Turbulent times fail to faze grads

OBSERVER Photo Hundreds of students at the State University of New York at Fredonia attended the Job & Internship Expo held in the Williams Center in March.

Commencement on Saturday brings to a conclusion one of the most challenging years in recent history at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Sentiments that include frustration and worry have been palpable on the campus and within the community.

Reasons for concern at the institution have been well documented. Like a number of other campuses within the system, Fredonia has a structural deficit that leadership is attempting to get under control as enrollment fell just below the 3,000-student mark. Part of that direction includes the reduction of 13 majors that will impact 74 students.

Though that plan, labeled the “Big Blue Transformation” was announced in December by current President Dr. Stephen Kolison, there has been plenty of pushback over the last five months. Students as well as some staff members have taken part in at least four protests during that time period that have been well-attended on campus and within the village.

Most of the angst appears to be directed at New York state and current Chancellor John King, especially the rally by the United University Professions in late April. While noting current Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration has proven friendlier in recent years to funding SUNY, union President Fred Kowal blamed the top official in advocating for cuts at Fredonia as well as the locations at Potsdam and Buffalo State.

“We will not let John King destroy SUNY Fredonia or the SUNY system,” he said.

Days after Kowal’s comments came an additional $114 million in funds for the higher-educational system. Fredonia’s piece is important at $1.4 million, but it’s not enough to stop the bleeding.

To be fair, the last year has been tough on higher education. In New York state alone, four private schools have closed or announced they will be closing their doors. The most recent was Wells College in the Finger Lakes.

In making its announcement, the school cited lower enrollment figures leading to a cash crunch. “As trustees, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the institution; we have determined after a thorough review that the college does not have adequate financial resources to continue,” said a statement from Marie Chapman Carroll, Wells College board chair and Jonathan Gibraltor, president. “As you may be aware, many small colleges like Wells have faced enormous financial challenges. These challenges have been exacerbated by a global pandemic, a shrinking pool of undergraduate students nationwide, inflationary pressures, and an overall negative sentiment toward higher education.”

Most of the noise surrounding the county’s largest campus regarding funding and the possible elimination of majors seems unfair to members of this Class of 2024. Most of these high-achievers missed out on what was supposed to be their senior highlights of high school. COVID-19 took away proms, spring sports seasons and other extracurricular activities during the spring of 2020

Through it all, however, this group appears resolute and ready to make a difference when taking their next steps. As the university noted in recent months, there are special individuals who are a part of this graduating class.

Some of these individuals include:

— Chemistry major Andrew Keith, who will attend the highly rated University of Michigan School of Dentistry. “I was super excited and thankful; that was my top choice to go to dental school,” said Keith, who is enrolled in the four-year Doctor of Dental Surgery program.

— Anne Smith, computer science and English major from Wilmington; Camron Walsh, computer science major from Lake View; Jared Russell, computer science and music major from Moravia; and Ryan Plumer, mathematics and computer science major from Kenmore all took part in an application project with Paychex. Their efforts aimed at helping one of the largest employers in Western New York reduce the time it takes to manually match the database schemas and users before running copy routines.

— Patience Glatt, the recipient of the 2024 Lanford Presidential Prize that will be presented during Saturday morning’s ceremony. Glatt will attend the Kentucky College of Optometry in August to earn a Doctor of Optometry degree. “It has been a dream of mine to become an optometrist since I was 14 years old,” she said.

One more significant piece of enthusiasm about this class was evident during an early March afternoon in the Williams Center. Hundreds of seniors and undergraduates showed up well-dressed with resumes in hand and prepared to talk to a number of regional employers at the Career Development Office’s annual Job & Internship Expo.

Most impressive about these students who attended was their engagement.They met with representatives from companies, nonprofits and government organizations that made up the more than 80 participating agencies who were there to find new employees.

Members of the older generation often voice their displeasure about a perceived lack of ambition by those who are just entering the workforce. That was not the case during the career event — or through the early years of the pandemic — with these students.

Adversity has been a part of their learning environment for the last five years. These graduates are all more than ready for the hurdle that comes next.


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