The president of Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), Dr. Mary Papazian, was the first speaker in a new series dubbed The Wisdom of Woodbridge October 21 at the Woodbridge Town Library. The monthly lecture series, an initiative of First Selectman Ellen Scarlettar, introduces “Woodbridge’s creative big thinkers”. In Papazian’s case, the creative thinking revolved around moving a large, very traditional and locally rooted institution into the 21st century.
The challenge is to put Southern on the map, not only for Connecticut students, but for students across the nation, even the world. Colleges in the state, as in most of the Northeast, are facing a declining pool of high school students. For the past 5years or so, they have seen a 2% decline every year, she said. At the same time colleges are facing a lot more scrutiny from the federal government, with the introduction of the new college scorecard. The scorecard does not rate colleges according to the government standards; rather, it “empowers the graduates to rate colleges based on what is important to them”.
In addition to the decline in the population, many students do not graduate with a degree. “This is a real problem for our economy,” she said. Where is the expansion going to come from? From disenfranchised, inner-city kids.
To allow for the expansion of its academic program, the school invested in the construction of multi-million dollar new buildings, including a $49million science and laboratory building; the Peter and Pam Werth Family Foundation Marine Study Center, and a state-of-the-art new library and technology center. The new research facilities have already produced tangible results, most recently with the proposed ban of microbeads, which are added to many cosmetic products as an exfoliant. The microbeads make their way into Long Island Sound, a fact that was demonstrated by a Southern student, she said.
The school is committed to increase the number of students graduating in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) over the next decade and to increase in particular the number of teachers in STEM disciplines, she said. The teacher’s program for which Southern was known, is as robust as ever, Papazian said, and just recently added a center for autism related disorders.
Southern started in 1893 with three teachers and 84 students, and specialized for many years as an institution for teacher training. In 2018, the university will celebrate its 125th anniversary, now with a Business School, a school for Arts and Sciences, health and human services. A new recreation and wellness center is planned as well as a home for the School of Health and Human Services, an area of great need. Papazian noted with pride that the brand new building for the School of Business received an LEED gold standard, a notable recognition in the world of sustainable architecture. The university introduced a new major in biotechnology, in expectation of a growing sector in the New Haven area, and is collaborating with city schools in creating biotechnology pathways.
The university opened an office at 900 Chapel Street called Southern on the Green, under one roof with the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. She is looking for partnerships not only with Gateway Community College, but with institutions of higher learning across the world. Southern has entered partnerships with China (social work), Armenia (nursing and healthcare) and John Morres University in Liverpool.
To increase graduation rates, the school has created a Student Success Taskforce and increased tutoring, workshops and student advising. In addition to its undergraduate program, Southern accepts over 2,500 graduate students every year, and is working to grow this segment as well by offering advanced degrees in market-oriented professions. It has created an accelerated 17-month Master of Business Administration and new professional doctoral programs in business and in social work. In the sciences, there are new graduate-level offerings in applied physics, nanotechnology and chemistry. A popular degree is the Masters in Sports and Entertainment, as well as an MS in computer science. “We are very committed to student success,” Papazian said.
The question arose as to how the university can make all these investments and control cost at a time when the state is cutting funding to colleges throughout the state. Papazian said only 33% of their operating budget comes from the state; the rest from tuition and federal grants. When it comes to building projects and some of the new initiatives, it relies on private philanthropy.
The next talk, on November 17 will be by Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee, in the JCC Living Room. Nancy Yao Maasbach, Museum of the Chinese in America director, will be featured January 19, also at the JCC. In February, AuthAir co-founder Yaron Baitch will speak at the Woodbridge Town Library.
Pictured: First Selectman Ellen Scalettar (left) and SCSU President Dr. Mary Papazian at the Town Library. Papazian, a Woodbridge resident, was the first speaker in a new series called “The Wisdom of Woodbridge”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent