Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado announced the creation of a new position in Fall 2017: executive director for government and community relations. The position will serve to strengthen and improve the college’s ties and engagement with the local community and government. Paula Younger was appointed to this position in January.
Staff Writer Krissy Waite sat down with Younger to talk about her previous experience, her goals for working at the college and how she plans to improve the college’s ties to the community in her new position.
Krissy Waite: Can you describe your position?
Paula Younger: The role is all about stakeholder engagement, and the stakeholders cover a broad spectrum because you’re talking about local government leaders, local business and community leaders and the community at large… My role is that of stakeholder engagement and helping to make those connections, and I would also see myself as one of those key contacts so that when others are looking for ways to collaborate or partner with IC in some way, I think this position would be that go–to place when someone doesn’t know where to start.
KW: What are your main goals in this position for the college?
PY: Well, it’s a twofold. It’s making sure that we have those opportunities to make a connection, but it’s also to particularly ensure that our local community knows that we want to be engaged and involved. … I’m learning through our Office of Civic Engagement and how that helps to get students involved. I know that we do a lot of hosting on behalf of the Hangar Theatre in the summertime and we sit in a number of local boards. I think there are a lot of ways that we are involved, but it’s also raising awareness and letting the broader community understand all of those different ways. The other is we want to make sure, particularly at the state level, that we have a voice. We encourage student advocacy, but also, as a college, we want to make sure that our state representatives understand the things that are important to us and understand certain decisions at the state level such as budget decisions … might impact us as a college. The other thing is getting connected with a number of professional organizations and advocacy groups that can also help us have that voice.
KW: Why do you enjoy what you do?
PY: I would say that I’ve probably been doing this kind of work throughout my entire professional career, but this is the first time I’ve done it on behalf of higher ed. So prior to coming to this position, I served as the deputy administrator for Tompkins County. In terms of those connections locally with our elected officials, our business community and other local leaders, that’s a lot of what I’ve been doing in the past 11 years here. I’ve been in this community for 18 years, so you know, it’s kind of natural, this idea of stakeholder engagement and making connections and staying on top of the issues and advocating where you need to be. And then, of course, prior to coming to Tompkins County, I worked in the for-profit government contracting arena, and I would develop certain programs for my federal government clients. So again, that requires knowing your client really well, knowing their stakeholders, and what those needs are so that as you are developing that program and implementing it, you’re doing all the right things. … So the kinds of things that I have to do … those things haven’t changed, it’s just that my customers have changed. Now what I look at what I’m doing in this role, I’m sort of bringing all of those customers together.
KW: How do you plan on improving the college’s relationship with the South Hill community?
PY: I can say that I’m aware of it. There are folks here on campus that I need to meet to get a little more background on it, but certainly. I think that those concerns are typical in most college communities. We, meaning Ithaca College, are still a member of this community, so yes, obviously, as much as we can work well together, and I can understand some of their concerns and work with our own campus community on how we can make changes to improve — that of course is going to be a part of what my role here is.
KW: Can you elaborate on why it is important for the college to have a relationship with the South Hill community?
PY: Well, I think that what’s important is that we work together as community. … We have faculty and staff that live in this community, and we have students that, when they don’t live on campus, live and are a part of community. I think it’s more of just that trying to ensure that there’s that constant communication and that there are always opportunities to want to assess and improve. … It’s just more important that we function well as community, as opposed to so compartmentalized in how we see different issues or how we identify solutions.
KW: Why do you feel this position is important for IC to have?
PY: I don’t think that there’s any business out there where stakeholder engagement and clear and constant communication isn’t important. When you think about it, the college is organized in different schools and departments and things like that, and everybody is focused in their particular area. So I think that there is a need for a person and hopefully more of a program to help connect all of that. … If you’ve got that government and community relations connection already established on campus, then you don’t have to wonder where to go to get that help or information. I also think that for external entities that are looking for ways to partner and collaborate with IC, but they don’t know anyone, or they’re trying to vet a certain idea that may not fit neatly into a certain school, then they need that entity to connect with, and that’s why I think that this role is so important.