Dr. Robin Cole Jr. began his position as the new vice president of economic and workforce development and career technical education at Monroe Community College (MCC) this summer. He’s already thrilled by the commitment shown by businesses in the Rochester region to support college students through experiential learning.
“In Rochester there are a lot of local industries that are motivated and passionate about the community and our students,” said Cole, who has served in higher education leadership positions at institutions in numerous states including Tennessee, Louisiana and Florida. “Every community I’ve worked has had a specialized interest and a focus – in Jacksonville it was IT, in Louisiana it was welding, in Tennessee it was Nike. Rochester is very blessed with a flagship optics industry.”
The optics industry is just one of the many that want to be involved with MCC students while they are in school and beyond, Cole said. He added that overall, 167 employers and organizations in myriad fields provide workforce development opportunities like co-ops, internships, and apprenticeships to MCC students. He noted that 100% of MCC students do some type of applied learning during their certificate or associate degree studies.
Cole believes in the law of exposure when it comes to ensuring graduating students have the necessary skills for today’s available jobs. He explained it like this: “We give them career exposure; the opportunity to see what’s out there. Experiential learning offers individuals the opportunity to think bigger and better, to feel comfortable in the work environment, to gain experience and to eliminate fear and doubt.”
At Roberts Wesleyan College, the career development office also focuses on the interpersonal and personal skills students need to be successful in the workplace.
“A lot of what we do is help our students build confidence in themselves and what they bring to the table,” said Kathleen Raniewicz, a career success coach who has been with the private, four-year college for almost ten years. “We listen and really focus on encouraging students at the undergraduate level. Skills we lean into are the eight NACE competencies.”
Created by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in 2015 and updated in 2020 these eight career readiness competencies and examples of each are:
Career & Self-Development display curiosity; seek out opportunities to learn
Communication employ active listening, persuasion, and influencing skills
Critical Thinking multi-task well in a fast-paced environment
Equity & Inclusion advocate for inclusion, equitable practices, justice, and
empowerment for historically marginalized communities
Leadership use innovative thinking to go beyond traditional methods
Professionalism ex. maintain a positive personal brand in alignment with organization and personal career values
Teamwork collaborate with others to achieve common goals and
Technology quickly adapt to new or unfamiliar technologies.
These competencies can be strengthened through experiential learning and about 65% of undergraduate majors at Roberts Wesleyan require an experiential learning component. Such experiences could be, for example, an internship at a local non-profit or shadowing at a health clinic. All students are encouraged to participate in at least one experiential learning opportunity during their time at Roberts Wesleyan.
If there are equity, accessibility, or other issues that don’t allow for a student to go off campus to complete experiential learning, the career development office provides assistance to find on-campus opportunities related to their fields. They also support curricular-based projects where businesses come to campus to work with groups of students on real-world projects.
“An important part of experiential learning is academic reflection work,” Raniewicz said. “It’s not just about the task, but ultimately learning and developing from the opportunity.”
When Dr. Julia Overton-Healy, director of career services, St. John Fisher University, assumed her role in 2018 she, like Cole, was not familiar with the Rochester business community but has been extremely pleased with how they welcome student learners.
“When we put out a call for a mock interview night we’re flooded with volunteers,” Overton-Healy said. “The Rochester business community is very helpful and very engaged. They really want to mentor and foster students from all the local colleges and universities. They know that this is an important part of attracting and retaining talent locally.”
Overton-Healy called Fisher’s relationship with the business community “wonderful synergistic” and pointed to Wegmans, Paychex, Constellation Brands, Rochester Regional, UR Medicine, and the Buffalo Bills [Pegula Sports and Entertainment LLC] as just a few of the regional employers that support students with rich experiential learning opportunities.
“One of the unique things about St. John Fisher is that we’ve embedded career design into our curriculum,” Overton-Healy said. “It’s woven throughout the entire academic experience here and we’re committed heavily to experiential learning in many forms, like mentorships, internships, job site visits, and sponsored research with faculty members.”
A survey of Fisher’s past two graduating classes showed that 87% of undergraduates completed some form of practical or experiential learning experience during their time at the university and, of those, 40% completed two or more. These numbers are only from students who responded and could be even higher, Overton-Healy notes.
All of the professionals interviewed for this piece noted the impact COVID-19 has had on experiential learning and workplace hiring. Many experiential learning opportunities continued for college students during the pandemic’s lockdown but were done remotely or in other ways not typically done before. Both students and internship hosts had to be flexible and open to change.
“COVID has changed the way we have all done our work,” Overton-Healy said. “As employers revisit the way they attract talent and re-frame their recruiting strategies, it’s more important than ever they look at an applicant’s reliance, grit, and problem-solving skills.”
Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded more than $2.3 million statewide to support local cultural nonprofits and educational programming, including more than $200,000 in awards to two area organizations.
“Nonprofits and cultural organizations are critical parts of the Upstate economy that create jobs and serve vital functions so I am pleased to provide this critical federal support to help them survive through the COVID crisis,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-NY), who led the negotiations to create this stream of funding in the CARES Act. “This federal funding will help New York along its road to recovery from the pandemic and foster communities that are enriched and inspired. The pandemic did not snuff out our thirst for cultural education, nor the jobs in that vital sector, and I’m proud to deliver this critical funding that will feed our communities the cultural nourishment they need.”
In the Finger Lakes Region, George Eastman Museum will receive $135,000 for transforming audience engagement and reach through digital programs, while Roberts Wesleyan College will receive $73,046 for the college’s A.S. Arts & Culture.
“This critical investment in Upstate New York will advance education and humanities research in our communities,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY), said. “Because of the National Endowment for the Humanities, our cultural institutions are able to reach more families and communities with programming that enriches, educates and inspires. As New York communities prepare to reopen, this critical CARES funding is pivotal in the advancement of our education and economy and will help define who we are as a nation. I am proud to have fought for this funding and will continue pushing to fund nonprofits, cultural organizations, and humanities.”
The senators said that Upstate New York will receive nearly 6 percent of the $40.3 million in grants the NEH is allocating this month. New York state as a whole will receive $6,841,387. The grants come from the $75 million in supplemental grant funding the NEH received through the CARES Act.
Nationally, the NEH estimates that the additional grant funding will support projects that will ultimately reach an audience of 137 million people.
Normally, April would be the month when high school seniors are making last-minute visits to Rochester-area colleges, trying to decide which school that accepted them they will attend in the fall. Juniors might use their April break to start their college search.
But not this year. Not with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools are instead inviting accepted students to visit their web pages, take virtual campus tours, meet current students and officials on Zoom, and make a decision without setting foot on campus. In fact, chartered buses that normally bring students from the New York City area to visit Nazareth College and Finger Lakes Community College have been canceled, potentially resulting in fewer students from the Big Apple attending those schools in the fall.
And many colleges are sharing their uncertainty about whether the incoming class will attend classes in person in the fall, as that’s still up in the air depending on the path of the pandemic. Colleges in the State University of New York system are waiting for direction from Albany.
From community colleges to research universities, local institutions of higher education are juggling student decisions, extra costs of operating remotely, families hesitant to start or complete the college choice process because of their economic uncertainty, and what seems like daily news and changes on the pandemic scene.
Several local schools, including the region’s largest employer, the University of Rochester, have frozen hiring to some extent, and instituted pay freezes because of the economic impacts of the pandemic.
After moving spring semester classes online in the middle of the semester, most colleges have also announced summer sessions will be online, too. Schools report they are planning for multiple scenarios for the fall semester.
To try to reduce stress for prospective families, some colleges have delayed the traditional May 1 deadline for students to commit to June 1.
“Essentially, we want to give families the opportunity to think through their decisions and make sure they’re the best fit for them. In some cases, people need more time to make that decision because of the uncertainty that exists,” said John Mordaci, assistant vice president of admissions at Nazareth College.
The uncertainty may not lay with the college, but with the family’s circumstances. Suddenly without a job, some parents are having to rewrite their children’s financial documents, and are appealing financial aid offers made just a few weeks ago when their income looked very different. Hobart and William Smith Colleges said about 15 percent more financial appeals have been filed this year than in a typical year.
While Monroe Community College is more affordable than most schools, the college is trying to let students know that even if they apply at the last minute — common with rolling admissions at community colleges — and even if they don’t have internet access at home, college staff are available to help them negotiate the financial aid process.
Christine Casalinuovo-Adams, MCC’s associate vice president for enrollment management, said there may be an uptick in enrollment for the fall because of changing financial circumstances for families who didn’t have MCC at the top of their lists until now.
“Their number one choice is still alive and the pathway to get there is through MCC,” she said, noting MCC students have gone on to Yale and Cornell universities, as well as prestigious state schools.
Some other schools say it’s too early to predict whether their enrollment will differ in the coming year from the previous year.
“Colleges and universities are a really important part of our economy, particularly here in Rochester, and so we’re all doing the best we can to make sure we reach our enrollment goals,” said Nazareth’s Mordaci.
Finger Lakes Community College moved all registration for classes online for the first time this spring. “We’re seeing the same volume of activity in our new space,” said Matthew Stever, director of admissions.
Nazareth enlisted a company to survey prospective students about how their decision-making process might have changed because of the pandemic.
“What we’ve found is that most students who have already made their decision to attend a certain school are sticking with that decision,” Mordaci said. On the other hand, students who haven’t set foot on a particular school’s campus yet are unlikely to commit to that college.
John Young, vice president and dean of admissions at Hobart and William Smith (HWS), said that school is running about 10 percent ahead in deposits from accepted students, but is lagging in rejections. He and other counselors agreed that undecided students are taking longer to make a decision.
April is the month where most schools roll out the red carpet to either welcome those who’ve already committed or to woo those who are still on the fence. Accepted students days can be lavish affairs with catered meals, chances to meet college presidents and deans, tours of dorms and other facilities, meetups with current students and student groups, parent information sessions, swag, and perhaps even a chance to sit in on a class.
“Without those events, it’s been a bigger challenge this year,” Mordaci said.
Many schools report taking unusual steps in hopes of a full house in August or September, from calling every accepted student, to creating new virtual campus tours, webinars and special-topic zoom seminars that will help them make up their minds.
“We had to pivot pretty quickly,” said HWS’ Young. In some cases, colleges repackaged digital information they already had in an easier-to-find format online. In other cases, they created new features online. HWS created new videos using some of the 125 students still on campus.
University of Rochester has several videos for prospective students, but one is clearly dated because it includes an interview with a dean who passed away in 2018. Current-day deans, though, are featured in weekly videos made available to the university community in which they read favorite works.
Rochester Institute of Technology has a virtual tour with the feel of a video game featuring a real student tour guide who comes and goes, something like an avatar. It’s not surprising from a university with state-of-the-art video game design facilities. RIT also announced on Wednesday freezes on hiring and pay, some pay cuts and furloughs, as well as halting construction projects through the summer.
Prospective students at Nazareth College usually meet the college president at accepted students day events. This year they will virtually meet President Daan Braveman, who will step down in June, and incoming President Elizabeth Paul during an online event.
Even with these online tools, college admission counselors say there’s no substitute for an in-person visit. Many of today’s college applicants have come to expect they’ll visit nearly every college they apply to before they apply, and make second visits after they receive acceptance notifications.
Young said when he started his career, about 25 percent of students arrived for classes each fall without having visited previously. Now attending the college without a prior visit is rare, except for one group: foreign students.
So Young invited Gizem Hussain from Pakistan, a member of HWS’s Class of 2021, to share with accepted students how she settled on a college from abroad.
In her letter to prospective students, Hussain wrote that she searched the college’s website, but also connected with social media accounts and searched out videos that could give her more of a feel for the campus. She checked out course listings to see what classes would be offered in her major.
“If there is a silver lining to this virtual, rather than in-person, experience, I can promise you that the moment you do step foot on the campus of your choice, you will experience something magical. There is an unmatched, indescribable excitement of physically seeing a world that you had only associated with images and videos on a screen for the first time,” she wrote.
While MCC is patting itself on the back for being an early adopter of online instruction and processes — it has had paperless registration and course selection for 15 years — others are getting into that game for the very first time.
“This is going to force a lot of schools to do things a lot differently and some of these methods are going to stick,” Stever said.
Other lasting effects of this time might be the economic impact on campus workforces and in families rejiggering their comfort level with having their students go far away from home to attend college.
Locally, UR, St. John Fisher College, Roberts Wesleyan College have all announced hiring freezes of some sort. SUNY Brockport said it is reviewing every unfilled position to determine whether replacements should be hired at this time. RIT reported it is in meetings on the subject.
MCC was already reducing staff through a voluntary separation plan before the pandemic hit.
Colleges are also seeing signs similar to the period after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when families’ decided to send students to college closer to home rather than risk being separated by many miles during uncertain times.
“Last year our freshman class came from 29 states,” Mordaci said at Nazareth. “We don’t expect that will be the same this year, based on the circumstances. We had to cancel a bus trip we normally do from NYC. We feel that’s going to impact us.”
“Families might not be as willing to go as far” once again, Stever said.
But as with all things pandemic, predictions can be mercurial.
Stever said FLCC’s reach has expanded because more information is online now, making it more accessible now to non-traditional age prospective students who may want to retool.
HWS saw increased enrollment after 911 from urban areas.
“I wonder if we might see the same things here,” Young said. “It’s much easier to pay attention to social distancing on a campus like ours. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.”
Roberts Wesleyan College announced this week that it is postponing its May 9 commencement ceremonies due to uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most other local colleges have already announced cancellation of their spring graduation ceremonies with plans to provide details at a later date about what might take the place of the previously scheduled commencement.
Monroe Community College announced on Thursday that it will hold graduation in December instead of May.
Other postponements include Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, Nazareth College, St. John Fisher College, SUNY College at Brockport, SUNY Geneseo, Finger Lakes Community College, and Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School.
Hobart and William Smith President Joyce Jacobsen shared with that campus community that the in-person graduation scheduled for May 17 is canceled, but the colleges are considering a virtual graduation at the same time, among other options.
A decision hasn’t yet been shared about commencement at Genesee Community College.
Despite the lack of ceremonies, colleges have noted that graduating students will still receive their diplomas in the mail, and their transcripts will be updated to indicate they’ve graduated on time.
State University of New York colleges and the University of Rochester will close down most in-person classes and teach the rest of the semester online in an effort to reduce the possibility of spreading the COVID-19 virus, it was announced Wednesday afternoon.
In the evening, Rochester Institute of Technology also announced it would extend this week’s spring break by another week and then begin teaching classes March 23 online or through course redesign.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon that he has also asked companies in the New York City area, where the state’s population is densest and closest to the biggest cluster of confirmed coronavirus cases, to consider having employees work at home, or in shifts to reduce densities and risk of exposure. He also urged means of public transportation to double their cleaning schedules, noting information on how long the virus remains active on surfaces has been conflicting.
University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf, in a letter to the campus community Wednesday afternoon, asked that non-essential visitors postpone visits for the rest of the semester, including to the Memorial Art Gallery, owned by the university. Requests for visiting researchers would be postponed for six months.
The letter also said that the University of Rochester Medical Center is talking with state health officials about whether visitations there need to be curtailed.
The number of cases in New York as of Wednesday afternoon was 212, with 121 of them in the New Rochelle area, just north of New York City. No cases have been detected on any of the local campuses nor in Monroe County.
The SUNY system also includes City College of New York campuses. In the Rochester area, it includes the College at Geneseo, College at Brockport, Monroe Community College, Finger Lakes Community College and Genesee Community College.
As for other local colleges:
St. John Fisher is taking travel and food-serving precautions, a spokeswoman reported. In addition, it has announced webinars Friday and Monday for faculty on how to use available technology for creating online lectures.
Similarly, Roberts Wesleyan College said it was preparing to continue classes remotely if necessary, but mostly operating as usual.
Nazareth College is on break until Monday, but the college’s coronavirus task force is meeting daily to consider whether other steps are needed, a spokeswoman said.
The shift to online learning would begin March 19 for the SUNY schools and March 18 for the University of Rochester. The announcement came during spring break or right before the break for some schools. UR announced that it was adding two days to the break for Eastman School of Music students so they don’t have to return before online instruction starts.
For the public schools, UR and RIT, students were being urged to return to their permanent addresses to complete their studies online. However, if the students are unable to go home, especially because of health-related restrictions in their home communities, their dorms will remain open. UR and RIT said food service would continue for those students on campus.
RIT added that students with on-campus jobs will still have work jobs available. Faculty were expected to report to work, but non-essential meetings were prohibited.
Cuomo said of state dormitories, “They’re not evicting anyone. They’re not closing the dorm and kicking you out.”
Most campuses had already been under some self-imposed restrictions limiting the size of gatherings. In Wednesday’s written announcement to the UR community, Mangelsdorf and other academic leaders listed this change: “essential meetings specifically related to the administrative, academic, or performance obligations of the University are limited to 100 participants until the end of the semester. Everyone is expected to cancel, postpone, or ‘virtualize’ all other meetings.” Some small seminars for graduate students and researchers may continue but are limited to 25 people, the notice said.
Cuomo said decisions had not been made about scheduled SUNY sports competitions and graduations.
Authorities were also discussing whether the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade would be canceled, he said, adding that such as step may not be necessary in smaller cities where the number of cases is smaller or non-existent. Boston and Chicago have canceled their parades.
The Business Solutions Institute at Roberts Wesleyan College will present a day-long workshop for businesses to learn about developing their own strategic marketing plans for engaging new customers and growing profits.
The “Maximizing Your Marketing Plan: Boost Your Brand” workshop is designed for business owners and marketers and takes place Jan. 9 in the Shewan Recital Hall in the North Chili campus’ Cultural Life Center. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Registration and additional information is available online at https://www.roberts.edu/event-bsi-marketing-workshop/.
“Every organization needs strong marketers who can deliver clear value propositions while also identifying the critical benchmarks and milestones that will help guide businesses down the most efficient path possible,” said Dr. Steven Bovee, executive director of community engagement at Roberts Wesleyan College. “We’re excited to work with local businesses and marketing professionals in the Greater Rochester community to provide tangible lessons, tools and resources that will streamline their marketing efforts.”
The workshop will include presentations by Roberts faculty and local experts, including:
Jon Alhart, managing partner of digital services at Dixon Schwabl
Kim Allen, managing partner of communications at Dixon Schwabl.
Laura L. Falco, professor of Marketing at Roberts Wesleyan College
Natalie Anderson, executive director of central development at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Participants will take away a workbook and custom value proposition about their businesses, and will receive a certificate for completing the program.
Soft skills–those traits and techniques that help you build relationships with others–are a key to getting ahead at work.
Even in a high-tech, highly electronic world, says Melisza Campos, a Dale Carnegie master, “The people who can get things done are the ones who can navigate human relationships.”
Why is that? Campos, 40, whose day job is as a marketing manager at Wegmans, says “Being able to facilitate solutions, whether for your department or company, is very important.” She believes that problems we face in the world are getting more and more complex, so it takes collaboration to address them.
Soft skills help you understand where people are at, she said, and how to motivate them to work together to accomplish what is a prime objective for most businesses: “getting something done on time.”
Lack of soft skills may even be the cause of today’s tempestuous political times. Campos cited a recent Harvard Business Review article that said 50 percent of Americans avoid talking with people who are different. It’s hard to communicate, let alone collaborate, with a person who won’t even consider talking to you.
Many people 40 years old and above think those younger than 40 lack some of these soft skills, due to their reliance on screens rather than face-to-face communication. As a result, RBJ consulted with three 2018 winners of the Rochester 40 Under 40 Awards, to get their take on the importance of soft skills and how to develop them.
All three said soft skills may come more easily to an extrovert–especially some who describes themselves as a “people person.” But they also suggested ways people can improve upon soft skills.
The skills include building trust, making connections, being able to truly listen to and acknowledge another point of view, resolving conflicts, self-awareness and reflection, flexibility in the face of unexpected events, and perhaps above all, the ability to communicate well.
Anyone with an abundance of these traits might want to consider finding work in a field that makes extensive use of these skills, such as fundraising and marketing.
“I’ve always been a people person and I think soft skills is just something you just have, but I do think it’s something that you can be thoughtful of, or improve upon,” said Ryann Guglielmo, 29, a public relations advisor at Dixon Schwabl. She said she’s noticed a difference in access to soft skills among younger people.
“I think younger generations have different resources we might not have had,” Gugliemo said, such as required interpersonal communication classes in college. She said younger people communicate well, but they may prefer doing it by email instead of in-person meetings.
“I would rather do the in-person meeting, but I appreciate someone who doesn’t have that style,” she said.
Darrell Bell, 39, vice president for institutional advancement at Roberts Wesleyan College, says he was often warned that his outgoing personality as a child would lead him into a career in politics.
“I don’t think I would be a vice president if I didn’t have curiosity, want to learn new things, jump in head first when there’s problems to solve, or conflicts to resolve,” Bell said. “I’ve always just had a passion for getting to know people.”
Carlos Cong, 40, a senior manager of Enterprise Technology Services at Paychex, Inc., describes himself as more of an “ambivert,” meaning an introvert at times and an extravert at other times, depending on the situation.
Nevertheless, Cong relies on soft skills to do his job. “Everything we do (at Paychex) is all about collaboration,” he said. That’s true whether he’s communicating with an end user of Paychex services at a remote location or a division executive who wants to achieve a particular business outcome, and especially when making a pitch.
Cong said soft skills are “foundational for you to be successful. If you don’t have those skills, you’re really not going to go anywhere.”
All three 40 Under 40 awardees said it’s possible to hone soft skills by learning from others, though Bell leaned more heavily toward the “You’ve either got it you’ve don’t” school of thinking.
Guglielmo said she regularly attends workshops or presentations–some of them free–offered by the Rochester Business Journal and the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.
Campos said people need to practice these skills and can start out small, in low-risk settings. As a proponent of Dale Carnegie training, she of course suggested that training would be useful, “where you’re in a safe lab environment to be able to try.” But students of soft skills can also learn on the job. “Ask a manager to take on more–facilitating a team meeting. Or it could be that they go to more networking functions just to try,” Campos suggested.
Bell said, “Exposure is everything.” College courses can offer practice in making presentations or drawing in other students to collaborate on projects.
When he was getting his master’s degree in strategic leadership at Roberts, Bell said some of his classmates had a lot of trouble making public presentations. “At end of the program, they were sending me photos of them presenting to hundreds of people,” he said. “A lot of where we get caught up is in our own heads. When you’re put into a situation where you have to do it, you just kind of have to do it.”
Both Guglielmo and Cong suggested observing leaders you admire and copying their best soft skills. Guglielmo has used that trick to develop the skill of successful delegating. She doesn’t just give someone a task; she communicates how the task will help the larger project.
“Find a mentor who can coach you and be honest with you,” Guglielmo said.
Cong said he learned the value of listening from observing a leader he admired at work.
“One of my mentors throughout my career, really, really took the time to actively listen to people and really make them feel valued in terms of their opinion, even if she didn’t agree with them. Through that observation, really what I learned was that patience … to not jump to conclusions,” he said. One should respond to a foreign idea in a way that will “continue to grow the relationship rather than hinder it,” he said. Interrupting or cutting someone off can cause the other person to be combative, defensive, less than curious. “Acknowledgement is the response people really want.”
One last suggestion that introverts might find especially attractive came from Cong: read a book. There are plenty of how-to books available. Cong’s favorite is “Leading Change” by John Kotter.
Whether you are born with the skills or need to develop or brush up on them, soft skills are worth having.
“You’ll be more respected at work and people will want to work alongside you and with you,” Guglielmo said.
Just in time for back-to-college, a new book says higher education has a dirty little secret: dropout rates.
David Kirp, author of “The College Dropout Scandal,” says it’s shameful that 40 percent of college students seeking a bachelor’s degree never make it to graduation, especially because help is at hand.
In his book, released this month, Kirp writes, “Every college administrator with a pulse knows the tools that have proven to remedy the dropout problem. They don’t cost a fortune and they don’t require a genius to make them work.” But they do take leadership and emphasis on the welfare of students, he said.
As if the self-esteem issues of failing weren’t bad enough, many dropouts leave college with debt from the courses they took, but no degree to help them get a job with an income to match their loan payments.
“Many of them are actually worse off economically than if they hadn’t started college. While they earn a little more than those who never went beyond high school, they leave college with a pile of debt …. Dropouts are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as college grads, and they are four times more likely to default on student loans, thus wrecking their credit and shrinking their career options,” Kirp asserts.
Students of color who come from lower-income families and are first-generation scholars experience greater challenges staying in school because of finances and a lack of college-savvy family members to guide them. Despite how bright those students may be, dropping out can reinforce in their own minds and those of others the idea that they’re not cut out for college, Kirk suggests.
But a little help – sometimes as simple as an older student talking with incoming freshmen about how it’s normal to feel out of place and overwhelmed that first year and what can be done about it – can make a big difference in keeping those students on track.
Additionally, the picture is brighter locally. Rochester-area colleges are nearly all above average in their graduation rates, some substantially so. And many are already employing at least some of the methods Kirp says have proved successful in raising those graduation rates further.
Some of the truisms of graduation rates apply, such as those schools that are more selective graduate a higher percentage of students. University of Rochester’s rate (completing a bachelor’s degree in six or fewer years) is at the top locally, at 86 percent.
But other truisms didn’t apply, such as state schools’ graduation rate averaging 50 percent or lower. SUNY Geneseo, known as one of the more selective schools in the SUNY system, graduated 81 percent of its students in the six-year cohort beginning in 2012.
Brockport, at 65 percent, was lower, but still above average. In addition, 73 percent of black students in that cohort graduated, beating both the campus average and the percentage of white students. The school has not been able to dig into the statistics yet to figure out why black students are graduating at a much higher rate there than at other schools. While that rate is unusual even at Brockport, It’s apparently not a statistical anomaly, either, as there were 783 black students, or 11.1 percent of the student body, last school year.
Kirp, a public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, recommends schools use five major tools to improve graduation rates:
Share more information with students, such as how to seek help after a failing grade or where to find internship opportunities.
Give nudges, perhaps in the form of text reminders about important deadlines or tasks that need to be completed, such as selecting next semester’s courses.
Data analytics, ranging from tracking early warning signs of struggles and sharing that with appropriate adults, to looking at which courses are oversubscribed, preventing students from getting their course requirements in time.
Offer experiences that generate a sense of belonging, from social outings with faculty members to group volunteering events.
Revamp curriculum. Research suggests gateway courses such as remedial math sometimes present an insurmountable hurdle; teaching those courses in a more engaging way than straight lecture would help more students pass them. Additionally, four-year schools are sometimes out of sync with community colleges that feed them, causing transfer students to lose credits and faith.
That last piece is particularly important, as Kirp says 40 percent of college freshmen are enrolled in community college, and 80 percent of those plan to gain a bachelor’s degree by transferring if they make it that far.
Some local colleges report they have added executive-level positions in their administrations tasked with improving graduation rates, and they are employing some of the tactics Kirp outlines in his book. Kirp provides in-depth case studies of a number of schools that have improved their retention, sometimes by targeting demographic groups that are prone to dropping out.
The University of Central Florida, for instance, looked to a nearby community college to help solve its lagging graduation rate. UCF and Valencia Community College worked out an agreement whereby the community college’s courses were better aligned with majors at UCF, and UCF guaranteed admission to its bachelor’s programs for any student who graduated from Valencia. Immediately, the community college’s graduation rate doubled.
Similarly, Rochester Institute of Technology recently announced a somewhat similar program with Monroe, Finger Lakes and Genesee community colleges, allowing students who follow prescribed course paths at the community colleges for a year before their automatic entry to RIT to work on a bachelor’s degree. The students will gain an associate’s degree, too, after their second year in the program.
RIT boasts a 70 percent graduation rate overall, though the rates vary substantially from program to program, notes James C. Hall, dean of the University Studies Division and executive director of the School of Individualized Study at RIT. The university it always trying to improve its graduation rates, he said.
One step RIT is making is moving to a profession advising staff for all undergrad students, instead of tacking advising duties onto professors’ workloads. Though faculty still have a role in advising, the university had done more work to coach the advisors whether they are staff or faculty.
“There’s more general understanding on the part of faculty and staff on just how important keeping students is to the financial viability of the institution,” Hall said. “Like any customer, you want to keep them once you find them.”
Hall said the university also adopted the Starfish software that can provide early alerts to advisors when a student seems to be floundering. The system also allows a student to send up a red flag to get help without a face-to-face interaction, something that stymies this particularly tech-savvy but socially inexperienced generation.
Still, though, Hall says there’s no substitute for human interaction.
“None of that beats a student knocking on a faculty door,” Hall said. That’s the way for students to gain high-quality information, such as an opportunity to work in a faculty members’ laboratory, or an internship, and the way to share what’s bugging them in a way that texting can’t solve. “The more opportunities students have to share in a human release sort of what it is generating anxiety for them,” the more likely they are to overcome that issue, he suggested. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Kirp puts it this way: “the more students believe that they belong, the better they do academically.”
College retention programs don’t always have to focus on student’s own problems and barriers. They gain a sense of self-worth by helping others, too. Both University of Rochester and Brockport have community service projects that are tied into orientation.
Roberts Wesleyan College’s new head of diversity, Herb Alexander, decided to focus on students of color, who tend to have lower graduation rates. The overall rate is 68 percent, but it’s 48 percent for African Americans and 36 percent for Latinos. Alexander recruited seven black male students – all members of the college’s basketball team – to help mentor students in Rochester city charter schools.
“This is a way of instilling the value of getting a college education,” a college administrator said. And it may serve as a reminder for the college students, too. Roberts’ graduation rate had been nine points lower just a couple of years ago. But then the college became a little more selective in accepting students, resulting in a better retention rate.
At Nazareth College, the numbers have been going the other way, slipping steadily over the last few years. The most recent six-year cohort, the class that entered in 2012, had a graduation rate of 66 percent, a little above average. But the class entering in 2008 graduated 75 percent.
Andrew Morris, Associate Vice President for Retention and Student Success, was hired in 2013 to deal with the problem. The college didn’t know then what the graduation rate this last year would be, but it had a good idea based a bellwether statistic: the percentage of freshmen who return for their sophomore year. That stat had been going down even earlier. More recently, though, it has been going up again, Morris said, indicating the graduation rate will rebound in a few years.
Morris said the college has been doing some deep data mining, trying to find danger points on which to focus. One that turned up is that students who don’t complete 30 credits in their first two semesters are more likely to fall behind and drop out. As a result, the college takes action once a student finishes one of the first two semesters with less than 15 hours.
“We want to make sure you’re having a conversation about what is the plan, talking with your advisor about what happened and why it happened and what you’re going to do about it,” Morris said. But staff have learned to take care in the language they use during this conversation, he said, to avoid making a student feel there’s something wrong with them for failing to complete 30 hours.
Kirp’s book talks a lot about first-generation students and minority students assuming the hiccups they encounter come from their being unfit for college. It might be a common problem for everyone, but others know how to work through it.
Nazareth continues to try to connect people face to face, Morris said, sometimes through unexpected and subtle ways.”There’s almost some social engineering that can happen,” he said, noting the college fixed up a fountain that had been in disrepair for some time and planted flowers around it. Suddenly, it because a gathering spot for students.
Kirp’s book describes Amherst College also taking a facilities approach to break down the barriers and lack of inclusion caused by athletes commandeering long tables in the dining halls. It brought in round tables instead, limiting the number of people who could gather at a single table.
Morris mentioned a more surreptitious tactic and one that he doesn’t expect Nazareth will adopt: a Pennsylvania college slowed the speed of wireless internet service in students’ rooms and boosted it in common areas in their dormitories, forcing students to come out of their rooms if they wanted high-speed internet.
“This is the reality that students are plugged into their phones and social media,” Morris said, but engineering their internet service to force interaction may be going too far. “How are we going to meet them where they are?”
On Monday, three women will create history in the Rochester area as each one officially becomes the first woman to preside over her respective college or university.
As University of Rochester, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School all welcome their new presidents, seven out of 12 colleges in Monroe County and its bordering counties will be led by women and six will be first-female presidents.
The percentage of female presidents locally will be nearly double the national average of 30.1 percent.
“My first thought is Susan B. Anthony must be smiling down on Rochester right now!” wrote Anne M. Kress, president of MCC.
RBJ interviewed by email the Rochester area’s four current female presidents about advice they might have for the new presidents and their thoughts on the wave of women in higher education. They are:
Kress, president of MCC since 2009;
Deana L. Porterfield, president of Roberts Wesleyan College since 2014;
Heidi Macpherson, president of SUNY Brockport since 2015;
and Denise Battles, president of SUNY Geneseo since 2015.
The first three were breakers of glass ceilings at their institutions. Battles is the second permanent female president at Geneseo. (A female interim president immediately preceded her.)
The three new presidents reporting to duty Monday are:
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, who is coming to UR from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she has been provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Joyce P. Jacobsen, who has already introduced herself at Hobart and William Smith Colleges through podcast interviews, comes from Wesleyan University, where she served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
Angela D. Sims will lead Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School in its new location on North Goodman Street. She was dean and vice president of institutional advancement at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kan., and Oklahoma City, Okla. Sims has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to head a local college, as noted by Rochester City Mayor Lovely Warren when Sims’ appointment was announced.
“The fact that these three campuses represent vastly different institutional types – a research university, theological institution and liberal arts college – is particularly noteworthy,” Battles said. “For example, national data show that women are far less likely to lead research universities than, say community colleges.”
Being on the leading edge of a national trend may not be the first thing Mangelsdorf, Jacobsen and Sims deal with Monday morning. Besides familiarizing themselves with the lay of the land, the location of the presidential restroom, and the names of their staff, all three will be in some uncharted territory; none have been presidents before. That’s not unusual for top academic administrators in the Rochester area, regardless of gender. Candidates for these jobs often have their first presidential-level job at colleges and universities here before either moving on or retiring.
Those who’ve gained experience on the job locally suggested the three be true to themselves.
“Be yourself; your authentic voice and vision of leadership was central to your selection as president,” Kress said.
“Lead from your strengths,” offered Porterfield.
Another common suggestion was to start off by learning the institution and its culture.
“It is important to value what was done before and also create new strategic pathways for the institution using your gifts and abilities,” Porterfield said.
Kress added, “Honor the past while preparing for the future: As you learn more about the history and culture of the extraordinary institution you lead, you will learn how your unique experiences will help it advance and thrive in the years ahead.”
Macpherson also stressed transparency.
“A successful presidency is about communications, transparency and clarity,” she said. “People don’t have to agree with all of your decisions, but if they understand why you’ve made them, they will accept them. It’s important to establish early on how you work with others, and how you want others to work with you.’
Macpherson also brought up the invisibility that women – even at the presidential level – sometimes experience.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “There will be times when you enter a room and people won’t realize you are the president. They may even address someone else standing next to you. How you handle those moments will be remembered.”
Kress, the most experienced female college president in the area, also suggested the newbies reach out to their colleagues. “The depth and diversity of leadership within the Rochester region is powerful, and your new community stands ready to support your success.”
According to a study by the American Council on Education, though the percentage of female presidents across the country is growing, the rate was slower between 2001 and 2016 than it was in the previous 14 years. And upon closer examination of the 2016 statistics, when 30.1 percent of colleges and universities had female presidents, the study found that women are more likely to be presidents at community colleges and limited-scope institutions than universities with greater resources, as Battles pointed out.
Private nonprofit colleges had a female presidential rate of 27.3 percent while public institutions were at almost 33 percent and community colleges hit 36 percent, according to the June 20 edition of Inside Higher Ed.
The article also reported that public colleges and universities are about twice as likely to hire minority presidents as are private ones. Perhaps surprisingly, while many African American administrators are trained at historically black colleges and universities, the percentage of those institutions that have black presidents is declining.
But with seven out of 12 – 58.33 percent – colleges in Monroe County and its bordering counties now having women at the helm, Rochester is certainly ahead of the curve.
“It is extremely exciting to think that the Rochester area is leading the way across the country in female presidents of higher education institutions,” Porterfield said. “It is fitting that in the birthplace of women’s rights that we would be a model for women leaders.”
Several of the current presidents said the wave of female presidents can only inspire other women to do the same. “If she can see it, she can be it,” Macpherson said, echoing the motto of the Geena Davis Institution on Gender in Media. “I like to think that motto works for higher education, too.”
Women now in presidential seats owe a debt of gratitude to their female forebears, Kress said. “Their success in the face of great odds opened the door for us. We need to do the same.”
Macpherson said concerted efforts to mentor women, along with the American Council on Education’s “Moving the Needle” campaign, have helped move the percentages in the direction of parity, even though they haven’t reach the goal yet. Moving the Needle has set a goal of parity by 2030.
“Women in positions of influence can and should help with this; we recognize the barriers that women might face (both internally and externally,) since we faced them ourselves. And we can purposefully offer women opportunities to demonstrate their ability to success,” Macpherson said.
Battles added demographic shifts are playing a role, too.
“Part of that increase is no doubt attributable to greater numbers of women in the higher education pipeline,” she said. “As more women enter academia, those qualified for the role of president also increases.”
Indeed, “women make up the majority of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the U.S., and the same is true in our region. Yet, only about a third of college presidencies are held by women, so it is powerful and empowering that women studying in the Rochester area can look to the leadership of their college or university and see themselves,” Kress said. “In turn, the women leading these institutions will undoubtedly reflect back on the challenges they experienced in reaching these positions and work to remove them for the next generation of leaders.”
Last week, as outgoing UR President Richard Feldman bid farewell to many of his colleagues, he took pains to note that he has faith that Mangelsdorf will be a great president and said she was hired because she was the best candidate.
But two local female presidents said woman also bring unique gifts and challenges to the presidential suite, too.
“Research shows that women lead using different gifts and skills in building teams, creating vision and moving communities forward,” Porterfield said. They create “robust community engagement and communication,” she said.
And they disproportionately face family responsibilities that conflict with career progression, Battles noted.
“Data show that women presidents are twice as likely as men to have altered their career progression to care for others. Those life choices can influence a person’s desire or opportunities to pursue, assume or continue a presidency,” Battles said.
It should be noted that the MCC, Roberts, Brockport and Geneseo presidents are not the only female presidents who have served in the Rochester area. Nazareth College, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph as a college for women, has had six female presidents, starting with Mother Sylvester Tindell in 1924.
Three of the last four presidents at Nazareth have been men and all of them came after that school went coeducational in 1971. President Daan Braveman plans to step down in 2020, so it’s possible Nazareth could return to female leadership then.
St. John Fisher, which started as a college for men, also went co-ed in the early 1970s and more than two decades later was led by Katherine Keough from 1996 until her death in 2006.
And Finger Lakes Community College was the first community college in the area to hire a female president: Barbara Risser, who served from 2007 to 2016.
The first woman to be president at Geneseo was Carol C. Harter, who served from 1989 to 1995, when she left to become president at University of Nevada, Los Vegas. There she became that institution’s longest-serving president.
Of 12 local schools, only Rochester Institute of Technology and Genesee Community College have never had a female president.
Three more local colleges have announced details of their commencement exercises; two will feature graduation speakers who are alumni.
Roberts Wesleyan College’s commencement will be May 11 in the college’s Voller Athletic Center at 2301 Westside Drive, North Chili. Ceremonies begin at 10:30 a.m. for master’s degree and non-traditional-age bachelor’s degree recipients. A 2:30 p.m. graduation ceremony will be for traditional undergraduates and students in the inclusive BELL program.
The speaker will be Mauricio F. Riveros, president of LECESSE Construction, and a member of the Roberts Wesleyan College board of trustees. Riveros holds graduate degrees in economic law and law from Bolivia.
A total of 418 students are expected to receive degrees or certificates at Roberts. Further details are available on the college’s website.
Eastman School of Music will hold its graduation for bachelor’s and master’s degree students at 11:15 a.m. May 19 in Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre. Doctoral candidates will receive their degrees the day before at 9 a.m. in the same location.
Soprano vocalist Julia Bullock, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Eastman in 2009, will speak at the May 19 ceremony. Bullock has performed with major opera companies and symphonies across the country and in Europe. She is serving as artist-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was recently named artist-in-residence for the San Francisco Symphony.
Monroe Community College holds one of the latest college commencements of the season, with ceremonies beginning at 9:30 a.m. on June 1, in the Blue Cross Arena.
Tokeya C. Graham, associate professor of English and philosophy at MCC, will be the keynote speaker. Graham was a 20-year-old single mother of a young son when she started working on her associate’s degree in human services at MCC. She graduated in 1996 and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York College at Brockport and the University of Rochester. She also earned a diversity and inclusion certificate from Cornell University. And she’s now the mother of three MCC graduates.
The ceremony will see MCC degrees and certificates presented to some 2,100 students. The college will also live-stream the event on its website. Additional details are also online.
Roberts Wesleyan College will offer an online graduate degree in literary education starting with the fall semester.
The program is structured so working teachers will be able to add to their credentials while maintaining their jobs. They may attend full time or part time to amass the 30 hours of required coursework.
“We understand the busy lifestyles of teachers, which is why we designed an online option in literacy education,” said Elizabeth Stevens, program director of the literacy program at Roberts Wesleyan College. “In our uniquely formatted program, teachers motivated to continue their education have the option to take classes fully online, or engage in a hybrid of online and face-to-face classes.”
According to the college, Roberts Wesleyan’s new degree option is one of the few in the area to allow students to complete the degree in as little as 11 months. A two-week practicum is also required. Information on the program is available on the college’s website.
Graduates will be eligible for jobs as teachers, reading specialists, reading coaches and other educational positions.
In Geneva, students at Finger Lakes Community College ferment wine, hoping their training will provide either a second career in the wine industry or a less-expensive leg up on bachelor’s degree they’ll complete at Cornell University.
In North Chili, meanwhile, students at Roberts Wesleyan College’s BELL program learn the basics of having a job and interacting with others in an educational setting. These developmentally disabled students might go on to work in a library or grocery store with new confidence in their skills to handle employment.
And in Brighton, students in the optics program at Monroe Community College sometimes get a job before they can complete a degree or certificate because the optics industry’s demands are so high. The new hires will either finish their educational program later or learn the rest of what they need to know on the job.
In these three programs and myriads of others, colleges are responding to needs of employers and employees by tailoring degrees or certificate programs with very specific job outcomes in mind. In some cases, like the viticulture and optics programs, representatives of the industries sit on advisory councils to the programs, providing input on what sort of education will be most useful to their fields.
MCC’s optics program is the oldest of these three, and it’s among the oldest job-training programs MCC offers. It was created in 1963 at the impetus of the Big Three companies that used to dominate Rochester—Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb. As the three companies diminished through the 1980s and 1990s, though, the optics technology program was threatened. Just before the start of the Great Recession, in 2007, the program was “on life support,” said Alexis Vogt, chair of the optical systems technology program at MCC. “There were years that not a single student graduated.” Both Vogt and the CEO of local firm Sydor Optics credit MCC President Anne M. Kress with giving the optics training program the support it needed to continue. It’s now serving more than 70 students at a time.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Vogt. Unlike Detroit, which has crumbled along with the auto industry, Kodak’s vast shrinking had a different result for the surrounding city. “Rather than have one behemoth of a company, we have more than 150 optics companies,” she said.
Last year 60 companies came calling for potential hires. “So what we’re seeing is students are getting job offers even before they graduate from MCC,” Vogt said. Many are taking a job locally because the field is so rich here. But they needn’t limits their horizons.
“I’ve had companies contact me in Germany, asking how they could hire our graduates,” Vogt said.
The program produces technicians, the people who do a lot of the hands-on work in optics, whether in assembling or in testing lenses. They’re key to the process, Vogt said. In her previous job in the industry, she recalled having meetings to figure out what to do about products that couldn’t be shipped because of the need of a technician.
She said 70 percent of jobs in the field are going unfilled.
“The companies end up using people who have bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.s to do the work of a technician,” she said, slowing down production.
The continuing demand for graduates or even non-graduates has MCC considering how to change the program so students can complete the basic training sooner, or expand in size.
“We hope that a lot of the work we do with dual-enrollment high schools will bring in more students,” Vogt said. Such programs grant high schoolers MCC credits for courses they take in their high schools replicating ones taught at MCC.
Alec Drummond, a student in the optics program, was working in financial services for a local business school when the industry contracted; he was laid off at age 57. He worked several jobs before landing at MCC where a supervisor, understanding he didn’t want to retire, suggested he consider retooling by enrolling in the optics technology program.
It was a field he had never considered before because he never knew about it, he said.
Drummond started taking classes part time in the spring semester of 2016 and by the end of May 2018, he was offered a job at IDEX Health & Science in Henrietta as an optical technician. His new employer provides release time to attend classes so Drummond can complete the degree, as well as reimbursement for tuition.
“As long as you maintain 30 hours at IDEX, you’re qualified for all the benefits,” Drummond said, including pension and health insurance.
IDEX makes components of microscopes used in health care settings.
Now 64, and the father of two grown sons, Drummond is enthusiastic about his new line of work. “We have a tremendous team we’re working on. It’s very rewarding.”
And retirement still isn’t on his agenda. “I’ll do it the rest of my life,” he said.
Across the county, Roberts Wesleyan College’s Bridge to Earning, Living and Learning program is geared for students who possibly never had a first job, and whose disabilities might be a hurdle in the way of that happening.
BELL is aimed at students 18 to 26 with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome. Originally conceived as an employment training program when its funding came from a 2010 federal grant, its goals are broader now.
“Our goal has always been we’re educating for character, personal transformation,” said Kym Woodard, director of the BELL program, and that’s true for traditional Roberts students as well as BELL students.
For the last three years, the program has been funded through the BOCES II program and CP Rochester, which allows adult students to apply for federal student financial aid.
Some students come directly from high school, while others have been out for a bit, Woodard said. Students spend four semesters on campus, working in the areas of academics, social experience, vocation and functional academics, also known as independent living skills. Each has an academic coach who helps with time management skills. They also have peer mentors, who are other students who help them acclimate to campus.
“These develop into real friendships,” Woodard said.
The BELL students take the equivalent of 12 hours or four classes per semester, in many cases working alongside traditional students.
“Some might be academically fine, but struggle socially,” Woodard said, noting that some students have autism but are high-functioning. “We help them design their program and make course choices. Not everybody’s going to be in Biology 101.” A student might take a fitness class, for instance, as a first academic class.
Students are also required to find some sort of work on campus, which often can lead to something after they complete their certificate.
“A student who worked here in the library now works at the Gates Public Library,” Woodard said. “Another student loves people. She’s right for the helping professions.” A student who took a child development course and worked in the daycare at Roberts’ Pierce Memorial Church now has a job at the CP Rochester daycare center.
A survey the college conducted in 2016 of BELL graduates found 89 percent were engaged in either paid or unpaid work, or volunteer or internship programs.
Roberts has 12 students in BELL each year, with six in the first year and six in the second year.
“That’s the right size for our campus; we’re a small college,” Woodard said. Conversely, with an enrollment of 1,700, Roberts is the right size for students in the BELL program, with a limited number of faces and places to become familiar with.
A graduate of the BELL program, Julianne Warren, was scared to try it after a friend recommended it to her, but now she feels comfortable on campus. Warren, 24, of Spencerport, has Down syndrome and was home-schooled instead of going to a traditional high school. Afterward, she enrolled in cooking and baking programs at BOCES II.
“The Bell program helped me to be independent and connected to people and my community,” Warren said. She can be self-conscious about stuttering but found that a public speaking class she took at Roberts helped.
“It was kind of a challenge for me, but now I did it and now I don’t stutter that much,” she said.
She particularly enjoyed the social events that were part of the BELL program, including an ice cream social and a “Beauty and the Beast” ball.
With the help of job coaches, she gained help finding and then getting used to a job in the bakery at the Tops grocery store in Spencerport, Warren said. But she still feels connected to Roberts.
“I am a part of the Roberts College. I am part of their team,” Warren said.
Woodard said the various colleges that have inclusion programs like Roberts’ for intellectually challenged students most likely put their own spins on providing opportunities for disabled students.
“This year the interest has exploded. If anything, there could be a need for more programs like this,” she said. “The word is getting out that college could be an option for a student with special needs, and parents are hearing that earlier. Don’t take it off the table. Explore it.”
Finger Lakes Community College’s Viticulture program was born out of two big economic forces in 2009. The Great Recession was just hitting its stride, and the Finger Lakes wine industry was really taking off.
The program provided a quick entry into the wine business — either making wine or growing grapes or both — for people looking to change fields or those in the industry looking for more formal education.
Director Paul Brock said the viticulture program hasn’t been as big a draw as other FLCC programs for students moving directly from high school graduation to community college.
With the exception of students who grew up on a winery or vineyard, “people in high school aren’t exposed to the wine industry like people who can drink,” Brock said.
As a result, students who attend the program, situated in a four-year-old facility in Geneva at the Cornell Tech Farm, tend to be people who have been in the workforce already and are changing direction. Brock said he gets a significant number of veterans seeking a new career after retirement from the military. And some students are just hobbyists who want more knowledge.
Besides meeting the basic requirements of an associate’s degree (Those classes are taught at the main campus in Hopewell, Ontario County, or the satellite campus in Geneva.) students are required to take courses in winemaking and raising of grapes, as well as work on internships in a vineyard and in a winery. With a school-run vineyard to operate, as well as a commercial winery included in the viticulture building, students learn every aspect of wine from the growing and harvesting of the grapes to the label that goes on the bottles of wine they produce each fall.
When finished, students will be ready for jobs as assistant vineyard managers or assistant winemaker jobs. But students often have a strong preference for one over the other, Brock said.
“We aren’t producing people who want to be in the vineyard. People want to be in the winery,” he said.
A handful will continue on to Cornell University for a bachelor’s degree in viticulture, or, for those already holding a bachelor’s degree, they’ll go on for a master’s degree in the field at Cornell.
“It’s a great opportunity for students who otherwise wouldn’t be ready to get into Cornell right out of high school,” Brock said. But further education in viticulture isn’t for everyone.
Brock said “We’re hands-on with a background in science. Cornell is science with a background in hands-on.”
Most graduates tend to go directly into the wine industry locally, to the West Coast or Southeast, or even abroad.
Paige Vinson had bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and philosophy when she began working in billing and human resources for her father’s firm contracting for FedEx. After two years, she wanting something more hands-on and her hobby of craft brewing suggested a career in a different craft beverage.
Vinson considering continuing at Cornell for a master’s degree after graduating from FLCC’s viticulture program in 2014. Ultimately, though, she decided she was more interested in production than in research, and she wanted to travel. After working at Ravines Wine Cellars throughout her viticulture studies, her first post-FLCC job was working during the harvest and crush for a vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Then she flew to the Southern Hemisphere to work in vineyards and wineries in Australia and then New Zealand in rapid succession before returning home to Geneva.
“I feel like I got an enormous amount out of the program. It was a very, very challenging degree and it required a lot of time and energy,” Vinson said. “I got a lot of information and education really from the ground up — growing and maintaining vineyards, producing and packaging and selling wines. That’s not information that’s been really readily available, short of an expensive Cornell degree.”
Since returning to the states, Vinson has worked for three wineries, and took some time to be with the baby girl she gave birth to 18 months ago. She started working again in September 2018 as assistant winemaker at Three Brothers Vineyard in the town of Geneva. She lives not far away in the city of Geneva with her husband and daughter.
The FLCC viticulture program helped Vinson get a foothold in the industry quickly, but she said, “It’s pretty important to note that there’s no standard track for this industry.” The program has been positively received wherever she’s presented her credentials, as it’s “one of the first opportunities for the wineries around here to have access to a trained or educated workforce.”
Oddly, enrollment in the program that serves a growing industry has gone down in the last few years, Brock noted. The program can accommodate as many as 30 students in each class. This year it has 22 first-year students and 11 second-year students.
“We advertised a lot when the building opened,” Brock said. “We kind of let that slide.” And the economy has improved, which means FLCC’s viticulture program isn’t the only workforce training program affected by fewer people looking for retraining.
But need within the wine industry remains strong, and expectations are growing that most winemakers will have a degree, Brock said, which wasn’t true a generation or two ago.
“The industry needs more people than we are producing,” Brock said. “I just don’t have enough graduates to apply for all the jobs.”
More than 20 companies and agencies have joined Roberts Wesleyan College’s Corporate Partnership program, gaining discounted tuition for their employees.
The program was launched earlier this year as a way to reach a new audience of students. Employers are able to offer the program as a new benefit to employees without adding to their costs. Participants – employees of the workplaces in the program as well as their spouses and dependents – are eligible for a 25 percent discount on tuition. Some employers may also provide additional rebates for work-related coursework their employees complete.
“As a business owner, I look to establish new partnerships that will be enduring ones, and this opportunity with Roberts Wesleyan aligns perfectly,” said Dwight “Kip” Palmer, president of Palmer Food Services, in a prepared statement. “I believe not only the mission of the college, but also the benefits of higher education for career advancement. This educational opportunity can enable our associates to advance their careers through academic achievement and strategic vision.”
Beside’s Palmer Food Services, the first employers to join the program include:
Canandaigua National Bank
Hillside Family of Agencies
HCR Home Care
Heritage Christian Services
Jewish Senior Life
Kirkhaven Transitional Care
Mary Cariola Children’s Center
Rochester Regional Health
St. Ann’s Community
Tompkins Financial Advisors
YMCA of Greater Rochester
Genesee Valley Chapter SHRM
CDS Life Transitions
Excellus Health Plan, Inc.
Villa of Hope
Hurlbut Care Communities
Erie County Medical Center
As with all students at the college, students coming through the corporate Partnership can take accelerated, part-time and full-time classes on campus or online and can choose from more than 60 majors, 15 graduate programs and a doctorate in psychology.
Roberts Wesleyan College has announced its commencement speaker will be Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita and ambassador of The Wesleyan Church.
Commencement ceremonies will be May 5 in Voller Athletic Center on the college’s campus in North Chili. Lyon will speak at both the 10:30 a.m. ceremony for graduate students and adult undergraduates and at the 2:30 p.m. ceremony for traditional undergraduates and graduates of its BELL program for young adults with developmental disabilities.
Lyon, of Indianapolis, has served in many roles with the Wesleyan Church and founded World Hope International, a Christian organization working in more than 30 countries to alleviate suffering and injustice in vulnerable communities.
Lyon also served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships charged with reducing poverty and inequality in the United States.
Roberts Wesleyan College has extended its deadline to March 31 for scholarship applications to a summer college experience camp for high school students.
The college is offering 35 scholarships to students who qualify for the free-or-reduced-lunch program at their schools and have a grade point average of 2.5 or above. The scholarships are funded by the John F. Wegman Fund of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, Roberts’ board of trustees and individual donors.
The sleepaway camp, July 30-Aug. 3, allows high school students to choose a focus on nursing, pre-med, crime scene investigation, social justice or worship. Students who will be entering their sophomore, junior or senior year in high school in the fall are the target audience. The deadline for non-scholarship students who want to attend the camp is July 13. Tuition is $395.
Applications for the scholarships are available online.
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