By Aleksandra Sidorova
The new semester welcomed 1,761 new students, with 903 of them being undergraduate freshmen, to the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, according to Dean of Students Stephen Matthews. And already, student involvement is higher than it has been in the past few years.
The lifting of most measures against COVID allowed the college to offer more activities for students to participate in.
“We also made a deliberate effort — funding-wise, personnel-wise — to make opening weekend a little bit bigger, to do it right, to, figuratively, reach out and hug everybody, welcome them back,” Matthews said. “Most of us who work here at the college, we’re doing this because we love being part of this college experience for our students, and we’ve been in many ways handcuffed in our ability to do that.”
The effort resulted in “phenomenal” attendance, in the words of Matthews, as well as positive feedback from students. Matthews said returning students told him activities for this opening weekend compared to previous years’ were “night and day.”
“Things to do, active campus, people out talking to each other, interacting — much more than we would consider a ‘normal’ opening for us,” Matthews said. “I heard one student say, ‘This is the best thing that’s happened to Plattsburgh since I’ve been here.’”
Other events to appear on the campus include study abroad fairs and the first annual Fall Fest in October. Matthews described the upcoming Fall Fest as a “two-and-a-half week coordination of events… all around the fall theme.” A contest for the event’s logo has already been announced: students can submit their entries to firstname.lastname@example.org before Sept. 23, for a chance to win $100 worth of Cardinal Cash. Additionally, the newly renovated Burghy’s Lounge at Angell College Center will reopen within a few weeks.
New freshmen also breathe new life into some professors’ classes. Justin Lowry, an anthropology professor, taught a Cardinal foundation seminar (CFS) in Fall 2021 and currently teaches a freshman-majority class. While he said the new freshmen are no different from last year in terms of “capacity, capabilities, intellect,” he suspected a difference in their “emotional approach to class.”
“They’re not really thinking about whether or not they’re doing school, or how school’s going to happen, or the modality — they’ve adjusted to those things,” Lowry said. “Now, they’re just enjoying school, being in school, thinking about being in school, or hating being in school. They’re just in it, and they’re just doing it.”
Lowry said he saw social behaviors he had not seen in students before: “perfect attendance,” students gathering in “learning communities” to collectively join his online class and more students willing to turn on their cameras.
“They’re building their own learning community to have that social aspect of class,” Lowry said. “It’s just an observation. I don’t know if it’s a pattern.”
In Professor Richard Schaefer’s CFS class, students willingly change their seats every single class instead of sitting in a particular seat for the whole semester — something he had never seen a class do. Schaefer said he suspected the students continued changing seats after he had asked them to in their first class, to help him remember names better.
Although the college has surpassed its goal of 1,689 new students by almost 100, the overall number of students fell by about 300, due to many graduating in May. According to enrollment data from Institutional Effectiveness, Fall 2021 brought 939 new freshmen out of 1,418 new students – more than this semester. Instead, Director of Admissions Carrie Woodward said, the higher number of new students is made up of transfers and nontraditional students. Many new students joined SUNY Plattsburgh’s online programs. Additionally, the college attracted students at the graduate level with the new Masters in teaching program that appeals to a wide range of fields of study.
Woodward said she is “excited” to see how community-building activities change to include all students in the future.
She said, “In the spirit of inclusion, we should be thinking about these other student populations now coming to SUNY Plattsburgh, who may be in an online modality, maybe adult students or graduate students as well, who also would like the opportunity to, you know, be engaged in the campus community and seek leadership opportunities and be a part of the campus community.”
Matthews said current enrollment and a rise in student activities are “healthy” and “good news” to the college after its struggle with enrollment during COVID — a challenge, he said, most other colleges in the country faced as well.
“We’re looking to continue this momentum with our incoming classes moving forward,” Matthews said. “That will keep the college healthy and allow us to continue to provide what we think will be a good year this year for providing things for our students.”