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Convocation kicks off Union's 217th year

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Lori J. Marso, professor of political science and director of Women's and Gender Studies, was honored with the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching.Mark Walsh '76, chairman of the Board of Trustees.Mital Patel '12, president of Student Forum.Some of the students recognized at convocation for making the Dean's List last year.Elana Korn '12, who received the Hollander Prize in Music, performed "Sicilienne" by Gabriel Faure.Kara Jefts, assistant curator of the Mandeville Gallery and winner of the UNITAS Community-Building Prize, with President Ainlay.Courtney Seymour, collection department librarian and winner of the UNITAS Community-Building Prize, with President Ainlay.

Helping the Union community celebrate the official start of its 217th academic year Tuesday, President Stephen C. Ainlay emphasized the opportunities that abound in the year ahead.

Among the steps the College must take is to better leverage its location in upstate New York. This includes building on the continued “renaissance” of Schenectady and using Union’s location along the Mohawk River to create educational and research programs focused on the key waterway.

In addition, Ainlay said the College’s proximity to the six-million-acre Adirondack Park presents a wealth of possibilities for interdisciplinary study and recreation. Last spring, the College entered into an agreement with a private conservation group to purchase a building complex in nearby Niskayuna that includes the former home of noted Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer as well as a modern addition that houses the Adirondack Research Library. The College also was gifted 10 acres on the northeastern side of Lake Piseco.

“Like the waterways that surround us, the Adirondacks offer remarkable opportunities for recreation but they also offer a rich source for research, scholarship, and creative work,” Ainlay told the hundreds gathered in Memorial Chapel for the opening convocation.

The College must also strengthen relationships with Tech Valley companies such as General Electric and IBM, and capitalize on the school’s proximity to Albany and state government.

“Any one of these areas of opportunity, if seized and developed, will better leverage our location,” Ainlay said. “Combined, they offer distinctive and unsurpassed opportunities for educating our students and position us well for attracting students and faculty to Union, not in spite of where we are but because of where we are.”

Ainlay also cited the recent donation by IBM of one of its Intelligent Cluster computing solutions. The cluster will give Union the greatest computing capability of any undergraduate liberal arts college in the nation.

“There is no question that the technology gap between liberal arts colleges with an active research agenda – like Union – and research universities has grown,” he said. “With this advanced tool, we have been given the chance to demonstrate what can be done in teaching and research within our sector.”

The president touched on some of Union’s recent accomplishments, including the opening of the Peter Irving Wold Center and the renovation of the Social Sciences building. The building, renamed Lippman Hall, houses classrooms and faculty offices for the departments of Economics, Sociology, Political Science and History. It will be dedicated at Homecoming.

He singled out the success of a number of athletic teams, including men’s hockey and lacrosse, both of which made the NCAA tournament for the first time. He praised alumni and friends of the College who helped the Annual Fund raise more than $4 million, a record.

Ainlay also welcomed the Class of 2015, one of Union’s largest and most academically gifted classes. The 578 first-year students were selected from among 5,151 applicants, the second largest in the College’s history.

To read the text of Ainlay’s speech, click here.

Also at convocation, Therese A. McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, presented the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Lori J. Marso, professor of political science and director of Women’s and Gender Studies. The prize was created by David I. Stillman ’72, Abbott Stillman ’69 and Allan Stillman in honor of Abraham Stillman, father and grandfather. It is given annually to a faculty member to encourage outstanding teaching.

McCarty also recognized the students who made the Dean’s List last year. Their names are on a plaque that will be displayed in Reamer Campus Center.

Elana Korn ’12, received the Hollander Prize in Music, established by Lawrence J. Hollander, dean of engineering emeritus. The double bassist performed “Sicilienne” by Gabriel Faure, accompanied on piano by Palmyra Catravas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Kara Jefts, assistant curator of the Mandeville Gallery, and Courtney Seymour, collection department librarian, were presented with the UNITAS Community-Building Prize for their work on a series of LGBT juried exhibitions that explores issues surrounding the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at Union.

The convocation opened with remarks from William A. Finlay, College marshal and professor of Theater and Dance; Mark Walsh ’76, chairman of the Board of Trustees; Mark Walker, the John Bigelow Professor of History and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; and Mital Patel ’12, Student Forum president.

Accompanied on organ by Professor of Music Dianne McMullen, the Class of 2015 led Ode to Ole Union to close the ceremony. An all-campus barbecue followed on Hull Plaza.