SUNY Chancellor hopes to inspire students with a more diverse faculty

Gazette photo by Eveline Levin

In her second State of the University Address, SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson unveiled her plans to enroll more full-time online students and hire more underrepresented faculty across the SUNY system.

Beginning this fall, the SUNY system will begin enrolling more students in exclusively online degree programs.

“We will rethink our online platform in a way that recognizes that lifelong learning is the new reality, and there is much more we can do to serve adult learners,” Johnson said.

While the SUNY student population continues to become more diverse, the SUNY faculty has yet to reflect that change.

That’s why Johnson is launching a new effort to recruit more women and minority professors in their early and mid careers to teach on SUNY campuses in a variety of academic disciplines.

The “Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion and Growth” program — or PRODI-G — aims to inspire underrepresented students by increasing the diversity of the SUNY faculty.

The implementation of PRODI-G will enable the SUNY system to hire 1,000 early-to-mid-career professors of underrepresented minorities by 2030. These professors will be examples of academic success of marginalized groups, including women working in STEM fields, as well as minorities.


When asked after the address about reaching out to faculty from underrepresented communities, she recounted her own college experience, and how important it was for her to see women represented in the field of science. Johnson said “I never had a woman professor in eight years of technical classes. So, I never thought I could be a professor.”

Johnson is the founder and CFO of Cube Hydro Partners, LLC, which develops hydroelectric generation facilities that aim to provide clean energy to businesses and communities throughout the U.S. She owns 118 national and international patents. Johnson is a member of the National Academy of Inventors and the National Academy of Engineering, as well as being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

She notes that when students are taught by a professor who is an example of an underrepresented minority, like women professors in STEM, you’re seeing them teach others and succeeding. Marginalized students are more encouraged to succeed in their own paths because they see firsthand it is possible to achieve in their field as a minority.

“What we want to do is to track, welcome, and make sure that people feel welcome. When you feel welcome, you can do anything,” Johnson said.

Buffalo State College will be the first SUNY campus to receive PRODI-G funding in the fall of 2019 and will be hiring five new faculty members. In addition, Buffalo State College will also be adding a much-applauded multi-disciplinary Africana Studies Department.

The fall of 2019 will also see to the launch of SUNY Online – Support for Lifelong Learning. This program, focused on primarily online learners, will grant new career opportunities for those online students.

This initiative comes in the time of an ever-changing economy and market. SUNY Online will offer brand new programs coupled with new business partnerships to give students the benefit of flexibility and the tools to open new doors on their career paths.

Expanding to all 30 SUNY community colleges and eight SUNY Campuses, is the SUNY Achieve program. SUNY Achieve is aimed at helping college students who face challenges in their first-level college math and English courses. Focusing on student pathways, referred to as guided pathways, math pathways and co-requisite Developmental English, will assist in faster degree completion rates and ensuring overall student success. Almost 20,000 students have been assisted by one of these programs in the SUNY system, with funding assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Strong Start to Finish, SUNY, and others.

With Governor Cuomo’s Green New Deal, which aims for New York State to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2040, SUNY campus’ have an important role to play in the elimination of carbon emissions.

Since 40 percent of New York State owned buildings are operated by SUNY, some are already utilizing low carbon energy sources such as hydro, nuclear, solar, and wind generated power. To help achieve these green goals, SUNY is launching a Green Revolving Fund to invest in conservation, clean energy and its innovation.

Sixteen campuses have already joined the New York Large Scale Renewable Energy Consortium, a 22-member organization that enables them to obtain their energy from renewable sources.

These initiatives come with the hope of a better future for the SUNY education system and the State of New York. As Johnson showed photos of her grandparents names in the ledger from Ellis Island, she spoke of the hard work endured to achieve “the American Dream”. The advancement of SUNY higher education provides new tools to achieve these dreams today.

As Johnson spoke proudly of our SUNY system, she states “If you believe in the American Dream, you believe in SUNY.”