Lifelong Learning Among NYS Employees
by Helen Susan Edelman
With 11,000 different individuals among the employees of the state of New York working in Albany’s Empire State Plaza, surely there will be some who are interested in the history of beer in America, or financial aid options for college students, or how to grow a flourishing perennial garden, manage stress, or become an entrepreneur. Even more might want to learn some tips about how to use a camera creatively, how to invest in the stock market successfully, or how to get college credit for life experience.
Recruiter Offers a Chance to Lunch and Learn
Because of the work of Empire State College Recruiter Susan Eve Tepper LeClair, these and other opportunities abound in the form of free lunchtime workshops offered at the college’s Empire State Plaza location in Albany.
Each is a unique event conceptualized and implemented by LeClair, who oversees the Plaza location. While offered as a public service meant to educate and delight participants, the sessions also provide the opportunity to expose visitors to the Plaza and state workers to all that Empire State College and its 63 sister institutions in SUNY have to offer.
Some of the hour-long workshop themes are college- or SUNY-specific, others are purely fun. “I try to imagine what the average state worker might want to learn and then find a cool way to present that information,” explains LeClair.
But she doesn’t neglect her recruiting role. “Most colleges can bring the community to campus for plays or museums. We don’t have that, so this is our community-relations, community-outreach initiative,” LeClair says.
“I have to think out of the box. Passersby often do a double-take as they walk by and turn around to see what’s going on.”
One thing they learn when they stop is that in addition to hosting frequent workshops, the Plaza location also is a site for one-to-one meetings with ESC mentors and a resource center for comprehensive information about all of SUNY.
LeClair reports that while some attendees have, indeed, enrolled in ESC courses, many come to the sessions simply to learn something new. The workshops often fill up quickly with both repeat participants and newcomers. LeClair makes sure the word gets out well in advance of the opportunities; she emails human resource directors, training and employee assistance programs and other key people at state agencies, who redeploy the invitation to employees.
“This is the college’s ‘thank you’ to the community and our way of promoting lifelong learning, consistent with the college’s mission to educate adults at a place and time and via an approach that is convenient to them,” she points out.
LeClair notes that when she launched the series more than five years ago, the ingredients for success were already in place: faculty to teach and space to gather people. “But no budget,” she laughs.
Since then, the pool of instructors has expanded beyond college faculty; experts in diverse subjects, including alumni, college and other SUNY staff, and members of the community-at-large all have volunteered to make presentations. Often, there are handouts or a PowerPoint. “People love that,” she says, “They love taking something away with them.” She also garners feedback in the form of a post-session evaluation.
“What I can tell from listening to our guests is that they come away with new tools for enjoying a variety of activities – writing, gardening, photography, financial planning, choosing a college, starting a business. The rewards for participating are largely intangibles, both for us and for our audiences, but as long as I know the college is improving people’s lives, even casually, I’ll continue to make it happen.”