The Power of Union: Year One Progress - 2020

The Power of Union strategic plan prepared us well for Union’s 225th year, a year like no other. Our shared vision of developing every student to lead with wisdom, empathy and courage, in ways large and small, now and across multiple tomorrows was propitious given the abrupt onset of a global pandemic. Rather than remain committed to the status quo, Union had to pivot quickly and embrace necessary change within days. Our emphasis on learning to become comfortable being uncomfortable became a necessary and enduring skill.

Yet we accomplished a great deal this first year, and have not deviated from our plan to thrive in the years ahead. This progress report is a glimpse of the work we’ve achieved in reaching our strategic goals, all while adjusting to significant changes in the ways we learn, teach, work, and live. This first year of the plan has created a strong foundation on which to build success.

GOAL ONE Union will strengthen its vibrant community of learners, scholars and teachers, so that we can more fully blend the liberal arts and engineering, transcend disciplinary boundaries, bridge classroom and immersive experiences, and engage and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives.

OBJECTIVE 1: Reimagine the curriculum and renew pedagogy to anticipate and respond to contemporary and emerging academic needs and opportunities.

  • Goal One, Objective 1 - Year One Progress - 2020

    General Education Reform
    Designing a new curriculum to advance the College’s mission, vision and strategic plan with faculty review expected during the 2020-21 academic year.

    Innovative Course Development
    Piloted eight new courses that align with the goals of the strategic plan, including:

    1. Interdisciplinary Minervas Online courses examining big societal challenges
    2. Experiential Education courses: combining a 100-hour internship placement with faculty-supervised academic content related to the internship. A new set of Minervas Online and Experiential Education courses will be offered in winter and spring terms.

    Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science
    Planning is underway to increase faculty capacity in these critical areas and to build out new ones, as well as enhance and create co-curricular programming and learning opportunities for our students. An interim director will be named in November 2020, and a search for permanent leadership will be launched in early 2021.

    Summer Faculty Development Institute 2020
    Held first virtual Summer Faculty Development Institute (FDI), equipping faculty with practical “instructional moves” through exposure to learning design, as well as a process for selecting the right instructional technologies and resources to support desired learning outcomes and teaching philosophy. Ninety faculty from Union and 66 faculty from three other NY6 schools participated. Read more >>

    New faculty orientation
    All new faculty participated in a remote, two-week new faculty orientation. The goals of the orientation were to build community, support new faculty in designing their new courses around best practices in instructional design and student learning, and to introduce them to staff members who support teaching and research at Union. Read more >>

    Director Cole Belmont worked with faculty across all four divisions to integrate making and emerging technologies into their courses. For example,

    • Megan Ferry, Professor of Chinese, created kits for students that allowed them to physically laser-cut Chinese strokes into more complex characters to physically make and play with language.
    • Joy Wang, Associate Professor Mathematics, Holli Frey, Professor of Geosciences, and Doug Klein, Professor of Economics Emeritus, created digital landscape models that students can interact with, annotate and share as part of their new Minerva online course.
    • Shawn Wehe, Visiting Professor of Mechanical Engineering, created a virtual and interactive tour for students of the WindTunnel Lab in ISEC 050.

      The resources to advance Union’s makerspace initiative are bolstered through a new grant award by the J. M. McDonald Foundation. Read more >>

OBJECTIVE 2: Provide an intentional, invigorating and supportive student experience outside the classroom that is integrated with academic learning, develops critical competencies, and prepares all students for healthy, fulfilling and joyful lives of purpose.

  • Goal One, Objective 2 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Development of a Residential Curriculum to provide a meaningful, intentional, and purposeful student experience outside of the classroom

    Accommodative Services
    There are currently 282 students registered with the accommodative services office.

    Hosted an accommodative services pre-orientation for 53 first-time students with a participation rate of 75%, and 88% of students gave the program a rating of 4 or higher (scale of 1-5).

    Career Center

    • Piloted Scholars Internship Program to offer prospective Scholars students coveted internships from alumni and parents after sophomore year to compliment financial aid packages and incentivize choosing Union. Thirty-two Scholars from Class of 2022 and 52 Scholars from Class of 2023 will participate.
    • Alumni Leadership Series: Piloted a series of webinars with alumni sharing their expertise in professional areas where student interest is high (e.g. finance, marketing, engineering, healthcare).
    • Partnered with College Relations to connect students with alumni who have knowledge of job/internship opportunities and who are willing to help students with the application/preparation process.

    Greek Life
    Fraternity and Sorority Life has formed its first Greek Advisory Board to facilitate the process of developing a Fraternity and Sorority Life Strategic Plan.

    Minerva 2.0
    Completed Phase I of Assessment (quantitative analysis of General Findings). The Minervas are most popular with women, students of color, non-Greek members, first years, and students with GPAs over 3.5. These are also the students who make the most use of the Houses and attend events. Phases II and III will look at specific student groups; and issues, problems, and suggestions for change. Transforming Minervas will be a priority for the coming year.

    Expanded Orientation Program to four days. The Orientation survey indicated that 89% strongly agreed or agreed that they felt welcomed on campus, and 70.8% strongly agree or agree that they established meaningful relationships on campus. Secured funding from Charley Mayer '74 to significantly expand support for the first-year experience, including pre-orientation program.


    • Created and implemented public health policies and protocols to keep campus community safe from the spread of COVID-19 captured on Union Where You Are website.
    • Created the COVID-19 Public Health Ambassadors position in an effort to reinforce compliance with our COVID-19 policies. Fifteen students give helpful advice and suggestions for those having trouble with the regulations, as well as encouraging those who are actively complying with the policies.
    • Created five new student groups (Healing Racial Trauma and Stress, LGBTQ Support Group, First Year Support Group, AOP Support Group, POSSE Support Group) as well as BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) Community Alliance Group.
    • Created a Faculty Drop-in Group for faculty to discuss student mental health concerns.

OBJECTIVE 3: Inspire, advance, and support independent and collaborative research and scholarship, creative expression and discovery.

  • Goal One, Objective 3 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Scholarship support
    Presenting Our Scholarly Selves - a series to engage faculty from across all academic divisions and ranks to share the significance of their research with a non-specialist audience, share best practices to advance research and promote research productivity amidst a heavy teaching-load, navigate the pathways to develop competitive applications for external grants and fellowships, and reimagine ways to elevate the profile of faculty scholarship and research accomplishments.

    Digital Scholarship Initiatives (DSi) group formed to pool talent and skills across the library to support online teaching and research. The group taught a workshop entitled “Digital Scholarship & Rethinking the Traditional Research Paperto faculty and staff at Union and NY6 colleges.

    Schaffer Library received an NEH CARES grant to make the papers of John Bigelow more accessible to scholars at Union and beyond.

    Scholarship Achievement Highlights (see full list of grants here)

    Luke Dosiek, assistant professor of electrical engineering, received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant.

    Kristina Striegnitz, associate professor and chair of computer science and co-director of digital media, received an NSF Improving STEM Undergraduate Education: Computing in Undergraduate Education grant. This grant brings together computer science leaders and faculty from Union College, Mount Holyoke College, and Colby College to embark on a project that will design and test a number of pathways for delivery of computing across the curriculum, including critical ethical concerns, in the context of the undergraduate degree.

    Mason Stahl, James M. Kenney Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, received an NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant to acquire a highly specialized water isotope analyzer that will be used by faculty and students in the areas of environmental science, earth sciences, and biological sciences.

    Daniel Mosquera, professor of Spanish, Hispanic, and Latin American and Caribbean studies and chair of the department of modern languages and literatures, received a major research grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) Scholarly Editions and Scholarly Translations Program

    Dan Venning, assistant professor of theatre & dance was awarded the 2020 Travis Bogard Artist in Residence Program (AIR) Tao House Fellowship by the Eugene O'Neill Foundation.

OBJECTIVE 4: Cultivate respect and understanding for all members of the Union College and broader communities, and welcome, include and support a measurably more diverse college community.

  • Goal One, Objective 4 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Diversity Leadership Team
    A new diversity and inclusion framework is in place. We have reconfigured our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts around a cross-institutional team spanning academic affairs, student affairs, human resources and Title IX. The team comprises:

    • Our new academic chief diversity officer and faculty director of DEI is Associate Professor of Sociology Deidre Hill Butler, who chaired the curriculum group within the race, power and privilege initiative.
    • Christa Grant leads the office of Intercultural Affairs which has transitioned to the Student Affairs division. She also oversees Union Committee on Inclusiveness and Diversity (UCID)
    • Andrew Alvez has been promoted from Residence Director to Assistant Director for Intercultural Affairs and Off-campus Liaison.
    • Mary Simeoli, our newly hired Title IX Coordinator, will include the role of Interim Director of Equal Opportunity to foster a safe and supportive environment for all members of the community in compliance with federal law. This position reports to the Chief of Staff.

    Diversity at a Glance, Reports and Data

    Support for college-wide activities and programs supporting DEI objectives:

    Union pursues and secures and grant and other funding to support our efforts to promote DEI, including our National Science Foundation S-STEM grant, New York State HEOP grant, Creating Connections Consortium grant and our recent invitation to advance to the next round of consideration for an Inclusive Excellence grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others.

    Presidential Initiative on Race, Power, and Privilege

    A group of 40 students, faculty, staff, and alumni formed the RRP committee, and identified and discussed five key areas: (1) cultural competency, (2) curricular change, (3) faculty and staff diversity, (4) campus safety and (5) increased support for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students. The recommendations and future work of this group include the following:

    • Enhance formal and informal actions to build connections between Campus Safety officers and students across campus
    • Launch peer facilitator programs and diversity and inclusion workshops for students, staff, and faculty
    • Develop curricular and co-curricular RPP requirements

    Ongoing Activities:

    The Forum on Constructive Engagement – explores issues from a range of differing perspectives in an open and respectful environment.


    October 13, 2020
    Two former members of Congress -- Republican Charles Bass and Democrat Albert Wynn -- discuss police reform. Moderated by President David R. Harris and student Jahnae Morgan '21.

    Racial Injustice: What Can U Do?

    June 4, 2020
    Topic: The Union community reflects on the question: When you heard about the recent racial injustices, what were your immediate reactions and feelings? These were their responses.

    “Cheaters, Felons and Abusers: Second Chances for the Hardest Cases”

    Hanna Stotl and Theodore O’Neill

    May 19, 2020
    Hanna Stotland
    Theodore O’Neill

    Topic: Perspectives on giving second chances to students who have been expelled from colleges and universities for Title IX, honor code and other offenses.

    “Firearm Ownership”

    November 19, 2019
    Topic: Organized by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Students for Gun Sense, a conversation about others’ perspectives on Second Amendment Rights.

    Empowerment Social Justice Retreat helps students become active allies through the exploration of self-identities and others' perspectives.

    Greek Life
    All new Greek members are engaged in a Critical Conversations Series designed by senior Greek leaders and facilitated in partnership with various faculty, staff, and alumni. Topics in the series include Community engagement, Masculinity, Values and Consent, LGBTQ+ identities, and Race, Power, and Privilege.

OBJECTIVE 5: Enhance a learning environment that supports development of the self through a habit of introspection for deep understanding and lifelong commitment to intellectual and personal growth.

GOAL TWO Union will ensure that it has the resources required to thrive in a changing higher education landscape.

OBJECTIVE 1: Create a sustainable, diversified and achievable financial model that supports the highest priorities and goals of Union College.

  • Goal Two, Objective 1 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Administrative Excellence Project launched to assess processes, tools, and systems to bring them up to date and deliver on our commitments from the strategic plan. We will ensure that our administrative and operational processes support and enable our goal of strengthening our vibrant community of learners, scholars, and teachers.

    Established and filled the new Director of Budget, Planning and Analysis leadership position.

    Designed, developed, built and launched a comprehensive strategic planning and budgeting model for annual and outer year budgeting and planning. This is a multi-phase project.

    Redesigned and enhanced management reporting to provide enhanced visibility to the revenues and expenditures of the College.

OBJECTIVE 2: Create a robust communications and marketing strategy that reaches new markets, advances Union’s academic reputation and articulates our distinctiveness.

  • Goal Two, Objective 2 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Welcomed new Vice President of Communications and Marketing Leah Rosen

    Implemented enhancements to web functionality to enhance user experience and improve efficiencies, such as embedded news feed, and integrated dashboards allowing for increased user interaction (Diversity at a Glance, COVID Dashboard)

    Created comprehensive virtual commencement and convocation experiences

    Developed and implemented integrated marketing/communications plan for Union Where You Are

OBJECTIVE 3: Increase support at all levels and strengthen the culture of philanthropy at Union.

  • Goal Two, Objective 3 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Launched the public phase of the Powering Union campaign, the largest and most ambitious in Union’s 225-year history. To date, Union has received more than $229 million in gifts and commitments toward the campaign’s $300 million goal.

    Received the largest commitment in Union’s history, $51 million from the class of 1980 alumni Mary and Rich Templeton to create the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science.

    To date, alumni and friends have contributed $9.3 million in gifts and pledges to support Making U Possible: The Presidential Initiative for Scholarship and Immersive Excellence.

    To date, alumni and friends have contributed $161,672 in gifts and pledges to support The Persistence Fund. Since March, over $92,000 has been distributed to 183 students to cover emergency travel-related expenses when residence halls closed, storage and shipping costs for personal items, meals for students who had to remain on campus in the spring and summer, summer on-campus housing and expenses to support remote learning.

    College Relations has organized a large number of virtual events to sustain alumni engagement during the pandemic. There have been more than ten thousand alumni and friend participants. Of this figure, 2,973 were unique individuals.

OBJECTIVE 4: Develop and implement a long-term enrollment plan that expands Union’s pool of applicants geographically, maximizes net revenue and enhances the diversity of our student body.

  • Goal Two, Objective 4 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Family Grants - A new financial aid initiative that supports families who qualify for little or no financial assistance due to conservative formulas. Recipients are awarded at least $20,000 in scholarship assistance.

    Early Action A new early action option for prospective students seeking admission. The addition of an early action option will help broaden and diversify Union’s applicant pool by adding more academically talented students from across a wider geographic range. It will also allow the College to compete with other top schools that offer early action.

OBJECTIVE 5: Ensure that Union recruits, retains and develops the faculty and staff required to meet its mission.

  • Goal Two, Objective 5 - Year One Progress - 2020

    In the last two years, nearly half of all faculty hires have been people of color, a far higher percentage than in previous years. Much of this success is due to changes in our faculty search procedures and the accumulation of experience with our inclusive hiring workshops.

    Campus Safety is reviewing changes in hiring to increase diversity and Inclusion.

    Admissions has developed a multicultural recruitment strategic plan.

OBJECTIVE 6: Create a college-wide infrastructure to support the development of Union’s innovative student learning and living experience.

  • Goal Two, Objective 6 - Year One Progress - 2020

    Technology-Enhanced Facility Upgrades
    During the summer, Logitech web cameras were installed in all electronic classroom lecterns. All classroom and public lab locations were updated to the latest versions of Windows and macOS. Ten large presentation electronic classrooms received gooseneck microphones installed on the lectern for sound reinforcement. By the beginning of fall term, the ITS Learning Environments team had reimaged over 170 PCs and 100 Macintosh computers in classrooms and public labs across campus.

    Virtual Meeting Upgrades
    Based on feedback from the spring term, virtual meeting environments were upgraded to a Zoom Enterprise license to allow everyone in our community, including students, to have licensed Zoom accounts. To date, there are 3,345 active Zoom users. The College utilized two Zoom “webinar” licenses to support two Presidential Town Hall meetings (Parents-305 attendees, Students-270 attendees), Athletics Town Hall meeting (166 attendees), three Womens Leadership Institute webinars (184 total attendees), as well as fifteen First-Year Orientation webinars (attendance ranged from 93 to 427) before fall term began.

    Art Collections
    Developed a searchable web portal to provide online access to the permanent art collection of the college, and an interactive map of Union College art on display across campus. These two tools enable seven classes to easily utilize our art collection for teaching this fall. The classes represent a wide-variety of disciplines including Africana studies, Classics, Sociology, Art History, Visual Arts, and the Minerva online course, Critical Perspectives.

    Archival Collections
    Schaffer Library staff researched and created several exhibitions now available online, including: “The 50th Anniversary of Coeducation”, “Brick by Brick: the 175th Anniversary of Engineering at Union”, and “The Social Distancing Experience”.

Additional Accomplishment

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation review team has recommended Union’s full reaccreditation, without recommendations, conditions or any need for follow-up - the most favorable possible outcome to this point. The Commission’s Final word is expected in mid-March, following their calendar. The team commended Union for successfully using the strategic planning and reaccreditation self-study processes to complement and reinforce one another.