Another school year is well underway, my tenth at Queens College. I am happy to say that my job is still a pleasure, thanks to the people I work with, the students I serve, and the constant challenge of change.
Of course, some things never change. Once again the Princeton Review has named QC one of the country’s top undergraduate institutions in the 2012 edition of its annual guide, The Best 376 Colleges. In a nod to our extraordinarily diverse learning environment, the college is ranked 11th in the United States for “Lots of Race/Class Interaction,” a category that reflects how easily students from different backgrounds interact with one another.
We try very hard to make sure our students from all classes feel comfortable on campus. A report by the research group Education Trust examined how well American colleges are meeting the needs of their low-income students. By the Trust’s rigorous measures, only five colleges excel in helping these students earn degrees, and I am proud that Queens College is one of them. This says something extraordinary about our faculty and staff and also proves that the college continues to do what it set out to do over 70 years ago: provide an excellent education to students from all financial backgrounds.
And we have so many terrific students. The members of our class of 2011 were accepted into such top schools as Columbia, UPenn, Duke, Sarah Lawrence, NYU, George Washington University Medical School, and many others. To name just three students: Anita Sonawane, this year’s Commencement speaker, majored in economics and had internships in the office of Senator Hillary Clinton and the Brookings Institution; Olivier Noel, who despite his tough class and lab schedule found time to be captain of the soccer team, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and win a full scholarship to the MD/PhD program at Penn State; and MFA student Kimberly Sheridan, who was awarded a $15,000 Joan Mitchell Foundation grant for her work as a visual artist.
I’m also gratified that the college has been achieving coverage of its good news in important media outlets. Over the past few months, The New York Times published two major QC stories with photos – one focusing on our library’s growing civil rights archive, and the other on the Louis Armstrong House Museum’s acquisition of a treasure trove of materials from the estate of a Swedish fan. Several “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence” events here, organized by our Women & Work program, have been covered by NY1, the all-news station much-watched by elected officials and other New Yorkers. NY1 also aired a lively feature on our collaboration with the Queens Library on the digital “Queens Memory Project,” and, most recently, WNBC-TV aired a lengthy segment on a Summit resident’s unusual recycling program – at the same time that The Summit achieved Gold LEEDS certification for its green features. If you visit our website, www.qc.cuny.edu, from time to time, you’ll see the latest QC news, events, and media coverage, including commentary by our faculty experts in such prestigious media as The New York Times, National Public Radio, the BBC and CNN.
Our faculty, the reason why so many of our students excel, continue to be cited for their excellence: dance professor Yin Mei Critchell recently received a Fulbright Lecture Fellowship; Distinguished Professor Kimiko Hahn received the Asian American Literary Award in Poetry for Toxic Flora; sociologist Samuel Heilman won the National Jewish Book Award for his biography The Rebbe; political scientist Judith Kimerling was awarded the 2011 Albertson Medal in Sustainable Development for her defense of the Amazon rainforest and the human communities that depend on it; and the list goes on.
To help our students achieve a more global perspective, we have dramatically expanded our education abroad initiative with programs in India, Japan, Costa Rica, Greece, South Pacific, Morocco, China, South Korea, and Turkey. We also are in the second year of an initiative that focuses on the history, culture, and challenges of one important nation each year. Our inaugural offering was the Year of China, which featured lectures by eminent scholars and artists, performances by musicians from the Beijing Conservatory and the Beijing Dance Academy, and a trip to China. This semester we launched our Year of Turkey, which brought Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk to our campus in October for a standing-room-only event, “A Conversation with Students.” We will follow this with Years of India, Brazil, and South Africa. This is of course a fiscally challenging time, but we continue with some of our major projects. The renovation of our Kupferberg Center for the Arts is moving at a record pace. This project is a public-private partnership, with the lion’s share of funding coming from philanthropy. Philanthropy has also been the catalyst for the planned upgrading of our library. These improvements—combined with upgrades of our classrooms and campus beautification—are making the campus an even more inviting place for all.
In tough economic times the best colleges become more entrepreneurial, and we certainly have. We recently launched QC Venues, in which we offer spaces for everything from conferences and concerts to children’s parties. For example, not long ago we rented a classroom to a popular TV show, and they used that space for a prison scene. (I promise you that it took a great deal of work to make that classroom look like a prison.) If you are curious about QC Venues, you can find out more at www.qc.cuny.edu/about/business/rental.
Our latest five-year plan concludes in the fall of 2012—which is also our 75th anniversary—and we are about to embark on a new five-year plan, for which we will be reaching out to many of you for your ideas and your participation on one of our committees.
I wish you and your family all the best for the upcoming holiday season.