction of my family. I then laid out a general plan for the college’s future, focused on growth, expansion of our academic programs, and enhancing resources.

Lenore VanderZee (Executive Director for University Relations), Karen Spellacy (Provost, Academic Affairs), Molly Mott (Dean of Academic Support Services and Instructional Technologies), J.D. Long (Dean of the School of Business & Liberal Arts), Ken Erickson (Interim Dean of the School of Science, Health & Criminal Justice), Michael Newtown (Interim Dean of the Canino School of Engineering Technology), Shawn Miller (Acting VP for Administration & Chief Financial Officer), Kyle Brown (Asst. VP for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer), David Gerlach (VP for Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation), and Courtney Bish (Dean of Students and Chief Student Affairs Officer) all identified highlights from the previous year and introduced the new hires in their areas as well those who had been promoted or who had earned continuing appointments (tenure).

Some of the year’s highlights included:

  • Earning accreditation from ABET for our 4-year programs in Civil & Environmental Engineering Technology, Electrical Engineering Technology, and Mechanical Engineering Technology; from ACEN for our 4-year program in Nursing; and from CAPTE for our Physical Therapy Assistant program.
  • Receiving Chancellor’s Awards for Faculty: Dr. Maureen Maiocco (Excellence in Teaching) and Dr. Lawretta Ononye (Excellence in Scholarship & Creative Activities).
  • Receiving Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence for Students: Lydia Dale (Graphic and Multimedia Design); Meghan Gibson (Sports Management); and Tiffany Moore (Veterinary Science Technology).
  • Several SUNY Canton programs were provisionally accepted for Open SUNY.
  • Our summer enrollment was an all-time high.
  • We are implementing our First Year Experience program.
  • We are establishing the China Path Pro Partnership.

We’ll be posting the Address on the website in its entirety in the near future.

On Wednesday afternoon, I met with Dean Michael Newtown and the faculty in the Canino School of Engineering Technology. We had a spirited discussion about how to grow enrollments in the school, how to market the school’s programs more widely, and how to improve retention and graduation rates. Dean Newtown led the discussion, based in part on ideas in the book “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt, one of the classics in the field of industrial engineering/business analysis that focuses on the economic theory of constraints (bottlenecks). It’s a book well worth reading. I like it so much, I bought copies for every department chair and dean at my previous college, and have bought copies for everyone on the executive cabinet at Canton. I’m looking forward to seeing the School implement the many excellent ideas that came up in the discussion.

Thursday was mostly taken up by meetings, though it did include a conference call with the other presidents in the Colleges of Technology sector with folks from SUNY Central, mainly discussing a new plan to regularize the appropriation fee process. From 11:30 to 1:00, we had a lunch to welcome the new faculty and staff to Canton.

On Friday, the day began with our final Fall Orientation Session, for late registrants. There were about 250 students there, and one of the funnier moments came when (as I always do at orientation) I gave out my cell phone number to students to call if they’ve tried everything else but still can’t get their problem solved. One second later, my phone rang. I thought it was a weird coincidence, but it turned out that one of the students at orientation decided to test it out. I felt the buzz in my shirt pocket, reached in and got the phone, and said: “You see—it really does get me.”   One of the young ladies waved her arms, laughing, and said “That was me!”

Saturday, my folks and I went to see the women’s soccer team take on North Country Community College in a scrimmage. The weather looked like it was going to pour at any minute, with a big black cloud overhead, but it held off throughout the match. Both sides played well, though the crossbar wasn’t kind to Canton, blocking good strikes on two different occasions. The outcome was a 1-1 tie. As soon as we got back to the car, it began to rain.


Sunday was another beautiful day and another soccer match—the men’s team in a scrimmage vs. North Country Community College. The teams played three 30 minute halves, and Canton won the first 3-0, with the second being a 0-0 tie and the third won by NCCC 1-0. Thus, overall, it was a 3-1 Canton win.


As you may have gathered, I love soccer and I’m going to go to as many games as possible. I watched every game in the world cup, though the team I was rooting for, Ivory Coast, was eliminated in the first round. I’m a devoted follower of the English Premiere League, whose season just began again a week ago, with Chelsea being my favorite team (Go Blues!). They’re off to a good start this year, having won their first two games, admittedly against weak opponents. Manchester City, last year’s league champion, is the team to beat and they won their first game as well, with their second game on Monday. Manchester United is off to another bad start, having lost one game and drawn the second to weak teams.

Later on Sunday, we went to the Kingston Theater to see the first movie of the season—Captain America: Winter Soldier. As many of you are aware, I am a comic book collector from way back so I love movies (at least the good ones) based on comics. Even though the movie was quite predictable (I’ve read the comics it was based on, and they were pretty faithful to them), it was an enjoyable ride with lots of action. One not so great thing about Kingston Theater—the sound system is only just acceptable, so we’ll have to do something about that! Funny thing—the sound system at SPSU’s student center theatre used to be pretty lousy as well, though they did upgrade it a few years ago.


Meeting My Fellow President

Last Friday (August 15), I had lunch with SUNY Potsdam’s President Kristin Esterberg. We met in my conference room, with the meal, catered by our College food service, being excellent as always. President Esterberg and I had first met back in the spring at a SUNY Board of Trustees meeting. Given the prior defunct plan to merge the two presidencies, the folks at SUNY Central wanted to announce both presidencies at the same time, so as not to cause concern that the plan had somehow come back to life. Mine was announced and voted on first and when President Esterberg was confirmed, I got up to shake her hand and that became a photo-op we wound up repeating for the photographers.

We had a very pleasant conversation about various ways the two colleges might work together in the future, and committed to having our academic leadership meet to explore some possibilities. We also talked about some ways we might be able to help students attend events on all four North Country campuses (Canton, Clarkson, Potsdam, and St. Lawrence). SUNY Potsdam has many excellent academic programs, perhaps the best known of which is their Crane School of Music. I’m looking forward to seeing some concerts there. Hearing that I was a big music fan, President Esterberg was kind enough to invite me as her guest to their Community Performance series, which will feature several of my favorites, including Chick Corea (jazz) and the Anonymous 4 (medieval polyphony).


CD and Movie Reviews

Vladimir HorowitzEver since I was a little boy, I’ve always loved getting good things in the mail. I had ordered a box set of the complete Carnegie Hall concert recordings of Vladimir Horowitz (41 CDs and 1 DVD!) from a vender in England at an unbelievably low price and much to my pleasure, it showed up much more quickly than Amazon predicted it would. It’s a beautiful set, nicely boxed with each concert in its own individual digipack, and a hard-cover book giving a history and discography of the set. I don’t have my full sound system assembled at this point (it’ll have to wait until I move into the new house), but I do have my trusty Sony 3D Blu-ray and SACD player as well as a Philips Streamium hooked up to my Onkyo receiver and front Cambridge Soundworks speakers and subwoofer, which provide sound that’s quite good. My mother and I have enjoyed two of the concerts to this point, both of which were quite good with excellent sound remastering. My mother is the other person in my family who shares my love for classical music and opera, though my wife Jill has begun to enjoy them as well.


marty-posterSaturday evening, I noticed that the movie Marty was showing on Turner Movie Classics on cable, so I had to watch it. Marty is my second favorite movie of all time, only beaten by North by Northwest. If you’ve never seen them, don’t waste any more time—rent a copy, sit back, and enjoy.

Marty (played by Ernest Borgnine of McHale’s Navy fame) is the story of a mid-30 year old butcher, who still lives with his mother and hangs out with his old neighborhood friends. He’s a nice guy, but extremely self-conscious about his not-so-good looks and his lower class profession, and has never had much in the way of luck in having a relationship. People keep asking him why he hasn’t gotten married yet. The movie covers two days in his life. One Saturday night, his mother pushes him into going to the Starlight Ballroom, where he runs into a guy who wants him to take his blind date off his hands so he can go home with someone else. The girl being ditched is named Clara (played by Betsy Blair), a plain-looking mid-30’s schoolteacher who teaches chemistry (!), who is equally shy and similarly unsuccessful in having a relationship. The audience can easily see that Marty and Clara are perfect for each other, but their potential relationship threatens everyone else’s status quo, and Marty’s friends and mother both push him to break it off.

The movie is unusual in many ways. First, it is a romance told from the man’s perspective. Second, at a time when Hollywood movies were all about big screen extravaganzas and Technicolor, Marty is a small movie shot on location in the Bronx in black and white. Third, unlike almost any other movie, Marty and Clara are just plain people with plain lives—they’re not revealed as being beautiful and not knowing it or anything like that. Finally, the movie takes its time and shows you the fits and starts of Marty and Clara’s budding relationship, as well as the reactions of everyone around them. When Marty’s moment of decision comes in the movie, you’ll be on the edge of your seat willing him to do the right thing.

Against all the odds, this small movie became a box-office smash, and won Oscars for best movie, best actor, best director, and best screenplay. The only travesty was that Betsy Blair didn’t win the Oscar for best supporting actress—her performance in the movie was brilliant, perfectly managing to show Clara’s complex mix of emotions. I’ve seen the movie many times, and never tire of it.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with corn. Our winner was Jamie Garrett (Administrative Assistant to the President at SPSU). Others with all five correct included Julie Parkman, Deborah Molnar, Alan Gabrielli, Anna Sorensen, Rhonda Rodriguez, Ron Woods, Rosemary Phillips, Renee Campbell, Carmela Young, Christine Becker, Chelsea Chase, Jennifer McDonald, William Fassinger, Rajiv Narula, Kelly Carter, and Ronald O’Neill. Here are the correct answers:

  1. A stale joke is said to be this.  Corny.
  2. Nebraska.  The cornhusker state.
  3. General MacArthur used one to smoke. A corncob pipe.
  4. Short story by Stephen King, it became a pretty so-so movie in 1984 and an even lousier one in 2009. Children of the Corn.
  5. Horn of plenty.  Cornucopia.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

The weather in Canton has been beautiful and sunny, so every answer has to do with the word “sun”. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. You get this if you stay out on the beach too long.
  2. Major purveyor of orange soda.
  3. Florida’s nickname.
  4. A little further north, it’s known as Petro-Canada.
  5. Great Bill Withers song about an absent love, from 1971—It hit #3 on the US singles charts. His biggest hit was “Lean on Me”.
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August 18, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 7 – August 18, 2014


On the Road Again

Most of this past week was spent on the road. Here are some highlights:


Albany to visit SUNY Central

On Monday afternoon, I flew from Ogdensburg to Albany on Cape Air. Ogdensburg is the smallest airport I’ve ever been to—it’s a small square building with a single counter, a single gate, and a single runway. They do the security check a few minutes before the flight and the passengers go on the plane, which is a little six-seater. If there’s a seventh passenger, he or she has to sit next to the pilot in the copilot’s seat. The flight lasted an hour and provided beautiful views of the Adirondack Mountains. The landing was as smooth as silk. Everything was fine, except I had to wait 40 minutes to get my luggage—it seems they only had one or two people working for the airline, and they had to service their other flights (to Massena and to Boston) before they brought the luggage out. I’m told by regular fliers that the delay was quite unusual for them.

photo 1

photo 2I took a taxi to my hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, very close to SUNY Central. After checking in, I asked if there was a good Indian restaurant nearby, and the hotel shuttle took me to one on Lark Street. Lark Street is Albany’s “hip” location, with lots of interesting restaurants and clubs. The restaurant, Jewel of India, was quite good, with a nice variety of food that they spice to whatever level you like. I had Samosas as an appetizer, followed by Chicken Korma and Aloo Ghobi. All were excellent, and I was truly stuffed at the end.

Tuesday was taken up by meetings with various SUNY Central staff. They are all housed in a beautiful building that formerly was the headquarters of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, the line that goes from Albany to Montreal. The building looks like a larger version of something at Oxford University, and is quite impressive. There are a lot of good people down SUNY Central, some of which I met during the interview process. It was a pleasure to see Elizabeth Bringsjord (Interim Provost) and Bob Kraushaar (Associate Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty and Professional Development) again and to meet so many new people. All were extremely helpful and kind, offering useful advice on how to move forward with some of the degree programs we wish to add, and information about all sorts of good things, including SUNY’s international programs, OPEN SUNY, retention issues, financial aid, legal issues, and fiscal issues. Regarding the latter, the good news is that they confirmed what we already knew: we are in solid financial shape. The SUNY Central staff also frequently mentioned their counterparts at Canton, and it was great to hear the high praise they had for our administration.

On Tuesday night, I went to the “must go” restaurant in Albany, Jack’s Oyster House. I was going to order a steak, but the waitress mentioned a shrimp and scallops over angel hair pasta dinner special, and I was hooked. After a nice salad, the main course came out on a giant platter, with the shrimp, scallops, and pasta surrounded by about 50 mussels. It was fantastic! Once again, I was totally stuffed.


New York City: Meeting Senator Gillibrand

On Wednesday, it was up at 4:30 AM in order to check out, take a taxi to the Rensselaer railroad station and catch the 6:55 AM train to New York City. As it turned out, I got there a little early, in time to get the 5:55 AM train, which was just about to leave. I love riding on trains. As far as I’m concerned, it’s by far the best way to travel when you have the time, with the wide seats, big picture windows, ability to get up and walk around, and the nice dining and sleeping cars on the longer hauls. The trip was extremely beautiful, with the rails on the old New York Central’s “water level route” paralleling the Hudson River and providing spectacular views almost the whole way. The train arrived at Penn Station in Manhattan right on time, at about 8:30 AM.

photo 2 copyIt was only a seven minute walk to the Doubletree Hotel, and against all the odds despite my early arrival, they had a room ready for occupancy for me. The hotel staff there were extremely helpful—the best I’ve ever seen anywhere. I was checked in in a jiffy, complete with warm chocolate chip cookie. My room was on the 14th floor, so I was hoping for a spectacular view, but it was only of some rooftops.

I took a taxi to 3rd Avenue, to join New York’s U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand for a news conference announcing her Campus Accountability and Safety Act bill providing support for victims of sexual assault on college campuses. SUNY strongly supports the Senator’s bill (as do I personally), and they had sent out an announcement, asking those who were able to come in person to attend.

There were quite a few film crews present to hear Senator Gillibrand, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer, Leslie Crocker Snyder (founder of the first Sex Crimes Prosecution Bureau in the country and coauthor of New York’s Rape Shield Law) and SUNY Commissioner of University Police, Bruce McBride all speak about the bill and their support for it. Also speaking were two brave students who spoke about their experiences having been sexually assaulted on campus and then not receiving support from their colleges after reporting the incidents. Several such incidents have been extensively written about in the press.

Our own SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was the first university system chancellor to support the bill. Her statement noted:

“SUNY has a long and unwavering commitment to combating sexual assault and we strongly support Senator Gillibrand in her efforts to make this pressing issue a national priority just as we have done here in New York. With resources, training, expert and caring staff from law enforcement to attorneys to student affairs all working together to protect and assist students, SUNY can and should be a national model. Under Senator Gillibrand’s leadership Washington is coalescing and is poised to act, making college campuses safer so we can grow our public mission of educating more students and educating them better than anywhere else in the world.”

The bipartisan bill includes provisions to create campus resources and support services for student survivors of sexual assault; setting minimum training standards for on-campus personnel; setting new transparency requirements for campus reporting of sexual violence (with penalties for those who don’t); creation of a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings; and requiring MOU’s providing for coordination with law enforcement when the victim requests it.

It was a real honor to meet Senator Gillibrand, who has been in the forefront of the national movement to stop sexual violence in the military and on campuses. She was kind enough to mention me in her press release, which you can read in its entirety here. On the way out, I was briefly interviewed by FIoS, which is a cable service in the New York City area. You can see me here, though you’ll see they mangled my name a bit.


Partying with Canton Alumni

After the press conference, I walked down one of the side streets to find a restaurant for lunch. Jackpot—I spotted the Bukhara Restaurant, an excellent (you guessed it) Indian buffet. It had all my usual favorites—tandoori chicken, saag paneer, aloo ghobi, etc., as well as very nice chili chicken and shrimp bhuna. I was only sorry I didn’t have two stomachs.

photo 3Mmm…

I got a text from David Gerlach (VP of Advancement at SUNY Canton) just as I started eating, saying that he and Jamie Burgess (Alumni Development Associate) had just arrived in the city. They met me at the restaurant after lunch, and we had a nice walk across Manhattan back to the hotel. If you ever want to see Manhattan on foot, walking on 50th St. from 3rd Avenue to Broadway, then on 48th St. to 8th Avenue is the way to do it. You get to see lots of famous sights, including the NBC Studios, Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, Saks Fifth Avenue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Paramount Plaza, the location on Broadway where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, and multiple Broadway theatres. It was a bit muggy, and by the time we reached the hotel, I was thoroughly soaked.

IMAG0492Where the New Year’s Eve Ball Drops on Broadway.  Photo by David Gerlach.

We went back to our rooms, and I had a shower, caught up with some email, and had a brief rest. At about 5:00, we went over to the Houndstooth pub, just around the corner, for an alumni gathering. The party was hosted by Tom Walsh and Meghan O’Sullivan Walsh, and held in an attractive private function room in the pub’s basement. It was a lot of fun to meet our alumni and tell them about recent changes at the college and some future plans. Dave had each alum introduce him or herself, and give a reminiscence about Canton. It was wonderful to hear so many stories of success that each attributed to the excellent start they got at the College. Several of the alumni offered to help us in various ways (thanks for volunteering, Darnella Valentino and Richard Ng!). The gathering had a nice spread of fruit, veggies, and appetizers, and the beer was excellent as well. The party finished at about 10 PM, and we trudged back to the hotel, exhausted.

IMAG0504At the Houndstooth Alumni Event:  David Gerlach, me, and Michael Andrews, project manager for the Federal Reserve Bank


Saratoga Saturday

On Saturday, I drove down to Saratoga Springs for another alumni event, this time at the world-famous Saratoga Racetrack. I was lulled into a false sense of security getting off the highway, since the traffic was light. Turning onto route 9P, it quickly became bumper to bumper with the racetrack crowd. I found a parking space in a restaurant parking lot by the entrance ($30!), and walked in to the park. I’d been to Saratoga for concerts as a boy growing up in Syracuse, but had never been at the racetrack before. The racetrack drew what seemed like 50,000 people that day, which also featured pleasant 72° weather. The gathering was in the Carousel, a restaurant area on the second floor of the grandstand, where we had our own reserved area. There was an excellent turnout of about 50, and everyone had a good time reminiscing and betting on the races, as well as enjoying an excellent buffet. Dave, Jamie, and I gave out prizes for the alum who had come to the event the most times (Mike and Wendy Spina), for the person or couple with the best hat (Angela Gray and Jay Simmons), and for the one who won the most by the 5th race (Charles Obermayer).

IMAG0545Best Hats at Saratoga:  Me, Jay Simmons, Angela Gray, and Jamie Burgess.

Once again, it was great to meet our alumni and connect with them and their times at the College. I also had the chance to meet three former faculty members, John Shapazian, Gil Schugart, and Mike Gordon, and had a nice chat about the “old days”. John has a whole new career these days—he’s one of the most successful handicappers in America! How cool is that?

IMAG0534L-R:  John Shapazian, GIl Schugart, Mike Gordon, Mike’s girlfriend (sorry–I didn’t catch the name!), Matthew Farrigan, Amy Farrigan.

IMAG0555Shelley Augustine and Dale Major (President of the Alumni Association)

I left at about 5:00 PM for the drive back to Canton, getting back at about 9:00 PM with some rain along the way.


Family Time

This past week had two family celebrations for the Szafrans.

August 9th was my parents’, Daniel and Simona’s 61st anniversary. They met at a party in Israel on April 28, 1953, and just a little more than three months later, they were married. You can see that my parents don’t waste any time! Two years later, they had me. Not too many people get to their 50th anniversary, let alone past their 60th, and they still act like newlyweds.


August 14th was my sister, Drorit’s birthday—she is now 57 and was born in 1957. Her name comes from the Hebrew word “dror”, meaning freedom, with the female diminutive ending “it”. When I was little, I couldn’t pronounce here name, so I called her “Dulda”, and I’m the only one allowed to still call her that. She is a social worker who lives near Houston, Texas, and has tremendous compassion for everyone who she works with.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with Canton’s mascot, the kangaroo. Our winner was  Janel Smith.  Others getting all five included Greg Kie, John Jodice, Rajiv Narula, and Renee Campbell.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Only continent on which kangaroos are found native (other than in Canton, NY).  Australia.
  2. Infraclass of mammals, including kangaroos, that carries their young in pouch. Marsupials.
  3. Where the judge has already decided the verdict before hearing the evidence. Kangaroo Court.
  4. Children’s TV show, also starring Mr. Green Jeans and Mr. Moose. Captain Kangaroo.
  5. 2003 movie starring Jerry O’Connell, about two NY friends who get caught up with the mob and have to deliver $50,000 to Australia. Kangaroo Jack.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

It’s summertime in the North Country, and the corn is in full bloom. Our quiz, therefore, has all answers having something to do with “corn”.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. A stale joke is said to be this.
  2. Nebraska.
  3. General MacArthur used one to smoke.
  4. Short story by Stephen King, it became a pretty so-so movie in 1984 and an even lousier one in 2009.
  5. Horn of plenty.
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August 11, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 6 – August 11, 2014


One Month In

It’s been a little more than a month now since I’ve become president of SUNY Canton. While I’ve already sent out my “official” monthly update (click here if you haven’t seen it), I thought I might spend a little time here to add some additional reflections.

I’m continuing to settle in to our wonderful campus community, and am mangling peoples’ names less frequently. I can now find my way to most spots on campus unaided, and definitely know where one can get food. There’s less huffing and puffing when I walk up the hill from Parking Lot 3 to my office, so I guess that the exercise has done me some good. After meeting on a more or less weekly basis with my direct reports, I have a better handle on how things are done here and the excellent quality of work taking place in most areas. Is everything perfect? No—but everyone seems to be aware of where improvements need to be made and are working hard to implement those improvements.

The most important thing is that SUNY Canton is a college that cares about its students, and this care shows up in lots of places:

  • The welcoming way students were treated at the orientation sessions I attended.
  • The concern for the students’ needs shown by the folks working in food service.
  • The way that students are always front and center in discussions at the Deans Council meetings and in Executive Cabinet.
  • The quick responses from all corners whenever a student emails about some issue.
  • The many faculty and staff participating in the First Year Experience program.
  • Statements I’ve heard from so many of the College’s alumni, both at Alumni Weekend and in encounters I’ve had around town and the region, saying how coming to SUNY Canton made all the difference in starting them off right in their careers.

My own view is that colleges succeed by focusing on working with their students in a partnership whose goal is student success—a partnership where we meet our students where they are, and help them reach where they need/want to be. Most people are aware by now that one of my major goals is to help our college grow in enrollment. What’s the recipe for making this happen?

The first step in getting this kind of growth is to keep the students we already have. If we can increase our graduation rate to 50%, hardly an impossible goal, we could increase our enrollment dramatically. If we couple this with increasing the fraction of certificate students who stay on to get associates degrees, and increasing the fraction of two-year students who stay on to get bachelors degrees, our enrollments would more than double without attracting a single additional student beyond what we’re already doing. Add in stronger recruitment efforts, enhanced advising, a broadened range of international students, and selected new degree programs, and the sky’s the limit.

Is it that simple? Actually, yes. Successful students tend to stay and strive higher. Unfortunately, almost every student has that little voice in the back of their head saying: “You don’t belong here. You’re not good enough.” Too many students believe that voice, and give up when the going gets tough. Some even sabotage their own efforts by purposefully doing less than their best, so as not to risk failure when trying their best.

Almost every student is on the razor’s edge once or more in their college career. It takes only the smallest step in the right direction to pull them in off the edge, by asking how things are going, by offering to help, by telling them they can make it. Conversely, it takes only the smallest step in the wrong direction to push them over the cliff, through an overly harsh word or through not noticing when the student is struggling, to convince them that no one cares and that they should give up. Perhaps you can remember some of those moments in your own educational path—the person who saved you from the brink, or the person who almost shoved you over the side. I know I can.

Building student success requires a full-court press of support from each and every individual on campus. A lot of this rides on the faculty. Faculty teaching critical gateway courses need to experiment to find ways of improving student success there without lowering rigor and standards, since the overall graduation rate can’t be higher than the success rate at the tightest bottleneck. Faculty teaching more advanced classes need to share their passion about the subject they’re teaching. All faculty need to create dynamic learning objects, and provide students with opportunities to apply and showcase what they are learning. All faculty need to believe in each and every one of their students. By admitting them to SUNY Canton they’re ours, and we have an obligation to do everything in our power to help them succeed. And yes, before anyone brings it up, the students have an obligation to do their part by being engaged and working hard. Not all of them understand this yet, and as the professionals in this relationship, it’s our obligation to get them to understand this.

It’s not just the faculty who have a responsibility toward student success. Every member of the staff does too, from the president to the groundskeepers, to the food service staff, to the alumni office. An attractive campus helps retain students. A One Hop Shop staffed by people who remember how complicated it looks to an 18 year old helps retain students. People who notice when a student is struggling and do something about it help retain students. Exciting and diverse out of class activities help retain students. Great food in the cafeteria helps retain students. Successful solicitation of scholarship funds, grants, and other non-state revenues helps retain students.

Every word we say to our students matters. One of our students said it a lot better than I could in a text he sent me. He wrote: “I just want to say that your speech at orientation really meant a lot to me. I come from a very supportive high school, with very personable staff and that was really the key to my success. Your speech really made me feel comfortable and ready to attend college.” Being supportive to our students is the key to our growth and success.


Sustainability and Technology Tourism

A little project that Betty Connelly and I are working on involves setting up a sustainability tour of the campus and a technology tour of our campus. What this means is identifying locations in most buildings on campus that exemplify some aspect of sustainability or of technology, and doing a little write-up about them. The locations would then be marked with some sort of display that would include a QR code that could be read by a smartphone to get information about the location. We’d then create a brochure that would tell folks where the tour begins and how to get from location to location. If you know about a worthy location that should be included in either tour, please contact Betty and me and we’ll give you a shout out in the final product.


Deans Retreat

Last Tuesday, the Deans and I met down in the Alumni House for an all-day retreat.

The first part of our discussion focused on what we were going to look like in the next five to seven years. What should our enrollment be? What new degree programs might we want to bring to our campus, and which of our current programs need to be enhanced? Over the course of the first semester, I’ll be meeting with the schools and their deans; and the departments and their chairs to hear our faculty’s views on these subjects.

We’ve made a few overarching decisions already, but they shouldn’t come as much of a surprise:

  • We are going to maintain our focus on producing students who know how to hit the ground running and immediately add value to their place of employment. Entrepreneurship will also become an important focus—we want many of our graduates to stay in the North Country and to know how to start and develop their own businesses.
  • We are going to stay true to our applied mission, focusing on engineering, technology, and applied versions of the social sciences, the sciences, the health professions, the computing disciplines, and the humanities.
  • We’re going to enhance and expand our four-year degree programs, while also staying true to our access mission and our role as St. Lawrence County’s community college. In other words, we’re going to continue to offer a robust range of certificate and two-year programs. And yes, we’re going to try to add some masters degree programs in appropriate areas.
  • We are complementary, not competitive, with our three sister colleges in the North Country. Our missions are different. The students we target for admission are different. Our outcome goals are different. We have no interest in becoming a second Clarkson, St. Lawrence, or SUNY-Potsdam. We are committed to working effectively together, because collectively we are much stronger than we are individually.

The second part of our discussion focused on how we will grow and reach these goals. One of the most important things we need to do is capture the story. There are a lot of great things going on at SUNY Canton, but how do people know about them? We need to capture the story of our successes in compelling and contemporary ways. Our schools, offices, departments, faculty, staff, and students need to be constantly creating learning objects highlighting what we do and how successful we are. What’s a learning object, you ask? It’s a single object, three minutes or less in length, that may contain video, music, text, reflection, design, etc., and that tells a compelling story. A story about what’s great and different about an academic program, student organization, campus event, or about SUNY Canton overall. A story about how to best to understand a key point in a course. A story about a faculty member, staff member, or student showcasing their success.

We also talked about how we might restructure some courses and programs to make them more successful, and how to measure that success in a way that isn’t too onerous. While there’s no single answer for every course, we did discuss some courses that might benefit from becoming more modular, as well as changing the way we deal with remediation. Again, we’ll be talking more about this with the faculty and departments as the term progresses.

All in all, I thought that the retreat was quite worthwhile, and I’m excited about what we’re going to accomplish in the coming year.


First Year Experience

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of giving the welcome to the faculty and staff participating in the College’s First Year Experience program. It was great to see the strong turnout and the many faculty and staff who had agreed to be part of the program. I strongly believe in FYE programs—so much so that I helped reinstitute SPSU’s first year experience course after it had been discontinued for many years, and paid for its operation out of my budget.

I still remember my own experience as a freshman, not having any idea how to select the courses for my first semester, not knowing what to do if I got into academic difficulty, etc. Needless to say, I would have benefited from an FYE program.

There is plenty of evidence that students who start off well and get engaged in their first three weeks on campus do far better and are far more successful than those who don’t. FYE programs are critical elements to student success. My congratulations and strongest support to faculty and staff in this program.


One Day, Two Lunches

Later on Thursday, I attended not one, but two different lunches. The first was a picnic for staff in Physical Plant, held down by the volleyball court and gazebo by the Grasse River. It was a perfect day—sunny but not too hot, and the turnout was excellent. As usual, the food was great too—hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages with pepper and onions, macaroni salad, and lots of other things. Knowing that I was going to a second lunch I shouldn’t have eaten anything, but things just looked too good and I couldn’t resist—I quickly took a plate and added a sausage and some of the macaroni salad. Mmmm…it was excellent. It was great to meet the various people in Physical Plant, who do such an excellent job making our campus beautiful. I was only sorry that I had to leave after about half an hour for the second lunch event.

The second was a potluck sponsored by Academic Support Services, held in the Underground Lounge in the Student Center. Molly Mott, the Dean, had decided that in my honor, the potluck should have a chemistry theme. Sure enough, everyone there had taken one of those Facebook sort of quizzes about “what is your element”, and reported out which element they were, and how the food they had brought corresponded to some aspect of that element.

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A few people even dressed up as their element!

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The piece de resistance was a cake made up of cupcakes, with a Periodic Table of the Elements design. Wow!

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The food was really excellent—lots of interesting dishes, both typical American and international (even including a fabulous chicken curry and delicious aloo ghobi), and a fantastic range of deserts. So, it wasn’t much of a struggle to fill up a plate and have a second lunch. I was only sorry that I didn’t have two stomachs.


Film Festival

Later on Thursday, I attended the launch reception for the 1st Annual St. Lawrence International Film Festival, held at the TAUNY (Traditional Arts of Upstate New York) Center in Canton. The executive director for the festival is Adam Paul, from the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”. Plans are for the 1st Festival to be held in Fall 2015 and last for three days over a weekend. In his talk, Mr. Paul laid out the general strategy for developing the festival, and how the advertising will be rolled out. The St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce is strongly behind the effort, and I know that we’ll find several appropriate ways for SUNY Canton to participate.   Pretty exciting!

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Down to the Big City

On Friday, I drove down to Watertown to meet with the leadership of Jefferson Community College. JCC is a really nice place with very good facilities, and their president, Carole A. McCoy, gave me the grand tour. They are about to open their first student housing in a really nice facility—the first new building on their campus in some time. I also saw their library and their science building, as well as their student center, which had a very attractive food service area that looked like a sidewalk café. We had a very productive discussion over lunch about how we might work together in the future, possibly including our delivering some courses and programs on their campus, and also possibly developing some joint programs in the future.

After the meeting, since Watertown is the nearest city to Canton that has a mall, I thought I’d drive over and take a look. The Salmon Run Mall is quite nice, with lots of stores and a substantial food court. I took advantage of the opportunity to add to the local economy by picking up two shirts and two pairs of shoes.


Veterans Appreciation

On Saturday, North Country Veterans Appreciation Day was held on the Clarkson University campus at noon. My parents and I went over to attend, and were promptly ushered to the VIP seating area, where we joined Mary Ann Ashley (mayor of Canton) and Kristin Esterberg (president of SUNY Potsdam). It was nice seeing both of them. I’ll be meeting with President Esterberg in about a week, and will be meeting with Mayor Ashley as soon as we can set it up.

The ceremony was quite moving, with an empty table having been set up to represent soldiers who were POW/MIA. After an introduction and welcome by Col. William R. Murphy, President Tony Collins from Clarkson gave a brief speech about Clarkson’s commitment to soldiers, including that they have the 2nd highest percentage of participants in ROTC of any college in the US (Texas A&M has the highest). Brigadier General Miyako Schanely (Dept. Cdr. 412th Theater Engineer Command) spoke about the importance of veterans’ service. After, there was a moving ceremony where commemorative coins were given to each veteran present.

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The ceremony was followed by several musical groups, as well as displays by various vendors. Veterans and Military Services Coordinator Patrick Massaro introduced President Esterberg and me to the various dignitaries present. She and I then walked around through the exhibits, talked about how we might work together in the future, and met a number of each of our graduates. One of the displays was by our campus veterans organization, manned by two of our students. I bought a special SUNY Canton veterans’ t-shirt from them, with our ‘Roo on the front, and “Support Our Troops” and symbols of the armed services on the back. Paul Smith’s College also had an exhibit, manned by SUNY Canton graduate Amy Tuthill, their Director of Veteran and Transfer Services.

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Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with Boston. Our winner was  Maureen Maiocco, who was born and raised in Boston, so she had a built in advantage!  Others getting all five right were Julie Parkman, Amanda Rodriguez, Anne Williams, Farren Lobdell, Kathleen Mahoney, Carmela Young, and Rajiv Narula.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Major league baseball team located in Boston. Boston Red Sox.
  2. Historical event whose motto was “no taxation without representation”. Boston Tea Party.
  3. William Shatner, James Spader, and Candice Bergen starred in this 2004-2008 TV show. Boston Legal.
  4. Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War, during this event. The Boston Massacre.
  5. Only song by the Rolling Stones with the word “Boston” in it (hint: It’s not in the title), it’s from the album “Let It Bleed”. They play it at almost every concert, and it’s usually the longest song in the set. Midnight Rambler. Several folks mentioned I missed a second Stones song with the word “Boston” in it—Memory Motel. Sure enough, it has the lyric:

     “She drove a pick-up truck painted green and blue,
The tires were wearing thin, she turned a mile or two
When I asked her where she’s headed for
“Back up to Boston, I’m singing in a bar.”

This Week’s Trivia Challenge

In honor of SUNY Canton’s mascot, this week’s questions all have to do with kangaroos.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Only continent on which kangaroos are found native (other than in Canton, NY).
  2. Infraclass of mammals, including kangaroos, that carries their young in pouch.
  3. Where the judge has already decided the verdict before hearing the evidence.
  4. Children’s TV show, also starring Mr. Green Jeans and Mr. Moose.
  5. 2003 movie starring Jerry O’Connell, about two NY friends who get caught up with the mob and have to deliver $50,000 to Australia.
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August 4, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 5 – August 4, 2014


Trip to Boston

This week’s BLAB is late because I was in Boston most of last week to attend the Campus Technology 2014 Conference. Since SUNY Canton is a college with a technological mission, I thought it was important that I attend and see what the latest trends and ideas are in the information technology area. I also wanted to connect with several vendors presenting there to set up some potential pilot projects, assuming there is interest in them on campus. My friend Sam Conn, who was the VP/CIO at SPSU and is now the VP/CIO at SUNY Empire State, was also going to be there and I was looking forward to reconnecting with him. My parents were also going, to hook up with friends and family in the Boston area.

We were planning on leaving on Sunday morning and at the last minute, got a phone call from Kyle Brown, who was also going to the conference. He had been planning to fly down, but his flight out of Ogdensburg had been cancelled due to the plane getting a flat tire. He asked if he could join us, and we were happy to have him. So, with a slight delay, we left at 9:30 AM. The sky was a bit overcast as we got on US 11, heading north. It’s a nice drive through several attractive small towns at the top of the state (Potsdam, Moira, Brushton, Malone, Chateaugay, Ellenburg, Mooers, and Champlain) and we reached Rouses Point at about 11:15. [Interesting fact: A number of towns in the North Country are pronounced a bit differently than you’d think. The “Rouses” in Rouses Point is pronounced to rhyme with “spouses”. The name “Madrid” is pronounced “mad rid”, not like the Spanish capital. The town “Gouverneur” is pronounced “guv-a-noor”. No doubt there are others.]

Rouses Point is a pretty resort town at the top of Lake Champlain, about 2 miles south of the Canadian border, and we took the bridge into Vermont there. The road becomes US 2, which goes through the Lake Champlain islands. The weather cleared up at this point, giving us blue skies and puffy clouds for the rest of the trip. The route through the islands is just great, crossing several bridges on Grand Isle, going through the towns of Alburgh, Grand Isle, and South Hero. It then crosses back to the mainland, connecting to I-89 in Colchester, a total distance of about 40 miles. It takes a little longer to go this route but it’s worth it, because there are lovely views of the lake on both sides of the road, the towns are quite attractive, and there is beautiful scenery all around.

trip_image_1309_93SLIDESHOW_Lake-ChamplainAfter getting on I-89, it’s a pretty ride through the green mountains. We stopped at about 1:00 at a nice restaurant in Waterbury (a little before Montpelier, the state capital) for lunch and to gas up, and were back on the road by 2:00.  We hit the New Hampshire border at a little after 3:00, passing Hanover (where Dartmouth College is), Grantham, and then Warner, where there is a really nice fall foliage festival that Jill, Mark, and I have attended many times. About five miles before Concord, the state capitol, the road began to back up and it was slow going as we made the merge onto Interstate 93. The highway was jammed down to Manchester (where I lived for many years) and most of the rest of the way down to the Massachusetts border, due to lots of folks returning from their weekend trips. The road widens there, and it was smooth sailing into Boston. We reached the Sheraton a little after 6:00, which wasn’t too bad. The big surprise was the charge for parking at the hotel: $49 a night! Holy cow! After checking in, we went to dinner at a Thai restaurant nearby, joined by a friend of my parents who lives in Cambridge.


The Conference

Like any other conference, the sessions and workshops at Campus Technology 2014 were a mixed bag—some were quite good, and some less so. I’ll make some comments on a few sessions that I think were noteworthy.

How Big Data Will Change Everything

The first keynote session at the conference was titled “How Big Data Will Change Everything We Know About Education”, presented by Stephen Laster (Chief Digital Officer, McGraw Hill Education). The talk was very interesting, but c’mon—change everything? While big data has the promise of telling us many things, I doubt that very many of our core beliefs about higher education will change very much. Data, both big and small, can be extremely helpful in making decisions, IF the questions are accurately framed, and IF the data is analyzed in a very careful way. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Data is a tool, not a panacea, so we’ll need to work hard to gather data accurately, to scrub our records to make them more accurate, to carefully frame questions, and to analyze data to make our decisions as good as possible.

10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching

An impressive workshop I attended was named “10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching”, given by Ann Taylor (Director, Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State). The Institute has a lot of useful materials that they’ve been kind enough to provide online, so everyone interested in good online teaching should take a look at their website.

The 10 title principles were:

  • Know your audience
  • Get organized
  • Get comfortable with the technology
  • Communicate expectations
  • Let your personality show
  • Be engaged
  • Build community
  • Plan for the unexpected
  • Provide meaningful and timely feedback
  • Practice continuous quality improvement

That’s a darned good list, and much of the workshop was devoted to delving more deeply into each point.

The list was based on “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” by A.W. Chickering and A.F. Garrison (1987), whose list indicated that a good instructor:

  • Encourages contact between students and instructor
  • Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Encourages active learning
  • Gives prompt feedback
  • Emphasizes time on task
  • Communicates high expectations
  • Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

Notice that the original list is about undergraduate education in general, not about online learning, and was written well before online education became common. This illustrates the important point that the very same things that characterize quality face-to-face teaching also characterize quality online teaching. There’s a convergence going on between face-to-face and online teaching, and contemporary well-designed courses recognize this.

Challenges, Trends and Important Developments in Higher Educational Technology

An excellent keynote with the above title was given by Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He’s an extremely good speaker, who mentioned a number of things worth looking into and emulating:

  • UMBC has a Gates grant to link themselves to community colleges in Maryland to promote better communication between them and to promote better transferability of both students and credits.
  • The head of IT on his campus is viewed as a critical academic advisor, and is part of the executive cabinet.
  • UMBC’s chemistry department has developed a “Chemistry Discover Center” (click to see it) that operates as a flipped classroom (more on this format below) where students work in groups to solve problems during class, facilitated by faculty. I’ve seen several places that offer critical gateway courses in the sciences in this way, and the consensus of opinion is that students learn and do better. Improving success rates in gateway courses (without sacrificing rigor) will be critical to our improving retention and graduation rates.
  • UMBC uses its learning management system (Blackboard) to generate data to show their students that there is a correlation between grades in courses they are taking and the number of hours they spend on effort. It’s a funny thing—students instantly see this in sports, but when it comes to their courses, this is somehow much less obvious. Many students (and some faculty) think it takes a “special” kind of mind to be good in particular subjects. I don’t buy it. My experience has shown me that motivation and drive are the key factors to success.
  • UMBC captures the stories of returning adult students who have succeeded, and use them to recruit other adult students and show them that they can make it.
  • Finally, president Hrabowski had a couple of nice quotes: “Teachers touch eternity through their students.” and “Watch your thoughts—they become your words. Watch your words—they become your actions. Watch your actions—they become your habits. Watch your habits—they become your character. Watch your character—it becomes your destiny.”

Flipped Classroom: Social, Connected and Personalized

“Flipped classrooms” are all the rage at conferences these days. It’s when the students learn the “content” of a subject themselves outside of class, with the “homework” part (solving problems, analyzing case studies, etc.) done in small groups in class, facilitated by faculty. Often, the same sorts of materials used in online courses are given to the students to help their home-study of the content. The real key here is the more active working on problems in small groups, as opposed to the traditional lecture where the students sit back passively and watch the professor solve the problems.

The flipped classroom model is a fine one and works well in lots of contexts. What I don’t get is why people thing this is something new. The sciences flipped part of their courses long ago—they’re called labs. Other courses have operated in a similar kind of flipped mode since ancient times—they’re called seminars. The Socratic Method, commonly used in legal education (like in the movie “Legally Blonde” or the TV show “The Paper Chase”), is an example of flipping the classroom—students study the relevant material outside of class individually or in groups, and the professor then poses open-ended questions within the class for them to discuss and answer.

Reinventing Education

Another keynote, “Reinventing Education”, was given by Anant Argarwal (CEO of EdX). The talk focused on a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that he developed for the intro Electrical Engineering course. Argawal argues that we are still doing education the same way as 100 years ago at a time where everything else has dramatically changed. He and the folks at EdX believe that these MOOCs can change the educational paradigm.

Statistics for his course showed that 150,000 students registered for the MOOC, of which some 30,000 completed the first assignment and 7,000 finished the course and earned a verified certificate. These are impressive numbers—150,000 is more than the total enrollment of MIT over its entire history, and 7,000 is more than the number of students taking intro EE there in any given year. That having been said, it’s also pretty obvious that the course never really had 150,000 students in it—the majority took a quick look at the course and moved on. In the Q&A, I asked him how many of the 7,000 who earned a verified certificate were able to get their certificates translated into actual college credit. His answer indicated that some colleges are working on that issue, but that few students had yet done it.

I’m not aware of too many colleges that will award credit for participation in an EdX MOOC, even if you have a verified certificate. What many colleges will do is let the participants take a challenge exam or some similar thing, and award credit if the student does well on it. Of course, many would award the credit if the student had learned the material entirely on their own—challenge exams have been around for a long time. Personally, I think that the strongest future for MOOCs is as supplements to more traditional courses, providing a very effective way to flip the classroom.

It should be noted that a few universities (Georgia Tech is one) run some fairly large online courses (with a few hundred students) within their own online degree programs (that have rigorous entrance requirements) and grant their own students credit for completing them. Of course, these aren’t quite massive and they don’t quite fit the definition of “open” either.


And Outside…

Of course, one of the most valuable aspects of any conference is being able to get together and talk with others interested in the same subject. On Wednesday afternoon, I got together with SUNY Empire State’s Sam Conn (VP/CIO) and Nan Travers (Director of Assessment); Kyle Brown (SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam’s shared CIO); several folks from BlueHost Inc.; and the president of N2N Services Inc., for a very interesting discussion on outcomes assessment (and its first cousin, competency based education), making courses more modular, using and assessing e-Portfolios, and other related matters.

A big problem with outcomes assessment is that it usually isn’t integrated into broader curricular processes—it’s treated as a separate process. As a result, faculty have to spend gobs of time doing multiple versions of essentially the same things related to assessment, and quickly grow to hate it. Who can blame them?

We spent a lot of the discussion talking about what outcomes assessment that was truly integrated into courses, curriculum, accreditation, and university planning might look like. What would be the most efficient and effective way to measure if outcomes had really been met, and for students to be able to prove that learning had really occurred? How might this be tied to such things as course design, remediation, honors programs, and other academic issues? The conversation led to some interesting possible ideas for some pilot projects and collaborations. I’ll be sharing some of these with the campus as the year progresses, and we’ll see where it takes us.


Homeward Bound

I had decided that I didn’t want to go back to Canton the same way as I came down to Boston, so on Thursday at 11:30, we all piled into the car and took off down the Mass Pike (which is the way everyone refers to I-90 in Massachusetts). The Pike is a toll road, though the last time I had driven down it (probably 10 years ago), they had removed the tolls from Springfield on west. Foolish me, I thought more of the road might be free by now, but things have actually gone back the other way—as of 2013, the tolls are back throughout its length, and the toll is now up to $5.85, not including two separate tolls for the section near Boston.

The ride was smooth, and once again, the weather changed from cloudy to quite nice as we progressed. It’s pretty un-scenic going through Worcester and Springfield, but things pick up in the western part of the state, with the Berkshire Mountains being quite nice. After paying the toll, we entered the New York Thruway for a few exits and another small toll, and turned off onto I-90 toward Albany. We stopped to get some lunch and fill up in East Greenbush. The sign said there was a Subway sandwich shop there, but we couldn’t find it, and wound up going to a local pizza place instead. This turned out to be a good thing, because the pizza was excellent—wonderful crust and lots of fresh toppings.

Back on the highway we went, and turned off on I-787, which from its number, I assumed would take me all the way to I-87. Nope—it goes most of the way, but the last bit requires you to turn off it onto NY route 7, which is like an interstate and takes you the rest of the way. I have no idea why it’s numbered that way, and Wikipedia says that the location of northern terminus of I-787 is uncertain, depending on what official document you look at.

Anyway, we then took I-87 north though Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls, two resort towns that get a lot of tourist traffic. North of there, things were pretty quiet as I-87 enters the Adirondacks on its way to Montreal. We got off on NY 28N, which loyal readers of the BLAB will recognize as the road that goes to Gore Mountain, where I had been two weeks earlier for the Adirondack Challenge. The rest of the trip was a repeat of my trip two weeks ago, going by Indian Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, and Tupper Lake—beautiful locations all.

Kyle’s cell phone’s weather app had indicated that it was hailing up in Potsdam, so throughout the Adirondack segment of the trip, we kept expecting the weather to turn bad. There was a tiny bit of rain near Glens Falls, but that was it—the weather quickly improved and was quite nice for the rest of the day. We got back to Canton at about 6:30, tired but satisfied.

Other Doings

Here are a few quick reviews of other doings during the past two weeks.

On Wednesday July 23, I had lunch with Dave Rourke (Director of HR) and Dave Hartle, Todd Bates, and Brian Harte, who are the leadership of the various unions at SUNY Canton. Working with unions is something new to me—my first two colleges were private and didn’t have unions, and my third was a public university in Georgia, a right-to-work state. We had a good discussion about working together to make sure that any issues that may arise are dealt with while they’re still small.

That evening, it was off to Ogdensburg with Executive Director of University Relations Lenore VanderZee to attend a meeting of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce held at the Frederic Remington Museum. The meeting showcased a number of businesses in the area, including the River Myst Winery, which is owned by SUNY Canton grads Randy and Denise Lemay. The museum itself is quite impressive, with an extensive range of paintings and sculptures by Remington, who was born in Canton, NY. Given Remington’s status as a western artist, I had always assumed that any major museum devoted to him would be in Denver or some other big western city. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that it’s actually here in St. Lawrence County.

photo 1Me and Randy and Denise Lemay at the Remington Museum

On Thursday July 24, I had the pleasure of attending the dedication and open house of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency’s Ernest J. LaBaff Industrial Building on Commerce Lane in Canton. It’s a nice facility, which currently hosts IDA offices as well as the St. Lawrence Brewing Company, owned by (you guessed it) Ken Hebb, a SUNY Canton grad. Ernest LaBaff is a labor leader who is devoted to economic development of the North Country, and the dedication was attended by several legislators, economic and educational leaders, and his many friends and family members. The dedication was followed by a reception, where I had the chance to meet Mr. LaBaff. Afterwards, purely out of solidarity of course, I walked down to the brewery and enjoyed a Sampler—four small (4 oz.) glasses of different beers offered there. The Honey Blonde brew was especially good. photo 2

On the Saturday afternoon before the Boston trip, my parents and I went down to Ogdensburg to see the Visitors Center and the waterfront. The area is beautiful, with a nice walkway, a gazebo that overlooks the river, a small marina, and a very nice park.

photo 3Ogdensburg Visitor’s Center

photo 4My parents along the Ogdensburg riverfront

As we arrived back in Canton, my phone rang—my assistant Michaela was calling to ask if I was having difficulty finding the dinner. “What dinner” I asked? It turns out that I had screwed up royally, because while I knew my parent and I had been invited to dinner by chemistry faculty member Rajiv Narula and his lovely wife Geetika, I thought that the invitation was for a week later. I called to apologize, and Rajiv kindly said it was OK, and asked if I would still be able to come by for a while. My mother and I quickly hopped into the car and popped over. Rajiv has a very nice home in the village so it wasn’t far at all, and the dinner was wonderful—excellent vegetarian Indian cuisine, which all loyal readers of the BLAB are aware is my favorite type of food. Rajiv and Geetika have been married for about a year now, and I asked him if they had the full Indian wedding experience that I’ve seen in Bollywood movies. Yes, he said—it was the full three-day extravaganza with hundreds of relatives and the groom riding in on a horse, and several SUNY Canton faculty had gone over to share the experience. I wish I could have seen it! The company at the dinner was great with several Canton faculty members and their spouses, and we spent the evening talking and trading jokes. Afterwards, Rajiv said that I had an open invitation to come over for dinner anytime. I told him he didn’t realize what he had just gotten himself into—I might be by every night!


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all involving the word “plate”. Our winner was    . Here are the correct answers:

  1. In baseball, you cross it to score a run. Home plate.
  2. New Hampshire’s says “Live Free or Die”, whereas Idaho’s says “Famous Potatoes”. License plate.
  3. It can be used to replace your top teeth. Upper plate.
  4. Scientific theory describing the large-scale movement of the Earth’s lithosphere. Plate tectonics.
  5. Estuary between Argentina and Uruguay, also the name of a major Argentinian soccer team. The River Plate (Rio de la Plata).


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

In honor of my big trip, this week’s questions all have to do with Boston.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Major league baseball team located in Boston.
  2. Historical event whose motto was “no taxation without representation”.
  3. William Shatner, James Spader, and Candice Bergen starred in this 2004-2008 TV show.
  4. Crispus Attucks was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War, during this event.
  5. Only song by the Rolling Stones with the word “Boston” in it (hint: It’s not in the title), it’s from the album “Let It Bleed”. They play it at almost every concert, and it’s usually the longest song in the set.
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