The month of June is deceptively quiet at Binghamton University, as the hectic time of finals and Commencement gives way to summer vacations and preparations for next fall. However, with fewer students on campus, the University can ramp up its construction and maintenance work, while faculty are able to dig deeper into their research and scholarship. Administratively, the campus finds itself focused on larger strategic goals and in building partnerships with other academic institutions and organizations in the community. The campus, while seemingly tranquil, is alive and buzzy with internal activity.
In May, we celebrated the conclusion of another successful academic year, highlighted by our annual Commencement ceremonies. For graduating seniors, excitement for Commencement had been building for several weeks, More than 1,300 students participated in April’s GradFest, where students could purchase their cap and gown and other accoutrements of graduation, as well as get information regarding graduate programs and career opportunities from the Graduate School and the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development.
This year, we recognized the achievements of more than 4,500 students during 10 Commencement ceremonies, including the annual doctoral hooding ceremony for students who have earned their PhD’s, EDD’s and DNP’s. This year, the campus awarded more than 3,400 baccalaureate degrees, 800 master’s degrees and saw 130 doctoral candidates and 81 Doctor of Pharmacy candidates hooded. These latter two categories are especially impressive, as the number of doctoral degrees granted has increased by 70% compared to a decade ago, suggesting real growth in our research and advanced health science programs.
Research and scholarship
Our research programs are growing both in size and real-world impact. For example, the University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention (I-GMAP) recently held its fourth annual Frontiers of Prevention Conference and Workshops, drawing academics and practitioners from around the world with a focus on developing practical policies and methods for stopping human rights violations. The highlight of the conference was the keynote address by 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. She received the inaugural Nadia Rubaii Memorial Prize for her work promoting the role of a free media in preventing atrocities through her work as a journalist during the repressive Duterte regime in the Philippines.
The award is named in honor of I-GMAP’s co-founder and former co-director Nadia Rubaii. Prior to her death in 2022, Rubaii was a professor and practitioner of public administration at Binghamton University; the award was established to recognize her commitment to the promotion of human rights and the prevention of genocide, mass atrocities and all forms of identity-based violence and will be presented annually at the Frontiers of Prevention Conference.
Other faculty in our College of Community and Public affairs have also received recognition for their community-centered research and pedagogy. Naorah Rimkunas, assistant professor of social work and education, is the principal investigator on a pair of five-year U.S. Department of Education grants totaling $9.3 million recently awarded to the Binghamton University Community Schools (BUCS) program. These grants will allow the BUCS program to expand mental health services in New York’s Southern Tier as part of its Mental Health Service Provider Demonstration Grant Program and will place more Binghamton University social work students in schools that need mental health support. Of the funding, $5.7 million will support the Rural Mental Health in Schools Expansion program that works with middle and high school students and families in four high-needs school districts (Harpursville, Whitney Point, Windsor and Owego-Apalachin). An additional $3.5 million will fund the Family Partner Program, which will serve approximately 3,700 students at the Chenango Forks and Maine-Endwell school districts. BUCS is currently hiring field instructors and recruiting social work students for participation in the fall.
Community mental health is also the focus of recent scholarships awarded to Binghamton students. Three Binghamton students are among the inaugural recipients of a new state-supported scholarship to increase representation of ethnic and racial minorities in the state’s mental health workforce. This new program, funded through federal dollars given to the New York State Office of Mental Health, provides students with a monetary scholarship, mentorships with mental health professionals and internships in the field. The recipients are Daisy Calvario Velasco, a sophomore human development major; Jeannette Guasio, a first-year master’s student in social work; and Quinn Hendershot, MS ’22, a second-year doctoral student in clinical psychology. That three individuals from Binghamton received this award out of 11 total indicates not only the strength of our academic programs, but also the University’s commitment to providing education that addresses our state’s most pressing challenges.
We also have learned that one of our younger faculty members — Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Pritam Das — has earned a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award. This five-year, $537,959 award is in recognition of his work developing more efficient solid-state transformers that will help stabilize energy transmission, reduce storage space and increase efficiencies as power suppliers turn to batteries to store energy produced by solar and wind-power.
The NSF also recognized Binghamton University senior Madison Tuohy, awarding her an esteemed National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Tuohy has been working to develop methods to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) — or drones — equipped with sensors to detect land mines. This five-year, $37,000/year fellowship will allow her to pursue graduate work at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, expanding her research focused on identifying hard-to-detect plastic landmines, potentially saving thousands of lives each year.
Binghamton’s reputation for research excellence is the basis for a new partnership with six historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that was announced in June. The goal of the partnerships is to foster research collaborations among faculty and students. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a nonprofit that represents HBCUs and provides scholarships to their students, is also part of the collaboration. The alliance will enable institutions to pool resources and elevate their research profiles. The six participating HBCUs are Alabama A&M University; Central State University in Ohio; Tuskegee University in Alabama; Prairie-View A&M University in Texas; the University of the District of Columbia; and Virginia State University.
In addition to developing research collaborations, the alliance will help create a pipeline of diverse graduate students interested in engineering and computer science fields, while building relationships with Binghamton faculty. To that end, the group will offer joint course development, mentoring and summer internships for students, as well as visiting and sabbatical appointments for faculty at member institutions. Ultimately, the participating colleges will be better prepared to climb the research ranks of the Carnegie Classification system.
Also strengthening the University’s research profile is a recent partnership with United Health Services (UHS) to bring a state-of-the art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to the Southern Tier. The $2.6 million MRI, a Siemens Magnetom Prisma 3 Tesla scanner, will be located at UHS’ Vestal campus and will provide access for University faculty and graduate students. The MRI project has been a multi-yearlong initiative under the University’s Road Map to Premier strategic plan, and will allow faculty associated with the University’s Brain and Body Imaging Research Center, along with physicians at UHS, to conduct cross-disciplinary research in fields ranging from physics and anatomy to physiology, neuroscience and advanced data processing. This will also pay benefits to the community, with Broome County now home to one of the most advanced MRI technologies in the state.
This quarter, we also learned the outcome of the budget negotiations between the governor and legislature and its impact on SUNY and the University. While the budget is ordinarily expected to be announced on April 1, this year’s budget came in over a month late as the governor and legislature worked to reach agreement.
The good news is that the overall SUNY appropriations increased by $222 million over the previous budget, including $163 million for operational funds, meaning an increase in Binghamton’s operational budget. This will help pay for negotiated salary increases with faculty and staff — increases that have not been included in the budget in recent years. With negotiations on new contracts being finalized, SUNY will need to press our elected officials to address this recurring challenge. The approved budget also allows for differential tuition for non-resident undergraduate and graduate students at the SUNY Research Centers, including Binghamton, but a proposal to increase in-state student tuition was denied.
Critical maintenance funding remains the same as this year, as has funding for our Center for Advanced Technology, while the Center for Excellence has received a slight increase. Funding for the Educational Opportunity Program remains the same as well.
One particularly bright spot in the budget is the state’s matching fund for endowment contributions for the University Centers at Albany, Buffalo, Stony Brook and Binghamton. Under the plan, the state will provide $1 for every $2 of private contributions, up to $500 million in state funds. Thus, much of the support we receive during the last phase of the current EXCELERATE comprehensive gifts campaign will qualify for matching dollars from the state — this is very good news, indeed! We are in good position as we gear up for the conclusion of the EXCELERATE campaign, having raised more than $175 million of our $220 million goal — with a full year left to go. We are hopeful that the matching fund will encourage support for the campus.
As I mentioned earlier, the summer is a time when the University moves quickly on its construction and maintenance work. While large projects continue throughout the year, the period from June through August allows us to complete work with minimal interruptions to the University’s activities. Summer is also a time when the campus focuses on outdoor improvements and critical maintenance initiatives, especially paving, roofing and parking projects that can’t easily be done in colder weather.
Perhaps the most visible of our current projects is the University’s welcome center. The center is being named the Charlene and Roger Kramer Welcome Center thanks to a gift from Roger Kramer ’72 in memory of his wife, Charlene ’73, LHD ’04, and will offer a more inviting entrance to campus for guests and visitors. The project is moving ahead quickly, with steel framing and utility work already completed and curbing and parking lot access is being improved. Work is scheduled to be completed in early 2024.
Third floor renovations to the Glenn G. Bartle Library are progressing as well with cranes being used to remove much of the older mechanical work and to bring in replacements, including a new generator. Interior work, including new plumbing, framing and sheetrock is also underway, to be followed by new flooring, ceilings and lighting. In addition, the exterior stairwell will be connected to the third floor, connecting it to the rest of the library. This is a multi-year project that is scheduled to be completed in 2025.
Adjacent to the Peace Quad, Old Rafuse Hall is being renovated with new walls, private bathrooms, windowsa nd lighting, as well as extensive landscaping. The eastern edge of the quad itself will see upgrades, too, with a new parking lot, curbing and pedestrian walkways. This project will be done this fall.
At the Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City, exterior work on the Research and Development Building adjacent to the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is complete, and the mechanical and electrical infrastructure has been installed. Finish work on the interior is now being done, with an anticipated opening for the building expected in the upcoming 2023 fall semester. Work at the Ford Family Wellness Center for Seniors is almost complete, with a dedication for the new facility scheduled for Aug. 11.
Two new major projects are now in their initial stages. Phase 1 of the Science 3 renovation project will begin with asbestos abatement and demolition work in the center of the complex in preparation for the construction of new laboratories, classrooms and offices. Electrical, plumbing, fire and mechanical systems will also be upgraded. Subsequent phases will renovate the east and west portions of the building. In addition, a bid has been awarded for our indoor multi-sport facility that will be constructed adjacent to our Baseball Stadium Complex. The next couple of months will involve contract approvals and it is anticipated work will get underway in the summer. The project will create a fieldhouse for multiple sport use including baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, etc.
The fieldhouse is being constructed at an auspicious time for the University’s athletic programs. For the first time in the University’s 22-year history in the NCAA Division 1, the Binghamton athletics program has won the America East Commissioner’s Cup, marking Binghamton as the strongest program in the conference. Binghamton placed ahead of rival Albany thanks to two regular-season championship teams (women’s soccer, volleyball), and seven conference runner-up teams. Overall, Binghamton held an all-sports America East win percentage just under 60%. But most impressive is the fact that the America East-leading Bearcats did this while earning a spring semester GPA of 3.42, with all 19 sports achieving a 3.1 or higher team GPA and 14 teams carrying a team GPA above 3.3. Congratulations to all our student-athletes!
The end of the academic year is always a time of transition, both for students and for faculty and staff. Most recently, we learned that Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari will be stepping down at the end of the 2024 academic year. Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Hall will assemble a search committee that will conduct a national search. Hari has been central to Watson College’s growth and increasing reputation since he was appointed dean in 2009, overseeing growth on several fronts, including student enrollment, faculty, research productivity, academic quality and reputation.
As a faculty member in the late 1980s and early 90s, he was instrumental in establishing the Electronics Manufacturing Research and Services group, which has since been renamed as the Watson Institute for Systems Excellence (WISE). Wise has generated more than $50 million in grants and partnerships with industry leaders and healthcare providers. In recognition of his work on behalf of the University and of Watson College, we recently dedicated the Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Conference Board Room in his name, thanks to a generous gift from John and Cheryl Mirabito.
I’d also like to note that we have had a successful search for a new dean of libraries. Andrea Falcone, who comes to Binghamton after four years as dean of the W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University, will began her new duties July 1. Falcone holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Mansfield University, a master’s in English from the University of Toledo and a Master of Library Sciences from Indiana University. She also has served as the associate director of education and public services at the University of Colorado, Denver, as well as an instruction librarian at the University of Northern Colorado and as a virtual services librarian for Western Illinois University. I thank Jill Dixon for her work, both as interim dean, and as a leader in our libraries during her 15-year career at Binghamton, and I wish her the best in her new endeavors.
A difficult goodbye: For the past 11 years, Brian Crawford and Katie Ellis have teamed up to write our quarterly reports, with my help and edits. I am sad but happy for both of them, who have decided to retire in the next few months. They have been an enormous help to me and to the entire campus community for their enthusiastic and dedicated work to provide timely, accurate and interesting information to a wide range of audiences, and we will miss them both for their work and friendship. While neither of them is replaceable, we will be searching for new staff to help us keep everyone informed and excited about our progress and plans.
In ending: I hope that the entire campus community has an enjoyable and productive summer and that all of us will return to campus in August rested and rejuvenated.
Strategic Priority 5 (SP5), Strategic Investments, is focused on optimizing the acquisition and allocation of human, technological, financial and physical resources. In its deep dive Thursday, May 25, the SP5 team updated the Road Map Steering Committee on
Binghamton University students embarked on a career development trip to Silicon Valley through the multi-city CONNECT program in mid-May, exploring careers in technological innovation and entrepreneurship.