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Checking in with President Cooper: Discussing all things Springfield College

The Springfield Student Co-Editors-in-Chief, Garrett Cote and Cait Kemp, sat down with Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper to look back on her 10-year journey, and what lies ahead in the future.

The Student: This year is your tenth year as President. How would you describe your journey as the first woman president at SC?

Cooper: During my first few years here – I came in August of 2013 – every time I was introduced, they would say, ‘this is the 13th President and first female president.’ Finally around year three I said to whoever was introducing me, ‘you don’t need to say that anymore.’ 

People would ask ‘what is it like being a female president?’ and my answer always is, ‘well, I don’t know what it’s like to be a male president so how do I answer that?’ 

I think here, the first couple years when Dave, my husband, and I would walk into a space, people would assume he’s the president because he looks like what you think a president would like. Now I think it’s more normal. About 33% of all college presidents are female and that number has not changed in the past 10 years, plus or minus, and so I don’t know when there will be more female presidents in the mix, but someday I hope that number changes.

What brought me here 10 years ago was really my involvement not only in administration at other colleges, but I was board chair for the YMCA in Rochester (N.Y.); So I’ve been a volunteer for the Y for 25 years before I came here. That connection of working with the Y as a volunteer and working in higher education, here is this campus that was a perfect intersection of my values and what I believe is important, and that’s the YMCA and serving youth and serving families and then certainly our mission, it was a natural draw. 

The Student: Why is Springfield College undertaking the Campus Climate survey now? What is the timing, and what do you hope to learn from it?

Cooper: We did it two years ago, so typically surveys like this are done every other year so that you get a sense, you get a benchmark. I really thought there were some interesting questions about safety, about [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion], about the climate in general. 

Calvin and I hope it will produce a lot of information that can help us get a sense of how the community is feeling about being here on this campus and our focus on belongingness. 

The Student: What has it  been like serving on the NCAA Board of Governors, especially as the lone Div. III representative?

Cooper: The Board of Governors had more than 15 board members, and they reduced the size to nine voting members and gave each division, Division I, II and III, a representative that represents the constituencies of that division. So there are two student athletes but neither one of them are voting, but three presidents that are on the Board of Governors that each have a vote and I represent Division III. It also gives me the opportunity to be involved in two other initiatives, one is I had served on the Name, Image and Likeness Committee. It’s interesting, for me, it’s very stimulating. I am also the representative for the search committee for the new director of the NCAA. I am working with a small group that will be selecting the new president of the NCAA. 

I think what’s really good is to have Springfield College at the table when they are talking and I’m sitting next to the president of Georgetown University, the president of the University of Georgia, and then Springfield College. It elevates us and they no longer ask me ‘where is that located?’ Now they know Springfield College, Springfield, Mass. 

The Student: Is there anything in particular you are excited about this year? What do you hope to accomplish this year?

Cooper: I am really excited to think about what traditions we keep and what progress we make. We all learned a lot throughout the pandemic about Zoom capability, if people could work remotely, what would it look like if the campus had some people working remotely and other people working on campus. I think what people like about this, the energy is so much more palpable when people are back walking and being together and going to events, people coming through Cheney and Union. We really missed it. 

What I am looking forward to is getting to know a lot more of the sophomores and juniors this year because I am getting to meet a lot of freshmen, and I know many of the seniors, but the sophomores and juniors, they were masked. 

I’m looking forward to just having people be together and having people take care of each other. Mental health and loneliness and how people are struggling with a lot of issues, that is probably the thing that weighs most on my mind. Do we have enough support for our students? Are they accessing it enough? I think that the counseling center here does a great job, Brian [Krylowicz] and his team, and we’ve put a lot of resources there, but the question is if it is sufficient, and do our students feel comfortable accessing it.

The Student: This is essentially the first full ‘normal’ semester without COVID restrictions since fall of 2019. For you personally, as president, what was the toughest part of getting through the past two and a half years?

Cooper: Not giving students the full Springfield College experience was probably the most troubling. Living on campus during COVID, it was so lonely for everybody, and I had a chance to experience it because I live on campus as well so not seeing the traffic, people walking around, being together hanging out, that was probably my greatest concern.

The culture on this campus is really created by the students. We have a responsibility obviously to support it but all the excitement comes from students. And our faculty were great during the pandemic, they turned on a dime, they made themselves available, they showed incredible grit and persistence and flexibility with students. 

The Student: What do you think is Springfield College’s greatest challenge right now?

Cooper: I don’t know if there is one great challenge, we just came out of a master plan meeting, we have a strategic plan, and so from my perspective we need to remain competitive. The high school population is declining and so ensuring that we remain competitive in the marketplace so we recruit and retain students is really another thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. We are in the middle of a capital campaign trying to raise $50 million and we’re building a $62 million Health Science Center, so I’ve spent more time in the last five weeks talking to donors about supporting the college, so raising funds to support students both in scholarships and facilities is how I’ll be spending much of my time. A former president (Dr. Richard Flynn) just gave a million dollar gift to the campaign and so that was a result of a few of us going out and talking to him, asking if he would like to support the campaign, and he and his wife said yes, so part of my job as president is to raise funds to support the institution.

Photo Courtesy of Springfield College

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