NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña visits Pace University’s Inside Track

If you’re curious about the education issues shaping New York City’s future leaders and professionals, you won’t want to miss our upcoming InsideTrack with New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Our program begins 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, in the Schimmel Center at 3 Spruce Street.

As the Chancellor of New York City Schools, Chancellor Fariña oversees the education of more than one million students, so her priorities and decisions related to key issues such as charter schools, Common Core, class size, teacher evaluations, and technology will impact the City for years to come.

We’ll talk about these topics and more with the Chancellor. Her 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, district superintendent, region superintendent, Deputy Chancellor, and—since 2014—Chancellor gives her a well-rounded perspective as she works to provide New York City children with a quality education.

Whether you are a teacher, student, parent, or community leader, or you see yourself in one of these roles in the future, please join us for a discussion of issues that will reverberate far and wide into the future.

Graduation Days

In May, we had our usual four Pace University Commencement ceremonies. You probably think the Provost and I get tired of shaking hands with all those newly-minted Pace alumni, but we don’t. There is nothing like the sights and sounds of Commencement exercises.

From my vantage point on stage, I look out at thousands of graduates and their families. Our graduates’ faces display all sorts of emotions—pride, happiness, nerves, apprehension, anticipation, melancholy, and so many more. But mostly, Commencement is an incredibly happy event for everyone. Looking at each graduate, I was reminded of an old movie called The Naked City. At the end of the movie a narrator intoned, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” At Commencement, there are thousands of unwritten stories on the faces of Pace graduates, and each graduate will have a story that is unique and worth retelling.

We were very fortunate to have honorary degree recipients at each Commencement who had some extraordinary stories to tell. Each individual was very successful in his or her own right and had devoted some part of their lives to public service. Judge Robert A. Katzmann is chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and he has authored influential decisions on a wide range of cases. Emily Kernan Rafferty is the president of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the museum’s first woman president in its 135-year history. George Rupp, PhD, led the world’s leading global relief agency, the International Rescue Committee, for 11 years and was president of both Columbia and Rice universities. Alumnus Michael Dezer is a businessman responsible for the development and transformation of large parts of Chelsea in New York City and virtually all of Sunny Isles, Florida. And Lawrence Otis Graham is a lawyer, a best-selling author, and a television journalist with a commitment to improving race relations in America. What a joy it was to have such a distinguished group giving our students the benefit of their experience and wisdom.

Mr. Graham asked our former students to use their Pace degrees to fight against bigotry, poverty, sexism, ignorance, and apathy. Ms. Rafferty encouraged them to see the world through the lenses of travel, literature, music, art, and poetry. Dr. Rupp advised graduates to continue to think critically, but to balance that critical approach with value-driven judgment, and Judge Katzmann spoke eloquently of the need to treat our immigrant population fairly.

Watching our hard-working, driven graduates move on is always a little bittersweet. We are, at least intellectually, in loco parentis with our students. The pride and satisfaction that attends the amazing transformation through which so many of them travel is tempered with a sense of loss. We become, at least for the moment, academic empty nesters. Our nest is soon full, however, as an academic cycle that has been going on in Western education since the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088 starts anew. I hope and trust that our brand new alumni will return often and help future generations of Pace students write stories that are unique and worthy of retelling.

Training the Talents of Artists with Autism

Last semester I attended an art exhibit in the Schimmel Lobby and a program in the theater devoted to young artists on the autism spectrum. The evening was co-sponsored by our OASIS program and the Brooklyn nonprofit Strokes of Genius, which trains and promotes artists with autism.

It was an inspiring evening. The principal speaker was Temple Grandin, PhD. She also spoke at our Convocation in 2010. Dr. Grandin has autism and her work, books and other achievements are wonderful examples of the power of the human spirit. Listening to her talk about the way in which people with autism perceive the world, we quickly see that helping artists with autism is not so much about overcoming disabilities as it is about turning differences into strengths. The power to do that is something that we all share.

The strengths of these young artists were apparent in the works exhibited in the Schimmel Lobby. Seven students in the Pace OASIS program were among the exhibitors. The artists’ strengths were also apparent in the remarks by a small group of artists who spoke about themselves and their work. One young woman explained that she had been diagnosed with autism when she was seven-years-old, that she recognized that she was different and that she was proud of her differences. Another young artist did not feel comfortable speaking to the group about his paintings, but his brother explained that the artist’s work was in the Venice Biennale, a magnet for work by the best young artists.

Training the Talents of Artists with Autism made me feel very pleased and proud of what Pace is doing in this area. The OASIS program of multifaceted support for students at Pace on the spectrum, founded by Dianne Zager, PhD and now led by Mary Riggs Cohen, PhD, is one of the best in the country. We educate and train K-12 teachers of students with autism and other disabilities; and we are a center of discussion by distinguished experts like Dr. Temple Grandin.

Staying healthy applies to mental health too

We talk a lot about what’s important—the value of good classroom experiences combined with opportunities for experiential learning, and setting goals and working towards them—but nothing is more important than our health and the sanctity of human life.

That’s why our recent event Mental Health and Wellness on Campus: A Town Hall Without Walls, was so important. The Jed Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, and Facebook hosted the event.

When students are anxious or depressed, their academic performance suffers, but more important, so do their lives. One out of every four young adults experiences an episode of depression before the age of 24, and nearly one-third of college students report an episode of feeling so sad or depressed in the past year that they have trouble functioning.

I was happy that Pace students practically filled the Schimmel Theatre to hear our panelists discuss these topics. We also reached another 13 million people through Twitter, and the Clinton Foundation continues to make a video of the event available to its website visitors.

Richard Shadick, PhD, director of the Pace University Counseling Center and adjunct professor of psychology, was part of the panel that discussed the prevalence, challenges, stereotypes, and dangers of prescription drug misuse, self-harm, and suicide on campus. The three most important messages Dr. Shadick and the others delivered to students were: 1) you are not the only person who gets stressed out or depressed; 2) you are not the only person who needs help to feel better; and 3) there is no stigma attached to getting help.

Dr. Shadick and his team in the Counseling Center are doing great work. The Center is nationally accredited and has received close to a half-million dollars in grants to prevent suicide and substance abuse. The Jed Foundation has also recognized our Counseling Center, awarding Pace its Jed Campus Seal of Approval. The Foundation gives the award to colleges that demonstrate strong, comprehensive solutions to students’ mental health needs.

Counseling works, but only when people use it. No one should be embarrassed or ashamed to take that first step towards mental and emotional health.