Board Chair's Report -- May 2022

The Board of Trustees met during a week of spectacular spring weather capped by the Steinmetz Symposium on May 13, when students across campus presented their scholarly, research and creative achievements.

Nearly 400 students participated in the 32nd Steinmetz Symposium, the first in-person Steinmetz since 2019, and members of the Board were pleased to be part of the audience. Thousands of alumni who have participated in Steinmetz will recall it as a transformative milestone in their Union career. That it continues after three decades is a strong statement about the value we place on mentoring, collaboration and presentation.

The Board meetings also coincided with the start of the NCAA playoffs in men’s lacrosse, a team that had a spectacular run all the way to the championship before finally bowing to RIT 10-12. Coach Derek Witheford ’11, himself a former Union standout, led a team that brought much excitement to the Union community.

The Board recently welcomed three new members and elected its first female vice chair. The new trustees are Paul D. Ginsberg ’84, Kenya LeNoir Messer ’90 and Emily Stein ’24. John

Johnson ’85 was also re-elected alumni trustee. Julie Greifer Swidler ’79, a longtime and invaluable member of the Board, was elected vice chair. You can read more about the new trustees here.

Roger Woolsey, executive director of the Becker Career Center, gave an engaging presentation to the Board about ways we can promote financial literacy and career readiness among our students. With the “U-Ready Curriculum,” Roger outlined steps that students are encouraged to take starting with their first term at Union. Key to the success of our career center are the partnerships we have with alumni, parents and employers. On behalf of the Board and our students, thank you to all who play a part in this important program.

Academic Affairs

The faculty have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a proposal to restore a major in civil engineering and add a major in environmental engineering. Both offerings would be available to students who matriculate starting in the fall of 2023.

The introduction of the majors is part of an initiative to strengthen the College’s engineering and computer science programs. An adhoc committee of faculty, administrators and alumni determined that the two majors would attract more top students, particularly women, who are interested in those fields.

You can read more about the two majors here.

Planning for the Templeton Institute continues apace. An international search for the Director of the Templeton Institute of Engineering and Computer Science and Dean of Engineering is under way. The position will report to the Vice President for Academic Affairs and head all aspects of engineering and computer science including the burgeoning Templeton Institute (TI) programming.

This year, we welcomed Poorna Talkad Sukumar as the Mary H. ’80 and Richard K. ’80 Templeton Assistant Professor of Computer Science. In winter term, we completed searches for new faculty hires in Biomedical Engineering, Stephanie Curley; and Computer Engineering, Michael Okwori. Both will join Union at the start of the 2022-23 academic year.

The Templeton Institute Steering Committee has been hosting events this term around the theme of “Risking Failure to Succeed.” Programs have included an improv event featuring a local troupe, Mopco; presentations during the Steinmetz Symposium; a booth at Union’s Electric City Mini Maker Faire; and an immersive “epic fail” showcase event.

This spring, 36 students are studying away from campus in London, Berlin, Florence, Palermo, San Francisco, Kenya, Spain, Rome and South Korea. This summer, International Programs will run one mini-term, focused on archaeology, to Populonia, Italy. Planned fall program destinations include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, China, England, France, Greece, Ireland, Japan, and Turkey.

Administration and Finance

The College’s loyal and dedicated employees have been responsible for so much of our success, particularly over the past two years in meeting the challenges of COVID. It is important that we recognize and reward their commitment with a revised compensation package.

  • All regular employees making less than $100,000/year will receive a one-time payment of between $400 and $1,000 to help offset recent inflation.
  • Regular hourly staff members will receive increases to be more competitive and address wage compression. No hourly staff member will earn less than $15/hour. Wage increases will take effect July 1.
  • Salaried staff members will receive a 3 percent increase in their compensation beginning July 1, while the faculty salary pool will increase by 3 percent.

In late May, the Board made a well-timed offering of $32.5 million in 10-year bonds to refinance debt and address deferred maintenance projects. The offering, which was well-received by investors and produced favorable results for the College, was the subject of an article in Bloomberg.

Admissions

Union continues to be attractive to promising high schoolers. As of late May, we expect to have between 570 and 585 students in the Class of 2026. An increase in application volume (8,450) allowed us to enroll 89 Pell-eligible students, an increase of 20. Importantly, our ability to welcome more Pell-eligible students is directly due to the generosity of alumni and friends who helped us meet our $20 million goal for the Schuler Initiative well ahead of schedule. By reaching that goal, the College will receive another $22 million from the Schuler Foundation for $42 million in grant funding.

We also made gains in drawing students from outside the Northeast, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and West Coast regions. There was also increased interest from students planning to pursue the humanities and arts along with engineering and computer science.

Our admissions effort was helped tremendously this year by being able to offer in-person and virtual events. It may come as no surprise to those who know our beautiful and welcoming campus that we enrolled nearly 50 percent of students who visited after their acceptance.

College Relations

With my sincere thanks to all who have supported the College, I am excited to announce that we expect to meet our Powering Union campaign goal of $300 million a year early, in June 2022. The campaign will continue through June 30, 2023. We have raised $295.5 million in the campaign.

With new commitments of $45.3 million, this year is our second-best fundraising year. We anticipate raising an additional $4.75 million by June 30 and thereby closing the fiscal year with $50 million in new commitments.

ReUnion on May 20-22 drew more than 2,000 alumni for events that included a long-awaited (due to COVID) panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of women at Union. The weekend also recognized three outstanding alumni with the Alumni Gold Medal: Kevin Harkenrider ’77, Betsy Modest Brand ’82 and Douglass Karp ’97. Homecoming and Family Weekend is set for Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

Communications and Marketing

The Communications and Marketing team is nearing completion of the work to realign itself more closely with the needs of Admissions and College Relations while also serving as a resource for clients across campus.

Among recent marketing and branding activities, the team has begun to roll out the “Whole U” messaging framework, which focuses on Union’s distinctive capacity to develop the “whole” individual. The “Explore. Engage. Thrive.” tagline has been featured prominently in admissions material, a video animation to highlight the Annual Fund, and reputational promotional material targeted to voters in rankings.

Facilities and Environment

I am pleased to report that our campus landmark – the Nott Memorial – which was closed in March for roof and ceiling repairs, was reopened in time for ReUnion and the Medallion Ceremony for the Class of 1972. The spectacular building will also be the centerpiece for Commencement on June 12.

The College’s facilities, buildings and grounds have always been points of pride for the Union community. The Board approved a proposal to address deferred maintenance issues with a major upgrade.

I am pleased to note that Marc Donovan ’05 has been promoted to director of Facilities and Campus Development following a national search. He succeeds Loren Rucinski, who retired in December after 35 years at the College. Marc joined Facilities Services in 2013 as assistant director before being promoted to associate director. He will oversee campus master planning, new campus construction, renovations, physical space improvement projects, building services and maintenance, as well as grounds.

A number of projects are under way in the Engineering and Computer Science Initiative, made possible by the gift from Mary ’80 and Rich Templeton ’80. Among them, faculty office renovations in Steinmetz Hall and meetings with a planning firm to review space, academic programming, building conditions and initiatives.

The College is developing a 10-year deferred maintenance plan with projects this summer to include replacement of roofing and windows in Alumni Gymnasium and fire alarm system replacement in residential properties.

Investment

The financial health of the College is strong. Despite a difficult first quarter this year, our endowment is at nearly $560 million.

Student Affairs

Thirty five students enrolled in the inaugural SparkLab, a program for students from all disciplines who are interested in bringing an idea to market. The entrepreneurial incubator program is the brainchild of Roger Woolsey, executive director of Becker Career Center, who ran the six-week program with presentations by accomplished alumni and other guest experts.

The program culminated in a pitch presentation, which was won by twins Sean and Justin Regis ’23 for their app, Quicshop, which helps shoppers navigate a store. The economics majors won a prize of $15,000 from an anonymous donor to use as startup capital. Judging the competition were Thomas Coleman ’88, Michael Esposito ’72, Catharine Potvin ’97, and Tony Versaci ’91,

The College’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) has recruited 64 new STEP students in the past year. Nearly all the students are from Schenectady schools. Of the new STEP applicants, 95 percent live in Schenectady. Student participation has risen as all 77 of the STEP rostered students have engaged in a STEP event since July 1.

Through collaboration with Central Park and Mont Pleasant Middle schools, STEP has established an afterschool program (3 days a week) to engage Union students with Schenectady youth. This year, 37 Union students have mentored over 70 Schenectady Middle School Students through STEP afterschool programs.

Other highlights

We owe so much to our outstanding faculty. It is a pleasure for members of the board to approve the promotion of four to full professor: Kristin Bidoshi, Modern Languages and Literature; Junko Ueno, Modern Languages and Literature; Scott Kirkton, Biological Sciences; and Chris Fernandes, Computer Science. We are also pleased to promote three faculty to senior lecturer: Angelo Commito, Classics; Anouk Verheyden-Gillikin, Geosciences; and Andew Mannion, Theater and Dance.

We look forward to Commencement on June 12, when we will celebrate the accomplishments of members of the Class of 2022.

I hope to see you on campus soon.

Robert Bertagna ’85
Chair