“Tradition and Progress.” Those are the words engraved on the statue that sits outside Marsh Memorial Chapel. More importantly, those are the words that President Mary-Beth Cooper devoted her first year to at Springfield College.
Coming from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as the Vice President of Student Affairs, Cooper had connections to Springfield from the beginning through her strong affiliation with the YMCA.
“She was very clear both in the interview process and in the cabinet that she wants to make sure we’re transparent in our decisions and in providing information to the campus community at large,” said John Mailhot, vice president for Administration and Finance. Mailhot interviewed a number of candidates for the job, but Cooper immediately stood out to him and the rest of the cabinet due to her extensive resume and interest in not just being a president, but a student herself.
“She’s a lifelong learner; she has a number of degrees, and very diverse degress to the point that she has an MBA, for example,” said Mailhot. “It was pretty clear that she was a really good fit for the institution. I work with her on a daily basis, and I am thrilled to work with her. I absolutely think that she was the right choice.”
When Cooper stepped on the campus it was apparent that she would be a president who was involved with students. She had numerous runs with the women’s cross country team, frequent appearances in Cheney, and can always be seen at the gym sweating it out like many other members of the college community.
“I was [nervous],” said Cooper. “This was a new state, a new house and a new move. That transition was challenging, but in terms of the students, faculty and staff, the community was very welcoming, so that part was easy.”
Her student-first initiative has been extremely well received and Cooper goes to extensive lengths to ensure that student needs are heard and met. Her student suggestion boxes in the fall were one of the first signs of change. Boxes were put up all over campus for students to voice their opinions and suggestions so that Cooper could get a feel for the needs of the students.
“I would describe myself as student-centered,” said Cooper. “When we make decisions as a cabinet or a board, I ask myself, ‘Is the decision we’re making going to have a positive impact on the college, and students?’”
Just recently, she put that student-centered approach on drastic display when she switched places with a sophomore student, Peter Rende. Rende got to attend numerous meetings in Cooper’s place as Cooper attended Rende’s classes for him, making sure to take notes so he wouldn’t miss a beat.
Cooper’s experience as a student led her to discover things that she normally wouldn’t in her normal position as the president, such as the chairs in Locklin and Hickory that Cooper felt were uncomfortable and distracting. These are the kind of observations that only come from a president willing to take the time to truly observe a day in the life of a student.
With her first year coming to an end, Cooper is starting to shift gears and focus on increasing student enrollment, switching Springfield College over to the common application and trying to make the degree one receives from Springfield “mean more than it already does.” However, one thing is for certain: no matter how many years Cooper is here, the students are always on her mind.
“You’ll continue to see me doing some of the things I did this year because that is how I operate. We will incorporate more diversity in our programs and our offerings so students can be exposed to different ideas and programs. I will ensure traditions will be kept up as well.”