Here, Progress Never Stops

By IC Staff, September 3, 2021
This collection of stories showcases how progress and change are a constant fixture at Ithaca College.

Ithaca College was founded in 1892 by a homesick violinist who had returned to the United States from Europe to start a music conservatory in downtown Ithaca. The first class of students to graduate included two pianists. 

Fast-forward to today, and the college is now a world-class institution with a thriving campus on South Hill and learning centers in London and Los Angeles. Cutting-edge programs in music, the humanities and sciences, communications, health care, and business offer an array of study options. The newest is a physician assistant master’s program, which starts in the fall 2021 semester. A portion of the instruction for the program will be given at a newly renovated site on the downtown Ithaca Commons—just a few short blocks from where it all started—as IC continues on its path to progress.


Becoming ourselves is a gradual process, except when it happens all at once. Those transformative moments are hard to plan around. Sometimes our well laid plans take us exactly where we want to go. Sometimes life throws a twist at us. When we accept the challenges of life’s twists and turns, we can find ourselves bending towards unexpected greatness.

From Making Comedy to Making History

When Rob Flaherty ’13 came to IC to pursue a degree in television and radio, he dreamed of working for Saturday Night Live. He learned to produce videos at ICTV, but, as a sophomore, he realized a career in entertainment no longer appealed to him.

Having binge-watched the political drama West Wing during his winter break, Flaherty began to consider a career in politics. He worried about changing his major because it seemed like starting over. So a professor helped him chart a new path toward a degree in political science.

Rob Flaherty Headshot

Rob Flaherty ’13. (Photo submitted)

As a junior, he worked on Svante Myrick’s campaign, helping Ithaca elect its first Black mayor. When he applied for his first job after graduation, he drew upon his television experience. Knowing how to edit videos gave him an advantage.

Flaherty built on those skills from one campaign to the next, working his way all the way up to the historic 2020 Biden-Harris campaign. When he started on the campaign trail in December 2019, little did he know the whole world would shut down and he’d have to figure out how to connect voters with a candidate who couldn’t hold in-person events. The digital aspects of the campaign became even more crucial. 

When Joe Biden announced that his running mate would be then-Senator Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to be named a vice presidential candidate, Flaherty knew that he was part of history in the making. His next step? He’s now the director of digital strategy for the White House.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

There’s only one person who doubted Beth Ryan ’22 could succeed in science: Beth Ryan. Representation mattered, and it was effectively absent for Ryan.

“Growing up, I didn’t know a lot of females in the sciences,” she said. “When you think of career day, you think of a man in a white coat telling you what his research is. You don’t think of a powerful woman, explaining how they’re making a difference in the world.”

Beth Ryan Headshot

Beth Ryan ’22 (Photo by Adam Baker)

Today, Ryan is a biochemistry major and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet who wants to pursue a PhD in chemical biology or medicinal chemistry and conduct pharmaceutical research within the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps. 

But she might not have gotten there if it weren’t for the support of the faculty. Ryan’s advisor and mentor, Te-Wen Lo, associate professor of biology, encouraged her to apply in her sophomore year for the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, for students in science, but Ryan decided against it because she thought she didn’t have a chance. So the following year, Lo finally convinced her to apply.

“Now I’m one of 410 truly incredible people—a community of fellow nerds who want to make the world a better place in the dorkiest way possible,” she said. “Winning made me feel like I can do this. Maybe I do know what I’m talking about. Maybe I do belong in this field. It was definitely confirmation that I’m on the right track.”

In this video, Beth Ryan ’22 shares her path toward progress.

Ryan and a classmate founded a new student organization, IC Women in STEM, for female-identifying individuals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, to help other students who may be lacking confidence and role models.

“​​Sometimes experiments don't work, but I get to come back and try again every day. That makes the success even better.”

Beth Ryan ’22

“I wanted to show that, yes, women can succeed in these fields,” said Ryan. “A lot of us get weeded out because we think it’s not for us. We think we’re not tough enough or smart enough, like the other guys that are in the major. I wanted to show that everyone can succeed in this program, especially women.”


The late U.S. congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis was inspired by Rosa Parks and advocated getting into “good trouble” for a good cause. Likewise, IC students have left their mark on the college community, creating positive change. 

Pushing for Progress 

Rita Bunatal ’16 began on her path toward making positive change at IC thousands of miles away from South Hill. Born and raised in Texas, she relocated in 2008 with her family to Ghana, where she attended high school. When she came to IC, she joined the African Students Association. Soon, she was gaining national media attention for her social media campaign called The Real Africa: Fight the Stereotype. The campaign aimed to dispel common misconceptions and myths about the vast continent of Africa and the people who live there. 

Headshot of Rita Bunatal

Rita Bunatal ’16 (Photo submitted)

IC was in the national spotlight again later when students protested as part of the Black Lives Matter movement and in response to a series of racial incidents at the college. Bunatal designed T-shirts that were worn by the students who spoke out, and her work resonated with students, faculty, and staff alike. 

In the summer of 2015, she started her own company, Malaika Apparel, dedicated to the empowerment of people of color. Her startup won the top prize in IC’s Business Plan Competition and $20,000. She used the money to grow her business, which is now moving into its next phase: the Malaika Collective. 

“Malaika Collective is a brand that represents the radiance, regality, and resilience of the African Diaspora,” Bunatal said. “We created Malaika Collective to foster a multicultural home for Black and brown people from all parts of the African Diaspora and allies alike. As a collective, we strive to create content that reminds you of the comfort of your home country and the promise of new beginnings. Malaika Collective creates and celebrates the fabric of home— the one we’re born into and the one we create in community.” 

A student working at a mixing board

In the new maker spaces, students can take advantage of various kinds of equipment. (Photo by Adam Baker)

Learning, Trying, and Doing 

Ithaca College’s distinctive approach to education is rooted in the theory, practice, and performance model of the music conservatory, and that same principle can be seen in action today. Students across the college develop and hone their skills through an iterative process of learning, practicing what has been learned, and then putting what has been practiced to the test. 

For example, the new maker spaces on campus give students in all majors the opportunity to experiment with low- and high-tech equipment like sewing machines, 3D printers, a laser cutter, and virtual reality (VR) programming. Theatre students have used the space to make costumes; students in the South Hill Forest Products class used it to cut maple leaves out of wood to adorn their syrup bottles; and education students have used the VR technology to create immersive lesson plans. 

“Progress for me is thinking about the fabrics of people who brought something forward, not just one name in a history book.”

Belisa González, director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity,

Progress is on the Way

Belisa González is the director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, which launched a new major, race, power, and resistance, this fall. 

Other new programs this fall include the following: 

• Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 
• Screen Cultures 
• Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies 


Over the next 20 years, thousands of students will leave Ithaca College and enter a different world. Coming from all over the United States and from around the globe, they’ll add their personal histories to the world’s history and use the opportunities presented to them to accelerate their ideas. To say they’ll enter a reimagined world does not give them enough credit: they’ll imagine it and build it themselves.

Changing the Picture

In 2018, The Walt Disney Company, led by chief executive officer Bob Iger ’73, made history by making the first blockbuster movie centered on a Black superhero: Black Panther. Now, Iger is aiming to increase representation in the newsroom. 

Damani Madir ’24

Damani Madir ’24 (Photo submitted)

He and his wife, Willow Bay, have committed $1 million to establish the Iger-Bay Endowed Scholarship, awarded to incoming students in the Roy H. Park School of Communications who demonstrate financial need; have declared a major of journalism, sports media, or documentary studies; and hail from communities that are historically underrepresented and underserved in these fields at the college and nationally.

The first recipient of the scholarship is Damani Madir ’24, a sports media major from Brooklyn who aspires to become a commentator for Showtime boxing. 

There’s a line in Joyce Carol Oates’s celebrated On Boxing that Madir said resonates with him: “Life is a metaphor for boxing—for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, and your opponent so evenly matched it’s impossible to see your opponent is you.”

At the end of the day, what’s important is that you reflect on your progress and then power up to do it the next day.

Damani Madir ’24

Expanding Access

This past spring, IC was selected as a partner institution for the Davis United World College Scholars Program, the world’s largest privately funded international scholarship program. As part of the program, IC students are now eligible to apply for Projects for Peace grants. 

Himadri Seth Headshot

Himadri Seth ’23 (Photo submitted) 

This year’s recipient, Himadri Seth ’23, is working on a project to help the children of sex workers in Delhi, India, gain access to education through a computer-based curriculum and computer lab. She received $10,000 from the program, which supports projects that promote peace and address the root causes of conflict. 

Seth saw how systemically disadvantaged children were excluded from the traditional school system. The worst off were the children in Delhi’s largest red-light district, Garstin Bastion Road.

“Because of the pandemic, their education just came to a halt because they don’t have access to the technology and electronics they need,” Seth said. “They face a lot of discrimination because of the profession their parents have often been forced into. I feel like it’s just not fair for some people to not have access to the kind of education that they deserve. I’m very interested in trying to make sure that as many people as possible have access to good education.”

Making Progress

Progress is shaped by community, and the brand platform, A Place Called Progress, was shaped by IC’s community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff who shared their perspectives with the college’s Creative and Marketing Group. Visit to read about how the team collaborated to realize A Place Called Progress with guidance from alumni Ryan Berman ’98, founder of Courageous, and Jason DeLand ’98, founding partner of Anomaly.