Introducing the Center for Applied Learning

My prepared remarks for today’s opening:12654322_1007971959276721_7971052798938052168_n

Thank you all for your support and kind words. Many people have been thanked, but I want to extend my gratitude to the staff in the Center — Toby White, Krista LaVack, Annie Butterfield, Bethany Parker, and our new Director of Student Research, Sharmain van Blommestein, for all of their hard work to pull this off. Additionally, we would not be here today without the two men who started this conversation on our campus — Jason Ladouceur and Steve Marqusee. It was their vision that brought this idea forward, and it was them who fought for it for years. We wouldn’t be here without them. And I certainly want to thank SUNY for believing in — and funding — our vision.

And thank you to all of you who are listening to us talk. We’ve covered our history, and our vision, and why we’re proud – but we’ve not yet talked about the one thing I’m most proud of. I’m most proud of what we’re doing for our students. So let me talk for just a moment about a student who can’t be here today. We have many students here, but this one isn’t, and for good reason. Her name is Ajanee Biggs, and she’s in her final year at Potsdam. The reason Ajanee can’t be here today is that she is in Trinidad and Tobago, in her first week of a four-week stay, doing ethnographic research on the hallmark of Trinidadian culture: Carnival.

Ajanee will be doing more than 200 hours of field study in Trinidad, gaining an understanding of Carnival’s role in the construction of a Trinidadian cultural identity. She will return to Potsdam in March, and will spend the rest of her semester working with Dr. Jennifer Campbell in our Anthropology department, transcribing her interviews and analyzing the participant observation she conducted in Trinidad. Dr. Campbell will also be mentoring her in professional presentation of her results, with a goal of presenting at the North Eastern Anthropological Association later this spring.

This is the best of what we do. A student who looked at her own course of study and said “I want to do something remarkable”, and made a plan to make it happen. A student whose plan included hands-on field work, one-on-one research mentorship with a faculty member, and international study. (It’s the trifecta of applied learning.) The Center for Applied Learning is designed to facilitate the success of students like Ajanee, who, because of this Center, only needed to come to one place to explore her options and confirm details. She worked with Toby White to frame her initial plans, then with Krista LaVack to finalize her travel, and with me to discuss scholarship options.

But the Center’s job is also to reach students who aren’t like Ajanee – the students who don’t know that this is a path they could walk. Ajanee said it herself. When her friends asked what she was doing this semester, what classes she was taking, and she said “none” and explained, they universally said to her “we can DO that? How?” So that’s my goal for this Center. Our students will know they can DO that. And our faculty will believe it, too. Whatever they can dream of, we will facilitate.

It’s a big goal. It’s audacious. But it’s vital to the success of our Potsdam vision for who our students will be when they leave our Quad for the last time and begin their lives in this globalized, networked world, full of real problems that need innovative solutions. And with this Center, we can do it.

Finally, we would like to welcome each and every one of you to tour our new offices – we are very proud of them – and to meet our staff and students. Welcome!12647037_10153456051638651_581929126405016946_n

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