Campus Highlight: Ripples in Campus Culture: State University of New York College at Cortland

J. Richard Kendrick, Jr., director, Institute for Civic Engagement

The State University of New York (SUNY) College at Cortland, a medium-sized four-year residential college in central New York, has been fortunate to participate in the BTtoP project for five years. We received a Leadership Coalition grant in 2009 and a Demonstration Site grant for 2010–2012. We have long been committed to transformational learning, and participation in BTtoP is helping us to institutionalize that commitment in a new strategic plan.

Setting the stage for our campus’s commitment to engaged learning, our new strategic plan emphasizes transformative learning experiences and student well-being. At the same time that the plan was being developed, the President’s Leadership Coalition for Student Engagement was formed, which influenced the SUNY Cortland Faculty Senate to strengthen connections between that strategic plan and our faculty handbook’s reappointment, continuing appointment, and promotions policies. The SUNY Cortland President’s Cabinet and the Faculty Senate also endorsed our President’s Recognition for Engaged Learning and Leadership designations for Service-Learning and Undergraduate Research, which will be noted on students’ transcripts. Other programs are developing similar recognitions to encourage student participation in transformative educational experiences.

In this context, a new program was developed by one of our Demonstration Site grant team members, Amy Shellman (assistant professor, Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Studies), along with the director of the Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education, Rob Rubendall. The program is called Trail Blazers (a nod to the college’s red dragon mascot, Blaze). Incoming first-year students spent six days in August in a hands-on Adirondack wilderness experience at the college’s outdoor education facility in Raquette Lake, NY. Shellman is still engaged in evaluating the impact of this program, but one student has already alluded to enhanced well-being by commenting that, “This trip taught me how to persevere. I never would have thought I’d be able to climb two mountains, learn how to canoe, and do a high ropes course.”

Additionally, John Suarez (coordinator, Office of Service-Learning) is partnering with Dean of Education Andrea Lachance and Director of Field Experience and School Partnerships Doug Wieczorek to develop a service-learning program that will provide support for area schools. This program, “Explore,” places teacher education candidates in education-related service-learning experiences during their first and second semesters. To help support students, it incorporates professional development workshops that focus on developing dispositions of well-being.

Cortland’s work also has an international dimension. Last February, at a conference in Morocco for Moroccan higher education faculty, staff, and students who are advancing civic education and engagement, Richard Kendrick (BTtoP Demonstration Site team leader) led a two-day workshop with Syracuse University colleague Julia Ganson (Middle East and North Africa Program Manager, Maxwell School of Executive Education). This semester, Cortland hosted a Moroccan Fulbright scholar who is learning how SUNY Cortland implements its commitment to transformational education.

In August, 2012, President Erik Bitterbaum and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher promoted the college’s and the SUNY system’s dedication to transformative learning experiences. Richard Kendrick spoke on behalf of the Leadership Coalition to highlight involvement in the Bringing Theory to Practice project. But last year’s most gratifying moment occurred on April 18, 2012, when the Middle States Reaccreditation team read its report to the campus community, highlighting our participation in Bringing Theory to Practice as one indication of the campus’ commitment to transformative and engaged learning. As Don Harward often says, it’s not the cash, it’s the cachet—and we received a lot of cachet that morning.

There are several keys to our success. The State University of New York System adopted a new strategic plan, the Power of SUNY, which aligns well with our campus’s mission. People in key leadership positions at our college are supporting our work, establishing an expectation of participation on the part of faculty, staff, and students. In response, many faculty and staff devised their own programs of engaged and transformative education to benefit students’ educational experiences. Together, we are working to establish a campus culture of engaged learning.