The College officially opened its 228th academic year Tuesday afternoon during the annual Convocation ceremony.
Nearly three years into the pandemic, President David R. Harris told the full house of 900 people gathered in Memorial Chapel to expect a more normal year. The ceremony was moved indoors from Hull Plaza due to inclement weather.
“We have all been through a lot since March 2020,” Harris said. “Our seniors were in their first year at Union. Our first years were in sophomore year of high school. Let this be a year when all of that sacrifice bears fruit. Welcome to a year when we continue to celebrate Union while finding ways to make it even stronger, and a year in which we work together to achieve for ourselves and for one another even more than we think possible.”
Harris focused on three areas in his address: Union’s academic mission, life outside the classroom, and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB).
He mentioned a new General Education curriculum centered on what all students, regardless of academic focus, must know to be considered an educated person.
This includes perspective courses in eight categories: Creative Arts and Design; Cultures and Historical Foundations; Engineering, Technology and Society; Literatures; Data and Quantitative Reasoning; Natural and Physical Sciences; Social Analysis, Politics and Ethics; and World Languages. At least one course must focus on global challenges, and at least one on justice, equity, identity and difference.
“The key is not that you emerge with a specific set of conclusions,” Harris said. “Rather, the emphasis is on theory, methods, data and findings to understand issues that you will confront as a person, a professional and a citizen.”
He said the College is recommitted to its academic breadth and depth, as evidenced by the creation of the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science. The institute, supported by a historic gift in 2020 of $51 million from 1980 graduates Rich and Mary Templeton, aims to develop innovative coursework and co-curricular programming that integrates engineering and computer science with the liberal arts, offer students high-impact experiential opportunities, and recruit and retain a diverse student body in these fields.
The College also recently approved two new majors, in civil and environmental engineering, and two minors, in music technologies and financial and actuarial mathematics.
“We have more to do to ensure that not only are our academic areas strong, but that we enable students and faculty to explore the tremendous opportunities that often require engagement across disciplines,” Harris said. “Given our range of offerings across humanities and arts, social sciences, sciences, and engineering and computer science, as well as our small size, there are few schools that can match our potential to prepare students for multiple tomorrows.”
While the academic mission is the core of a Union education, Harris stressed the importance of life outside the classroom. To that end, he announced the launch of UJourney for the new class of first-year students. This includes a more intentional approach to how students fill their discretionary time focused on six areas: well-being, life skills, decision-making, cross-cultural competency, belonging and reflection.
“The full Union experience is achieved when life outside the classroom complements life inside the classroom,” he said.
Harris recognized Andrew Alvez and Francesca Mesiti, the College’s chief diversity officers, for their work in promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. He announced that they would soon present a progress report on DEIB initiatives at Union.
“This will be the year in which our DEIB goals become even more of a reality,” he said.
He acknowledged there are areas for improvement in regards to DEIB.
“One simple first step is to treat one another with respect and grace, assuming positive intent,” he said. “It’s striking how often forgetting these simple values leads to bigger problems.”
He also shared that Union was recently among 16 colleges and universities selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for its Inclusive Excellent initiative to improve the inclusion of students from diverse backgrounds in science education.
Harris also welcomed the 580 students beginning their college journey as members of the Class of 2026. They were selected from nearly 8,500 applicants, a Union record. The students hail from 33 states and the District of Columbia, and 25 countries.
Also at Convocation, Michele Angrist, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, presented the winners of the College’s top faculty awards.
Maritza Osuna, senior lecturer of Spanish, was awarded the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Teaching. Ozuna joined Union in 1993. Jillmarie Murphy, the William D. Williams Professor of English and director of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, is the winner of the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Research. She joined Union in 2008.
Kevin Trigonis, director of the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), was presented with the UNITAS Community Building award. STEP helps prepare historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students to enter college and increase participation in math, science, technology, health-related fields and licensed professions. The UNITAS award is given in recognition of a person who has helped foster community and diversity at Union.
Following the presentation of the UNITAS award, Ava Gray Graichen ’25, accompanied by Max Caplan ’16 on piano, performed Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love.”
Angrist also recognized the students who made the Dean’s List last year. They will be honored at a reception during Homecoming and Family Weekend Oct. 1.
Convocation opened with remarks from the College marshal, Kathleen LoGiudice, professor of biology; Robert Bertagna ‘85, chair of the Board of Trustees; Stephen Schmidt, the Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Economics and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; and Gwyneth Sultan ’23, Student Forum president.
Fall term classes begin Wednesday, Sept. 7.