President Mary Grant spoke of the college's accomplishments and challenges at the spring semester opening breakfast on Monday. 'I think we've had more ups than downs.'
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts opened the spring semester with a nearly completed Amsler Campus Center makeover and the promise of a "topping off" of the steel structure of the science center in May.
Ground was broken on the long anticipated Center for Science and Innovation last fall; construction will ramp up in February at the Blackinton Street site with the opening in August 2013. Next up in the makeover will be Bowman Hall, where some of the science programs are quartered.
"Soon as we can blink an eye we'll be in that building," said President Mary Grant at the traditional opening breakfast on Tuesday. "Pretty soon the conversations will begin about what is the program at Bowman really going to look like, because we'll have great real estate in that building to use to support the academic programs, to support students, to support the things that we care about on campus.
"It's a great opportunity to do some important work."
The campus center's face-lift included combining what was a dark hallway and an exterior walkway to create a light-filled gathering point for students and an expansive entry into the renovated cafeteria. Columns are now wrapped with counters for seating and access points for laptops, a reception desk is manned for information and security, the book store has expanded and a Subway is moving in. A new exit points toward adjacent Hoosac Hall, where the Hoosac Harbor lounge will become a new entranceway.
Admissions, meanwhile, has moved from the construction zone on Blackinton to Smith House, one of the oldest buildings on campus.
"We've been careful of how it's been used because it's such an important building," said Grant. "It's a great way to welcome families, groups, students to the campus."
While the college is undergoing some dramatic physical changes, there are still challenges ahead. MCLA welcomed its largest freshmen class this past fall but it will have to adapt to changing populations.
"As we look at the demographics in the marketplace, traditional college-age student numbers are down across the country because of demographic bubbles bursting," said Grant. "We have to be thinking about that and what is our position in this marketplace."
MCLA will continue its concentration on high-quality eduction and affordability, including efforts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which are growth fields for jobs in Massachusetts. Other initiatives including aiding the growing number of community college students transfering into four-year schools and using scholarship beguest of $500,000 to help freshmen financially make the step to sophomore.
Bernadette Lupo, communications coordinator, stops to talk with Maria Canuto, an MCLA senior with campus security, at the new information desk in the campus center.
But as Grant noted, higher education spending is at the same level as a decade ago in Massachusetts even as programs and students have increased. The Department of Higher Education is asking for a 5 percent increase in operational funds, as well as funding for collective bargaining, scholarships and the Vision Project.
"We have more programs, and nothing in 10 years has gone down in price, so when I think about the work we are doing it is extremely, extremely efficient as it is and now what we need is a greater investment to support the work that we're doing," she said.
The Berkshire delegation is listening to college officials and its union leaders as the budget process begins, said state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams. "We listen to you, we hear your concerns, you have our ears and I want you to know that. "
The delegation, she said, "is very committed to your institution, to MCLA here, that we want to see this fine institution goes on for many, many years to come."
Also speaking at the breakfast were trustees President Stephen J. Crowe; Mayor Richard Alcombright; Dana Rapp, president of the Faculty Association; Charles Cianfarini, president of the local Association of Professional Administrators; Sean Smith, chief steward of the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Todd Foy Jr., president of the Student Government Association; and Student Trustee Jaynelle Bellemore.
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It's wonderful to see the new expansions and renovations at MCLA. Disapointed they added a Subway on campus.