After the excitement of May, the University seems a little quieter in June. The coming weeks offer faculty a chance to focus on their research and scholarship while devising new courses and keeping existing syllabi current. Staff also have a chance to focus on projects that aren’t possible during the fast pace of the academic year. Of course, faculty and staff are also opting to take some well-earned time for relaxation and rejuvenation. Less visibly, students are hard at work in their summer courses, with most of them being conducted online. The summer months also are a time for progress on major campus projects, with the longer summer days and warm weather allowing for construction and maintenance, and the relative calm giving space to plan and prepare for the coming year.
June is also a good time to take stock of the previous semester. With COVID (mostly) in the rearview mirror, the campus has returned to normal, with all of its traditional academic rituals and rhythms. The previous months have been very productive, with a successful series of Commencement ceremonies and a promising Class of 2026 in the wings. I am especially proud of the achievements of our faculty and students, who continue to receive national and international recognition for their work. Of course, the end of the academic year brings personnel changes as well, as people move on to retirement or other professional opportunities.
Binghamton University held its 72nd Commencement ceremonies in mid-May, celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2022. It was good to be back to our traditional ceremonies — 10 in all, compared to 29 short ceremonies last year due to social distancing requirements. This year, the University awarded over 4,300 degrees, including more than 650 master’s and 192 doctoral degrees. The number of doctoral degrees is especially significant, as it serves notice that Binghamton is a strong and growing research university, one whose reputation will continue to grow as these graduates assume faculty positions in other major universities, or leadership roles in governmental agencies, not-for-profits and corporate research laboratories. Also, during our School of Management ceremonies, the University awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Bob Swan, MBA ’85, who has served as the CEO of several prominent technology firms, including Intel Corporation. During his remarks, Swan encouraged graduates to take with them a positive spirit, a commitment to teamwork and a lifelong intellectual curiosity.
Preparing for the Class of 2026
If Commencement marks the end of a student’s time at Binghamton, the admission process is the start of the journey. The spring semester always finds Binghamton’s Undergraduate Admissions office busy receiving, analyzing and weighing student applications, and the 2022 spring semester has been the busiest yet. Binghamton received more than 42,000 undergraduate applications for acceptance into the Class of 2026, a new record and more than 5% more than last year’s record. Most promising is the increase in out-of-state and international applications, which are up by 10% and 20%, respectively, over last year, and nearly equal to application rates prior to the COVID pandemic. Significantly, student deposits are also up by about 100 compared to last year, suggesting that students are committed to attending, rather than simply holding a place while they continue “shopping” other schools.
While the general trend in undergraduate applications is positive, there are still areas of concern. Particularly challenging has been the decrease in transfer applications that has been occurring for the past several years and is impacting colleges and universities across New York state. In addition, there is fierce competition among top schools like Binghamton for the best students in New York, while international students are also being courted by top universities in other nations, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Graduate admissions have also seen a significant spike in international applications (up 22% compared to last year), though domestic applications are down by about 12%, resulting in a slight overall decrease of 1.6%. While it is difficult to attribute causation to graduate application increases or decreases, trends typically follow the economy, which until recently was very positive, offering potential students alternatives to graduate school. In addition, the political environment, while improving, still presents hurdles for international students who still find it challenging to get visas and find the United States less welcoming than in years past. In response to these challenges, our Graduate Admissions office is building Binghamton’s presence with international partners, increasing visibility at graduate fairs and strengthening graduate marketing. We also are shifting our recruiting to emphasize greater engagement with Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which will support our efforts to increase campus diversity. Individual departments and schools are also stressing the value of our 4+1 programs that move students quickly to graduate degrees to build internal graduate enrollment.
Students coming to Binghamton next fall will see changes in our COVID protocols compared to the past two years. While vaccines will still be required for all students, the campus will no longer require surveillance testing for unvaccinated students, faculty or staff — pending clarification from New York state and SUNY — nor will the campus provide convenience testing for personnel concerned about whether they have been exposed to the virus. We also will be scaling back the number of rooms dedicated to isolation and quarantine housing for students.
Before we welcome our next cohort of incoming students, the University also has had strong enrollment in our summer sessions for students who want to move quickly to the next stage of their careers. Overall, the total number of students and number of credit hours that they are registered for are up from summer 2021. The School of Management and the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science have seen summer enrollment increases compared to last year. Most summer session courses are taught online, although about 15% (mostly science classes with lab requirements) are still taught in person. It’s good to see these students on campus.
Recognition and research
Students are drawn to Binghamton by the quality of our faculty. Binghamton boasts outstanding teachers with extensive histories of scholarship and research, as well as younger faculty who are just making their mark in their disciplines. We recently learned that three of our younger faculty have been selected as CAREER Award winners— researchers who are recognized by the National Science Foundation for innovative work while in the early stages of their academic careers. The University congratulates:
Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Pu Zhang, for his work making stretchable, wearable electronics using liquid metals;
Computer Science Assistant Professor Seunghee Shin received a CAREER Award for his work developing faster cloud computing;
and Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Kaiyan Yu received hers to fund work that will allow for efficient manipulation of multiple micro- and nanoparticles with the goal of developing useful components for a variety of applications, such as building nanobots that can deliver drugs directly to cells.
Our faculty are also receiving recognition as teachers — in fact, two SOM faculty recently were named among the top 50 best Undergraduate Business Professors of 2021 by the business education website, Poets & Quants. Assistant Professor of Business Analytics and Operations Saeidah Mirghorbani and Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems (MIS) Srikanth Parameswaran were chosen from more than 1,200 nominees based on their research and teaching accolades.
The pandemic has made the past two years especially challenging at Binghamton, placing new responsibilities on faculty and especially staff for ensuring the health and safety of our students and other members of the University community. This was an experience that took everyone out of their comfort zones, with a few staff going above and beyond their normal duties. So, I was pleased to learn that two members of the University staff were awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Professional Staff Senate for their work supporting the campus during COVID. Caitlin Crisman and Emily Sanderson both are part of the Office of Emergency Management that played a crucial role in helping the campus address COVID. Crisman helped coordinate our quarantine and isolation (Q/I) housing response for students, while Sanderson oversaw our COVID surveillance testing program that eventually served 10,000 campus members per week. She also helped develop the Campus Daily Situation Report that provided a vital snapshot about how the campus was doing each day over the past two years. M y senior staff and I relied on this report to make up-to-the minute decisions regarding the pandemic. Paulina Schertzer was also recognized with a Distinguished Service Award for her work in the Department of Biological Sciences as the director of laboratory preparators. In this role she ensured that our labs are ready— and safe — for students and faculty to do their work. Congratulations to all three Distinguished Service Award winners.
Binghamton’s students also are gaining recognition for their promise as researchers and scholars. Ernest Wang and Joseph Won have each received a prestigious Goldwater Fellowship, awarded to sophomores and juniors who show promise as researchers. Wang, double majoring in integrative neuroscience and philosophy, and Won, a biological anthropology student, were awarded their fellowships based on the strength of their undergraduate research. Won began his work at Binghamton as part of the First-year Research Immersion (FRI) program, developing remote sensors to study the University’s deer population, and more recently has been working with Professor of Anthropology Rolf Quam, while Wang worked in Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Aaron Beedle’s lab, focusing on neurodegenerative illnesses.
Binghamton has recently added a new research laboratory focusing on human movement research. The Motion Analysis Research Lab (MARL), located in the West Gym, is supporting research on human mobility. Associate Professor Vipul Lugade, in the Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences Division of Physical Therapy, has been appointed MARL director. The MARL will be utilized by faculty and students and will have an interdisciplinary reach, supporting researchers from Decker’s occupational and physical therapy programs, as well as those from engineering and bioengineering. The high-tech facility features virtual technologies, multiple cameras and a 3-D motion analysis system, as well as sensors for tracking muscle and eye movements, balance testing and gait measurement. Funding for the MARL comes from a grant provided by the Dr. G. Clifford and Florence B. Decker Foundation, whose support has been crucial to Decker College from its inception.
The University continues to move forward with its New Energy New York application for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Build Back Better regional challenge, having submitted the Southern Tier’s second-round proposal. This initiative, which we described in the previous quarterly report, focuses on the effort, led by Nobel Prize-winning Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science M. Stanley Whittingham and Binghamton’s Associate Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development Per Stromhaug, to establish the region as an international leader in battery research, design and production. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer recently co-authored a column with Whittingham and me, expressing his support for the proposal, which would generate thousands of jobs in the area and spur the development of new battery technologies. The federal government is expected to make an announcement regarding the Build Back Better regional winners in late summer.
Another project located in Endicott, N.Y., has received continued state support to keep us in the running for federal dollars. In mid-June, New York State Empire State Development announced that it has approved an additional $20 million in state funds so that we may continue to compete for NextFlex FHE (Flexible Hybrid Electronics) projects. Federal funding for Phase II has been in place since last year. Prior to our participation in Phase I, the state awarded Binghamton $20 million in Upstate Redevelopment Initiative (URI) funds to participate in this national federal program to advance flexible electronics technology. Phase II was approved last year by the federal government, with funding for the NextFlex consortium of which we are a part. The recent injection of state matching funds will allow us to fully participate in Phase II.
As I mentioned earlier, summer is a time when the University hums with the sound of construction. Currently, there is more than $185 million in University construction projects underway or nearing completion. This year, there are numerous maintenance projects taking place at the Vestal campus, including repairs to the parking garage adjacent the Couper Administration Building, as well as sidewalk replacement and paving along Bartle Drive. Work continues on the third floor of Bartle Library, which is being gutted before new mechanical and energy systems can be installed. Work on Science 4 and the Science 2 tower is essentially complete, with new furniture being installed and finishing touches added. Work also will begin soon on the new Kramer Welcome Center on Bartle Drive, with completion expected in early 2024.
In Johnson City, the Health Sciences Campus is still evolving, with the new research and development building taking shape adjacent to the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Steel work is now up showing the bones of the $18 million facility. In addition, greenspace and walkways are being developed that will link the campus to Johnson City’s retail district on Main Street, most recently with the removal of buildings on Lewis Street.
Finishing work also is being wrapped up on the new Baseball Stadium Complex. Funded through a $60 million anonymous donation, this facility positively sparkles and is drawing rave reviews from athletes and visitors alike. While the first games were held in the facility in mid-March, the campus held a grand opening on April 29. We are now in the initial stages of design for Phase 2 of the stadium project, which will include a fieldhouse for indoor wintertime practice. This stadium will, over the long term, enable us to grow and strengthen our athletics program. We’ve already had the chance to highlight our program to more than 400 of New York state’s best high school athletes, when the New York State Public High School Athletics Association (NYSPHSAA) held several of the divisional championship games at our stadium.
Collegiate sports are an important part of our University experience — currently, more than 400 students participate on our Division I athletics teams, and many more are active in our Club Sports programs. Binghamton’s Club Hockey team, for example, placed second in the nation at the Collegiate Hockey Federation Cup this year. Given the strength of this program, as well as growing interest in athletics, the University is currently conducting a study regarding the expansion of our athletics programs to include men’s ice hockey and women’s field hockey.
This has been a largely successful year for our athletics teams. Our baseball team won the America East Conference Championship in May, earning a trip to the NCAA regional championships at Stanford University. The younger Bearcat team faced two very strong teams in Stanford and UC Santa Barbara, and will have the experience to draw from as it enters next year’s competitions. Binghamton’s track & field team was represented at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., as well, with Dan Schaffer entered in the men’s 5,000 and Emily Mackay in the women’s 1,500. Facing the nation’s best collegiate runners, Mackey placed sixth in her race while Shaffer finished 24th. Both earned All-America honors for their effort.
The baseball stadium is just one example of the power of private support at Binghamton. This anonymous gift is one of the centerpieces of our ongoing comprehensive gifts campaign, which held the opening of its public phase — EXCELERATE: Moving at the Speed of Binghamton — on campus on April 9. Alumnus Howard Unger ’82, LHD ’19, is serving as the campaign chair, and in his remarks, he emphasized how far Binghamton has come in its relatively short history — and also how much farther we want to go.
This event drew more than 200 alumni to campus, with many more participating online. The attendees were excited and pumped up to learn that the campus will be raising $220 million to support educational excellence, student access, and faculty research and scholarship. We’ve already raised $151 million of our goal, so I am optimistic that we will be able to reach our target in the remaining months of the campaign.
The day was filled with activities, including presentations from students, faculty showcasing their research and scholarship, tours of the Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City, and a projection show against the backdrop of the Couper Administration Building. It was a very successful launch — but just the public beginning of a multi-year journey.
A comprehensive gifts campaign such as EXCELERATE touches on several campus objectives. Obviously, the main goals of the campaign are to provide support for educational access and quality, as well as faculty support to increase research and scholarship. These are part of the traditional missions of a public university. In previous decades, much of the funding for these goals would be met with state or federal funds, but the reality is that in the 21st century, public universities must supplement their state funding with private support if they want to reach their fullest potential. A comprehensive gifts campaign helps campuses obtain flexible funding that allows them to meet challenges head on — and put funding where there is the greatest need. The EXCELERATE campaign will not only do this, but, with an ambitious and realizable goal, will help raise the University’s profile and let our peers know that we are a rising institution that is eager to match them in attracting the best students, in drawing the best faculty and in building a campus with world-wide impact.
That said, the budget New York state adopted in April is remarkably good, at least when compared to recent history, with an increase of $240 million for SUNY and CUNY operating expenses. This is the first time in very many years that operating funds have seen an increase. The state has also designated $53 million for SUNY to increase hiring of full-time faculty, as well as support for fringe benefits for faculty and staff. And regarding academic excellence, there is also a fund for non-recurring investments to improve academic programs, as well as $1.2 billion for capital improvements. How these system-wide funds will be distributed is something that SUNY is working on now, but Binghamton should fare reasonably well in these discussions.
The legislature also made good on its promise to hold tuition steady and have increased support for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The goal of this increase is to gradually reduce the TAP gap, that is, the difference between what TAP provides and actual tuition and fees in SUNY and CUNY. There also has been an increase for the Educational Opportunity Program that supports students from economically disadvantaged families. So overall, a good budget indeed.
The big news is that we have a new provost as of July 1. Provost Donald Nieman is returning to the faculty after a decade of service as provost, and he leaves a very strong legacy behind him. The University recognized Nieman’s achievements at a reception in mid-June. In my remarks, I emphasized the role that he played in shaping the University’s goals and aspirations over the past decade. Nieman had an impact on every major initiative since 2012, from the University’s Road Map strategic planning process and the development of the Smart Energy Building, to the establishment of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Health Sciences Campus, to the creation of the Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAEs) that have revolutionized the way research is conducted at our campus. And of course, he played a key role in the University’s response to the COVID pandemic of the past two years.
Stepping into his shoes as executive vice president and provost will be Donald Hall. Hall comes to Binghamton from the University of Rochester (UR), where he had served as the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of Faculty of Arts, Sciences and Engineering (AS&E), the largest academic unit on the UR campus, since 2018. Prior to that, Hall was the Herbert and Ann Siegel Dean of the Arts and Sciences and professor of English at Lehigh University from 2011 to 2018, and before that he was the Jackson Distinguished Professor of English at West Virginia University. His work as an administrator has been distinguished by an emphasis on diversity and internationalization, based in part on his own experience in the Peace Corps — these are areas that are priorities for us as well. I hope that all of you are looking forward to working with him — I know that I am.
During the past semester we also appointed two new deans. School of Management Dean Upinder Dhillon had stepped aside for health reasons in March, and the entire campus was saddened to learn of his death in April. Following a nationwide search, Associate Dean Shelley Dionne was named dean and began her new position in early June. In addition, Kanneboyina Nagaraju, known as Raju, was appointed dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences after a nationwide search and assumed his duties May 12.
It’s been a very full and successful semester, marked by faculty and student achievements, a growing and committed alumni base, and increasing fiscal support and stability. But the summer months are about finding time to plan and complete big projects, and for taking time to rest and prepare for the next semester. It’s been a very productive academic year, and I think next year will be even better.
It was Strategic Priority 5 (Strategic investments: Optimize the acquisition and allocation of human, technological, financial and physical resources) that presented its deep dive update to the Road Map Steering Committee in May.
New buildings are rising on the Health Sciences Campus, construction of a Welcome Center will soon begin on the main campus, a new outdoor gathering area is being created at Hinman College and a field at the Bearcats Sports Complex is being resurfaced.
The BFirst Network (BFirst) held its first-ever, first-generation college student cording ceremony, when over 150 undergraduate students received cords to wear as they crossed the stage during Commencement.