By: Jillian Fiddler
Chris Gibson has been the President of Siena College since July 2020. He has navigated our campus through a pandemic, out of debt, and into an optimistic community looking forward to planned advancements that will benefit everyone involved. Since President Gibson has been announced as the 12th President of Siena College, countless interviews and profiles have been done by both participants of the school and outside sources.
When I thought of the idea to interview him, I knew I would have to do something different from the basic interview or question and answer piece he had already participated in. This is where the idea of “Ask the President” stemmed from. I wanted to create an opportunity for Siena students to use their voices and have their questions answered by the President. Below is a summary of the interview I held with President Gibson, separated by topics formulated by common questions sent in.
Plans to improve Siena’s campus:
Despite this current freshman class being well over one thousand students, the goal is to return the class size back down to the 900s. This is to keep the “liberal arts feel” of the campus while also allowing Siena the opportunity to become more selective to match the obvious growing interest. There are also plans for substantial Wellness Center updates to help promote positive life habits among all members of Siena College. This will come in the form of help with nutrition, yoga, meditation, and mental health support to aid in finding happiness and stability while learning coping techniques for stress.
Graduate and accelerated program plans:
Students seek out undergraduate schools with strong graduate programs so Siena is actively working to fulfill this demand. The Masters of Social Work (MSW) program is currently in the process of being established thanks to a very generous sponsor who is helping to fund the initiative. There are also plans to expand the current nursing program so the students and faculty can increase in size and gain more opportunities. The MBA program here at Siena is very popular and seeing as it falls under the growing interests of students, the decision has been made to add a concentration in health administration.
Future remote class opportunities:
Before the pandemic, colleges and universities had a national baseline of 10% of their classes being asynchronous. Siena College was slightly below this with having only 6-7% of asynchronous class options. The goal after the pandemic is to return to a normal in-person class schedule with the asynchronous class availability now reflecting the national baseline by falling around 10%. This will hopefully provide for more flexibility among both students and faculty, in addition to introducing variations in Siena’s pedagogy. There is also an intention to allow for many online class options in graduate programs so students can share their time between coming to campus and working to gain experience in their desired field.
Most challenging part of budgeting:
The President has a responsibility to acknowledge and be empathetic to all stakeholders of the budget. This includes three main subsections – the trustees, the students, and the alumni. The trustees have the goal for the college to be fiscally stable and uphold its values. The students want an inclusive community where they can get the best education at the cheapest price. The Alumni simply want their beloved college to flourish. There can be challenges with this because not all priorities can be addressed to the same degree. That being said, the school is doing phenomenal in multiple areas. This is the second year of a balanced budget plus a surplus of funds, enrollment is strong, and the college is scoring very high nationally.
Thoughts on the pandemic:
There has been controversy over how Siena decided to proceed into this academic year regarding masks. This decision was not made lightly and consisted of heavy consultation to evaluate policies that reflected data. This data demonstrates risk management and how best to proceed as a community. Fortunately, it was shown that our case numbers were the same, if not better, than surrounding schools that were either mask mandated or completely locked down. By remaining mask optional and increasing social interaction, there was a noticeable improvement in the mental health of all community members, which is something to be celebrated.
Mental health support:
Mary Jo Gibson, President Gibson’s wife, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a strong mental health advocate. She has played a prominent role in influencing President Gibson’s perspective of how important a community’s mental health truly is. This view has changed to a holistic lens, with mental and physical health being of equal importance. Needing support during the pandemic has been increasing here on campus, which is why more resources are becoming available. Kate Kauffman Burns and the Wellness Center, the Counseling Center, Peer Mentors, Saints, and CA’s can all provide advice and support if individuals are struggling.
Diversity on Campus:
It should be noted that the current freshman class has the largest percentage of people of color in the School’s history. This number has doubled from last year and is expected to increase in the following years. To support these students in their success, there needs to be resources readily available such as financial, academic, and emotional support. Every single student at Siena should have the opportunity to flourish regardless of what they look like. This is why a campaign to strengthen the bonds of racial justice is forming. The core of this campaign is rooted in St. Francis’s lifestyle seeing as he is a strong representation of celebrating all life without biases.
Most pressing concerns on campus:
There needs to be a stronger focus on everyone’s experience here at Siena. One of the best ways to learn how to do this is simply by listening to students. The students have some of the most important opinions on campus, and this is why they have intellectual insight into what should stay consistent and what needs to change or adapt. This can be done by conducting surveys, attending and listening in on senate meetings, and bringing up discussions during clubs and student activities. Siena College is not made up of individuals who are comfortable sitting still. The school is open to change – it just needs to know where it is necessary.
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with President Gibson and share some of the students’ most pressing questions with him. Siena College is lucky to have a president dedicated to all members of the community and who will continue to support us during these difficult times.
As always, please feel free to interact with and share the bLAb to your friends and family. Here in the School of Liberal Arts we are excited to be involved and learn about how we can best help you use your voice so it is always encouraged to reach out with suggestions or ideas for the bLAb, which can be done by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great Spring Break and I look forward to hearing from all of you!