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SUNY Chancellor outlines four themes in her State of the University Address

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley from SUNY webcast

SUNY's new chancellor looks to clean energy for the future of its campuses. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says that was one of four themes Chancellor Kristina Johnson outlined in her first State of the University System Address in Albany Monday.

"And we want to guide every one of our 1.3-million students to the best programs and opportunity for them individually,” stated Kristina Johnson, SUNY Chancellor.  

Johnson began her post in September and replaced former chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

Johnson outlined initiatives to “optimize” a SUNY education at the 64-campuses and provide “Individualized Education.”

"Individualized Education, as I see it, is not just about helping our students chart a path through our classrooms, it is about helping our students with different backgrounds, with different resources succeed,” Johnson declared.  

Johnson, who began her career as an electrical engineer, once served as energy undersecretary in the Obama administration. 

Johnson announced a plan to create a Sustainable SUNY to buy clean power and reduce SUNY's carbon footprint.

"SUNY plans to source 100-percent of its electricity from zero-net carbon sources, including renewables and energy storage as soon as possible. Last year, SUNY spent $189-million on energy. We will use SUNY’s buying power to buy clean power and the sooner we do this, the better as we estimate it will reduce our carbon footprint by 400,000 tons of CO2 equivalence per year,” Johnson stated.

Johnson said SUNY must also double research and innovation and invest in the future. She is calling to establish a 'system-wide endowment' to provide resources for SUNY campuses. She also emphasized the importance of making sure future faculty reflects a changing demographic.

"We don't want a single individual to be discouraged from entering a field because he or she sees no role models in their classrooms,” Johnson noted.

“It was a great speech – she really touched upon four different things and all of those are important for SUNY and UB,” remarked Satish Tripathi, president at the University at Buffalo. 

Tripathi attended the speech. He was even thanked in the beginning by Johnson.

“I would also like to thank my other boss – President Satish Tripathi – who recently told me I had received tenure at the University at Buffalo through in the College of Engineering, however, it is subject to chancellor approval,” Johnson recalled.

That generated laughter from the audience.  Tripathi said he is embracing Johnson's new leadership to help advanced the university.

“She talked about the very high levels that are all very critical for 21st century education. She talked about the doubling of research, new faculty being hired – all of these – something that we want to do – we’re trying to do – but this really gives system-wide importance and we are very supportive,” Tripathi replied.

Johnson noted how each SUNY school is ‘distinctive'.   

SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson delivered her first State of the University System Address in Albany Monday.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley from SUNY webcast

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“We have to have the courage, as a system and as individuals, to make clear that SUNY is a place for opportunity for every single student seeking a great education and the desire to contribute to our society,” Johnson explained.

The following are full details of the SUNY Chancellor's initiatives:

Doubling Research and Innovation

Chancellor Johnson—an energy expert, researcher, and entrepreneur, as well as experienced educator—called for a doubling of research and innovation across the SUNY System in the next decade.

“In terms of education and research, the boundaries between disciplines are disappearing,” she said. “For SUNY to be a leader in this next century and realize the potential of artificial and augmented intelligence, we need to increase the cross-disciplinary research, scholarly work, and outreach we do.”

This goal will be achieved in part by expanding student opportunities and internships in emerging fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, and their applications to education and healthcare, and by making targeted investments in research and faculty development.

Individualized Education on a State-wide Scale

To continue to build a more individualized SUNY experience, Chancellor Johnson urged a strengthened commitment to ensure every student is given the tools, support, and safety needed to complete her or his education.

“An individual education is not just about helping our students chart a course through our classrooms,” she said. “It is about helping students with different backgrounds and different resources succeed. Thanks to the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship Program, the Tuition Assistance Program, and other state scholarships, half of our students now attend college tuition-free. But tuition alone is not enough to help all of our students stay in school and finish their degrees. Other financial concerns, academic barriers, and the general unpredictability of life are challenges we need to be prepared to help our students overcome.”

To that end, she called for new student emergency aid programming – currently being piloted at seven SUNY campuses to address family emergencies and unexpected financial hardships – to be expanded to all 64 campuses. At one campus, a similar program used funds of as little as $100 to help 87 percent of the students return to class and remain on track to finish their degrees.

In addition, she pushed to join Governor Cuomo in his fight to end hunger with the creation of a food pantry on every campus and pledged to continue to lead the way in preventing sexual assault and violence.

Sustainable SUNY

In addition to research, Chancellor Johnson called for purchasing 100 percent of SUNY’s electricity from zero-carbon sources and deep energy retrofits at SUNY campuses, which represent 40 percent of state-owned buildings, and announced the goal to source 100 percent of SUNY’s electricity from zero-net carbon sources as soon as possible. Such a change would reduce New York’s carbon footprint by 400,000 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. She also called for all new SUNY buildings to be designed to achieve zero-net carbon emissions.

“The United States has to get a grip on our carbon emissions. And SUNY, as an engine of innovation, has a major responsibility to lead,” she said. “Certainly, our students, who are highly committed to sustainability, want and expect us to lead. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo is one of the nation’s most important leaders on this issue.”

To support this effort, she announced a partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support eligible SUNY campuses to develop energy master plans and provide access to on-site energy managers who can identify areas for improvement, engage in strategic planning and feasibility studies, and implement changes to achieve greater sustainability all across SUNY.

Investing in the Future

For the final theme of her vision, Chancellor Johnson urged an increase in strategic partnerships with state, national, and international organizations that will broaden SUNY’s reach and impact.

In support of this goal, she announced a new collaboration with Empire State Development (ESD) and four venture capital funds selected to administer the Innovation Technology Commercialization Investment Funds—an $8 million pool of capital that invests in high-growth potential, pre-seed stage firms. This partnership increases the number of SUNY-affiliated companies considered for investment and provides them with valuable feedback to help strengthen their business.

To further support this strategic growth, she announced the creation of a System-wide endowment to be supported by foundations, individual donors, and companies.

“The endowment needs to be a hybrid model—where we put in place a system-wide endowment that provides resources to our schools, but does not compete with the philanthropic activities of the individual colleges and universities,” said Chancellor Johnson.

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