SCHENECTADY — Sitting in the student commons at Schenectady County Community College, Jacob Hernandez caught up with old friends and plotted his next steps in the restaurant business. School was back.
Hernandez, 19, a 2017 Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate entering his second year studying restaurant and hotel management, said he appreciates the college’s close-knit feel.
“It’s a small community; everyone knows everyone,” he said. “You feel comfortable. It’s not like a big university.”
While his focus is on the management side of the restaurant business, Hernandez will be taking the college’s food preparation course and working as a manager at the college’s student-run Casola Dining Room. Later in the year, he may study culinary arts in Italy or study hospitality management at Disney in Orlando. He pointed to both programs as examples of the doors the college has opened for him.
“Those opportunities, for a two-year college, are pretty amazing,” he said.
College officials hope there will be even more programs offered to students in the coming months and years.
President Steady Moono on Tuesday outlined the college’s areas of focus for the coming year: a continued push to increase student advising support; efforts to retain a higher percentage of students until they earn their degrees; and an expansion of degree programs in information technology support and security.
Moono said college officials are waiting for approval from SUNY on a new information technology degree. He also highlighted the college’s new certificate program in money laundering detection and said a handful of area banks are paying to put some of their employees through that program this year.
While the college did not have enrollment numbers available Tuesday, Moono said they have seen improved retention rates in recent years, meaning more students who start are staying in school.
The college also rolled out a new brand and name this semester. Students were welcomed by new signs across campus emblazoned with the name the college plans to use for all purposes other than its official paperwork: SUNY Schenectady.
But for the college’s new and returning students, the new name doesn’t matter as much as getting to their classes, meeting advisers and shopping for books.
“When I woke up this morning, I was really nervous. When I got here, I was really nervous,” said Diamond Serrano, 17, who started her first day of college Tuesday. “And when I walked into class, ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘I know a lot of these people.’”
Serrano, who graduated Schenectady High School in June, said she plans to major in health studies, working toward a career in nursing. After two years at SUNY Schenectady, she hopes to transfer to a four-year college to earn a nursing degree. Her dad has been in and out of the hospital for much of her life, Serrano said, so she developed an interest in nursing.
“The nurses he had, just seeing them and how they treated my dad and other patients inspired me, and I want to learn more about everything [they did],” she said.
Jasmine Dunckle, 20, who sat with Serrano as they waited for their next classes to start, is starting her third year at the college, aiming to finish her degree in human services this school year. Later this month, Dunckle, who said she appreciates the flexibility offered by the college as she raises a young daughter, is slated to start an internship with Girls Inc., a nonprofit group that offers after-school programs to around 200 girls in Schenectady and Albany each day. Dunckle said she doesn’t know what she will be doing yet, but that she is excited to work with kids. The five-day-a-week internship will start when she finishes her final class each afternoon and will last until around 6 p.m., she said.
“That’s what I want to do,” she said of working with kids.
What’s in a name?
Moono said the school’s official name will remain Schenectady County Community College, but the name the college uses for day-to-day purposes will be SUNY Schenectady. The campus’ signs have been updated with the new name and brand, and “SUNY Schenectady” signs were flying above the parking lot and in the student commons on Tuesday.
The college plans to drop its classic logo, which included an outline of Ellston Hall. The SUNY reference sat at the bottom of the logo in a small font.
Moono said the new name strengthens the school’s association with the broader SUNY system, emphasizing to prospective students the college carries the advantages of being a part of the broader state university system.
But Moono also rejected the notion the college was distancing itself from its role as a “community college,” a phrase that is still included in much of the new campus signage and in the logo now included at the top of official college communications and emails. He said SUNY Schenectady will remain as committed to providing educational opportunities to the Schenectady County community as it has been.
“We are a community college. We are proud to be a community college,” Moono said. “This is the people’s community college, this is where opportunities are created, and we will never shed that.”
For the students, the name doesn’t matter as much as what they are there to do.
“I don’t care, as long as I’m getting an education,” Serrano said.