Patricia Ingraham, founding dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs, sits in her office in the University Downtown Center. Ingraham is retiring after seven years in the position.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Retiring dean reflects on CCPA tenureTweet
For Patricia Ingraham, the key to the success and growth of the College of Community and Public Affairs is the teamwork that exists among the faculty, staff and students at the University Downtown Center.
“There is a remarkable team here and there is a strong sense of community and connection,” she said. “It’s a community-based identity.”
The CCPA team will lose its captain of seven years this week, when Ingraham retires as founding dean. Laura Bronstein, associate dean, a professor of social work and chair of the Department of Social Work, will serve as interim dean. A national search for a new dean will begin in August.
“You get a feeling of happiness almost immediately when you are around Pat,” President Harvey Stenger said during a reception tribute to Ingraham in May. “It is endearing to be around her. What she has done for Binghamton University and CCPA is remarkable: She has taken a college and made it a jewel of the University.”
“Pat has touched so many lives, not only in CCPA, but across the University,” Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Nieman added. “Pat has always brought sunshine to the dean’s group and to the entire campus.”
Ingraham, a public-policy expert who received her doctorate in political science from Binghamton University in 1979, was in the process of retiring from her role as distinguished professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in 2006, when she heard that Binghamton was starting a new college.
Acquaintances asked Ingraham if she would be interested in being part of the new college. Ingraham initially declined, but later discussed the college with then-Provost Mary Ann Swain. Retirement would have to wait.
“Much to my family’s chagrin, I said I could do it for a little while,” Ingraham recalled with a laugh during a recent interview from the CCPA offices on the third floor of the University Downtown Center. “The agreement was that I would be the founding dean for two years. I thought that would be an adequate time to get the college under way. Talk about optimistic! The Downtown Center was not yet complete, so we knew there would be some transition between creating the college and moving it downtown.”
The opportunity to work in the city she had called home for almost 40 years – along with helping to lead a burgeoning college-community partnership – had great appeal to Ingraham.
“I retained a great fondness for Binghamton University and I have an enormous affection for the city of Binghamton,” she said. “I believe that this is an amazing community and I’ve always felt that downtown Binghamton has an intriguing future. So when Mary Ann said there was an opportunity for the University and the city to demonstrate all of the things they have in common and build some important and significant connections, I thought (accepting the position) was fascinating and the right thing to do.”
Ingraham became founding dean in August 2006. The college spent its first year in Academic B with departments in public administration, social work and human development. A year later, CCPA moved into its new downtown home – a 74,400-square-foot building located at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers on Washington Street.
“It’s a magic spot down here,” said Ingraham, glancing out of the window at the city. “Two years: That seemed doable.”
Challenges, tragedies and triumphs
Ingraham realized shortly after the move to the University Downtown Center that her tenure would last longer than two years. New challenges arose, such as what taking classes downtown meant for undergraduates.
“We were going to have a period of maturation and growth in that regard,” Ingraham said. “I still remember a student advisor saying it was difficult to acclimate students to ‘the concrete of downtown Binghamton’ when they were used to ‘the rolling hills of Vestal.’ But everyone adjusted!”
Creating partnerships in the community while still retaining ties to the main campus in Vestal was another early challenge.
“There was a great need to establish who we were, what we were and how we were going to go about pursuing our educational mission,” Ingraham said.
The task was made easier by developing programs that required student internships or field placements.
“So all of our students were immediately in the community,” Ingraham said. “All of our faculty do work in the community with partners. As downtown Binghamton looked to revitalize and grow, the University was a natural partner. There was a great deal of interest in working together and helping each other.”
On April 3, 2009, a gunman killed 13 people at the American Civic Association in downtown Binghamton. One of those killed was Li Guo, a visiting research scholar from Shenzhen University in China who spent much of her time at CCPA examining how public administration and policy was taught in the United States.
“The day itself is something that none of us will ever recover from,” Ingraham said. “We knew early on that Guo was in (the ACA) but we didn’t know how to find her.”
Twelve days after the tragedy, Ingraham and CCPA hosted a memorial ceremony for Guo. Family members and Chinese government officials attended, as an exchange agreement between Binghamton and Shenzhen universities was signed.
The relationship between the two schools continues to grow. Stenger visited Shenzhen as part of a trip to Asia in April 2013, and Shenzhen students and administrators will visit Binghamton University this summer.
“It has developed into a strong international program that is a continuing tribute (to Guo),” Ingraham said. “Her little cherry tree blossoms every spring and reminds us of her all of the time.”
More than two years later, the mettle of CCPA would be challenged again when damaging floods struck the Binghamton region on Sept. 7, 2011. Ingraham said she knew “we were in trouble” when her husband Charles’ law office on Binghamton’s Front Street was evacuated by fire officials. The Downtown Center, meanwhile, suffered great damage, particularly in its basement.
“The next morning it was clear that we were going to have to (leave) fast,” she said. “Everybody was amazing. They pitched in. You’ve never seen so many packing boxes materialize so quickly.
“The water filled the basement completely, but never came up to the first floor. So there was a strange disconnect about it. You knew the water was there and coming in, but you looked around the building and most of it didn’t seem affected.”
The damage, however, was significant enough to close the facility for the remainder of the academic year. By the next week, CCPA offices were moved to the Engineering Building on the main campus. Ingraham praised University officials, Physical Facilities and students, faculty and staff for making the transition smooth.
Ingraham recalled later attending a national conference in which participants asked her how the move took place. She replied that everything happened in two days.
“Somebody then said to me: ‘Universities can’t do that!’ I said: ‘Oh yes, they can.’”
CCPA returned to the Downtown Center for the 2012-13 academic year. It now has a fourth department (student affairs administration) and has expanded its international reach to countries such as China, South Africa, Peru and Turkey. It also is an integral part of the Binghamton community, working with non-profit and government agencies.
Ingraham cited one case of creative caring that CCPA students demonstrate each year: A philanthropy class that has donated to United Health Services and its food pantries (The UHS Food Pantry program is one of about 20 community programs that the philanthropy students have contributed).
“The students can only give a certain amount of money, but there were other things people needed,” she said. “So they organized a drive for when students were packing up for the summer and leaving for the year. If students had extra kitchen cookware, it was able to go to the pantries at UHS.”
‘A family atmosphere’
Being part of the Binghamton community while located in the Downtown Center has created “deep personal connections” in CCPA, said Ingraham, who called it “a family atmosphere.” The college is small enough that students and faculty can meet and connect with people who also work in the building, such as Jazzman’s employees.
One example of a connection that students made right away was with John Fleming, a University Police security supervisor at the Downtown Center until he passed away in 2012. There were initial concerns about the presence of a security guard at the front desk, but Ingraham said that Fleming became “like everybody’s grandfather.”
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “Sometimes you had to shoo people away from John so he could see who was coming into the building. He knew more about the kids than their mothers did!”
Besides faculty members who have “a keen sense of community and community partnerships,” CCPA features students who want to be part of a helping community or a helping profession, Ingraham said.
“An extraordinary number of our students are first-time higher-education students,” she said. “They have an innate understanding of ways to solve the problems that other people may be having and what they can do to make a difference.”
As CCPA expands its reach in the community and around the world, it is also growing on campus. A doctoral program in community and public affairs will begin in fall 2013. The Department of Public Administration will assist in the development of a sustainable communities program on campus. Associate Professor David Campbell will teach students at Hinman College about citizenship and philanthropy.
“The foundation is in place,” Ingraham said. “Our undergraduate program (human development) is a healthy, growing department with some new, vibrant faculty members who are engaged with the students and community. Our graduate programs are at a good stage of development. They all have ideas for how they can grow and what they want to do. … CCPA is an entity ready to make a leap. The emphasis on quality and excellence is impressive.”
Ingraham and her husband intend to spend more time with their two daughters and grandchild in Seattle. But she admitted that she expects to have a “What am I doing not on campus?” feeling in September.
“It’s just been a key part of my life,” she said. “I love students – the conversations, the insights and the constant learning that they put into your life. That engagement and involvement is something I know I will miss.
“I did promise the family that when I retire this time, it would really be a retirement,” she said with a long laugh. “This time, they’ll hold me to it.”
Seven years after having a change of heart about her first retirement, Ingraham said she is proud that CCPA has developed into a “high-quality and vibrant” college with a bright future.
“I hope people remember that this is a model of education, academic research and community partnership,” she said. “And I hope people remember that we demonstrated that it can work.”