Spring 2024 Convocation Remarks

Spring convocation, January 25, 2024
Katie murphy Amphitheatre

Good morning, and welcome back.

There is much to report on, and i will get on with that in a moment. 

As we gather here this morning we are at the beginning of another semester and another year. We ended 2023 with gratitude that the state of the world was no worse than it appeared but it was demoralizingly and depressingly bad. War was waging on two fronts, climate change and changed weather patterns seemed to indicate that mother nature was at war as well. 

The shrill voices of our elected representatives in the halls of government drowned out civil discourse or explanations of differing points of view. The acceptance of the rise in anti-semitism, anti-asian sentiment, and the full-frontal attack on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion all became part of the fabric of rhetoric and discourse.

Those institutions or practices or organized beliefs that make up the pantheon of our collective lives as a society are under attack and, with great regularity, are undermined, ridiculed, tested and, in some cases irretrievably damaged in the media, in the minds and perception of the electorate, of our citizens, and most importantly, in the generations coming behind us- those in their most formative and impressionable years. In spite of all of that: we are here.

We are here and we are infused with belief in the future and better days, infused with the hope that through our work we will instill a sense of purpose and possibility in the young minds and hearts entrusted to our care. As educators, that is what we do. 

We seek to unleash the potential for personal growth and reinforce the importance of human connection. we model civility and tolerance – if not acceptance – of different points of view. We reconvene every semester in a spirit of renewal.

It is a big job and a big commitment but you do it with grace and great effectiveness. We see the results in the achievements of our students, in the ever-expanding reputation of our great institution, in the accolades and approbation for your hard work, and for the recognition that it garners.

My message to you at the start of yet another spring is to understand the significance of your role in molding the character and minds of your students. It is an awesome responsibility and opportunity. 

But given the choices we/you have made and the roles we have embraced, we really are not entitled to the prerogative of doing anything less. We all live in hope for peace and progress and possibility. 

Our contribution is to generate the next leaders of our industries, our government, our educational institutions our artists and cultural icons – so that they will emerge from this place with enlightened ideas for leadership and decision making – and forge a path for a society about which we can be proud. As i said it is an awesome responsibility 

But speaking of pride, i want to build on some of the good new that vice president jones shared with you. Beginning with the baker school of business and technology - the textile, development and marketing program received delivery on its four new stoll flat-knitting machines in December. 

The project was funded primarily through FIT’s Perkins grant and will serve students throughout the baker school and the school of art and design. Faculty and classroom assistants received initial training in January. students and faculty will begin using both the new equipment and the new software, "creative plus", this spring.

The stoll machines will be a showcase of innovation and technology for the knitting lab, fully incorporated into the curriculum and relocated to the new academic building for the start of fall semester.

During the fall convocation, i detailed the SUNY transformation fund application that we submitted to receive extra funding for workforce development and i am pleased to say that FIT’s center for continuing and professional studies received a 3-year award, of $225,000 per-year, to enhance economic mobility for non-traditional, under-employed adult learners. 

This transformative initiative will be carried out through expanding workforce training opportunities associated with CCPS workforce-of-the-future certificates. currently, CCPS offers 27-such certificates.  Annually, these funds will support create 10-new workforce-of-the-future courses, and support approximately 60 adult learns with scholarships and course development beginning this spring.

FIT is also the recipient of an empire state development grant to support a New York state-wide, multi-institutional, fashion innovation center.  FIT’s will receive an award of $493,911 as part of a 6-member consortium, led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). 

The interdisciplinary, FIT-faculty team is comprised of principal investigator, Dr. Theanne Schiros, associate professor, department of math and science; Asta Skocir, professor and assistant chair, fashion design; and Andrea Diodati, assistant professor, fashion design.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced the award in September and noted, that this team of experts will help develop a smarter greener fashion industry here in New York " In addition to RPI and FIT project partners include SUNY Morrisville, the Hudson valley textile project, field to fiber, and made x Hudson – a consortia that supports and markets independent sustainable artisan brands in New York.

Another grant of $75,000, from the us environmental protection agency, has been awarded to an FIT’s textile, development and marketing team. assistant professor, Dr. Huipu Gao, along with co-pi’s, professor and assistant chair, Dr. Ajoy Sarkar, and assistant professor, Dr. Imran Islam to lead this effort. 

The TDM team will work with fit students to develop an antiviral, reusable face-mask from recycled polystyrene and discarded, single-use face masks. this is fit’s largest award from the EPA to date!

The design program for the national endowment for the arts, has awarded a $40,000 grant to the museum at FIT for africa’s fashion diaspora. Overseen by associate curator, Elizabeth Way, this exhibition and related public programming will explore the work of black designers from around the world who use their fashion practice to express narratives of the diaspora. 

We are also pleased to announce FIT’’s return to Cuba to resume an international, cultural-exchange program.This SUNY sponsored initiative will enable FIT to partner with Cuban design schools and open up new opportunities for students and faculty.

And on the personal front June ng is leaving FIT and we wish her all the best – her efforts for the FIT campus are evident throughout our buildings but we are particularly grateful to her for the work she did to bring the new academic building to fruition. she was an integral member of the facilities team.

Many of you saw this announcement last week but i am also pleased to welcome Julia Salerni as interim director of campus planning and design. as you know, she has been a valued member of the space planning and management department for the past seven years and worked side by side with June and the team on all of the most important capital projects – we look forward to collaborating with her in this new role.

I also have several new administrative appointments to announce.

Angela Brown, who has been serving in an interim capacity for the past 2 years has been officially appointed as the director of residential life. Her efforts have enhanced and improved the residential life enterprise and crated an even more nurturing environment for our students to live, study and create here at FIT.

Joining my office, as senior advisor to the president for executive communications, is Glen Freyer, an experienced writer for magazines, television and film. He is a former trial attorney with the us department of justice, and is proud to have argued and won a case before judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2-weeks before she left for the supreme court. He is less proud about some of the reality tv shows he’s created, but, he assures me, he’s has laid down that pen and is very happy to be here with us now. 

Also joining the president’s office as part of FIT’s Social Justice Center is Constance White, a senior executive program director. Constance has had an impressive career in print journalism and as a consultant, writing for the new york times, the wall street journal, and many other publications, with a particular focus on fashion writing. I am sure you will enjoy collaborating with Constance as we expand our program outreach. 

We also welcome two new hires in our development and alumni relations office.

Julia Sygiel is our new director, alumni relations and development, while Arielle Dumornay, is director of development for our FIT foundation – and – Ksenyia Baranova, who was the assistant manager of alumni relations has been promoted to assistant director of alumni relations. 

Please join me in welcoming these new additions to our FIT family. 

I will give you a quick update on new student enrollment, A&D AAS is 9% higher than it was at the end of last spring, while business and technology is currently down 16%. 

The demographics of the country are proving to be dire for many colleges – including our sister campuses in SUNY.Our staff has worked exceedingly hard and smart and will continue their efforts to encourage enrollment for both new and continuing students. so, kudos to our tireless admissions and recruitment staff.

FIT is also in the midst of planning its 18th annual sustainable business and design conference: reimagining our future. That event will take place Tuesday, April 9th and 10th here at FIT.  We are pleased to share that our very own TDM alum, Stacy Flynn, will be speaking at the conference. Stacy is the CEO and co-founder of Evrnu. some of you may remember that Stacy spoke at commencement in 2022 and she was amazing i still run into people who remember her speech and message for our graduates. 

More information about the conference can be found on our sustainability website and i hope you will spread the word about this important event. And so, there is much to celebrate and look forward to in the coming semester. time goes so quickly. 

As soon as i get used to the fact that it is now 2024, i am certain the semester will be drawing to a close and it will be time for graduation. 

To circle back to Amy’s message: commencement is only enhanced by your presence. Some of you are stalwart in your annual attendance – we spend the day or days together, and it is fun.Some of you attend the session where you majors will march across the stage, and the students are so happy to see you there. 

For others, we would welcome your company and your presence to mark the beginning of the next leg of the journey for all those seedlings you planted and are now ready to blossom and make this a better world.

I want to end today with some good news, and because this was the result of a collaborative effort over the past several months, i had hoped to ask the president of the UCE, Roberta Elins to join me on stage.  

As you know, agreeing to terms for the last iteration of the contract took a very long time because of the covid 19 pandemic plus everything was delayed. In fact, it was only last year that we finalized that agreement.

With the good work and diligence of our collective administration and union teams, the negotiation process for the most recent version of the contract was streamlined and efficient and, as you know, an agreement for this current iteration was arrived at within a few months.

I am pleased to say that the ratification by the union membership in December, coupled with as of this morning, a confirmed vote of approval from the FIT board of trustees — we are now able to move this new contract forward for all employees.  

Of course, we have to confirm the schedule for the salary increases with the city but i hope we will be able to report back on the timeline for very quickly. 

I welcome you back and look forward to another successful semester, i will also look forward to seeing you around campus!