Cooper to heighten connection with city neighborhoods
SPRINGFIELD – Throughout the duration of his 14-year tenure as president of Springfield College ending in the spring of 2013, Dr. Richard B. Flynn accentuated a revamped approach to community relation efforts. His successor Dr. Mary-Beth Cooper has continued implementation of many of the same service programs introduced during Flynn’s presidency, while cultivating ideas of her own during her first year.
“We are a culture of service. It’s part of our mission, it’s part of our tagline, and I don’t think that will change,” Cooper said. “My role is to ensure that it doesn’t change, and to emphasize commitment to service.”
Springfield College seemed the ideal landing spot for Cooper. “She is a visionary, with a strong background in higher education and a commitment to community engagement,” Douglass Coupe, chair of the Springfield College Board of Trustees said upon her hire, a unanimous decision by the board in June 2013.
Cooper had a long-lasting history of community engagement in her former hometown of Rochester, N.Y. The Rochester Business Journal named her one of Rochester’s most influential women in 2005 for her organizational involvement and influence on policy decisions. At the time of her hire by Springfield College, Cooper was serving as the chair of the board at the YMCA of Greater Rochester, an organization she volunteered with for nearly 20 years.
Prior to her hire at Springfield College in 2013, Cooper had served as senior vice president for student affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) since 2001. Previously, Cooper had been dean of students at the University of Rochester since 1997 and, before that, vice president for student affairs at St. John Fisher College.
Before launching a career in higher education, Cooper earned a collection of degrees: a bachelor’s of art degree from the University of Delaware, a master’s of science in education from the University of Georgia, a Ph.D. in college and university administration from Michigan State University, a master’s of business administration from the University of Rochester, and a doctor of management from Case Western Reserve University. Cooper also completed two leadership certificate programs offered by Harvard University and presented a paper at the Oxford Round Table.
Sept. 23 marked Springfield College’s 17th annual Humanics in Action Day, the second under the helm of Cooper. The goal of the event is to unite the Springfield College community and its surrounding neighborhoods to work on community service projects. The day is one of high visibility for Springfield College service to the city of Springfield, however Cooper notes that it is the year-round commitment to service that is most important, no matter the degree of visibility.
“Last year, our students spent 150,000 hours of time on service. Our students are actively engaged, and that number doesn’t even capture what our faculty and staff do in their own communities,” Cooper emphasized.
Much of the service done by Springfield College students emanates from some form of educational assistance, through partnerships with Americorps, local school systems, and learn-to-read programs. Cooper hopes to expand on these educational initiatives, enhancing a focus on literacy and degree completion for local youth.
For Cooper, what she will not do to the community is just as vital as what she will. A key focus for the new president is avoiding any exacerbation with local neighborhoods.
“I won’t close Alden Street,” Cooper said in regards to a long-standing argument to make Springfield College a closed community for safety purposes.
At 6 a.m. every morning, Cooper walks the Blake Track, which is open to the public. Offering resources such as a track and library that are open to the public have remained a priority. Cooper also hopes to further events held at her on-campus house, which last school year included a winter holiday party and Easter egg hunt.
In addition to community involvement and non-exclusivity, collaboration with other Western Massachusetts colleges and universities is of importance to Cooper. An initiative to support consumption of local foods grown here in the Pioneer Valley is in progress, and is expected to be announced publicly in the near future. Meetings have featured representatives from Springfield College, Westfield State University, Springfield Technical Community College, Bay Path University, American International College, and Western New England University.
“Service to others isn’t about doing something for somebody else, it’s about doing something with somebody else in the community, for the betterment of their lives and our lives and how we engage,” Cooper said of her approach to community service, an approach she expects to have an impact during her Springfield College career.