“SUNY Sullivan Remains Strong During a Year of Challenges”

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An article by SUNY Sullivan President Jay Quaintance, from the December 11, 2020 edition of The Sullivan County Democrat.

One for the history books.  A year to remember. Unprecedented. Mishandled. The words and phrases that have been used to describe the shared experience of 2020 all point to what has seemingly set this year apart from those that came before.  It would be crazy of me to say that this is not true, but I also believe strongly that while these challenges might be new or may be overwhelming, at SUNY Sullivan, we tapped into our past experience to rise to the occasion and stuck to our mission. 

Community colleges are a community resource.  They provide access to affordable post-secondary education opportunities for students to start college or train for a career and for adult learners to change careers or learn new skills to help them perform better in their current job.

Community colleges also provide important access to their community for life-long learning opportunities to learn things that are of personal interest and well-being. Finally, they enrich their communities through the arts and entertainment.  In short, community colleges model what is possible, they motivate and support their communities.

As we approach the holidays and the end of 2020, I reflect on the last nine months.  As has been noted in these pages, SUNY Sullivan was able to focus our effort in three main areas: continue to provide the mission-centered educational opportunities, keep our faculty, staff and students safe and sound; and finally, to provide support to the larger community in response to the pandemic. 

As we approach the holidays and the end of 2020, I reflect on the last nine months.  As has been noted in these pages, SUNY Sullivan was able to focus our effort in three main areas: continue to provide the mission-centered educational opportunities, keep our faculty, staff and students safe and sound; and finally, to provide support to the larger community in response to the pandemic. 

Increased educational opportunities

Now, more than ever, healthcare is recognized as critically important to our community.  In order to ensure that Sullivan County has well trained healthcare workers, SUNY Sullivan partnered with Empire State College to established three new program-to-program specific pathways. They are:
– Associate of Applied Science Degree (A.A.S.) in Respiratory Care to a Bachelor of Science Degree (B.S.) in Allied Health;
– Associate of Applied Science Degree (A.A.S.) in Medical Assistant to a Bachelor of Science Degree (B.S.) in Allied Health;
– Associate of Applied Science Degree (A.A.S.) or Associate Degree (A.S.) Nursing to a Bachelor of Science Degree (B.S.) Nursing

Students who complete their program at SUNY Sullivan will be able to enroll in Empire State College and complete the Bachelor Degree without having to leave Sullivan County.

We worked with The Center for Discovery, New Hope Community, and ARC of Sullivan County to launch a new Direct Support Practice Certificate Program. These agencies are partnering with NY State to turn this program into a registered apprenticeship program so that students will earn money to cover the cost of college while they are learning new skills.  We also began a new program that leads to certification as a Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor.

Supporting our Faculty, Staff and Students

The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to our college community.  Working with NY State, SUNY System Administration and community partners we were able to meet many of those challenges in creative and supportive ways. We made sure that staff and faculty could work from home as much as possible and we distributed laptops to students who had to transition to learning at a distance. For those staff and students who had to be on campus for classes or work, we instituted a screening mechanism and reduced access to the building to limit the possibility for exposure.  This fall, we began testing students on a bi-weekly basis.  To date, none of these tests has been positive.

When we surveyed our students we found that the pandemic didn’t just impact them by moving the majority of instruction to distance modes. Students and their families were impacted directly by losing family members to the disease, by losing jobs and by suffering financial hardship.  We were able to move to using technology to provide personal counseling services to our students.  In partnership with the Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan the SUNY Sullivan Foundation was able to start a Food Insecurity Fund to provide money to students to purchase groceries.  We also held a food drive to assist with Thanksgiving meals for students and their families.  We are currently raising money for a Holiday Gift Fund. Using funds provided from the first Federal CARES Act, we have been able to make monetary awards to students who have need that was caused by the pandemic.  To date, these efforts collectively have provided more than $300,000 in assistance to students.

Community Support

Sullivan County is fortunate to have a culture of community support.  We were able to partner with organizations like Sullivan 180, Garnet Health (formerly Catskill Regional Medical Center), New Hope Community, Sullivan County government and others to support their work. 

We leveraged our Community Learning platform to provide access to wellness programming provided free of charge by Sullivan 180 Community Health Champions.  And Sullivan 180 volunteers worked with our Liberty Partnership Program to support student achievement.

Our Nursing and Respiratory Therapy programs provided much needed medical supplies and Ventilators to the local hospital at the start of the pandemic, and our students from these programs assisted with patient care at the Sullivan County Care Center.  Most recently we loaned a steam table from one of our kitchens to the Care Center when their’s failed. 

Our partnership with New Hope Community, the Hope Farm, continued to grow more than 10,000 lbs of high quality produce for New Hope’s residents.  Additionally, the farm donated more than 1,000 lbs of produce to local food banks.

While 2020 will not be soon forgotten, and we take time to reflect on all that was difficult and mourn our losses, we should also take time to celebrate the good.  Our faculty, staff and student rose to the challenges as they arose in a way that truly makes us #SUNYSullivanStrong! 

Jay Quaintance is President of SUNY Sullivan Community College. Before working in this role, Quaintance served as Assistant Secretary for Education in the Office of New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, where his work included Statewide P-12 and Higher Education budget, policy development, and implementation. He also served as Assistant Vice Chancellor and Assistant Provost for Community College Policy and Planning at the State University of New York.