By Aleksandra Sidorova
Cori Jackson and Michele Carpentier, both Enrollment and Student Success leaders, are retiring after more than 30 years of ardently supporting SUNY Plattsburgh students in a multitude of roles.
Jackson was hired in 1992, the same year that Dean of Students Steve Matthews started working at SUNY Plattsburgh. Both worked in Banks Hall — Matthews as its director and Jackson as a “live-on counselor.” At that time, Carpentier was the director of Student Support Services and worked in a space that is now half of Jackson’s current office. At some point, Jackson and Carpentier were equals, and eventually, Jackson became Carpentier’s senior.
As they “grew up professionally,” their paths not only crossed, but intertwined. They now work as a team, keeping in mind each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Matthews and Carpentier named organizing, budgeting, setting goals and problem solving as Jackson’s biggest strengths. Carpentier said Jackson is “one of the most talented administrators I’ve ever met in my entire career.”
“She is intuitive, she’s smart as a whip, she can evaluate situations faster than anybody I know. She’s just really, really gifted at managing people, more so than just about anybody I’ve met in my life,” Carpentier said. “If we had 20 Coris at this school, everything would be amazing.”
Jackson used to be the director of what is now known as the Center for Student Involvement. Jacob Avery, who holds this position now, sees Jackson as a “dear friend and mentor,” having known her since he was a student and working directly under her for seven years. He’s been close with her since he graduated, and she was a witness at his wedding.
Jackson and Avery often take walks across campus. When their colleagues text them about it, they say, “I see you out, contemplating how to take over the world.”
Avery said Jackson is a role model for him. Avery said she and Carpentier have not only been by his side as he thrives, but supported him when he failed, too.
Carpentier is the “bedrock that keeps this place going,” and the “soul of the institution,” Avery said. She and Cori are part of the list of people who are the reason Avery finds himself coming back to Plattsburgh, “this shining city.”
Jackson has been in her current role of interim vice president of ESS for more than a year. She is the third vice president of ESS whom Administrative Assistant for ESS Lyndsey Lafountain has worked with.
“She was kind of thrown into this role without a lot of heads-up and she’s handled it like a champ,” Lafountain said. “She hit the ground running and there was no faltering. Everything’s been smooth sailing and we’ve worked really well together as a team.”
Lafountain describes Jackson as “wise and kind,” and admires her “ability to juggle multiple things at the same time.”
Jackson declined to answer questions about herself, which Matthews said shows how “selfless” she is.
Carpentier, too, is a name synonymous with unconditional support. She doesn’t think in monetary terms. She said that if she won the lottery, she wouldn’t buy herself houses or yachts.
“My fantasy is that I would pay everybody’s tuition at Plattsburgh State for a year,” Carpentier said. “So if I ever do win the lottery, there will be a lot of happy kids.”
Carpentier has a gentle nature — Matthews called her everyone’s “lovable Aunt Michele” — and a genuine interest in the lives the students are able to build for themselves thanks to her support.
“I know probably other people think this is weird, but I love seeing who’s having babies and who’s getting married and what they’re doing, and understanding that they’re constructing a whole new set of lives, and I like to see where their kids go to college,” Carpentier said. “It’s knowing that you had some small piece in that is what’s really exciting.”
Jackson said Carpentier gets “curious about information” and pursues answers, recalling an instance when Michele noticed a student had not yet graduated despite having 140 completed credits. When Carpentier uncovers such inconsistencies, she’ll get on the phone and “hunt these people down” to offer solutions to help them graduate. Such work isn’t a part of her job.
“I don’t know who’s going to pick up that kind of work,” Jackson said. “Those things matter a lot to Michele, so she just did them. They’re not in her job description — she just does them.”
No one person can replace Carpentier, and her position will be split in two. Shatawndra Lister, current director of SSS, will take over Carpentier’s duty of overseeing all special programs, such as the Educational Opportunity Program, the Cardinal Achievement Program, Upward Bound and the Accessibility Resources Office. Someone new will be hired to act as a case worker overseeing the Cardinal Cupboard — the campus food shelf — and emergency grants.
Even still, some of what Carpentier does now will slip through the cracks.
“There’s a lot of stuff Michele does that I don’t think you can really hire someone to do — she’s just taken things on during the years because she’s who she is,” Jackson said.
Lister said her team, which will expand from five to 20 people with her promotion, will work to tend to student needs as they identify them. She said support like Carpentier’s is crucial to students’ success. Carpentier wants to see students graduate, which becomes a strong motivation for those struggling.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone else like Michele. Her level of care for her job is out of this world. She is a genuine, kind, would-give-you-the-shirt-off-her-back kind of person,” Lafountain said. “She’s also a comical spitfire.”
Lafountain and Carpentier pay each other visits in their offices across from each other. Sometimes, they call while facing each other through their office windows.
Lyndsey Lafountain looks at Michele Carpentier as she calls her on the phone.
Lister said Carpentier is a great storyteller, and she “really does know everything.” Indeed, there are parts of SUNY Plattsburgh’s history that few besides Michele might know.
Carpentier was literally born on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus. Champlain Valley Hall was part of Champlain Valley Hospital from 1910 to 1972, until the hospital completed its move to its new building on Beekman Street, where it currently stands as Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital. Carpentier says the hospital’s maternity ward, where she was born, used to be where there is now a parking lot.
Carpentier said she’s probably been at SUNY Plattsburgh longer than anyone else has, having begun her career in 1987 as a graduate assistant. She has delayed her retirement twice — once in 2018, after EOP Director Kyla Relaford’s untimely death, and again when Bryan Hartman retired in July 2020. This year, her decision is final.
“I must admit I have mixed feelings, but it’s the right thing to do,” Carpentier said. “Because I’m also a firm believer that you have to bring in young blood to keep things fresh, and it’s time. It’s time for me to retire.”
Carpentier said she’s “not into all that frou-frou,” but she begrudgingly agreed to a celebration in honor of her retirement. However, her condition was that the proceeds from the $25 tickets go toward scholarships. The reception and dinner will be held May 12 at the Warren Ballrooms in Angell College Center.
Although Jackson will stay until August, with hopes of working alongside the new vice president of ESS who’s expected to step in in July, she has already started to clear out her office shelves. It’s “weird,” she said.
Jackson is trying to “provide lots of folders on Google Drive” with some guidelines for taking up her work.
In an interview last year, Matthews said he, Jackson and Carpentier planned to retire together. Now, he is postponing his retirement, and he said he wouldn’t be drawn to stay longer if it weren’t for the “right reasons.”
“We’re a small enough institution where you get to know people and get to do lots of really nice things, and a big enough institution where you still have opportunities,” Matthews said. “So we were able to work, get to know people, show what we can do and move into different positions as our careers evolved, as our skill sets evolved. And neither one of us has found a reason to leave. It’s a place we both care deeply about — not just the place, but our students, the alumni, the people that work here. I mean, it’s become our family, in many ways.”