University at Albany President Robert Jones said he came away from his first visit to Schenectady impressed and eager to more effectively connect the university with the county’s assets.
The visit to the Electric City was stop No. 2 in a nine-county tour designed to familiarize Jones, who recently moved to the area from Minnesota, with the region’s resources.
After touring Schenectady High School, Schenectady County Community College and Proctors, he pledged to partner with area business and community leaders to better both the university and the Capital Region.
Many of UAlbany’s students hail from the Capital Region. For the spring 2013 semester, 2,915 local undergraduates and 2,382 area graduate students were enrolled.
Jones, who was appointed to his position in January, worked in higher education for more than 30 years in Minnesota, most recently serving as senior vice president of academic administration in the University of Minnesota system.
At the end of January, he was named co-chairman of the Capital Region Economic Development Council, so the nine-county tour, he said, serves as a two-part mission.
“This is helping me better understand the Capital Region as well so I can be a more effective leader in helping to drive decisions that are going to drive economic vitality across the region,” he said.
Jones stepped off a white, purple and gold UAlbany bus in front of Proctors on Monday afternoon and was met by a crowd of local business owners and community leaders who accompanied him on a tour of the historic building.
He said he was surprised at how many people took the time to come out and meet him and told the crowd he was impressed by how the community has come together to turn Schenectady around.
“I’ve been involved in this kind of activity in Minneapolis, and we’re just now at 25, 30 years henceforth, just starting to see some of the kinds of results that you’ve been able to bring to bear here in about a third of that time, so you are to be commended for that,” he said.
Schenectady’s revitalization effort took commitment, dedication and a willingness to think outside the box, he pointed out.
“So this is definitely the kind of environment, the kind of community, that I think the University at Albany can benefit from that will help us to think differently about what we do at the university and how we try to advance it to a higher level of excellence,” he said.
As a newcomer to the area, the crash course on the Capital Region has been overwhelming, Jones admitted.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose,” he joked.
But the region isn’t all that different from his previous home, he noted.
“In some ways I find the Capital Region is more Midwestern than I thought it was,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s very similar to the Midwestern values that I’m accustomed to after 34 years, but also here there’s just a very strong sense of camaraderie — people pulling together to advance the common good — and that’s very, very refreshing to me,” he said.
A number of top UAlbany students from Schenectady County attended Monday’s tour with Jones. Senior Emily Lezzi of Schenectady said she hoped the overview of the city would leave the college president with an accurate picture of her hometown.
“I think it was great for him to come here and see that Schenectady is not what people picture it would be. It’s a really nice town,” she said.
Jones’ tour started in Greene County, where he met with community and education leaders and toured the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Greenville Central School District. He also visited Windham and Hunter mountains and saw the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene in the town of Prattsville.
Future tour stops are planned for Warren, Washington, Columbia, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie and Albany counties.