INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
City clerk’s attire for a day: Cap and gown
By : Eric Coker
Angela Fagerstrom is more than just a link in the campus-community connection: She makes a daily difference as the Binghamton city clerk.
“I think it’s great that the University and the community have enabled me to do what I’ve done,” said Fagerstrom, 22, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and law. “I would not have been able to do it without the support and encouragement of the people around me. This is my experience of how the University and community can come together.”
The experience has its roots in a far-away location: Juneau, Alaska.
Fagerstrom grew up in Juneau and attended the University of Alaska Southeast as a teenager. She was enrolled in a homeschool program, but took classes on the campus with a half-dozen other young students for middle-school, high-school and college credit.
“It was empowering to do that,” she said. “It was a good experience to grow up feeling special. I don’t think enough kids have that.”
But by 18, Fagerstrom was only a semester away from a degree in human communication and she did not want Alaska Southeast to be her only college experience.
She applied late to the National Student Exchange program, but saw Binghamton University on the list.
“It was here or Guam,” she said with a laugh. The Binghamton area, particularly rural Chenango County, was somewhat familiar to her.
She visited grandparents in South Otselic as a young child and her uncle and his family live in Oxford.
Halfway through her first year at Binghamton, Fagerstrom began thinking about becoming a full-time Bearcat.
“Some of the students come and they go and I’ll see them once or twice,” said Birgit Nicolaisen, the University’s National Student Exchange coordinator. “But Angela was in asking questions. I don’t know where she gets her energy from. She jumped into the exchange experience with both feet. She saw her opportunity and she took it.”
Making the decision easier was an internship Fagerstrom had started at the Binghamton city clerk’s office in September 2007. She already had spent the previous year as a clerk for the Alaska Public Offices Commission in Juneau, maintaining financial records of lobbyists and legislators.
“I’ve always known that I’m meant to work for government,” she said. “I’ve always worked. My parents are hard workers and they instilled that in me. … It just seemed like the normal thing to do. It didn’t seem out of the norm until I came here,” she added with a laugh.
Fagerstrom’s work impressed city officials enough to make her deputy city clerk in December 2007 when Joe Merrill was promoted to clerk. Still, Binghamton politics required an adjustment period.
“I was used to a very formal environment,” she said. “It was interesting to come to my first council meeting and have people yell into the microphone at council members and then have council members slam their fists on tables. Of course, this was the old council. It was exciting and new and nothing I had seen before. But it’s really toned down now.”
A nonviolent and compassionate communication class with Lois Einhorn, professor of English, helped in the transition, Fagerstrom said.
Fagerstrom admits that she initially had trouble balancing the full-time job with a full-time class schedule. She eventually cut back to a part-time school schedule, but the days are still hectic. Fagerstrom has taken classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday middays and Tuesday and Thursday nights, with clerk work before and after the day classes and into the evenings.
Last month, Fagerstrom became city clerk after Merrill was sworn in as Broome County’s 2nd District legislator.
“She’s such a hard-working person,” said Marty Gerchman, Binghamton city council president. “She’s mature beyond her years. I rely on her every day for research and to help me get things done. She’s a pleasure to be around.
“What impresses me most is that she’s able to excel at her position with the city while doing a great job at school. To balance those things is no easy feat.”
As city clerk, Fagerstrom’s responsibilities include helping to draft legislation and agendas for the city council, issuing permits and licenses, overseeing birth and death records and serving as marriage officer. (“I’ve done more than 200 weddings since I’ve been here. It’s one of the perks of the job,” she said.)
When not at City Hall or in the classroom, Fagerstrom volunteers with the Broome County Water Rescue and Dive Response Team as a scuba diver. Despite the fact that her father is a scuba diver, Fagerstrom did not try it until she came to Binghamton.
Last month, Fagerstrom and the team helped look for the body of a Cornell University student in Cayuga Lake.
“I like knowing that I can be a part of something bigger and help make a difference,” she said of the rescue team. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of that.”
Fagerstrom plans to stay as city clerk until her term expires at the end of 2011. She then wants to go to law school and join the military’s JAG Corps.
“She is such an ambassador for the University,” Gerchman said. “She is what 99.9 percent of the students are. But to have her out front is excellent.”
Fagerstrom, whose parents are coming from Alaska for Commencement, said she feels grateful that she was put in this place and time.
“I feel like I’ve grown 20 years in the past four,” she said. “It makes you think that things do happen for a reason. It’s extraordinary. I like my life.”