This has been a turbulent year. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our ways of life, our plans, our jobs – nearly everything. In the midst of this historic pandemic, we are now seeing a powerful movement to confront our country’s legacy of racial injustice and demand that our systems – and we as individuals – work to right these wrongs.
In these times, it is more important than ever to step forward and do what is right. I’m proud to say the SUNY Empire community has been rallying to support our students, give back to our communities, and take action in the face of adversity.
As COVID-19 spread across New York, and the world, our faculty, staff, students, and alumni started sewing masks, donating computers, and volunteering in communities around the state to do their part to slow the spread of the virus and ease the burden of others.
Early in the pandemic, determined that nobody should have to make the choice between getting through this crisis and finishing their degree, SUNY Empire came together to launch the COVID-19 Emergency Educational Grant fund to help our students through the disruptions in their lives. The response was overwhelming and we’re doing everything in our power to help all the students we can.
When protests erupted across the country, and in our own backyards, after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, our Presidential Task Force to Enhance Diversity and Inclusion quickly organized an ongoing series of webinars and discussions to address the movement and continue to drive action within SUNY Empire. We will not shy away from hard questions, and we will insist on modeling the change we wish to see in the world.
What comes next is critical. In five years’ time, if we find ourselves back here, where we are today, we will have failed to seize an historic opportunity for change. We have the momentum and the charge to make real, lasting improvements in systems that must be more representative of the people they serve – and I believe education is not only a piece of the puzzle, but a key piece of the puzzle. It all starts here.
And as we imagine the world after COVID-19, we have the chance to not simply return to “normal” but to create smarter ways of living, learning, and working. SUNY Empire – true to its founding mission of innovation – will be on the front lines of a reimagined approach to education. Because while we chart our course forward, we know there will also be countless people in New York, the US, and around the world who are rebuilding and reinventing their lives and careers. They’ll need new skills for new jobs, new methods of learning, and new opportunities. And SUNY Empire will be there to make it happen.
I hope you will be there with us.
Stay well, and stay in touch.
We know that many of our alumni Make It Happen for future SUNY Empire students. You may have learned about SUNY Empire State College from one of our alumni at work or in your personal life. Alumni are our best ambassadors; you understand the SUNY Empire experience and all the benefits of a SUNY Empire State College education.
With that in mind, we have created an alumni refer-a-student program. Through this program, a friend, colleague, or family member you refer to SUNY Empire State College can receive a $100 Presidential Scholarship toward one term of enrollment and a waiver of the $50 orientation fee. In addition, they will have access to a recruitment professional from their area to answer any questions they may have during the application process.
Do you have a friend, family member, or colleague interested in starting or finishing their degree? Visit the refer-a-student website for more information or call the Office of Alumni Relations at 518-581-5380.
Refer a student today and help make it happen!
The Office of Alumni Relations is offering online events, tours, and webinars. Please visit the alumni homepage to see our calendar of virtual events and learn more.
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Make it Happen for our students and communities
As our community transitioned throughout March and April to a fully distance-learning mode in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an immediate outpouring of good will as people looked for ways to support students and meet their emerging needs in this uncertain time. SUNY Empire State College students, alumni, faculty, and staff found numerous opportunities to support those in need. Some of the ways we are making a positive impact include sewing masks, organizing blood drives, donating computers, and establishing a special, earmarked fund to assist students affected by COVID-19.
COVID-19 Emergency Educational Grant Fund
Before the work-from-home mandates even began, staff at SUNY Empire and the Empire State College Foundation began to discuss establishing an emergency fund that could quickly address students’ most pressing needs related to the pandemic. Within days, the COVID-19 Emergency Educational Grant Fund was launched and more than 1,200 applications from students poured in. By the end of May, the fund had distributed more than $170,000 to more than 700 students, helping them to purchase laptops, secure internet access, or help with basic needs directly related to the pandemic.
In addition to funds provided by SUNY Empire State College and the Empire State College Foundation, generous alumni, friends, corporations, and foundations stepped in to help with the initiative. The fund also received a huge boost in a $45,000 grant from New York City’s largest poverty-fighting organization, Robin Hood’s Relief Fund, and a generous $10,000 grant from the ESL Federal Credit Union in Rochester.
Students were overwhelmed with gratitude for the quick response and generosity of the emergency grants. We helped students like Madeline, who works in a hospital in Queens while she completes her degree in psychology. She suddenly found herself dealing with the stress of possibly bringing the disease home from work, while also homeschooling her two children. This grant released her from at least some worry. “I would like to share my immense gratitude with you,” she says. “As a member of the Empire State College family since 2016, I am humbled by this generosity. This grant will go toward the purchase of a computer so that my entire family can do well in their academic endeavors during this difficult time. This news made my day and has fortified my resolve to graduate next winter.”
Faculty, Staff and Alumni Volunteer on the Front Lines
In March, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked for volunteers to help supplement the state’s healthcare capacity on a temporary basis to support the growing need for mental health services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, SUNY Empire faculty eagerly responded. More than a dozen volunteered in mental health positions and other capacities.
Terri Maher, a nurse, licensed master social worker, and SUNY Empire adjunct instructor, is also a member of the Monroe County Disaster Mental Health Response Team. She has been volunteering her time fielding hotline calls from anxious residents to help an overloaded Department of Health.
As reports of a global personal protective equipment shortage began to come in, SUNY Empire alumnus David Theobald ’13, ’17, CEO of Stat Staff Professionals in Saratoga Springs, New York, and his team donated their remaining N95 masks and began to hand-sew new ones. These colorful masks have been shared with company staff, family members, and clinical staff throughout the community.
“We did this because we want to make sure our staff are as safe as possible,” said Theobald. “During this pandemic, it has been brought to the forefront that we have an extreme lack of supplies and being nurse-owned and operated, we make sure to act as a family to protect our caregivers.”
Student Services through SUNY Empire Connects
Sammie Maitland, a SUNY Empire student working toward her bachelor’s in business, management, and economics, initiated a grassroots effort to create avenues for positive connectivity. Her desire to help others find coping strategies led to SUNY Empire Connects, a collegewide collaborative which presents live, virtual programs, including study skills workshops, health and wellness activities, and arts and culture explorations, many of which are family-friendly.
Connections with communities where SUNY Empire makes its home have been strengthened throughout this crisis. In addition to individuals giving back — whether through making masks, delivering groceries to neighbors, volunteering in soup kitchens, coordinating blood drives, and donating computers to children — the college has strengthened ties with local organizations.
For example, SUNY Empire offered our partners at SUNY Adirondack the use of free WiFi at two of our Saratoga Springs locations. For the first time in SUNY Empire history, we opened our Saratoga Springs campus to another college, and we are honoring that commitment by extending our resources.
Thanks to you, The Fund for SUNY Empire State College supports those helping us through the COVID-19 crisis and will continue supporting individuals working to Make It Happen every day.
Your gift supports the work of our faculty. Mentors are not only experts in their respective fields, but also experienced leaders in delivering flexible modes of study. These leaders excelled during challenging times and continue keeping our students engaged and moving forward toward graduation.
Your gift supports our students. Students are nurses, social workers, childcare providers, entrepreneurs, peace officers, farmers, artists, firefighters, business owners, legislators, and so much more. They have lives and responsibilities that make it challenging to earn their degree. Your gift supports college staff. Our incredibly dedicated, mission-driven, passionate staff are relentless advocates for our students and communities we serve. Staff address educational needs today, while keeping an eye on the future.
SUNY Empire State College remains ahead of the curve as we expand our programs and partnerships to provide the workforce training necessary to get our students back to work.
While every year we look forward to connecting personally with our alumni during the annual phonathon calls, given current circumstances, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the phonathon this year. Although our callers will not be on the phone sharing their stories, our students are still working to reach their dream of earning their degree and still in need of your loyal and generous support.
But you can still Make It Happen for our students!
Students like Samantha, studying fine arts in New York City, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this spring. Sick and lacking a computer at home, she was at risk of falling behind in her schoolwork, but the SUNY Empire State College COVID-19 Relief Grant, funded by generous alumni like you, allowed her to purchase a laptop and keep moving forward toward her degree. Despite the hardship she has suffered, Samantha is grateful. “I want to thank you for your support in this very hard time,” she says. “I am impressed with how SUNY Empire handled this heath crisis and how amazing all the staff is. Anything really helps in this difficult time.”
I invite you to join us in our effort to help support students, like Samantha, as they pursue their education through good times, as well as challenging times, by making a gift to the Fund for SUNY Empire State College. While we will miss speaking with you personally this year, we are hopeful that your commitment to our students, like Samantha, remains as strong as ever.