Opinion

An Energetic Course

At the Region’s Colleges
The headband read ‘president.’
That was the only clue most people had that the man helping students unload refrigerators and stereo systems on moving-in day at American International College a few weeks ago was none other than the institution’s recently named chief executive — Vincent Maniaci.

He told the local press that his box-lifting escapades were his way of telling students and their parents that the school was going to be there for them. We can see even more symbolism in his desire to break a sweat and get his hands dirty.

Indeed, we count Maniaci among a host of new or relatively new college presidents that are bringing a sense of energy to their schools, and thus to the larger economic development engine that is the region’s higher education system.

The Valley’s seats of higher learning have always been an important cog in the development of the region’s workforce. But an injection of new blood at several area institutions fosters hopes for continued growth of these schools and more and greater relationship-building with the business community that will benefit the entire region.

In other words, we should look forward to more of the imagination and inspiration we have seen at Bay Path College, which has flourished under the leadership of President Carol Leary. The institution has added several degree programs, introduced a women’s leadership conference, and injected a broad focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, among other initiatives.

And we should also see more of the leadership and creative risk-taking that we have witnessed at Springfield Technical Community College, which, under the leadership of former President Andrew Scibelli, created a technology park and enterprise center that are currently home to dozens of businesses employing nearly 1,000 people.
A quick look around the region reveals some of the reasons for the optimism:

  • At STCC, there are new examples of innovation and community involvement, including the recent relocation of the municipal police academy to the historic campus, as well as talks about creation of a high school, geared specifically toward students interested in math and science, at the campus;
  • At Elms College, another new president with a strong track record for community involvement and raising a school’s profile, is at the helm. Jim Mullen comes to the Chicopee institution from the University of North Carolina at Ashville, where he succeeded in both boosting enrollment and involving students and faculty in the community. He has already pledged to do the same at The Elms.
  • At Holyoke Community College, work is nearing completion on the Kittredge Business Center, a facility that will add a new and intriguing layer to the work currently being done at STCC, Bay Path, UMass, and other schools to foster entrepreneurship and help business owners clear the many hurdles they face.

There are other signs of progress; Springfield College has launched an ambitious, $40 million building program, and Westfield State College, with its new athletic and convocation center, is looking to forge new partnerships with the residents and businesses of that city. Meanwhile, Western New England College, which has also expanded its campus, recently opened a facility called the Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship. It will utilize the talents of law and business students, and their faculty, to help fledgling entrepreneurs with matters ranging from trademarks to business plans.

At UMass, perhaps the biggest economic engine in the Pioneer Valley, president Jack Wilson and Chancellor David Lombardi are aggressively forwarding plans to double the amount of research grants awarded the university. And with those research dollars comes the promise of new businesses — and jobs.

Maniaci may have the sternest challenge — and greatest opportunity — of all the area’s college presidents. His school, directed by Harry Courniotes for nearly four decades, finds itself in need of a spark and in search of niche it can exploit. Meanwhile, it has to overcome a budget deficit.

Its new president brings energy — and a strong back — to his assignment, and we’re confident that AIC, with help from area graduates and business leaders, can return to prominence.

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