Leadership Volunteers Assemble for Summit

LEAD: Learn. Engage. Advance. Drive. Syracuse University welcomed nearly 200 leadership volunteers to campus for LEAD, the first-ever volunteer leadership summit.

Picture taken of people at the Syracuse University LEAD Summit

In the bright sunlight flooding into the College of Law’s Dineen Hall on the Syracuse University campus, a record number of leadership volunteers gathered on a Saturday morning for the inaugural LEAD Volunteer Leadership Summit. The summit brought together volunteer leaders from Syracuse University’s schools, colleges, units, regions and alumni groups for informative breakout sessions, social and networking events, and a tour of new University facilities.

“Our faculty, staff and students shared information about the future of Syracuse University to a large group of our most supportive alumni and friends,” said Clea Hupp, director of leadership volunteer engagement.

Chancellor Kent Syverud opened the Summit with an update on University programs and initiatives. The University’s next chapter will work toward creating an unparalleled student experience that leaves no student behind, encompasses academic excellence, and provides hands-on learning opportunities both on and off campus. The student experience will also benefit from academic career advising and a holistic approach to health and well-being that matches the needs of individual students, while engaging an extraordinary network of alumni and friends around the world who care about Syracuse University.

An additional 26 breakout sessions focused on the University’s priorities and covered various areas of interest, including diversity and inclusion initiatives, innovation and entrepreneurship, building career networks for students and alumni and innovative faculty research and offered tours of new and upcoming Syracuse facilities.

Diversity and Inclusion Innovation

In the Diversity and Inclusion Innovation session, leadership volunteers learned how innovative programs at Syracuse University are encouraging, creating and supporting diversity initiatives that benefit all students.

Recruiting Girls to the STEM Fields

The annual It Girls Overnight Retreat, hosted by the School of Information Studies (iSchool), brings approximately 100 high-achieving high school junior and senior girls from across the nation to campus to develop their interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We don’t have enough women in STEM, particularly diverse women in STEM,” said Stephanie Worden, assistant director of undergraduate recruitment and retreat project manager.

An essential piece of the program involves creating meaningful connections between professional women, iSchool staff, faculty, current students and alumni who work in the IT industry. “As we grow, we have alumni that have come through the It Girls program, graduated from Syracuse University and are coming back to give back, so now it’s an alumni engagement opportunity,” said Worden.

Girls who have participated over the past eight years have applied to various Syracuse schools and colleges, including those with majors in the STEM fields. The success of the program and others like it is reflected in the incoming iSchool class last year, which was 47 percent female.

Initiatives for Students of Color

The Our Time Has Come (OTHC) Scholarship program creates possibility for black and Latino students at Syracuse University. Composed of students across the schools and colleges on campus—many of them first-generation students—the scholars boast a 3.5 average GPA and a 100 percent graduation rate.

Scholars participate in the leadership development program, a series of alumni presentations followed by a question-and-answer session, where the students gain insight into what it takes to succeed when they leave the University. “Students hear from alumni who have had similar struggles, overcome them and been successful,” said Rachel Vassel, assistant vice president of multicultural advancement. “And the alumni really love to come back and connect with students in such a personal way.”

Additionally, a mentor program pairs alumni and OTHC scholars with similar backgrounds and interests to help the students prepare to navigate their careers after college.

Building on a History of Inclusivity

The Lawrence B. Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education is committed to providing opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Taishoff Center is home to the InclusiveU initiative, which offers a comprehensive college experience for students with intellectual disabilities through individualized coursework, person-centered planning, professional internships, and social and extracurricular activities.

InclusiveU students are fully included in classes with a reduced course load of two or three classes per semester, working toward a certificate in their area of study. By the time they are seniors, students have completed three full-time, 10-week internships in a variety of departments on campus and with local employers.

The InclusiveU program has a 100 percent employment rate for graduates. “For this population, typically the employment rate is 12 percent,” said Beth Myers, Taishoff Professor of inclusive education and executive director of the Taishoff Center. “We have a goal for all of our students that they could leave here and secure employment in a career where they want to work, just like we want that for any student on campus.”

The Whole Student:  Health, Wellness and Spirituality

Students need support that extends beyond the classroom. Participants in this session joined a discussion on nourishing the “whole student”—a critical factor in academic success—with health, wellness and spirituality programs.

A Student-Centered Global Home

Hendricks Chapel is a flourishing space for spirituality at the center of an institution with an R1 research classification—a unique part of Syracuse University.

“Education is far more than just career preparation,” said the Rev. Brian E. Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel. “When you come to Syracuse University, we’re promising more than a ticket to an entry-level job; we’re promising a trajectory toward an extraordinary life. And an extraordinary life requires far more than just the acquisition of information. It’s saying, who am I? What do I actually believe to be true? And how do I see myself as something larger?”

According to Konkel, 85 percent of students identify as having spiritual identity, Hendricks provides students with a feeling of connection. The nine established chaplaincies include Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, Baptist, Evangelical Christian, Historically Black, United Methodist, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Hendricks provides a place where students can belong, with the mindset that isolation leads to ignorance, injustice and inequality, while connection leads to community and compassion.

Reimagining Health, Wellness and Recreation

The Barnes Center at The Arch, a state-of-the-art complex scheduled to open in fall 2019, will house health, wellness and recreation services in one central location and is designed to support overall well-being. In addition to enhanced recreational amenities to support physical fitness, the center will feature innovative spaces and programs to reduce stress and promote mental health, including peer education, group therapy, pet therapy, mind spas for meditation and nutrition coaching. The construction of the center has been mindful of the students’ needs. For example, the counseling center will have personal trainers embedded on the same floor, so if physical activity is prescribed, there is a hand-off ability from one staff member to another.

While many colleges co-locate health, wellness and recreational facilities, Syracuse is developing a holistic model that promotes student engagement.

“Beyond co-location, we’re looking at ways that we can truly integrate the work that we’re doing—all the different ways in each of those areas that we can support students’ well-being,” said Rob Hradsky, senior associate vice president of the student experience.

Students’ ability to manage stress and anxiety has become an important factor in their academic success. The center’s proposed model of stepped care gives students different entry points to meet their health and wellness needs, and empowers them to become effective consumers of available resources, so they are prepared when they leave the University.

“At the root of some of our students struggles is a feeling of disconnection,” said Cory Wallack, interim executive director of health and wellness. “We’re looking first and foremost to bring our students together in community with each other.”

The center will strive to build connections, in part by bringing students into a group environment every chance to develop their interaction with peers and help build relationships.

As Syracuse takes an all-encompassing approach to student health and well-being that considers the needs of the individual, it will continue to provide support that is not just co-located on the campus, but integrated.

Invest Syracuse Faculty Hires

Invest Syracuse is an initiative to advance the University’s academic plan and the student experience. Throughout the day, leadership volunteers could join sessions about Invest Syracuse faculty hiring—positions that are designed to work together across schools and colleges.

Building Faculty Interdisciplinary Collaboration

As Syracuse University encourages entrepreneurs to find their home here, it plans to take smart risks on individuals and innovative fields of study. Anticipated new faculty hires in strategic areas include Architecture, Drama and Creative Writing; Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems; and Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Innovation and Entrepreneurship faculty positions will exist respectively in the School of Information Studies, College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Visual and Performing Arts and Whitman School of Management—with the Blackstone LaunchPad at the center as an interdisciplinary home.

“The hires are a wonderful new way of moving into new strategic areas and also of bolstering those areas of deep campus strength,” said David Seaman, dean of libraries.

The faculty positions with their specific needs were developed with the mindset that some of the most innovative work on campus is emerging through interdisciplinary collaborations.

“We’re taking the risk that we can make something bigger and better together,” said James Fathers, director of the School of Design. “Because we’re positioning Syracuse University strategically as a University that puts innovation and entrepreneurship at the core of the student experience.” The faculty positions will focus not on the results or profits, but developing the process of how everyone works together.

Looking ahead

In July 2019, the University will kick off the celebration of its 150th year, showcasing its achievements and embracing new possibilities with the help of its students, staff, faculty, alumni and leadership volunteers.

“The energy and enthusiasm at the LEAD Summit was amazing,” said Hupp. “Our volunteers are caring, inspiring people who give their time, talent and treasure to Syracuse. We created wonderful synergy by bringing them together in a large group.”

Shaina M. Hill

This story was first published on May 5, 2019 and last updated on .


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