Laura Bronstein officially became dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs on Jan. 2.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Bronstein: Collaboration key to CCPA successTweet
When new College of Community and Public Affairs Dean Laura Bronstein arrived at Binghamton University in 1999, she was thrilled at the opportunity to develop its social work program. Fast forward 15 years and the growth of the Department of Social Work, the establishment of CCPA and successful collaborations with numerous community partners, and her excitement for “starting new things” has not diminished.
“There’s a lot we’ve done in our early states, and there’s much more we can do, and I am honored to be in a position to lead the college through that,” she said.
Bronstein served as chair of the Department of Social Work from 2006 until June 2013, and was then appointed interim dean of CCPA when Dean Patricia Ingraham retired. Bronstein officially took on the role of dean on Jan. 2.
A collaborative spirit enabled Bronstein to achieve objectives in the past, including providing leadership for SHARE − a multi-million dollar, federally funded collaboration among BOCES, Broome County schools, Lourdes Youth Services and Binghamton University designed to develop safe school environments and improve mental health services in schools − and she plans on reaching out to her peers to meet CCPA’s goals in her new position as well.
“Running this college is not about my ideas,” said Bronstein. “It’s about leading and supporting the faculty, staff, students and community partners around their ideas and the directions they want to go.”
The importance of collaboration
When Bronstein speaks about the power of collaboration, she does so with authority. Her 2003 article, “A Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration,” published in the journal Social Work, is the eighth-most cited work in professional social work literature in the past decade.
Calling herself “innately collaborative,” Bronstein believes that products are better when there is collaboration and input from different people. “I do have an interdisciplinary perspective, and I feel that it’s a critical way to approach issues,” she said. “There are unique things that different disciplines offer, and we should take advantage of them. We should also look at where we come together.”
Whether it’s new international programs or fundraising opportunities (initiatives in which Bronstein is especially interested) she wants to pursue projects that make sense for CCPA and that are in line with the needs of its students, faculty, staff and community partners.
“What are our priorities?” said Bronstein. “’What are our goals? What do we want to do with and for our students, and how does that shape where we go next and what projects we pursue? That’s sort of my take for developing new things in general—to get a lot of input from all of our constituents and then figure out what makes sense in order for us to move forward.”
A sound strategy is key to CCPA’s success, Bronstein said. There are so many great ideas being proposed, that she worries some of the great ones will be buried without a strategic approach in place.
“A major thing I want to do early on is look at the balance of priorities,” she said. “There are a lot of ideas with a lot of energy and a lot of things going on, but we don’t want to burn out and we also don’t want, for some haphazard reason, one idea to get out in front when another idea is better. That’s why I want to work with the faculty, staff, students and community partners − to think about what should be first, second, third, etc.”
Relationships with other schools
When Bronstein became interim dean in June 2013, she found reassurance from other academic deans. “They’re a really terrific group,” she said. “That’s one of the things that makes me feel as if ‘OK, I can do this job.’ There’s a great support group among the academic deans. We meet and talk and support each other as we face similar challenges.”
According to Bronstein, the opportunities for CCPA to work with other colleges at Binghamton are “limitless.” She believes the University’s Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAEs) are creating more opportunities to work across departments, schools and colleges, and notes that many CCPA faculty align with two or three of the TAEs.
“I think having our faculty involved in at least three of the TAEs is an opportunity for them to become more familiar with other faculty across campus and vice-versa,” she said. “We’re a new college, and so we want people to get to know our faculty, how wonderful they are and their research expertise. I think the TAEs support that.”
Bronstein believes that CCPA has a unique set of core values – social justice, community engagement, interdisciplinary work – and that these are areas in which the school can lead the rest of the University. “I want people to take advantage of our expertise in those areas,” she said.
The community-college partnership
Aligning with community interests is crucial to the success of CCPA and the greater community, said Bronstein.
“We want people in the community to see us as a resource and a partner,” she said. “We can figure out here at CCPA what interests us in the community, but that won’t do us any good if the city, the county and people in the community are going in other directions. Where do our interests align and then how can we move forward together?”
Part of meeting the needs of the community will come about through vigorous research, said Bronstein, whose focus is on applied research. She noted CCPA’s ability to use research to address one of the area’s biggest challenges: economic development.
“We have people on our faculty who are doing cutting-edge scholarship and developing new models in a range of areas and programs,” she said. “The more we can take the knowledge that faculty are generating and bring that to bear in this community, the more this community will be a place that people are attracted to for work, because innovative things are going on.
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Nieman believes that Bronstein, as she has demonstrated in the past, will make headway in the community in her new position.
“Laura has distinguished herself as a high-profile scholar who is successful in working closely with community partners on projects that address critical community needs,” Nieman said. “Her success as a scholar, collaborative approach to leadership and commitment to the community will make her an outstanding dean.”
And working with the community isn’t just good for the community, said Bronstein − it’s good for the University. She believes that, in order to make the University a more diverse place, we also need to support ways to make the community more diverse. “The more we can make this a place that people who don’t have access to power can really thrive, the more diverse our community is going to be, and I think that’s going to have an impact on the University as a whole.”
If Bronstein had an opportunity to talk to all incoming students, she’d first let them know “how smart they are for coming to CCPA.” Wanting students to get answers to pressing questions and solve problems before they blow up into bigger issues, she’d next urge them to take advantage of CCPA’s highly supportive faculty and staff.
“People in this college are really motivated to help students have as excellent an experience as possible,” said Bronstein. “Use us,” she implores incoming and current students.
Bronstein encourages everyone – students, faculty, staff and community partners – to approach CCPA from a new perspective.
“People should take a fresh and serious look at CCPA, not what our image might be or what they might have felt we contributed in the past, but who we are today.”