La Jerne Cornish, interim president of Ithaca College, welcomed students, faculty and staff back to campus at the All-College Gathering Aug. 31.
Approximately 50 people attended the gathering held in the Emerson Suites during the noon hour. The gathering was also livestreamed for campus community members who were unable to attend in person. Cornish said the gathering was to prepare the campus community for the academic year. She said major updates regarding the state of the college will be provided at the State of the College Address on Oct. 5.
Speakers included Samm Swarts, assistant director of emergency preparedness in the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management; Chris McNamara, clinical associate professor, clinic director in the Department of Physical Therapy and Faculty Council Executive Committee Chair; Clint McCartney, supervisor for Facilities Services and Staff Council Executive Committee Chair; and junior Deontae Guy, president of the Student Governance Council (SGC).
Cornish thanked faculty and staff for getting campus ready for students’ return, specifically staff members who had to be on campus even while students were remote. She also said that there will still be challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but she hopes the campus can serve as a model for how to remain safe and successful during the pandemic.
“I am grateful to this community for putting our students first and for focusing all of our collective energy on our student success as scholars and as people,” Cornish said.
Cornish said the college is also focused on keeping students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Swarts said 99% of the student population and 80% of the faculty and staff population is fully vaccinated. He said the Health and Safety Advisory Group meets twice per week to discuss the state of the pandemic.
Swarts said the high vaccination rates, wearing masks and distancing when possible will help keep the campus community safe.
“I’m very excited that we are going to have a very wonderful and prosperous semester ahead,” Swarts said.
Cornish thanked the campus community for working together during Spring 2021 to keep each other safe during the pandemic.
“I’m proud that last year, we did not have one case of COVID being transmitted in a classroom, so I need us to remember that,” she said.
She also discussed the Ithaca Forever strategic plan and how all campus community members will remain connected to the college forever. In an email to the campus community Aug. 30, Cornish outlined the six strategic plans she has for the academic year. She said at the gathering that community members need to be present for and have mutual respect for each other.
“We dedicate ourselves to our mission to educate, engage and empower our students through theory, practice and performance,” she said.
Cornish said another goal is working to build a sustainable financial model and have a positive net operating margin — how much profit the college makes.
Cornish said the college is still committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and mentioned the hiring of Shadayvia Wallace, the new director of the Martin Luther King Scholar Program and First Generation Programs. Cornish also said that the college is working to stabilize enrollment as well as retaining and engaging students. She said faculty saw more students attend Zoom office hours than normal office hours in person.
“Some student resources and services for students were better attended and students felt better cared for because they were able to have Zoom meetings and so we should continue that,” Cornish said.
McNamara said the college is adjusting to a new normal of teaching, communicating and working with people.
She said outlined the principles that are guiding the Faculty Council this year, including: fostering engagement with the campus community; student-centered and safe learning environments; continuing to be creative and innovative; promote a positive student experience; and taking experiences from the past 18 months and using it to move forward in a way that is honest and respectful.
“We are committed to creating a community that is inclusive and authentic,” McNamara said. “We want to do that by showing up in a way that is honest, trustworthy, open and respectful. And we’re going to commit to being seen and heard.”
McCartney said the Staff Council understands the importance surrounding building a strong community between students, faculty, Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and staff.
“We are working to enhance the sense of priorities of who staff are, what staff do and the important role staff play in the success of Ithaca College,” McCartney said.
He said the Staff Council plans to create more staff engagement opportunities and increase communication between staff and other parts of the college community.
Guy reminded students that SGC represents and will advocate for all students. He said SGC works as the link between the SLT and students and provides feedback to the SLT regarding issues students have.
“Everything SGC will do this year will be an effort toward reviving our campus,” he said. “That goes from the bills that we will pass, to the events that we will host and the discussions that we will partake in. We truly believe that revival is coming to our campus.”
Guy emphasized wanting students to feel like campus is their home and they should feel welcome.
“We create belonging by making intentional acts to be inclusive, by accepting each student as they are,” he said. “That being said, we’re asking our faculty and staff to support students more than ever before.”