The Colgate Scene
July 2006

A think-and-do tank
The Upstate Institute puts Colgate's intellectual capital into action

Through service learning experiences such as the Sauquoit Creek Project, "Students gain a greater appreciation for the degree to which they should try to participate in problem-solving within their own towns and villages after they graduate," said Peter Klepeis '94, a geography professor who specializes in environmental issues. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]


The Upstate Institute's New Director
Incoming director Ellen Percy Kraly has an impressive track record of working with and within the upstate community.

Higher education as an industry
Jill Tiefenthaler on using Central New York's intellectual capital in strategic opportunities for upstate revitalization

Upstate Institute student fellow Carlee Leraris '06 has heard the stories of a lot of Central New Yorkers.

A three-year participant in the institute's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) initiative, the Fairfield, N.J., native has helped countless local low-income families complete the paperwork for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a major centerpiece of the federal government's anti-poverty program. She has had intimate discussions with area residents about their finances, their living situations, their jobs, and their needs.

But one couple in particular made a lasting impression. The mother and father of three had come to the VITA office for the first time, and weren't expecting any significant sum of money from the IRS. Upon finishing their tax return, though, Leraris informed them that they would receive several thousand dollars. The two then began to discuss how they would use their newfound money -- for either a much-needed car or a down payment on a home.

"That's when I realized that what I was doing really meant something," said Leraris, a mathematics and economics major who recently landed a job at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan. "I didn't just add a skill to my resume; I made a difference in a family's life . . . Sometimes I wish I had come to Colgate later so I could take better advantage of programs like VITA and the Upstate Institute in general. It really changed my perspective, and I think it could do the same for a lot of other students."

Such comments are music to the ears of Jill Tiefenthaler, associate dean of the faculty and professor of economics, who also serves as director of the Upstate Institute. In two short years of existence, the organization has already started a growing repository of research on upstate New York, played a role in facilitating meaningful dialogue on regional issues and civic engagement, and -- as Leraris experienced firsthand -- created opportunities for student research, skill development, and career exploration that are building the capacity of area nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies at the same time.

"I recently heard someone describe us very accurately as a `think-and-do tank,'" said Tiefenthaler. "Basically, we put the research, ideas, and energy of Colgate students and faculty into action." With initiatives like the VITA program, swelling ranks of community partners, and about 130 student and faculty fellows, she said, the Upstate Institute has begun to make a real impact on the area -- and beyond.

Leveraging resources, seeing results
Although the Upstate Institute was officially launched in the spring of 2004, the foundation for the organization was laid much earlier with the university's Partnership for Community Development (PCD) and the Hamilton Initiative. The success of the two programs -- which have helped revitalize the village -- and the work of the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE) all convinced Colgate President Rebecca S. Chopp and the Board of Trustees that both the community and university would benefit by encouraging even more collaboration. "During the strategic planning process in 2003, we all realized how much of a resource our faculty and students are," said Tiefenthaler. "So the next question became `how can we take all of these things and leverage them to benefit both the community and Colgate?'"

After developing the model for the Upstate Institute, Colgate launched it with a very public bang with a conference featuring U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since then, the organization has built momentum, hosting numerous other gatherings of regional interest, creating the Upstate Field School and other community initiatives, and encouraging upstate-focused student and faculty research.

Nina Capriotti '08 presents a framed portrait to a client at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica. With three other students, Capriotti organized a photography shoot of refugee families and individuals -- many of whom had arrived in the United States without records such as photographs -- as a service learning project for their International Migration, U.S. Immigration, and Immigrants course.

Learning by doing
While all three of those areas have made great headway, regionally focused scholarly projects in particular have provided ideal springboards for academic courses that give students hands-on assignments and the chance to do good for the community, said Tiefenthaler, who cited the Sauquoit Creek Project as the "perfect example." Through the initiative, 31 undergraduates enrolled in environmental studies got their feet wet in the world of environmental consulting through studies of the Sauquoit Creek, which flows north from Paris Station (about 18 miles northeast of Hamilton) through Oneida County to the Mohawk River.

Led by institute faculty fellows Randy Fuller, professor of biology, and Peter Klepeis '94, assistant professor of geography, two groups in the Interdisciplinary Investigation in the Environment capstone course participated in the project by investigating the creek's environmental history, recreational development, flooding, biochemistry, and use of the land around it. Then, they turned over their findings and other materials to the Utica-based Sauquoit Creek Intermunicipal Commission (SCIC), an organization of leaders from bordering municipalities.

"In the end," said Fuller, "it gave [the students] a sense of what it would really be like to work for an environmental firm or as a consultant."

Fuller and Klepeis aren't the only institute fellows creating service learning opportunities, as they are called. For example, physicist Beth Parks teaches a course called Energy and the Home in which she and her pupils perform energy improvement audits for Hamilton homeowners, and Romance languages and literatures professor John Gallucci and Spanish lecturer Pilar Mejia-Barerra dispatch their students to a local elementary school to give French and Spanish lessons.

"These classes are as much about service learning as they are about research," said Klepeis. "Students gain a greater appreciation for the communities in the region, the range of issues affecting them, and the degree to which they should try to participate in problem-solving within their own towns and villages after they graduate."

Community members who have worked with the classes couldn't be happier. The SCIC, for one, was thrilled with the proposals and marketing brochures the students developed. "The products reflect the students' knowledge of the subject, and willingness to take on a complex project and bring it to a conclusion under [Fuller and Klepeis'] direction," said chairman Roger A. Cleveland. Their findings "will be invaluable to the commission as we do our future work."

"The technical expertise I gained definitely provided a leg up [in my] job search -- my experiences with the Sauquoit Creek Project were discussed in nearly all of my interviews," said Mia Mabanta '05. Now a research assistant in the Metropolitan Policy division of the Brookings Institution, Mabanta said she uses skills she cultivated during the course every day. "The learning curve in this world may be pretty steep, but the foundation laid by my experiences has proven really helpful."

For many museums and nonprofits that collect and display art and artifacts, proper storage can be a bit of a challenge, and a mystery. No more. Upstate Field School intern Tim Hogarth '06 created a DVD for the Exhibition Alliance on the proper storage of fine art, now being distributed nationwide.

Community needs, professional skills
Tim Hogarth '06 had a similar revelation last summer when he traveled the state, video camera in hand, interviewing registrars, conservators, and collections managers at major art institutions -- for his internship with the Upstate Institute Field School. An artist who also worked for CUTV, Hogarth produced an instructional DVD on the storage of fine art for the nonprofit Exhibition Alliance in Hamilton, which provides exhibition- and collections-related services in New York and nationally. Featuring representatives from MoMA, the Adirondack Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, and others, the DVD was such a hit that it is now being sold -- nationwide -- by the American Association of Museums and University Products (an archival company), as well as the alliance.

"The hope is that any institution will be able to better store, conserve, and handle their works so that the life spans of their collections are extended," said Hogarth.

More than 30 other students have made or are making their own mark on regional organizations through the Upstate Field School. Launched last summer with the help of a seed gift from Sandra and Doug Campbell '50, the initiative matches students with community organizations during the academic year and summer to develop and implement projects that bolster organizational capacity. Interns are selected to do research or other skilled work 35 hours a week, and are paid $400 a week through institute funds. They also meet weekly for a professional skills development seminar. Groups who apply for interns must ensure that the experience will be substantive, including both writing and public presentation components. And there are opportunities for every kind of student; 2006 summer internships range from theater management at the Earlville Opera House to a paralegal position with the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York.

Donna Anderson, executive director of the Exhibition Alliance, quickly stopped thinking of Hogarth as a student. "He brought not only technical skills but also organization, people skills, and commitment," she said. "Tim's ability to get the DVD done in the summer saved us a huge amount of time and money." After graduating in May, Hogarth returned this summer, to produce a second DVD that Anderson said will fill an even greater need -- preparatory training.

Hogarth, who aims to become a TV producer, is confident that his field school experience will put him ahead in the job search this fall. "I did professional-level work, such as dealing with filming and reproduction rights at the museums," he said. "It's the first thing on my resume."

The concept for the field school sounds simple, yet the results have been extraordinary, said Tiefenthaler, noting that its distinct model, and its outcomes, are beginning to attract attention. One student's research for the Department of Social Services on government regulation of child care, in fact, was recently referenced as the state considered new regulations.

As an Upstate Field School participant, Susan Taffe '06, a trained birth doula, created the Bright Beginnings program at Hamilton Obstetrics and Gynecology. The program provides continuous assistance such as relaxation techniques and emotional support during labor to local women, free of charge.

Scholarly connections
Members of the faculty are also making upstate New York connections through their research. For Upstate Institute faculty fellow John Gallucci, for example, a 700-page, handwritten journal left by two French settlers of an area along the Black River in northwestern New York is a window into life on the frontier in the 1790s.

"It's a great story in itself," said Gallucci, "and in order to understand it better I've been doing research on upstate New York in the 1790s." The decade following the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1790, he said, "is connected to so many things: the history of Canada, the history of France, the growing United States, the changing frontier with Spain, Great Britain, and Native Americans." He further explained that Central New York was "a crossroads, a pathway for those traveling from New England and the Hudson River Valley to the West. The journals left by those travelers are firsthand accounts of real life at that time."

Gallucci has translated into English a settlers' journal that records the history of a French holding company's failed attempt to establish a community called Castorland in an area near what are today the communities of Lyons Falls and Carthage.

"Castor is French for beaver," he said, "the symbol of American industry and potential wealth in the fur trade." In the end, the settlement failed, and the detail and anecdotes in the Castorland Journal help the reader understand why. "The ending is a bit grim," said Gallucci, "but it becomes symbolic of the times -- how difficult and backbreaking it was to settle the land."

Working on the journal has allowed Gallucci to connect his interest in France with the history of upstate New York. Two courses will grow out of the study, one to be offered through the Romance languages department, and the other a core distinction course. Gallucci offered a prototype at Hamilton College last year, where he taught on a Mellon Foundation faculty exchange.

Like many of his colleagues, Gallucci had discovered a connection between his scholarship and the region long before the Upstate Institute's establishment. But now the organization has become a means for those scholars to share their work in ways that support one another and the larger community, at the same time providing academic and practical opportunities for students.

Today one of 35 faculty fellows and a member of the executive board, Gallucci recalled the discussions that led to the Upstate Institute being identified as a lead initiative of the university's strategic plan. "We realized that all the people doing research in the area needed to make some kind of connection. Upstate allows us to work together and become more of a critical mass."

Upstate Field School intern John Demler '08 surveys the site of a 19th-century creamery for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. His inventory and evaluation of historic features on the Muller Hill Unit in Georgetown and DeRuyter is part of a DEC project that will be used to develop resource preservation guidelines for the management of 7,000 acres of state land.

Collective reasoning
Diane Shoemaker, deputy director of planning and community development in Rome, N.Y., made a wealth of connections and started creating a "critical mass" of her own at a daylong conference on upstate cities at Colgate in April. The gathering provided her the opportunity to share ideas with nearly 50 participants from academia and the public and private sectors. "By working collectively, we can be much more effective" in revitalizing economically struggling communities throughout the region, said Shoemaker at the conclusion.

The conference was one of two events this spring where the Upstate Institute partnered with others for dialogue about important issues.

In Exploring Upstate Cities: A Dialogue in Practice and Theory, the institute teamed up with the Center for Ethics and World Societies (CEWS), whose theme this year explored cities, citizenship, and modernity -- for workshops on topics ranging from university and community partnerships, to urban greening, to community development strategies. The speakers included representatives from the Madison County Industrial Agency; an economic analysis and development firm, and SUNY, Union College, and the University of Vermont-Burlington.

Tiefenthaler said having practitioners and academics working together was an important outcome: "Practitioners' experience informs scholarship, while scholarly research can lead to new innovations in the field. Regional collaboration of this sort is necessary to move upstate forward."

In a second community conversation, Ethics and Entrepreneurship in Upstate: Developing Responsible Leaders for the 21st Century, Presi-dent Chopp discussed how colleges such as Colgate and nearby Morrisville State College provide budding entrepreneurs the skills, values, and moral compass to navigate the sometimes ethically confusing world of business today. But an equally important element, said Chopp, is a nurturing environment with intellectual challenges.

"College is a setting where you can take intelligent risks and not fail on a huge level," she explained. "At Colgate, there's enormous emphasis on doing something, on trying something. That spills into every aspect of campus life."

The event also featured Raymond W. Cross, president of Morrisville State College; Catherine Ann Bertini H'04, professor of practice in public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School; J. Richard "Dick" Munro '57, former chairman and CEO of Time Inc. and Time Warner; and Jack Webb, chairman, president, and CEO of Alliance Financial Corp. More than 100 students and faculty, staff, and community members heard the panelists discuss employer responsibility, accountability, philanthropy, and business ethics.

For Eileen Kelly '08, the gathering ranked as "one of the most powerful" she has attended at Colgate. She said the Enron and WorldCom debacles had painted a negative picture of how corporations behave on a day-to-day basis, "But hearing these people speak shed some light for me on the fact there are many people and companies out there who behave ethically. Companies can operate in a way that is moral and ethical -- and still make a profit."

Intellectual capital
Shedding light on complex issues and helping students see connections to their own lives is exactly what the Upstate Institute is all about, said Chopp. "For a long time, schools have been creating opportunities for students and faculty to leave the confines of campus and help people -- constructing houses, volunteering at local organizations -- and that's really important," she said. "But what we're doing here goes beyond that. We're investing intellectual capital. We're taking knowledge out of the classroom and applying it to benefit the community. And the best part is that the people who profit the most are our students."

Tiefenthaler, who is about to turn over the reins to geography professor Ellen Kraly, said that while the Upstate Institute has done so much since its launch, several areas deserve more focus, including faculty research, the organization's website, and conferences. She is heartened by the successes so far (most recently, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's partnership with the institute to provide VITA workshops for 15 colleges and universities across the state), and loves hearing the stories of students like Leraris, Mabanta, Hogarth, and Kelly. "Colgate students get so excited about how they can apply what they learn in the classroom -- it's in their DNA to be engaged and to do things," she explained. "If the Upstate Institute can play a role in that, and if the community benefits as well, we all win."

Jenkins is associate director of media relations at Colgate. Tim O'Keeffe, James Leach, and Rebecca Costello contributed to this article.
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