SCHOHARIE COUUNTY — Standing in front of a room full of Schoharie County officials, business owners and professionals earlier this winter, SUNY Cobleskill President Marion Terenzio announced one of the biggest development projects in the county in recent years.
Working through START-UP NY and other incentive programs, the college has initial agreements in place with a Manhattan-based firm to construct and operate a series of massive, high-tech greenhouse facilities.
“A 290,000-square-foot greenhouse complex is in the works with the college to be set up at Coby Farm, and it’s the hope to bring in 100 professional jobs if it all goes well,” she said proudly to the room gathered to hear from a consultant working on the county’s economic plan for the coming years. “And what a wonderful forum to brag about this.”
In an interview in her office the day before the economic development forum, Terenzio mapped out the last year of the college’s efforts to play the role of an economic driver in the broader region.
Since she took over the presidency in July 2015, Terenzio said, she has viewed the college as a keystone in the county and region’s effort to build on its economic legacy as an agricultural hub. She wants the college to constantly serve as a conduit to the businesses and organizations in the community, converting campus learnings into opportunities to work with and improve the community.
Earlier that week, she had visited Albany to hear from new SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, who was laying out her vision for the state’s public university system. Reflecting on that speech, Terenzio said the role of SUNY colleges and universities presses further than just educating its communities; it also extends to finding solutions for a community's challenges and leveraging its strengths.
“[It’s] how we provide opportunities and access to all kinds of learners and help tap and embrace the human ingenuity and innovation to keep New York state as a thriving, viable entity,” she said.
Terenzio said higher education has to extend the boundaries of “just giving degrees, and find solutions through partnerships,” she said of the message she took from SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson’s first State of the University speech last month.
SUNY Cobleskill last year established the Institute for Rural Vitality. Made up of five centers, the institute serves as a clearinghouse for taking ideas from faculty, students and community members and turning them into projects that SUNY teachers and student lead or assist in.
“We’re not training for the workforce, we are doing more than that,” she said.
They are fundraising for the institute, giving donors the chance to support specific centers — like food entrepreneurship, or business development or arts and culture — or support the effort more broadly. Soon the college will be rolling out a Faculty Fellowship program that will provide research grants through the institute centers for professors and include support for student internships.
“So the faculty’s research and work is connected with students, but it’s also allied with what the community needs,” she said. “It’s enhancing what they are either already doing in the class and or it’s enhancing the research they are doing.”
Another program born through the new institute is a two-day Alzheimer’s respite planned for the spring, where caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s will be able to leave their loved ones at the college for activities with therapy horses and other therapeutic elements of the campus farm.
“That we consider is our role in economic development, because it’s the well-being of the community,” she said.
Through the institute, the college is partnering with the Albany Medical Center and local social service agencies on the respite program, she said, which the colleges hope will acommodate about 20 people in April.
Terenzio sees the college’s role in economic development as both big and small, highlighting a grant-writing workshop the college plans to host this summer alongside to organizations in the area that may not have the time, staffing or expertise to pursue various funding grants.
“That’s one of the No. 1 barriers for small, local communities, having the time to sit down and write for the grants,” she said.
A $1 million USDA grant the college scored in the past year supports office time from Albany Law School attorneys, who offer free legal services to farmers and small businesses in the area. The grant also supports visits to local middle schools, where Cobleskill faculty introduce students to the type of hands-on learning awaits them at the college.