Fall semester is in full swing, the locust trees outside my window are turning gold, and alumni and students’ relatives are making their annual treks to campus for Homecoming and Family weekends. It’s a beautiful and exciting time of year here at Binghamton University.
The last three months have been very busy with lots of construction and renovations underway both here on the main campus and in Johnson City, where our Health Sciences Campus is transforming the community. We also welcomed our newest cohort of students, the Class of 2023, and faculty have been busy in their research and scholarship. The University continues to rise in national rankings, and alumni have responded to our successes by increasing their support.
In August, we started the fall 2019 semester by welcoming approximately 2,900 freshmen, 1,000 transfer students and 1,600 new graduate students to our Binghamton University community, with our first day classes on Aug. 21. This new class of students is exceptionally bright, with SAT scores of around 1370 and high school GPAs of 95 — they should do well at Binghamton. And, for the first time, this class brings our total enrollment to just over 18,000 students, up slightly from last year.
Among our new students are 92 new members of our School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS). This is the third class we’ve enrolled, and now there are 231 students taking classes at the pharmacy building in Johnson City. The first Saturday after these new students arrived, they participated in the traditional “White Coat” ceremony that marks their entry into clinical work.
The School of Pharmacy is working hard to strengthen its pipeline of qualified students. Over the course of the summer, the University entered into articulation agreements that establish 3+4 programs with Cornell University and Wells College. In late September, a similar agreement was finalized with Ithaca College and a 2+4 program was agreed upon with Nassau Community College. These agreements will bring qualified students into our program after they complete three (or two) years at the other schools.
Similarly, we are working to increase our pipeline of international graduate students and enhance international research collaboration through agreements with several campuses around the world — most recently we’ve signed Memorandums of Understanding with Vellore Institute of Technology in India, and East China University in Shanghai.
Our efforts to recruit top students — at both the undergraduate and graduate levels — are helped by the increasing recognition we are getting in the rankings by national publications. Most recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked the University 31st among public universities and colleges, and 79th among all public and private universities in its 2020 listing of “America’s Best Colleges.” Binghamton also moved up 10 slots, from 62 to 52, on the publication’s “Best Value Colleges” list. And because Binghamton is a campus that wants to make a difference, we were pleased to learn that the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) recently ranked Binghamton a #1 top performer among all universities in the category of research focused on sustainability.
Across the campus, Binghamton faculty are having an impact in their fields and in our community. For example, the Decker School of Nursing recently received $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HRSA) Advanced Nursing Education Workforce (ANEW) program to provide financial support for graduate nursing students. The goal of the grant is to increase the number of practitioners serving rural areas, and it includes a component for training on telemedicine to reach distant patients. These funds are providing tuition assistance for two cohorts of as many as 24 students each. Previously, the school had received a smaller, $1.2 million grant for this purpose; the increase and extension of the grant tells us that the goals of the initial grant have been met.
New York state has also recognized the University’s role in developing innovative technologies that have the potential to establish new industries and generate new economic opportunities for communities. In June, the University was designated by Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) as a New York State Center of Advanced Technology (CAT). Under the direction of Professor of Engineering Mark Poliks, the University’s Center for Flexible Hybrid Medical Device Manufacturing (called FlexMed) received the designation for its work developing flexible, wearable medical and industrial devices, while providing workforce training in high-tech production techniques. FlexMed joins Binghamton’s NextFlex at our Integrated Electronics Engineering Center as a New York Center for Advanced Technology. (NextFlex focuses on flexible hybrid electronics manufacture and design.)
This designation will provide $8.8 million to the center over the next 10 years. According to Poliks, this funding will help establish the University as a major resource for large and small firms that are interested in flexible, wearable medical and industrial devices and will encourage collaboration between private industry and universities in the development and application of these new technologies. We expect the center to serve as a catalyst for future industrial investment and economic development in the surrounding region.
Faculty at our CATs, as well as scholars and scientists across the University, will soon have a new tool in their belt as they conduct their research. Louis Piper, associate professor of physics, is the principal investigator for a grant that will help Binghamton University acquire a HArd X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (HAXPES) system. The HAXPES allows researchers to get detailed information about a device or material without taking it apart, helping them determine the chemical and electronic structure of the material being studied. So far, there are only two of these tools in the world and ours will be the first outside of Europe.
Purchase of the tool was facilitated through a $1.23 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program, combined with funds from the University. The tool will be housed in our Smart Energy Building and will be used primarily to support research on next generation electronics, neuromorphic computing, solar energy and batteries. Other disciplines, such as archeology and anthropology, will find it useful for studying material in their fields, such as pigments and clay residues.
Our faculty are gaining recognition for the impact their work has had in their disciplines. Most recently, Binghamton University Professor of Biomedical Engineering Kaiming Ye was recognized as a fellow in the Biomedical Engineering Society. The society selected him for the honor based on his career as a leader in the discipline, and for his work in bioprinting and tissue biofabrication, in particular of human pancreatic islets from stem cells. Ye also has invented fluorescent nanosensors for continuous glucose monitoring for Type 1 diabetic patients. His current research is centered on anti-cancer vaccines. This honor is very significant honor, as only 14 fellows were named this year, and the society has only 278 fellows in total.
Students awarded Fulbright Scholarships
Our faculty are not only earning recognition in their disciplines for pathbreaking scholarship and research, they also are helping students excel in their studies. As a result, our students also are receiving national attention for their work. This past June, four of our most-promising advanced students received national attention for having been named 2019 Fulbright Scholars. Fulbright Scholarships are awarded to recent graduates and graduate students for research, study and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries.
Representing Binghamton this year are are:
anthropology PhD student Alex Velez, MA ’17, who will travel to Spain to study a paleolithic site and virtually landmark fossil remains;
recent Russian studies graduate Maria Dubin ’19, who plans to travel to Belarus to serve as an English language teaching assistant;
sociology PhD student Michael Stephens, who will study in Cartegena, Columbia, to document LGBTQ tourism in the city; and
a master’s student in student affairs administration, Brian Campbell, who will use his scholarship to teach English language at Arabian Gulf University in Manama, Bahrain.
Students working in the Public Archeology Facility (PAF) developed their research skills in an unusual project: an archeological dig at the famed Bethel Woods site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Their work centered on two areas of the festival grounds — the main stage area and the “Bindy Bazaar” where vendor booths were located. Their work will be the basis of an interpretive trail at the Museum at Bethel Woods. Because this year marks the 50th anniversary of that celebrated concert, the work conducted by the students received quite a bit of notice, with dozens, if not hundreds of publications picking up the story, potentially reaching as many as 336 million readers.
The PAF specializes in important historical and archaeology surveys and documents archaeological sites in advance of construction. Earlier this summer, Laurie Miroff, a Binghamton alumna and project director with the center since 1998, was named PAF director. She replaces Professor Nina Versaggi, who retired last year after 30 years as director. Under Mirroff, the facility looks to expand the number of state contracts it receives, as well as increase research into state battlefield sites. The facility is an important part of our research operations, and over the past decade has had research expenditures of over $23 million.
Summer is a time for the University to focus on construction and maintenance. This year, the campus has several major projects underway and is working as hard as possible to make the campus both accessible and safe during the extensive construction. Perhaps most visible are the renovations to our Science 2 and Engineering buildings.
Our Engineering Building has received new energy-efficient cladding that looks great, too. It updates the “cement parking garage” look that the building has had since it was built in the 1970s, and which made it an outlier among campus architectural styles. The building’s interior is also being renovated, with new offices, classrooms and lecture halls, as well as renovations to the building’s mechanical systems, with a scheduled reopening in summer 2020.
We also are moving ahead on renovations to Science 2, with most of the work so far consisting of demolition work and window removal. The building will get a new energy-efficient skin along with a significant interior redesign. The building will be offline until late 2020.
Other renovations on campus include:
The Hinman Dining Hall, which will be completely reconstructed and expanded.
Cleveland Hall, which is undergoing asbestos removal and will be refitted to be more energy efficient and ADA compliant.
The University Union basement, which is currently offline so that it can be updated with new flooring, lighting, storefronts, restrooms and mechanical equipment.
In Johnson City, we are moving ahead with renovations to 48 Corliss. The foundation for the expanded area of the new Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences building is in place, windows have been removed and interior construction is in progress in anticipation of a summer 2020 opening.
The past three months have also brought into focus the University’s fiscal situation. Last fall, the University was forced to address two simultaneous challenges — a missed graduate enrollment target, combined with increased costs from a long-overdue salary increase for our faculty and professional employees for which the state made no appropriations. To address this challenge, we’ve changed our hiring process, slowed implementation of some of our campus initiatives and developed a new budgeting system for administrative units.
We also saw some support from SUNY and the state legislature this past spring, in the form of increased funding for critical maintenance items as well as a one-time offset to help us meet salary costs. Significantly, we’ve hit our enrollment targets for this year and we’ve seen growth in our graduate programs.
In sum, we are a better position as we enter this academic year. We’re not completely out of the woods yet — we are still drawing on reserves and would like to see an increase in state support for our faculty and professional staff — but we are in a place where we can begin to make necessary hires and move forward on initiatives that will strengthen the campus.
The University’s growing reputation for original research and scholarship, combined with its legacy of educational excellence, is attracting attention from alumni and other supporters. As a result, we’ve seen a flurry of donations and commitments from members of the University community. Often these gifts are structured in a way that enables donors to help us achieve our vision, while staying true to their own personal interests.
For example, in early September, the campus recognized the generosity of Lisa Beck, whose husband Jeffrey graduated from Binghamton in 1984 with a degree in chemistry. He went on to become a leading engineer and manager for ExxonMobil, with 63 patents and 46 publications before he died in 2012. Lisa Beck recently gave a gift honoring Jeffrey that expands a previous scholarship in chemistry to include a master’s or PhD student, and further, provides funding for Matthew Vetticatt’s lab. The associate professor of chemistry’s work in catalytic chemistry parallels Jeffrey Beck’s research at ExxonMobil.
Similarly, this past June we held a naming celebration for Ben VanDerLinde, a strong supporter of the University’s athletics programs and former member of the Binghamton University Athletic Association. He was the owner of several local Dunkin’ Donut franchises before he died suddenly in 2018. Because of his long commitment to the University, VanDerLinde’s family decided to give back to the program with a significant gift to establish a speaker’s series for our athletes and other students, as well as to provide a place for athletes to gather in the Events Center. For this, we are naming the Events Center concourse the Ben G. VanDerLinde Memorial Concourse.
But one of the most remarkable gifts we’ve received in recent years comes from alumna Ellyn Uram Kaschak ’65. We recently announced that she’s provided a $1.9 million donation to establish the Ellyn Uram Kaschak Institute for Social Justice for Women and Girls, with Distinguished Service Professor Susan Strehle serving as founding director.
Kaschak has a very accomplished academic career, including her master’s degree from George Washington University and her doctorate from Ohio State University, followed by a long career on the faculty at San Jose State University. She is considered a founder of and leading theorist in the field of feminism. Previously, Kaschak had established the Ellyn Kaschak Summer Research grant that supports Harpur College undergraduates conducting research in the field of women’s social justice.
Looking ahead, the Kaschak Institute is co-sponsoring a landmark international conference next year, on “Women, Peace and Security — Reevaluating Vulnerability” in conjunction with Harpur College’s 70th anniversary.
Similarly, we recently took time to recognize the support that alumnus Stuart Koenig ‘73, has provided the campus by dedicating one of the most traveled passageways on campus in his name. The Koenig Family Hallway connects the Harpur College offices in the library tower and Bartle Library — a path that thousands of students, faculty and staff traverse each day.
Koenig is one of Harpur’s biggest boosters. Over the years, he has volunteered his time and knowledge to students, served as a Binghamton University Foundation board member and chair of its Investment Committee, and most of all, been a constant and generous donor and supporter of all things Harpur. He is a founding supporter of several of Harpur’s most successful enrichment programs, including Harpur Edge, Harpur Lace (Liberal Arts to Careers Externship) and the Harpur Fellows.
The gifts provided by Koenig, Kaschak, and the Beck and Vanderlinde families are just a few examples of the increasing generosity of our alumni and supporters. This year, the University has received $19.1 million in gift commitments for its comprehensive gifts campaign, which is in its quiet phase, and $15.2 million in actual gifts — $14.2 million of which have been cash gifts. These are records for the campus and reflect the pride our alumni and supporters have in our work.
Alumni pride was also in abundance during our Homecoming in mid-September. It was a great weekend with fantastic weather — the sun was out, the weather was warm and the hillsides around campus were starting to gain their fall colors. But the best part of the weekend was touching base with the more than 1,400 alumni who ventured back to Binghamton. Our Alumni Association put together a great schedule of events and activities, including museum showings, open houses, panel discussions and, for the first time, a very well-attended block party in downtown Binghamton.
Of special note were the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Decker School of Nursing and the School of Management, as well as the kickoff of the 70th anniversary of Harpur College. And of course, there were two great soccer games (with obligatory tailgating) as well as other sports competitions.
Our alumni take great pride in the University, whether they self-identify as Harpur alums, SUNY-B graduates or Binghamton Bearcats. The University and its successes are theirs, too.