It was a pleasure recently to welcome faculty and staff for the start of a new academic year, and I had the opportunity to address you on the topic of SUNY Morrisville’s new era.
A review of this institution’s history reveals that we have been intended from our founding to use practical experience as our fundamental vision for teaching and learning. Our earliest days were marked by educating farming families on how to be more productive, efficient and progressive in their labors to transform a struggling regional economy.
For nearly 40 years, Morrisville carried out this work somewhat independently before formally joining what would become the collective that is the State University of New York. For the following 50 years, we expanded into more technological and professional disciplines within two-year degree programs. It was just over 20 years ago that we offered our first four-year degrees, responding further to the needs of students and industry to provide the baccalaureate education and credential to bolster the workforce.
I am proud of the education and partnership Morrisville has provided Central New York and its residents for more than a century. I see the interweaving paths of staying true to our original charge — providing work-integrated education for practitioners and adapting to regional needs while incorporating changes in technology and industry — as the vital lifeline of this institution’s value.
Our responsibility is to the students who seek an education, and to the community and industry partners who require training and expertise to compete in a rapidly evolving marketplace. I am confident that our greatest successes are due in large part to our commitment to partnership. We do not stand alone in our work or in addressing the forces of change that affect us. Working closely with farmers, food producers, energy producers, technicians, entrepreneurs, business leaders and community leaders is a defining element of our ongoing sustainability.
Our opportunities come in the form of partnerships, and our challenges arise from shifting market forces. We have conducted research to benefit growers associations, opened facilities to budding entrepreneurs, trained technicians in environmental treatment, advised neighbors in renewable energy production, grown food for distributors and chefs, revealed alternative commodities to industrious farmers, and otherwise devoted our educational efforts to both the students in the classrooms and the student-citizens of our communities.
Redoubling our commitment to practical education and partnership is the key to meeting so many of our goals. More specifically, we see our specialty as harnessing the rapidly evolving forces of technology to transform the agricultural industries that provide “food, fuel and fiber” to a larger society. “The food industry today is poised for massive disruption and change. Food is the new Internet,” quipped Kimball Musk, a South African-born American philanthropist, restaurateur and entrepreneur, and brother to technology entrepreneur Elon Musk. He is right. And Morrisville has been a part of this since 1908. We continue to monitor larger trends and help others respond to opportunity.
Our involvement in the community and industry is increasing. We have hosted at least three summits or showcases on cannabis in the last year or so. We created an agricultural summit that brought in farmers, business leaders and policy makers to discuss the variety of areas in which we can work together as an educational institution and an industry. We have hosted and participated in applied learning summits, and we have an energy summit planned this fall. All of these gatherings facilitate an exchange of knowledge and opportunity, expanding the influence and progress that both SUNY Morrisville and the greater community achieve. As we lend our insight and expertise to various leaders, they stand in support of our programs, pursuits and projects that grow our shared capacity to compete in a global marketplace.
The college is transforming in ways more visible than have been seen in many years. The campus is undergoing an unprecedented volume of construction; We are clearing a backlog of facility maintenance and upgrades as we replace critical utility infrastructure and renovate teaching and learning facilities. We have used Performance Improvement Funds to help us reposition our collaborative and applied research efforts. We have reengineered our processes to better track and analyze, so we can respond more efficiently and effectively to the shifting landscapes of education, industry and the economy. We have flattened our organizational structure to promote a culture of shared ownership among faculty and staff to move the college forward.
Each era of Morrisville’s transformation has been accompanied by a shift in the degree focus of programs offered. While we have offered baccalaureate degrees for more than 20 years now, our two-year degree programs still outnumber them. The marketplace has made it clear that it has a growing preference for four-year degrees, even as at values hands-on learning and training to produce career-ready graduates. Morrisville is in a distinctive position to develop an environment where students can enter a four-year program of study and earn two-year degrees and even other certificates and credentials along the way. It suggests a “laddering” or en passant approach that rewards and encourages students with each year of study that they complete, offering learning outcomes that can improve retention and ultimately produce stronger, better prepared and more resourceful graduates. This is a key demonstration of the priority for student success that I have set for the college. I am proposing as part of our Strategic Enrollment Plan that we increase student enrollment in four-year programs (currently 32 percent) to 50 percent by 2024. Baccalaureate students tend to retain and complete at a higher rate and secure a more dependable revenue stream for the college.
SUNY system has been, and will continue to be, vital to this transformation. Support through special funds, construction projects, facilities planning and program development will all contribute to Morrisville’s success. Likewise, we closely heed the initiatives and priorities of the Governor, his Cabinet members, our district legislators, and economic development council leaders charged with advancing New York’s future.
Morrisville continues to promote workforce development for sustainable food systems and renewable energy production, as evidenced by our facilities, programs and faculty. Our Controlled Environment Agriculture initiative, certified organic Four Seasons Farm, Renewable Energy Training Center and Environmental Training Center are each examples that affirm these priorities.
With our START-UP NY initiatives, we help new and expanding businesses through tax-based incentives and have done so particularly with food-oriented enterprises. We are a stakeholder with the Grow-NY business competition, focused on growing an enduring food and agriculture innovation cluster by attracting startups from around the globe to engage them in the region’s rapidly growing startup ecosystem. We have helped facilitate the Green Empire Farms development of one of the largest greenhouse complexes in North America, totaling more than 110 acres under glass for Mastronardi Produce, a family-owned company headquartered in Kingsville, Ontario.
With ongoing partnership through SUNY and the state, Morrisville can ensure that innovation and entrepreneurship thrive in Central New York. This is good for both our economy and our communities, and it’s a vital advantage we can extend to our students seeking individualized education to set them apart in the career marketplace. Our focus on sustainable approaches to food and energy, as well as other enterprises, ensures that we can properly influence generations of workers and leaders who will shape industry and community for a second century.
I am confident that finding more ways to bring more people to the table to discuss issues and develop solutions is the best path forward for the shared challenges we face today. I am grateful to be a part of a system and an enterprise that improves the lives of so many individuals and communities. I know you are as well.