Fall 2023 Convocation Remarks

Fall Convocation Remarks
August 21, 2023 

Thank you, Amy.  good morning and welcome back.

It seems like it was just weeks ago that we were all in central park amidst all the excitement of the graduates and their families celebrating commencement. 

 I know you have heard me say this many time before – but it is absolutely my favorite event of the year.  it is a ceremony filled with hope and possibility. 

And so, here we are again – ready to begin another transformative journey – where you have the joy and the privilege of teaching and launching our talented students into the next phase of their lives.  

It sounds like the best job in the world. It is also one of the most important jobs in the world. 
I don't just casually use the word "transformative".  The work that is done here - the work that you do - has a transformative impact. 

And the definition of a transformative impact is: " the magic that happens when people meaningfully come together around a shared purpose to learn and collaborate - ultimately unlocking the group's potential leading to a tangible impact".  That certainly sounds like the definition of a true teacher.
In recent weeks, SUNY, with the assistance of Governor Hochul, has again made funding available for colleges through what is called the SUNY transformation fund. With 64 public SUNY colleges across New York State, the opportunity to have a tangible impact in so many areas is really profound.

This transformation fund first and foremost has been created to invest in workforce development for employment opportunities in underserved sectors of the economy where the potential for growth is unfulfilled.

As we looked at the required elements for fit's proposal it was clear that our expertise does not lie within those areas traditionally considered when identifying sectors for workforce development. 

So, we decided to propose training and professional development for the underemployed creatives that we know can transform the evolving and dynamic landscape of the creative industries. 

Just as we do on a daily basis by educating a pipeline of talent via our many curricular areas – we can bolster the economy by providing new challenges and opportunities for those willing to transform the creative industries. And that transformation will lead to the development of sustainable, diverse, innovative enterprises required by the workplace and the workforce of the future.

As we developed the latest iteration of the strategic plan, we held many conversations, committee meetings, etc. with a cross section of this community – including students.

Invariably, the students lamented the lack of flexibility in their courses of study, the lack of exposure to learn about the complex issues faced by those preparing for industries and careers other than their own. 

They wanted a more wholistic interdisciplinary approach to their studies so that they would be prepared for the industries and workplaces that are evolving into participatory experiences and developing digitized solutions to real time challenges. Interestingly, we heard the same lament from many of you. 

The workforce development that fit is creating is not similar to nanotechnology, or biotech or even healthcare but the transformational impact that we anticipate can have a major impact on the New York economy. 

The economic development corporation estimates that approximately 300,000 New Yorkers are engaged in the creative industries, encompassing publishing, media, advertising, music, and the museum sector. The NYC labor force is comprised of over 4 million individuals - and the city fashion industry, in particular, plays a pivotal role in driving that economy. 

In fact, fashion employs nearly 5% of the private sector workforce and hosts the headquarters of numerous fashion brands and retailers. We know that we can have a transformational impact on our city's economy, on our talented and aspirational students, and on individuals in need of professional development in order to stay relevant. 

Especially given the changing demands of industries that have been impacted by technology and the new ways of doing business. Perhaps we have a special obligation to help empower underemployed, aspiring, talented individuals.

And we can fulfill that obligation by imparting the requisite skills, knowledge, and opportunities to thrive personally and to contribute to the overall economic vitality and creative fabric of NYC.
so, with that, I want to add my personal welcome to our 19 new classroom faculty members and our 5 new non-classroom faculty.  

It has been a lengthy and rigorous hiring and selection process – but the new perspectives, the additional research and teaching expertise you will add to our community will only contribute to the success of our mission – I am so pleased and proud to welcome you to our fit family.

I am also pleased to say that we will conduct searches during this academic year for an additional 20 new full-time classroom faculty members. 

of course, each year many long serving faculty retire, or move, or move on – and so the goal post continues to move out.  But I remain committed to bringing on distinguished new talent every year to ensure that we are able to support our educational mission and our strategic plans.

I also have some administrative appointments and promotions to announce:

Johanna Kendrick Holmes is our new interim executive director for events management and facilities rental. She comes from SUNY System Administration where she ran special events and the SUNY Global center in New York City – she helped us on a temporary basis in this role a few years ago and we are pleased she is now part of the fit team.

I am happy to announce that Deliwe Kekana is the new interim chief diversity officer, taking on the role after being a key member of the diversity collective and director of the office of affirmative action and title ix for almost a decade.  She will continue to oversee that office as well as becoming co-chair of the diversity collective and leading the office of diversity, equity and inclusion.

We have two appointments in the academic affairs area after completing our internal search process - Shannon Maher will assume the official role and title of dean of the jay and patty baker school of business and technology. Deborah Klesenski-Rispoli has accepted the position of associate vice president of academic affairs.

After a recent foundation search, Liz Manalio will be appointed as the new assistant vice president for advancement of the fit foundation.

And in enrollment management and student success, Corie Mccallum, who has been our associate dean of students and has taken on a much-expanded role in the past year with many of the units within the EMSS area, will be appointed as the interim assistant vice president for student success and dean of students.

Congratulations to all of you and we look forward to working with you in your new roles.
an enrollment recap is always important at this time of year.  

We are still watching the world recover from the residue of covid.  We are witnessing its impact on behavior and mental health in general and certainly among our student body – and we continue to devise strategies to address those issues. We are seeing a slight decrease in our associate and our baccalaureate student enrollment. And a slight increase in our master’s and non-degree students overall our enrollment is 17 students less than at this time last year.
our staff continues to work to create successful strategies to maintain and increase those numbers.

We are still seeing a dip in the numbers of students continuing on from the lower to the upper division. And while we need to do more assessments as to the reasons for that outcome – it may well be related to the economic impact of covid on many families and the subsequent need for students to join the workforce. of course, it could also be the result of the theme we hear from every age group about a re-evaluation and questioning of previous life choices and direction.

So, a little more "finding oneself" than we are used to among our typically highly focused and motivated student body. The work of our social justice scholars program continues to expand. We are starting our second year with a total of 25 students. We anticipate having mentors for the students, both from within our faculty as well as from our corporate partners. If any of you would like to serve as a mentor please contact Nicole Ndzibah, the executive director of the social justice center to let her know of your interest – or you can contact my office and we will direct you.

I want to touch a little further on our strategic plan.

As you well know, the pandemic intervened, and the latest iteration of our updated strategic plan was delayed. However, as ever – our community came together and shepherded our plan to a stage of readiness for this fall semester. You met in committees, you met as the planning council, in think tanks, as participants in round table discussions – and our final document for the 2022 – 2027 strategic plan was presented to our board of trustees at their April meeting.

We will now move into the implementation phase and work toward our goals of flexible learning through interdisciplinary teaching and curriculum development – and to establish fit as a leader in innovation and in the creation of digital solutions for industry challenges.  I hope you will be active participants as we venture into the post pandemic world of industry collaboration.

There is much news to report on the student and faculty front.  you have been extremely busy doing breakthrough research and bringing reflected glory to the reputation of the college.

FIT has been awarded $185,400 from the national endowment of the humanities, which represents the largest NEH award to date for the college.  

The funds will support “creative spaces/contested spaces: reinterpreting Italian American public art in New York City” and is led by principal investigator Rebecca Bauman, associate professor of Italian, in partnership with co-pis Amy Werbel, professor, history of art, and Dan Levinson Wilk, professor of American history. This training program will help faculty in our region better understand how local landmarks and public sculpture can be used to make place-based study of history and related disciplines more dynamic for college students.

Mayor Eric Adams has appointed Dr. Imranul (imran) Islam to the New York task force on environmentally preferable purchasing, use and disposal of textiles. as a member, Dr. Islam and his colleagues on the task force are charged with developing and recommending environmentally preferable purchasing guidelines for textiles, and to make recommendations for legislation and policy regarding agency textile use and waste management, and regulation of textile goods.

Dr. Theanne Schiros received the national geographic wayfinder award and is joining its global national geographic explorer community. 

this award is highly prestigious, comes with a stipend, and admission to a group of remarkable global scholars including a Kenyan documentary filmmaker, a Egyptian Egyptologist, an American geospatial architect, an Australian wildlife scientist, a Peruvian investigative journalist in digital media, a Chinese conservation biologist and one science professor, a champion in the field of biodesign, from FIT.

The werewool company, which is comprised of our TDM graduates under the supervision of professor Schiros, received seed funds to continue their work in sustainable fiber manufacturing.  The project is also featured in CNNs bold pursuits which adds to the recognition of fit's groundbreaking work in the area of biodesign.

The New York State Council on the Arts [NYSCA] has awarded the second of a two-year grant pledge, of $40,000 per year, to the museum at fit for public programming focused on diversity and equity. This is the first time that NYSCA has made a two-year commitment to fit, and it is the largest program grant awarded to date.

For the fifth consecutive year, Macy’s challenged fit students to design a floral dreamscape window display for this year’s theme, “big dreams bloom here.” students from all majors were involved, working in cross-functional teams to design the display at macy flagship herald square store.
On September 12 during New York Fashion Week we will hold the annual fashion design MFA show at spring studios in the gallery. Unlike other years, this will be a traditional fashion week designer show entitled "uni / versal" and the 15 students from the class of 2023 are showing their collections to industry professionals, supporters and media influencers.

“From Brooklyn to the Bargello," a retrospective of over 140 drawings by illustration professor Salvatore Catalano is currently on view at saint peter’s NYC. the son of Sicilian immigrants, professor Catalano grew up in Bensonhurst: his major influences were the church and the streets. 
Craig Berger led a blue-chip sign research foundation team to produce “the trail sign manual: a planning guide for parks and trails signage” the first comprehensive work on the topic. It is a companion to his urban wayfinding planning and implementation manual, and covers topics like financing and community outreach in addition to beautiful and informative sign-design approaches.
There are also developments on the curriculum front:
In spring 2023, new minors digital typography and journalism were approved as well as a new minor from fall 2022 - sustainable materials and technology.

During the spring 2023 semester, the college-wide curriculum committee reviewed a total of 157 curricular actions, including 39 new courses, 14 program updates, 16 courses proposed for either online or blended delivery, and 84 courses proposed for new SUNY general education framework. this is an impressive total of 345 curricular actions for the ay 2022-2023. 

So I thank the committee members for their dedicated service - it is important work.
There are a number of college-wide initiatives that will be announced this semester but i wanted to call your attention to two that are coming up in the next month that i hope you will put on your calendar:

Civility week is October 10-13 and this year’s theme is “civility in the digital age”.  
the initiative and the program is aimed at engaging out community in a discussion of respectful ways for living, learning and communicating in a higher education environment.  We have sent out a “call for proposals” to the fit community and have already received some interesting programming that will be included in our schedule.
Sustainability Awareness Week is October 16-20.  as you know, sustainability is a key component of fit’s mission and is embedded in the college’s curriculum and operations. 
during this annual week long event, we invite the fit community to learn about recent innovations from industry leaders and fit students, faculty, staff, and alumni through workshops, panels, tours, and interactive programs about the environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainability.  This week showcases FIT’s efforts to make a positive impact on the earth, and discover new ways to live with a smaller footprint.

Just one update on assessment and accreditation - we have still not received our final report from the recent NASAD review, although all the feedback has been very positive.  
the review team still needs to visit our program in SUNY Korea and we are awaiting that schedule.  We expect closure on this review as soon as they complete their international visit and will report back at that time.
As you know from the communication you received from Sherry Brabham, we are faced with a delay in the completion of our new academic building.  I choose to believe this will be the last delay and we will be able to occupy the building in fall of 2024 – one year from today. I have reported bad and good news about this building for at least 20 years so I am undeterred in my belief in the outcome. if you walk down 28th street and look at the façade of the building, you will see that it is beautiful and a fitting new home where you can teach, and our students will learn.  It is an investment in our future – and like any good investment strategy – we are in it for the long haul.  So – same time – next year – in our new home.
And so, as we start this new academic year – surely, we have to acknowledge that we are living through a tumultuous testing ground of all things familiar – where it appears nothing is sacred. Whatever your political persuasion, you must be exhausted by the rhetoric and the rather base level of behavior we are subjected to on a daily basis. – through the media, at public gatherings, in entertainment venues – or just walking down the street or trying to get home via the subway.
At whatever point that genie escaped from its bottle, it has wreaked havoc with our psyche, our climate – the natural ying and yang balance of life.  

The students that we welcome this week have lived through covid, catastrophic climate changes, the brinksmanship of war, economic uncertainty, and challenges to our democracy.  and those are just the most recent upheavals. As educators we are chosen to use our status and influence to teach aspiring young minds and to build their confidence and belief in their ability to push the boundaries of that which we called possible.  To demonstrate the power of disruption and innovation – to use the tools that technology creates to cultivate a vision for long term impact and positive change.
Major parts of these students’ world are foreign to many of us.  Their lexicon, their mores – they stream for entertainment, they text for conversation, they click for shopping, they program to design – and as Amy touched on – they call on chatgpt to do their research and assignments.  
the isolation is daunting.
Yet in a survey recently conducted by our institutional research office, both first year and senior undergraduates were asked: “what has been the most satisfying about your experience so far at this institution?”  from a word cloud description, the most outstanding themes were: curriculum and programs, faculty, and community.  think about that – each of those areas – require connection, conversation, interaction.

Toni Morrison wrote in beloved – that “definitions belong to the definers”.  We have an opportunity to define this moment by galvanizing each member of this creative community to innovate, to disrupt, to change, and to use the fruits of those efforts to heal our society.  We can do this through productive work and shared solutions for the industries we support but more importantly by developing a cadre of thoughtful, civil citizens who will contribute to a connected, caring democratic society. 
it is a big job – let’s get started.
I welcome you back and I look forward to another successful and productive year.