Community Events at Ithaca College

By Jenny Barnett, June 21, 2022

Connecting educational experiences beyond the classroom.

From comic book conventions to gymnastics championships, math days to swim lessons, Ithaca College hosts a myriad of events throughout the year that connect the campus with the local community.  

“We have great resources and facilities and, where possible, we want to share them for mutually beneficial purposes,” says Dave Prunty, executive director of auxiliary services. The events are also an opportunity for IC students to engage in outreach and service and gain practical, educational experience beyond the classroom interacting with the public and running events. 

Many of IC’s regular, annual events have been on hiatus for the past two years and organizers were excited to be able to host them in person in 2022. 

Ithacon

Ithacon

Ithacon hosted at Emerson Suites on Ithaca College campus. (Photo by Laura Ilioaei '23)

The second-longest running comic convention in the US, and a collaboration between IC and the Comic Book Club of Ithaca, Ithacon was held this year on April 23 and 24 in Emerson Suites and Williams Hall. It attracted fans of pop culture, gaming and comics of all ages from IC, the local community, and the region. Activities included panels, presentations, discussions, cosplay, film screenings, live sketching, children’s activities, guest artists and writers—and a marketplace for exhibitors and vendors. 

According to Ed Catto, an instructor in IC’s School of Business who spearheaded the event, around 750 fans attended. While numbers were down from highs of 1,500-2,000 pre-COVID, exhibitors reported record sales and Catto and his team were happy to be able to host a safe and healthy convention. 

First-timers to Ithacon, self-confessed “comic book nerds” Vicki Guo and Zoe Chernowski visited with four others from Troy, New York.  

“We like to read graphic novels and watch a lot of comic book movies—and we all came dressed as Batman villains,” said Chernowski (who was Scarecrow, with Guo as Penguin).  

The group were looking forward to purchasing artwork and other memorabilia they might not find at their local comic book store.  

“We came for the community as well,” she continued. “It’s nice to be surrounded by people who have the same interests.”  

Regular visitors—“we’ve been about seven times”—six members of the multigenerational DeWalt family had driven up from the Williamsport, PA, area to attend Saturday. They also fully embraced the opportunity to dress up as their favorite characters and were most looking forward to the costume parade Cosplay Runway.  

But in addition to attracting enthusiasts and vendors, Ithacon also celebrated innovation and entrepreneurism. Likely unique in the comic book convention world, it is run entirely by students. 

Ithacon: Promoting and Managing Conventions, a class taught by Catto, focuses on the importance of trade shows and conventions with building a business or with an established business. Around 30 students planned, publicized, organized and managed the event—with the help of around 30 additional volunteers, many of them past alumni of the class who’d missed out on the chance to run their own live Ithacon due to the pandemic.  

Catto admits that, with his corporate background, he can be an unforgiving taskmaster. “We have very high demands,” he said. “But we're very fortunate, the students really rose to the occasion.”   

GIAC Day

GIAC Day

GIAC Day on Ithaca College's campus. (Photo by Jenny Barnett)

Also back in person after a COVID hiatus was GIAC Day, on April 14. IC volunteers welcomed local elementary children from the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) for a packed agenda of fun activities during the Ithaca City School District spring break. This year saw over 50 student athletes and coaches from football, baseball, field hockey, track and field, basketball, gymnastics, swim, and dive supervise over 40 second to fifth graders.  

“They’re excited,” said senior athletic training major and wrestler Logan Ninos, as the event got underway. A member of the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) executive board, he helped coordinate GIAC Day. “They got here at 10 this morning and were ready to go right off the bus!” 

GIAC focuses primarily on young children and teens, and provides multicultural, education and recreational programs for the downtown and greater Ithaca areas.  

Program leader Candice Wade feels it is important for the children to attend. They love meeting the students who are involved in athletics at this level and may make a career out of it. And she feels they are inspired to think, “Wow! I never knew you could run that fast!’ or “I never knew you could jump that far”.  

April showers held off for the outdoor activities—rotations of kickball, football, and field hockey on Higgins Field. SAAC co-chair Victoria Sesito, who helped the youngsters get to grips with field hockey sticks, believed it was important to expose the students to sports—like field hockey—that they might not have played before. As a senior, she was also happy to have the opportunity to host the event before graduating.  

“It’s really awesome to be able to see it come together this year,” she said.  

For the track and field session, the children headed inside Glazer Arena, where they tried their hands at sprinting, running relay and hurdles, jumping, and javelin. Volunteer senior thrower Ariyahna Bernard ’22 shared her expertise with an enthusiastic group throwing foam javelins.  

“It's nice to be able to have the kids come up to a college and be able to have fun, but also be in an academic setting,” she said.  

After the sports team rotations, the groups got together for dodgeball in Glazer Arena before breaking for lunch. Afternoon activities included gymnastics, basketball, and swim time. 

Math Events

math students

An IC student Jake Brown '22 presents a math problem to high school student Xander MacKenzie. (Photo Credit: Emily Hung '23)

Math Exploration Day on March 29, 2022 was also a chance for IC students to participate in hands-on community outreach, and for schoolchildren to broaden their experience.  

“One purpose is to get students out of the traditional math classroom, get them excited about math, and get them exploring different kinds of math—hence the name!” says professor Megan Martinez, who organized the event with her department. “And it also provides teachers an avenue to bring their students for a field trip.” 

This year’s event saw nearly 150 participants from 12 local schools delve into concepts in mini sessions led by IC staff and students. There was also a competitive element. 

“They all get really engaged in this competition—you can see even the staff and students working on it,” says Martinez. “They're in teams, trying to figure things out. And when we announce the results, they all want to see which ones they were able to get and which ones they weren't able to.” 

Earlier in the year—on February 5—the department also hosted Women in Math Day, a chance for female high school students to learn more about women working in careers that involve mathematics. 

Swim and Dive

IC has been giving local residents the opportunity to sign up for swim lessons for many years. First offered in the mid-1990s, the program comprises five to six weekly sessions—private or semi-private—on Saturday in the aquatics pavilion in early fall and late spring. 

Sprint freestyler and backstroker Jane Pfeufer ’23 first taught her freshman fall and participated both semesters her junior year as no lessons could be offered in 2020-21 due to COVID restrictions. While the focus is on teaching youth to swim or dive, any community member can sign up, and Pfeufer has instructed all ages—the youngest around three years old, with her oldest pupil in their fifties. Aquatics coordinator and dive coach Chris Griffin says around 100 swimmers can be accommodated each semester. 

“The skill of swimming is extremely important,” says Pfeufer. “It is one of those life skills that everyone should know—whether you just want to learn how to keep your head above water or to float, or how to improve your technique. A lot of the really little kids are there because their parents just want them to feel comfortable in the water so they can go to the beach in the summer, or swim in their local pool. Others come in to improve their stroke technique so that they can become better swimmers in the future.” 

As well as providing outreach, the lessons are a fundraiser for the teams, and all swim and dive athletes are required to participate. While graduating seniors are exempt in spring, many volunteer their time regardless, says Griffin.  

In addition to lessons, the athletes and coaches run clinics throughout the year for middle and high school students who want to swim competitively. Typically, between 60 and 120 sign up, according to Griffin. IC also hosts USA and Masters swim meets and high school state championships. 

Gymnastics

Taking full advantage of IC’s state-of-the-art gymnastics facilities, IC hosted the 2022 NCGA National Championships on March 26 in Ben Light Gymnasium in the Hill Center—again the first time the athletes had had a championship since 2019.  

“Hosting a national championship is always a huge honor,” said Erienne Roberts, Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator. “It was a pleasure to bring teams from so many different parts of the country.” Ithaca set program records and, said Roberts, “it allowed an opportunity for our athletics operations and coaching staff, catering team, facilities, and all the other departments that contributed come together for our student athletes in a powerful and meaningful way.” 

Special Olympics

On Friday and Saturday, June 24 and 25, IC hosted the Special Olympics New York State Summer Games. Over 1,000 athletes from around the state competed. They were housed in IC residence halls throughout the weekend, together with their coaches and families. The opening and closing ceremonies, and aquatics, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and tennis were all hosted on campus. The Games will also be at IC in 2023 and 2024.