Board Chair's Report -- Fall 2022

Dear member of the Union College community –

The College’s Board of Trustees met on a colorful campus in the middle of October, halfway through a fall term marked by a number of developments that show our College is thriving and strong.

One is made possible by the generosity of alumni and other friends who have come forward to support our mission. The $300 million Powering Union campaign, launched on the eve of the pandemic and set to conclude in June 2023, has reached its goal nearly a year ahead of schedule.

We have a lot of people to thank. We have received gifts from more than 21,000 donors, including alumni, families, faculty, students, staff and foundations. After hitting this milestone early, we will continue to garner support for a key priority: developing students beyond the classroom. This includes internships, well-being and career workshops, undergraduate research, travel and experiential learning opportunities, and U Journey, a residential curriculum.

For more, see the news story about reaching the campaign milestone.

I am pleased to report that the Board has extended the contract of President David R. Harris, who has proven to be an exceptional leader throughout his tenure at Union. He has assembled a strong team that is moving the College forward in a number of important areas, even as we have successfully dealt with the significant disruption posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The future for Union is very bright, and this contract extension reflects the Board’s confidence in President Harris.

A key priority of our Strategic Plan is to maintain and enhance a campus that is welcoming to all. A new report – Every Student: A Report on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging – highlights some of the milestones over the past several years. As President Harris has said, as we celebrate progress in this important work, we must also acknowledge that the work is ongoing and requires all of us.

Mary K. Carroll ’86, the Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Chemistry, has been announced as 2023 president-elect of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society with 151,000 members in 140 countries. This is a highly prestigious honor and a testament to Mary’s leadership in her field at Union and beyond.

Donald R. Thurston, professor emeritus of Asian Studies, has made a remarkable gift in the form of an endowed chair, the Donald R. Thurston and Robert Englebach Professorship in Asian Studies. His gift of $2.5 million, one of the largest to the College from a faculty member, will support a new position. Don, a popular professor who launched the program when he arrived in 1966, and led the first terms in Asia, has ensured that future students will continue to be transformed by their Union education.

Among other highlights:

Academic Affairs

Over the summer, 13 Union faculty participated in our Faculty Development Institute (FDI) Summer Incubator, which was designed to support the new General Education curriculum. Participants worked to redesign existing courses or develop new ones that address themes of Global Challenges or Justice, Equity, Identity, and Difference. This fall we welcomed 18 new faculty to campus, including 8 new tenure-track hires, 2 lecturers, and 8 visiting faculty.

Undergraduate research is thriving again. After two years of significantly altered programming, the popular Steinmetz Symposium was back with 250 student presentations across all disciplines, an art exhibition featuring the work of 80 students, and a dance performance with 60 dancers. The summer research program was also back to fully in-person programming, with close to 100 research students mentored by 60 faculty. Research projects crossed disciplinary boundaries and represented students and faculty across all four divisions.

This year, the College had seven recipients of the Gilman Scholarship who receive up to $5,000 toward study abroad or internship costs. The program aims to diversify the students who study or intern abroad and their destinations.

The College received 29 new awards totaling more than $2.4 million over the last fiscal year through the Office of College Grants & Sponsored Programs. These external grant and fellowship awards are not only a testament to the reputation of the College, our people and our programs. They are an important source of support for faculty research, curricular enhancements and co-curricular programs.

Administration and Finance

We are looking at ways to upgrade and consolidate various data management systems that will lead to greater efficiency.

As part of our Administrative Excellence initiative, we have signed a new five-year contract with American Dining Creations through which new hires will be ADC employees and current employees have the option to transfer.

As part of the budget process, the finance team is analyzing net student charges and financial aid.

Admissions

The College admitted 575 students to the first-year Class of 2026, the largest class in a decade.

Since offering the Early Action option three years ago, we have seen a significant increase in applications (6,086 in 2019 compared with 8,458 in 2022). These EA applicants are from a wider geographic range and higher academic caliber than previously seen.

Academic quality continues, this year with 62 percent of the incoming students ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Opening fall enrollment was 2,077, 12 more than last year and 49 more than two years ago. While the small Class of 2024 will be with us for this and the next fiscal year, we are building back up in total enrollment. In addition to the 575 first-year students, we enrolled 23 fall transfers and anticipate another few additions in winter term.

Communications and Marketing

The creation of an updated brand to elevate the College’s visibility and standing is a priority. This is important in reaching prospective students, particularly those outside of the Northeast where we already have a reputation. This work is designed to build on the Whole U messaging framework that we developed in the winter and spring.

Besides updating the “look and feel” of our marketing materials, we are examining how we brand our physical spaces and explore alternatives to our current logo.

We recently engaged a branding firm, Truth & Consequences, a Philadelphia-based agency, with a diverse range of clients, which already has begun to engage Trustees and other members of the Union community to get their input on what makes Union so special.

In addition to social media, we continue to refine our communications across the spectrum, including Union magazine, our web presence and Admissions and College Relations materials. Among the highlights:


  • Web content is an important component of our effort to showcase Union’s strengths and distinctiveness. In recent weeks, we have made good use of our web presence to celebrate the College reaching the $300 million milestone of the Powering Union campaign and to promote the Union College Challenge.
  • The Union magazine covers stories on issues of strategic importance to the College. A good example of this was the strong package on the resurgence of Schenectady and the College’s role in it.
  • The president, who is always up for a bike ride, led a video bike tour of Schenectady this fall. This video updates a ride he made several years ago and features new businesses and locations.
  • Our media outreach continues to yield some notable coverage, such as this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer featuring President Harris. Our director of public relations reached out to a journalist he knows with an idea to follow up on a series the newspaper ran 35 years ago on high-achieving high school students, which featured the future President Harris.
  • A video story on digital art professor Fernando Orellana’s public art project in Albany, in which he describes digital art as the “crossroads of engineering and art”, has been our best-performing piece of social media content over the past three months.

College Relations

Besides the wonderful news that alumni and other friends have helped us surpass our campaign goal, new gift commitments continue to arrive.

So far this year, new commitments stand at more than $3.7 million. In total, we have raised $305 million for the Powering Union campaign. To achieve our $30 million fundraising goal for the current fiscal year, we will focus on securing support for hockey scholarships, the Templeton Institute and initiatives to develop students beyond the classroom (e.g., U Journey, internships, study away, summer research, endowed class dean positions).

In addition, we will emphasize dollar and donor participation through athletics, ReUnion and parent giving.

Thank you again to all who continue to support our great college.

Facilities and Environment

Trustees received a presentation about ongoing discussions among Union, a local developer and the City of Schenectady regarding the possibility of a new facility being built at Mohawk Harbor that would become the home ice for the Union men’s and women’s hockey teams. No decisions have been made, and we are also exploring possible upgrades to Messa Rink.

Among the more welcome returns this fall was the re-opening of the Rathskeller. Closed during the pandemic, this Union institution has returned and just in time for Homecoming and Family Weekend.

We continue to upgrade our historic campus. Recently completed projects include enhancement of the Butterfield lecture hall, Steinmetz office renovations and Achilles Center locker room upgrades. Upcoming projects include new and improved campus lighting, renovation of Reamer Campus Center Auditorium, upgrades to Reamer dining facilities, window replacement on some of our older buildings and residential property improvements.

Investment

The financial health of the College is strong. Despite a highly challenging investment environment, our endowment is at nearly $502 million.

Student Affairs

We are excited to welcome Annette Diorio, the next vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. She begins her new role at Union on Jan. 2, 2023.

She joins the College as a highly experienced student affairs leader, currently the vice president for Student Life at Lafayette College.

At Union, Annette will lead a broad portfolio of student-facing services and operations including the residential experience; dining; health and wellness; student activities; student conduct and athletics.

This fall marked the launch of U Journey, a residential curriculum that helps new students find their community and helps all students to develop life skills that will serve them well after their time at Union.

Finally, I hope this report conveys a sense of excitement that I share with many about the direction of Union. The College is emerging from a difficult time stronger than ever before. I, for one, am tremendously confident that the months and years ahead will be great ones for the school we love.

I hope to see you on campus soon.