As the fall semester begins at public and private colleges and universities throughout the state, thousands of students will be better prepared for college because of the dedication and creativity of NYSUT members.
Throughout the summer, NYSUT members worked in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at the State University of New York and the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK) program at the City University of New York. In both of these programs, high-risk students learn the study skills and work habits they will need as they enter their freshman year.
Elsewhere throughout New York's colleges and universities, NYSUT members are extending themselves to become better instructors and more effective writing coaches in the classroom and in dedicated writing labs on campus.
"Financial aid is tightening, funding cuts are reducing faculty and course offerings, and tuition costs are rising at our colleges and universites," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who oversees higher education policy for the union. "It's especially commendable that our higher education members — both faculty and staff — are meeting these challenges with such wonderful efforts on behalf of students, and so often initiating ways to help students excel."
Academic success programs such as SEEK, EOP and College Discovery (the counterpart at the CUNY community colleges) have long been targets at budget time, and NYSUT remains outspoken in its support for them. Several times in recent years, funding has been cut in the executive budget proposal and then has been partially restored by the Legislature. Despite the give-and-take restorations, the programs have steadily been cut back, and fewer students can be enrolled now than in past years. Students and faculty feel the loss.
"We're gradually decreasing the number of students each year," said Professional Staff Congress member Janice Zummo, SEEK director at Medgar Evers College. "This fall saw 100 freshmen; last year, we accepted 134. We're in a political climate where the doors to college are closing again."
Preparing for success
At SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, members of the United University Professions chapter will host a workshop in October by Chris Anson, a nationally renowned writing professor from North Carolina State University. The faculty hopes to use ideas from that workshop to help students improve their own writing skills, said chapter Vice President Frank Maraviglia.
"We're complementing the Writing Center staff and emphasizing the value of good communications skills in writing," Maraviglia said.
SUNY ESF has long placed a strong value on writing, said Benette Whitmore, a NYSUT member and director of the Writing Center.
"I'm just thrilled that UUP has supported this effort," she said of the planned workshop. "When the union supports writing and values writing, that sends a clear message to faculty and students."
The ESF Writing Center is located in the college library, making for "a lot of collegiality" between the library and the Writing Center staffs, said UUP member Stephen Weiter, director of the college libraries. At both CUNY and SUNY, NYSUT members have provided intensive help this summer to students entering college through the SEEK and EOP programs. Students in both programs come from low-income backgrounds and need special assistance to succeed in college. SEEK and EOP students receive instruction in math, reading and writing, and take part in cultural experiences and workshops at which faculty and students talk about their own paths to success.
CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program) is another intensive preparatory program that encourages and supports students from under-represented groups to pursue careers in health-related fields, mathematics, science and technology. NYSUT members at several private and public colleges are working with CSTEP students this fall to help them enter and succeed in STEM careers.
At Schenectady County Community College, NYSUT member Robyn Posson, a counselor and faculty member, drilled home a strong motivational message to an incoming group of freshmen EOP students during that college's summer orientation program.
"We are here because we really, really care about our students' success," she said to her rapt and slightly nervous-looking audience. "We do not want to set you up to fail. We're here to help, if you ask for it."