In May five new members joined the Ithaca College Board of Trustees.
Mary George Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer for Cornell University, and Peter Taffae ’82, a managing director at ExecutivePerils, started four-year terms on the board. Sybil Conrad, assistant director of Campus Center and Events Services, became the staff trustee; Julie Dorsey ’01, M.S. ’03, associate professor of occupational therapy, became the faculty trustee; and Elijah Greene ’18, an applied economics major, became the student trustee. The faculty and staff trustees will serve a three-year term, and the student trustee will serve for two years.
Five months into their terms, here’s what they are thinking.
Why did you want to join the board?
Sybil Conrad: I'm someone who is not afraid to speak up. And I felt like I could offer a lot of campus perspective, because I work very closely with students: I have a staff of 50 student employees, and I also collaborate a lot with other departments and offices on campus. So my goal was to be a very vocal and active member to share the perspective of the campus as much as possible.
Julie Dorsey: I thought about the board as an opportunity to get involved with the college at a different level than I've ever been able to before, and as a way to interact with people who have a clear passion and vision for the college. I think the board provides another opportunity to express some of my opinions and try to share the faculty’s perspective in some really important conversations that are happening — in ways that I haven't been able to before.
Elijah Greene: I felt that serving on the board of trustees would allow me the opportunity to help share the perspective of my experiences. I've been involved with various positions on campus, and I know that some people feel their view isn’t being represented. So I see the trustee position as being ideal for a student like me who's been heavily involved and very active on campus. It’s an additional way for me to become an integral component of the institution that's helped me progress personally, and will also let me give back.
Mary George Opperman: I’ve lived in Ithaca for 20 years and have a number of connections to Ithaca College. I have worked in higher education most of my life and believe in the value of shared governance. I am looking forward to being a part of the board and to getting to know the students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni. I hope that I am able to be helpful to the college in the coming years.
Peter Taffae: I want to give back to a school that has played an important role in my life. IC provided me many of the tools that have allowed me to become the person I am today.
What special skills, particular expertise, etc. do you offer the board and/or Ithaca College?
SC: Not being shy. Being willing to stick my neck out and say unpopular things that I feel need to be said. I'm also a good listener, and I try to get to know my students beyond just the job, to get the perspective of what is working for them here at Ithaca College, and what is challenging for them.
JD: I came to this campus as a freshman in 1997, so I've been part of the IC community for almost 20 years in one way or another. I never left; I stayed in town this whole time. I met my husband at Ithaca College, and now we've settled here and are raising our children. He owns a small business. I also see Ithaca College as a future for my kids, so I'm invested in the long-term future of the institution. It's afforded us many opportunities. Having had that long history here, I think, gives me a different perspective, and I hope helps me to bring some unique ideas to the table.
EG: The primary thing I can provide is perspective, and it’s a very in-depth perspective. For example, I'm the chapter president of the National Association of Black Accountants. That's an organization that focuses on the business professional, but also on individuals who typically don't have the same opportunities in the business profession. It's also an African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American (ALANA) organization recognized by OSEMA. It's also a national organization, so I get the perspective of other chapters at other schools and what they're doing.
There are a lot of things that I do that have those intersectionalities or crossovers like that. I was on class counsel. I was also a resident assistant, so I'm very familiar with ResLife. It genuinely excites me to hear different views and participate in those conversations.
MGO: I understand higher education and the challenges we are facing. I also have quite a bit of experience in human resources and hope that my HR background will be helpful to IC in the coming years.
PT: I bring to the board an entrepreneurial perspective, and due to my career in the insurance industry, I have the ability to view things from a risk perspective. My experience with corporate governance will hopefully bring value to the board.
What are some of the best things about Ithaca College?
SC: Definitely the students. It's such a joy to work with students who are so engaged, who are really caring, and who are just amazingly gifted – just amazingly talented. I've been doing the job that I hold for over 14 years, and every day I look forward to coming into work because every day there's something new and engaging going on, and mostly it's in the realm of working with the students. And it's an amazing privilege to have worked with so many students over the years and gotten to learn so much and grow so much with them.
JD: The thing that always comes to mind is the sense of community and how our community comes together, in times of celebration and also difficult times. It’s that sense of ‘we all belong here; we all support each other.’ I've always felt that way in Ithaca; it's very different from where I grew up, so it was a different experience coming up to a real, true sense of community where people watch out for each other and are invested in what happens and what goes on. That concept of civic engagement – really getting out there and getting involved – is something that has always struck me as unique about the college.
EG: At least from my experience, IC has been a student-centered community where students can come together. When we're passionate about something, we can come to a consensus and drive change. I think that's a powerful sentiment to have because, for one, it allows the institution to be informed about the decisions they make. But it also helps make changes a little bit faster, a little bit better.
MGO: My husband (Kip Opperman ’79) is a loyal IC alum—so I think he is one of the best things about Ithaca College! IC has many outstanding academic programs, led and taught by great faculty. Those programs attract incredible students. And these faculty and students are very fortunate because they are supported by talented and dedicated staff and administration. The campus is beautiful. I’m looking forward to learning more about the academic programs, going to lectures and meeting faculty and students. My husband and I already enjoy attending many of the musical performances and sporting events.
PT: One of my fondest memories of IC was working with great professors that intellectually challenged the status quo. A personal high-impact memory was the school’s and the faculty’s willingness to adapt to my unique situation (being dyslexic) and allowing me to take exams orally and provide opportunities to earn extra credit to enhance my GPA. Ithaca College’s elaborate tutoring infrastructure provided me the help I needed to complete my studies.
What excites you about the college’s future?
SC: We are in such an important moment for Ithaca College. There's the presidential search, obviously. The turnover in leadership is really a key moment for the college. I'm very excited and optimistic that we are going to grow as a community, together. I think the events of last fall have put us in a position where we are ready and open to learning and growing, and really going to the next level of understanding and respect, and I think we're poised to move forward as a community.
JD: I think we're in such a time of transition right now, in this country and also at the college. I think we're at a critical and exciting time. I think change can be scary, but I think it also opens the doors for whole new opportunities. I don't know what lies ahead. It's hard to predict, but I think there's been such momentum. I think it was such a year of turmoil in the 2015-16 academic year. And I think we're still in a little bit of that, but we have started to show how resilient we are as a community, and I'm excited to see where it takes us.
EG: We're getting a new president who will help shape the strategic vision of the college. We're also seeing the major constituencies come together in a formalized setting. So I'm excited to see what shared governance has to put forward. We’re also in a period of evaluation. We're currently in Middle States, preparing for reaccreditation. And the climate study workgroup has put out a survey to get campus feedback and sentiment. That'll help inform the direction the college takes and steps they make. I've worked on that committee so this is my shameless plug: I would encourage people to take the climate survey, because that information will be used to identify areas in which we could be doing better, or areas in which we're doing good but may have thought otherwise.
MGO: The college will be getting a new president, and with new leadership comes opportunities for new plans and new pathways. Higher education is in a time of transition and faces a number of significant challenges, but challenges can create exciting new ventures. It is important to be optimistic about the future of the college and to remember what a gem it is—with talented students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni all working to make it even better. I’m excited to be a very small part of that.
PT: Higher education faces many difficult challenges. But with challenges comes opportunities! We should feel good that the school has a strong foundation. We have unique assets, such as the suburban campus, the wonderful nature that surrounds the school, the progressive facility, the manageable size (both for administration but also important for the education experience), excellent value, and a long history of academic excellence inside and outside the classroom.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to learn?
SC: I love adventure. I try to weave that into what I do outside of work: white-water rafting; I was a Peace Corps volunteer; I have been skydiving; I'm SCUBA-certified; and I ride a scooter — when the weather is nice.
JD: I was in some musicals in high school — even though I really can't act or sing. I was a nun in “The Sound of Music;” I was also in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and “Bells are Ringing.” I was always just in the ensemble. I don't particularly like getting up on stage nowadays. I mean I can get up and lecture in front of 100 people no problem, or give professional workshops. But to think about making a fool of myself on stage, no, I'd never do that today. But it was fun, and it gives me some appreciation for the theatre students.
EG: In high school I was a state champion in Science Olympiad, and I've won Mathlete competitions.
MGO: I eat vegan and have for many years. And no, it's not that hard!
PT: I’ve been to Cuba six times.