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Calls For a Sustainable and Increasingly Innovative SUNY in the 2018 State of the University System Address

Chancellor Kristina Johnson delivers the 2018 State of the University System address behind a SUNY podium.

At the beginning of each year, the SUNY community and all of New York gets a chance to learn about the progress of the system into the coming year. It’s the State of the University address, and this year, in her first as the 13 chancellor of SUNY, Kristina M. Johnson finally had her chance to lay down her vision for SUNY’s millions of constituents. Earlier this morning, Chancellor Johnson gave her inaugural State of the University System address at the Albany Capital Center in downtown Albany.

She was introduced to the stage by SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall who noted, “Today is exciting. After five months of phenomenal leadership, today marks our chancellor’s first opportunity to address this audience and map out her vision for what we can achieve.”

At the start, Chancellor Johnson shared stories of her travels to nearly half of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities, from her trip aboard Maritime’s Empire State VI training ship to Buffalo State’s campus and a look inside their culinary program. She will visit the rest of the campuses in the new year.

“In my travels to the campuses, I have developed a soaring pride that SUNY is able to offer its students so many different opportunities to build a better world,” said Chancellor Johnson. “Each SUNY school is distinctive, with its own history, legacy, and future, but each is also the cultural and economic heart of its community—offering crucial resources for local businesses as well as educating their workforces.”

But the majority of Chancellor Johnson’s address focused on her vision for SUNY, highlighting four themes that will comprise the foundation of her chancellorship which were inspired by her travels across the state while meeting students, faculty, and leadership at SUNY campuses:

  1. Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  2. Individualized Education
  3. Sustainability
  4. Strategic Partnerships

Let’s look into these themes and what they might bring to SUNY students, alumni, and faculty/staff.

Doubling Research and Innovation

Chancellor Johnson—an energy expert, researcher, and entrepreneur, as well as experienced educator—called for a doubling of research and innovation across the SUNY System in the next decade.

“In terms of education and research, the boundaries between disciplines are disappearing,” she said. “For SUNY to be a leader in this next century and realize the potential of artificial and augmented intelligence, we need to increase the cross-disciplinary research, scholarly work, and outreach we do.”

This goal will be achieved in part by expanding student opportunities and internships in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, and their applications to education and healthcare, and by making targeted investments in research and faculty development.

Individualized Education on a State-wide Scale

To continue to build a more individualized SUNY experience, Chancellor Johnson urged a strengthened commitment to ensure every student is given the tools, support, and safety needed to complete her or his education.

“An individual education is not just about helping our students chart a course through our classrooms,” she said. “It is about helping students with different backgrounds and different resources succeed. Thanks to the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship Program, the Tuition Assistance Program, and other state scholarships, half of our students now attend college tuition-free. But tuition alone is not enough to help all of our students stay in school and finish their degrees. Other financial concerns, academic barriers, and the general unpredictability of life are challenges we need to be prepared to help our students overcome.”

To that end, she called for new student emergency aid programming – currently being piloted at seven SUNY campuses to address family emergencies and unexpected financial hardships – to be expanded to all 64 campuses. At one campus, a similar program used funds of as little as $100 to help 87 percent of the students return to class and remain on track to finish their degrees.

In addition, she pushed to join Governor Cuomo in his fight to end hunger with the creation of a food pantry on every campus and pledged to continue to lead the way in preventing sexual assault and violence.

Sustainable SUNY

In addition to research, Chancellor Johnson called for purchasing 100 percent of SUNY’s electricity from zero-carbon sources and deep energy retrofits at SUNY campuses, which represent 40 percent of state-owned buildings, and announced the goal to source 100 percent of SUNY’s electricity from zero-net carbon sources as soon as possible. Such a change would reduce New York’s carbon footprint by 400,000 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. She also called for all new SUNY buildings to be designed to achieve zero-net carbon emissions.

“The United States has to get a grip on our carbon emissions. And SUNY, as an engine of innovation, has a major responsibility to lead,” she said. “Certainly, our students, who are highly committed to sustainability, want and expect us to lead. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo is one of the nation’s most important leaders on this issue.”

To support this effort, she announced a partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support eligible SUNY campuses to develop energy master plans and provide access to on-site energy managers who can identify areas for improvement, engage in strategic planning and feasibility studies, and implement changes to achieve greater sustainability all across SUNY.

Investing in the Future

For the final theme of her vision, Chancellor Johnson urged an increase in strategic partnerships with state, national, and international organizations that will broaden SUNY’s reach and impact.

In support of this goal, she announced a new collaboration with Empire State Development (ESD) and four venture capital funds selected to administer the Innovation Technology Commercialization Investment Funds—an $8 million pool of capital that invests in high-growth potential, pre-seed stage firms. This partnership increases the number of SUNY-affiliated companies considered for investment and provides them with valuable feedback to help strengthen their business.

To further support this strategic growth, she announced the creation of a System-wide endowment to be supported by foundations, individual donors, and companies.

“The endowment needs to be a hybrid model—where we put in place a system-wide endowment that provides resources to our schools, but does not compete with the philanthropic activities of the individual colleges and universities,” said Chancellor Johnson.

Closing out her address, Chancellor Johnson shared her pride for SUNY and her leadership role within the System:

“I am so proud to serve as Chancellor of this organization, and to work beside all of you, so that SUNY can lead—as not just as the biggest comprehensive public university system, but the very best public system of higher education in the nation, and the world.  I think we are well on our way.”

We are excited to see the Chancellor’s themes come to life and mark a new era of leadership for SUNY. You can experience the Chancellor’s address for yourself online.

    Big Ideas

      Written by Big Ideas

      Big Ideas is the Blog of The State University of New York, published by the Office of New Media.

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