Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Really Happens on the Stage at Graduation

One of the most rewarding things about being a Trustee at Clarkson University is the opportunity to participate in Commencement. Although I dread sticking pins into my head so my cap won't fall off during the procession, I love seeing all the proud, smiling faces from the stage.
Do you remember the feeling you had walking into the ceremony through lines of faculty and staff all clapping for you? Excited, eager, proud. You probably couldn't help but smile, even if you bashfully looked away and avoided eye contact with all the supporters beaming with pride for you. The past few years I've gotten to relive that feeling, although now from the other point of view. Now I'm the one beaming with pride for the graduates, trying to catch the attention of the bashful, and really taking the moment in. 
Oh yeah, and the perk of celebrating
with family members as they cross the stage

The other highlight of Commencement is the Senior Class President address. This year Kristin Lear, reflected on her class' accomplishments and memories; some that are timeless, such as the 
jitters they faced on move-in day, and others that were most certainly a sign of the times, such as all the memories built in the Student Center.

At that moment, I couldn't help but reflect on all the changes since I graduated in 2004...

  • Clarkson now has the 2nd largest concentration of ROTC cadets in the nation.
  • The downtown campus has been revived and includes:
    • Offices for 15 start-up companies, 8 of which are directly related to Clarkson efforts.
    • A telecommuting center for the spouses of Clarkson employees
    • Soon-to-be home of the North Country's first green data center and a research facility for Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries
  • The Business School now requires an international experience and many students are travelling abroad during the summer.
  • And just that day, we voted and approved the addition of a Masters of Science in Engineering Management. This will be a part-time interdisciplinary M.S. degree for working professionals that can be obtained through a combination of year-round online courses and summer sessions on campus

There are many more, and as I was actually shocked at how many I have still been a part of as a graduate - recommending Clarkson University to high school students interested in ROTC, offering my business' services to assist one of Clarkson's start-up companies. 
Just last month I contacting business colleagues in Australia to help Professor Ormsbee schedule business tours while escorting a group of 17 undergraduates to expose them to HR practices, the Australian labor market, and cultural issues in business in Australia.

I will admit, after observing all the excited graduates, listening to the class President's speech, and reflecting on the increasing value of the Clarkson education, the energy on the stage becomes much like the energy in the seats. We get comfortable, study the colors of the doctoral regalia, and occassionally take out the iPhone or Blackberry or try to spot Senator Chuck Schumer who undoubtedly crashes the event. However, most of our time is spent studying the script, calculating the number of graduates and pace of each reader so we can make an educated guess on the duration of Commencement. That's right, we have a pool and all place bets.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Clarkson's Secret Sauce

Last week I had the opportunity to experience Clarkson's University Recognition Day in a very unique way.

If you're unaware, University Recognition Day, sponsored by the members of Phalanx, recognizes scholastic achievement as well as outstanding leadership in extracurricular activities and athletics at Clarkson. Nine years ago, I attended as a curious junior and left as a new member of Phalanx. Eight years ago, I attended as part of the "selection committee" for new phalanx members and left humbled. But this year, I attended as the guest speaker and left inspired.

When the Phalanx students first contacted me in January to ask if I would be their guest speaker, I was surprised and honored. I had only been out of school 9 years, what wisdom would I have to offer???

s I retraced my steps to what some would call my path to my success, I realized so much of who I am today started at Clarkson - the welcoming and supportive community, the classes that  taught me problem solving, the sports teams that taught me to challenge and push myself, the Greek life that taught me grow as a leader, and the lifelong friends I've  made that are my closest confidants still today. 

Standing up on the podium, I saw many students that resembled me 9 years ago. It was like looking into my past. At the reception afterwards, many students and parents approached me to talk about their future. It was like listening to my past. 

When I left on Sunday, I was inspired by all these emerging leaders and the change and results they've brought to the campus and their causes and proud of their courage, humanity, and humbleness. On the drive home, I thought about the similarities these students shared with me, with other Clarkson grads I knew, and with each other.

As a member of the marketing committee on the Board of Trustees, we often struggle to articulate Clarkson's "secret sauce"; that thing I experienced while I was an undergrad, that thing I feel every time I meet a Clarkson alumni and we instantly connect, and that thing I saw  again from the podium. It's many things, but I think at it's essence, we share common values and the foundation of Workman that Needeth Not To Be Ashamed.

Just recently my boyfriend experienced it when he interviewed at a new company and was introduced to a Clarkson grad. And I experienced it when a Rochester colleague introduced me to his crowd-funding organization, innovocracy, and I learned Clarkson was one of the first academic partners.

Every week I see Clarkson grads impacting and changing the world. Which inspires me to consider the Clarkson Fund when making my philanthropic giving decisions. 

How about you? What can you impact? How much of your tax return are you willing to part with to make a big difference?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why I Give Back - Inspiring letter from a Clarkson student

Wow! I just received a letter from the recipient of the Clarkson scholarship I created and am feeling so overjoyed, I just have to share...

(click image to enlarge)

Although this young woman is only a sophomore, there really is no better feeling than knowing my donations have helped a student, originally from Tibet, attend Clarkson and get the foundation she needs to be successful and eventually provide refugees in India with better facilities. Whether she single-handedly provides refugees with better health care or makes a small impact on their living conditions, I don't care. The outcome make this world a better place. 

The intrinsic value of feeling like I'm making a difference is incredible and totally worth every penny!  (and all I did was redirect the money I spent each morning on my vanilla latte and egg sandwich at Starbucks ;) ) I couldn't get this much value from a new designer handbag, first class airfare, or Stanley Cup hockey tickets. 

This scholarship is just one of many that alumni and Clarkson supporters have set up that makes a direct impact on a current student (and provides instant gratification). And believe me, it does make a difference. Did you know...

100% of students admitted to Clarkson receive some kind of financial aid

That's right, 100%. With the national average tuition for a 4 year private institution at $32,184, Clarkson is doing it's part to make higher education more affordable. Of course the institution needs to stay competitive with the likes of RPI, RIT, WPI, Carnegie Mellon, and Lehigh. But none of them are offering all students some sort of aid. And it's not because Clarkson is taking the runt of the litter.

Clarkson's applications have grown 81.9% from 2005 - 2010
 Only 2 others of 16 peer institutions had higher growth

Clarkson is maintaining and increasing it's ability to be selective and still provide affordability to families. And we know not all families qualify for government aid, so where does the rest come from? The proud alumni and Clarkson supporters that know the value of a Clarkson education and believe in investing in our future.

To learn more about how you can give back, visit: http://www.clarkson.edu/giving/clarkson_fund/choice/financial.html

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Clarkson campus next door to a fierce rival???

Cool! But why?

That was my initial response and surprise 9 months ago when I learned that Clarkson was looking to acquire the Beacon Institute on the Hudson River in Troy, NY.  To be honest, when President Tony Collins and Chairman Tom Holliday broke the news of their exploratory conversations with the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, I wasn’t exactly sure it would happen. Afterall, acquire is a “corporate” word. Universities don’t acquire.

But that’s the difference with Clarkson the past 8 years: the Universities’ leadership thinks BIG. They look for opportunities to further academic excellence, elevate research and innovation, and develop world-ready talent. They seize opportunities to transform Clarkson from a good “engineering school” to a highly regarded university that offers a collaborative approach. 

And those were the objectives Clarkson had in mind when making the Beacon Institute a wholly-owned subsidiary of Clarkson. The Beacon Institute is a not-for-profit environmental research organization engaging scientists, engineers, educators and policy experts in collaborative work focusing on real-time monitoring of river ecosystems. Through this acquisition, Clarkson will now have access to state-of-the-art river monitoring, a presence in the Hudson Valley, and more real world application for student studies. And to support these goals, Clarkson will be building a brand new live data center in the downtown Potsdam campus.

If you missed this exciting press release, read it here

I had the privilege of sitting with John Cronin, Founding Director of the Beacon Institute at the Clarkson Board meetings in San Francisco this week, and I can truly say, this is an incredibly exciting time for Clarkson with so much opportunity ahead. Both John and Tim Sugrue, Dean of Clarkson’s School of Business and now also CEO of Beacon Institute, have incredible ideas and plans (unfortunately still confidential, but I will give the inside scoop as soon as I'm allowed :)) to make Clarkson and New York State a global center for scientific and technological innovation regarding rivers and estuaries. 

I will share one plan hot off the press!
Tim and John have launched a summer program on the new river campus for July 2012 (http://www.riveruniversity.com/) where students can earn 9 credits in just 4 weeks studying in ecology, engineering, and policy with a 5 day hands-on experience on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater! (http://www.clearwater.org)

To learn how you can be a part of this success, visit: http://www.clarkson.edu/giving/clarkson_fund/choice/

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Power of a Vision

I woke up yesterday full of nerves and excitement. It was the one day, every 365 days that I pull my staff together for a "What's Next for Novatek" meeting. Although I'm pumped about the new year and my ideas, I never know if my employees are going to think i'm crazy, cheer in agreement, or nod their heads and leave the ideas at the door.In any case, I was prepared to share my vision of the future with 35 other people, regardless of their opinion. Afterall, these are the people who are going make my vision a reality, so if I was going to share it with anyone, it was them.

I asked my team to close their eyes for a minute, which if you know me, was more like 5, as I read a 3 page description of my vision of the company's future. This vision was created a few years ago, but is tweaked at the end of every year when I spend 1 full day reflecting on the year and looking ahead to the opportunities in the upcoming 12 months. 

In the 24 hours that followed, I received many emails and impromptu hallway conversations commenting on others' thoughts, excitement, and inspiration of that vision. It made me remember a time when I was moved and inspired by another leader's vision...

It was spring of 2007, I was invited to Clarkson's Board of Trustees meeting and first presented with Tony Collins' Master Plan for the Clarkson campus. It was ambitious. It was bold for the traditionally conservative campus. It was transformative and incredibly exciting!

Over the next 5 years, I watched Tony's vision become a reality.

I watched the freshman quad transform with the addition of a 4th floor...
I watched the students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors rally around the vision of a Student Center...
The addition of the Technology Advancement Center...
The renovations in the ERC...
And when I return this spring, I will see a renovated Moore House with more spacious suites, single rooms, and air-conditioned apartments.If you haven't been back to campus, you might not recognize it in another few years!

What's Next?
The Woodstock apartments will also be renovated, adding more beds per apartment, single rooms and energy efficiency, with a more appealing Adirondack look. Greek and theme housing will be developed southwest of the Townhouse Apartments to accommodate fraternity and sorority living as well as theme group functions with 20 beds per house. Congdon Hall will be restored for use as a residential facility. Two wings will be added to Cheel Campus Center.

To really get an idea of all the changes, and take a virtual tour, visit http://www.clarkson.edu/about/strategic_plans/masterplan/index.php to see completed projects and status of all planned projects. It's incredible!

And it's not just the physical campus that is transforming. Since joining the Board, I've witnessed some other major improvements. Here are some highlights of the growth and success also included in that vision...
  • Fall 2011 brought the largest incoming freshman class at 790 students! A lot of work was done to accommodate this large class. Five years ago, in 2006, Clarkson had 599 incoming freshman.
  • A 37% increase in females from Fall 2010 to Fall 2011
  • First year student retention rate is at 94.6%  vs. 90 - 92% retention rate of peer institutions and 65-73% average retention of all colleges and Universities
  • A budget was approved for Greek and Theme Housing. 3 fraternities have expressed intent so far.
  • Recruitment and applications are increasing on the West Coast, particularly in California and Washington
When young alumni here about the campus transformation, I often hear "Go figure, right when I leave" or I am asked, "why didn't that happen when I was there?" There is a jealously or bitterness that the students today have it better than we had it when we were there. My response? THANK GOD! 

Each leader has a different vision and different priorities. This so happens to be Tony Collins' vision. I am proud that the campus operates under his leadership and vision. Without it, the campus would still be stuck in the 70s. And let's be honest, whether we like it or not, students these days demand 21st century amenities and luxuries. The fact that the campus is adapting to meet these needs makes me proud. Proud that Clarkson will still attract the top high school talent. Proud that Clarkson will maintain a placement rate of 99% and proud that Clarkson graduates will still uphold the strong reputation that the alumni have worked so hard to create. 

To learn how you can be a part of this success, visit: http://www.clarkson.edu/giving/clarkson_fund/choice/