Spotlight on Academics

Liberal Arts & Sciences · Engineering · Professional Studies · Art and Design

Spotlight on Academics

A 'liberating" education – The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

By Sue Goetschius

It’s not a “liberal arts” education, but a “liberating education,” said Mary McGee, dean of Alfred University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. 

As she and her colleagues ponder what a liberal arts education means in today’s world, where the emphasis is on “outcomes” and “placement rates,” McGee remains convinced that a liberal arts degree “prepares our graduates for multiple careers. They are more flexible. We need liberal arts and sciences graduates now more than ever.”

Theater ProductionThere’s no question about the role of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Alfred University, says McGee, who has been dean since 2008. “It’s at the heart,” she says, pointing out that every program at Alfred University relies on the liberal arts and sciences. “We are valuable at the core.”

It is “not enough to leave Alfred with just a (professional) credential,” according to McGee. Graduates need the kind of “transferable skills,” like writing well, that they gain during their liberal arts courses. “Graduates need those skills now more than ever,” she says. “It’s part of the whole package. Our students learn how to learn,” and that makes them able to adapt to changing workplaces, and new careers that cannot even be foreseen now.

McGee sees her role as that of a facilitator in creating new programs that cut across disciplinary lines. For example, she’s working with Doreen Edwards, dean of engineering, on ways to strengthen the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – programs at AU that are integral not only to those majoring in the sciences, but to engineering students as well. 

With Leslie Bellavance, dean of the School of Art & Design, she’s working to develop offerings that incorporate the performing arts and the visual arts, such as a program in technical theater design. Bellavance has been open to exploring ways in which the Miller endowment, created by a gift from Marlin Miller ’54, can promote participation in the arts across disciplines. And for her part, McGee is excited about how the Miller Performing Arts Center and Theater can be used by many different academic programs.

The hallmarks of an Alfred University education in the liberal arts and sciences are what McGee calls “high-impact” activities – opportunities for undergraduate research, service learning and study aboard. “Even a short-term study-abroad experience” can be life-changing for students, she says. 

Study AbroadWhile a semester-long study-abroad opportunity may be beyond the reach of some students financially, many are able to take advantage – some with financial assistance of the University – to participate in the 10-day or two-week tours that conclude several semester-long courses. Through such programs, students have been able to visit Botswana, Morocco and Spain, and Ireland. “It’s transformative,” even a two-week program, says McGee.

As an experiment when she became dean, McGee gave entering students that year cards and asked that they write a goal they hoped to achieve during their four years at Alfred University. Last spring, when she handed the cards back to those students as they prepared to graduate, it was gratifying to her to see how many had realized their goals. Many, she said, had forgotten about the cards and what they had written. It was gratifying to her to see how many, with their Alfred University education in the liberal arts and sciences, had achieved the goals they had only dreamed of four years before.

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Sparking change in engineering – The Inamori School of Engineering

By Sue Goetschius

A $9 million addition to the McMahon Engineering Building will spark new opportunities for the Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering, says Doreen Edwards, professor of materials science, who became dean in 2009.

High Temp LabThe two-story addition will fill in the center of the “U” in McMahon, providing space for the Center for High-Temperature Characterization, created with $6.9 million in funding from New York State. The center will contain five suites of unique instruments that allow for real-time analysis of materials that are processed or used at very high temperatures.

“Similar equipment can be found elsewhere, but we are perhaps the only place in the United States now with such an array of high-temperatures characterization equipment in one location,” says Edwards.

The new Center, she says, will “be a hub for collaboration among faculty, students and industrial partners.”

It’s already starting to pay off. Researchers have secured highly competitive federal grants for projects that use the equipment, and much of the characterization work for New York State’s battery initiative is being done at Alfred University.

A major in renewable energy engineering – the first four-year degree of its kind in New York State and one of the first in the country – was approved by the NYS Education Department last month.

“As the country’s electrical infrastructure ages, and as new means of generating and storing electricity are needed, this new major will position us as a leader in the field,” says Edwards.

“The next generation of devices to make and use electricity will all rely on new materials and new technologies based on those materials, and we are in an ideal position to meet that demand.”

Another initiative Edwards is excited about is the E-LEAD scholarship program, funded by a $570,00 National Science Foundation grant and private donations. Students who receive the E-LEAD scholarships will enroll in a leadership development program offered through the Judson Leadership Center.

“This will be a model for training a new generation of engineers,” says Edwards.

The Inamori School of Engineering is “really poised” for transformation, says Edwards.  Several new faculty members have been hired, and they are already securing research grants that allow the School to enroll additional graduate students, and provide research opportunities for undergraduates. 

“The number of large multi-year, multi-investigator grants we have received in the past three years is very encouraging.”

While the loss of venerable faculty is sad, Edwards says the new professors are “great, with remarkable expertise in glass, ceramics and biomaterials.” 

Another of her top priorities is the overhaul of facilities for the mechanical engineering and the new renewable energy engineering programs; both have potential for growth and need facilities and equipment to foster that progress.

To keep pace with the changes in engineering disciplines, Edwards and the faculty have revamped first-year engineering programs. “Our goal is to give our students, from the beginning, a better understanding of how engineers contribute to solve real-world social problems,” she explains. “We talk about the ‘grand engineering challenges,’ and give our students immediate, hands-on experience.”

While alumni from years past remember “Mud Lab,” where they learned to process traditional ceramic and glass materials, Edwards says the new first-year experience allows students to explore how new materials are used in a variety of applications.

In spite of the exciting developments and changes, one of the biggest challenges the School faces is persuading young people “to see engineering as an exciting career choice.” One of the strongest selling points for Alfred University engineering, though, is “the power of the AU network. Our seniors have been so lucky to have such a network to pave the way for them with connections and jobs.”

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Hands-on experience key to success – The College of Professional Studies

By Debbie Clark

There is a sense of excitement among the faculty, staff, and students in Alfred University’s new College of Professional Studies (CPS). That excitement is particularly evident when you talk with the dean. As Nancy Evangelista speaks about opening a new academic semester with a new dynamic, the enthusiasm is infectious.

Just “getting to this point was exciting,” she said. “The opportunity to think together (with faculty) about commonalities in CPS and where we can go with collaborations and shared projects” made the process memorable. Already, she noted, there is collaboration, via athletic training and business, to create a sports management minor. Also in the works is a special education master’s degree being created by the Education Division that will provide opportunities for joint training with the graduate programs in School Psychology and Counseling.

Elementary EducationCurrently, the CPS offers six majors: accounting, athletic training, business administration, early childhood/childhood education (preK-6), finance, marketing. There are 12 minors: accounting, art education (K-12), arts management, business administration (4+1 MBA program), business and marketing education (K-12), economics, exercise science, family business and entrepreneurship, finance, marketing, middle/adolescent education (7-12), sports management. And, there are five graduate programs: accounting, business administration, counseling, literacy, school psychology.

It is a “distinctive feature to have both undergraduate and graduate programs housed within the same college. This too provides great opportunities,” noted Evangelista. “The opportunity to think about educating students across a bigger continuum of skill levels – undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate,” made the planning, and now implementation, enjoyable, she added.

Some 31 faculty members are making it work. They are “getting to know each other and discovering they have a sense of shared identity. They are learning about each other and the students we share,” observed Evangelista. 

The college’s mission clearly states the goal: The College of Professional Studies prepares individuals for successful professional careers. Through contemporary and innovative educational opportunities, we inspire future critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and leaders in diverse settings. 

Toward that end, the faculty has created a first-year, one-credit experience program for CPS which introduces all students to their professions, and to the resources available at AU for academic and personal success, explained Evangelista. For upperclassmen, there are applied experiences at all levels, such as internships, supervised practicums, and class projects with “live” clients, she said. 

Athletic TrainingThat type of hands-on experience is attractive to both students and parents, said Evangelista. “All we can do to practice in real-life settings before graduation” helps to nurture the experience on campus, and in their chosen careers. Taking it a step further, the CPS will use the online software Livetext to track student learning outcomes, skills, and accomplishments, a program which had already been used by the Education Division for its teacher education portfolios.

Faculty are also looking to encourage the “high achievers” by planning programs for them and encouraging them to set high goals for themselves, explained Evangelista. There is also a college-wide goal to encourage greater participation in the University Honors Program and the Undergraduate Research Forum.

With new ventures and an organizational model comes challenges, said Evangelista.

“We will need to be flexible; we will need to keep looking at what we are offering. We will need to ask what additional programs might be good for our resources, for current and prospective students.

“There is a lot of opportunity for growth. There is the opportunity to specialize and be successful,” Evangelista maintains. 

Long-term possibilities for new program combinations are numerous, she pointed out.            

“Within the next five years, there may be several post-graduate programs to capitalize on using the resources and talents we have here,” said Evangelista. For example, what about an equine therapy major? AU has an equestrian center and there is already an equestrian studies minor. The CPS already houses counseling and therapy resources. And how about an equine business minor, making use of the existing business resources? 

It’s all a matter of taking advantage of existing programs, resources, and talents, Evangelista insisted.

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Imagining the future - The School of Art and Design

By Sue Goetschius

Art and engineering have been intertwined for decades at Alfred University, but an initiative in the School of Art & Design is allowing students to explore the intersection in new ways.
Leslie Bellavance, who has been dean since August 2010, has been instrumental in promoting the digital fabrication center, or “fab lab.” Located in McMahon, the facility is available for both artists and engineers and grew out of an initiative in the Ceramic Art program.

NeonProviding the necessary equipment was the first step, but for optimal use Bellavance says the lab needed full-time staff. Using funds from the Miller Endowment for Excellence in the Arts, she was able to hire David Crenshaw to oversee the digital fabrication and prototyping lab where students can use computer-aided design and manufacturing equipment to create three-dimensional objects. 

While the fab lab continues a long-standing collaboration between art and engineering, an arts management minor, created with the School of Business and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, will prepare them for managing individual arts-related businesses, or managing not-for-profit organizations in the visual, performing or literary arts, Bellavance says. It is open to all students.

Another collaborative venture with the Division of Performing Arts in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences will bring artists, designers and scholars to campus for extended residencies. In addition to the sustained interaction with the campus community, Bellavance sees the residencies providing outreach activities within the region. 

To encourage development of team-taught interdisciplinary courses in the arts and design, Bellavance has developed a program to support faculty initiatives to create the courses, and to also develop successful pedagogical innovations and collaborations.

She arrived on campus just as the McGee Pavilion, an addition to Harder Hall, was being completed. The facility provides the Division of Expanded Media and the master of fine arts program in electronic integrated arts new studios and exhibition spaces. Bellavance is excited about the possibilities the sound, video and interactive arts studios create for the division and the MFA program.

McGee PavilionThe McGee Pavilion provides additional spaces for ceramics studios as well, and that allows the division to once again open its classes to students who are not art majors.

The first floor of the building is devoted to the new, student-run, Robert C. Turner Gallery, something Bellavance has taken a particular interest in. 

The space is also designed to allow for large-screen projections of video art, something that has been difficult before.

During the spring 2011 semester, Bellavance taught a course preparing students to run the gallery. The experience – her first teaching AU students – was very rewarding. “The students were really incredible,” she says. They developed a mission, a vision, goals and policies and procedures. The student director, assistant director and interns do all the work for an ambitious calendar of exhibitions that feature work by the fellow students.

Cohen GalleryBellavance is also pleased with the direction the Cohen Gallery on Main Street is taking. The gallery provides “opportunities for students, faculty and alumni to organize and curate exhibitions of contemporary art that have relevance” for the University, community of Alfred and the surrounding region. Bellavance also intends the Cohen Gallery to provide a “supportive environment for exhibitions that serve regional constituencies,” such as arts councils, public schools and exchanges between regional arts programs at the university level.

Over the past two years, Bellavance has found “Alfred University, the School of Art & Design, and more importantly, the community of people here – students, faculty and staff – have lived up to my expectations. I have learned that it is equally important to focus on the moment, the incredible day-to-day work that constantly goes on all around me, as well as to maintain an imagination for future growth and development of this remarkable place.”

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