Polly Baird: Recipient of the Richard Porter Leach Fellowship

By Eric Norcross, student, SUNY Empire State College; assistant editor, The Student Connection

January 29, 2016

Headshot of Polly BairdIn New York, there are over 30,000 union actors and many more non-union and avant-garde performance artists. These figures do not include creative directors, writers, musicians and other artists that often collaborate with performers. Whether it’s film, theater or some other form, it’s a tough life and many of them have to start working immediately after high school in order to stay ahead. For most people in the performing arts education is a secondary achievement and often comes later in life. This is something that SUNY Empire State College took into consideration when they created the Richard Porter Leach Fellowship for the Arts.

The fellowship is named after Leach, founder of the Saratoga Arts Center, and is awarded to performing artists who have come to SUNY Empire State College to finish their degrees. The fellowship requires a rigorous application process.  The process is one that many students have gone through but few have been selected and honored with winning and some years, there are no winners. This year, the Richard Porter Leach Fellowship was awarded to student Polly Baird. Baird started performing on Broadway before she graduated high school and one of the biggest incentives for Polly’s application to SUNY Empire State College was the fellowship, which had been recommended to her by a friend.

At the time of enrolling at the college, Baird didn’t understand how difficult it was to receive the Richard Porter Leach Fellowship. When asked why she thought she won the fellowship, her answer had less to do with her Broadway resume which is quite impressive (she is currently the Dance Captain for the Phantom of the Opera, New York side) and more to do with a personal community outreach initiative. Inspired by Angel on a Leashtherapy dog program, Baird certified her cocker spaniel as a therapy dog and has spent much of her free time visiting children at Columbia Presbyterian. Her volunteerism has become, “one of the great defining pieces of my life”.

Baird’s professional story is similar in much respect to many of the applicants of the fellowship, but it wasn’t the only aspect of her life that had been considered and her success demonstrates the importance of integrity in a student’s academic, professional and personal life. In her fellowship essay, Baird wrote:

“I believe there is no other undergraduate program as well suited to my career goals as Empire State College. I have become fascinated by ESC’s personal approach and interest in each student and their desires as an individual’ (Baird).

Baird is currently earning a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Psychology. Performing Artists interested in applying for the fellowship can read up on the application process by visiting the URL: https://www.esc.edu/collegewide-student-services/awards-fellowships/

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