The transformative power of higher education: Inauguration kicks off with celebration of student-faculty collaboration and scholarship


The Inauguration of SUNY New Paltz President Darrell P. Wheeler began on Wednesday, April 19, with a forum and festival celebrating student-faculty collaborations and the power of public higher education.

The forum, moderated by President Wheeler, established a student-centered theme for the Inauguration program, with six pairs of researchers from across the disciplines sharing insights from their partnerships – not only describing their work, but discussing the value of that work in their own lives and in society more broadly.

“Since I arrived, and we started talking about an Inauguration, I only had a few mandatory elements,” said President Wheeler. “One of those was that Day 1 was going to be a celebration of the scholarly mission that brings us all here. At the core of what we do is the transformative power of education in the lives of our students and for our faculty, who grow tremendously as a result of working with our students.”

The projects discussed varied in content, touching disciplines from Black studies and bioanthropology to music therapy and mathematics education. Each was unique, but they shared a common commitment to using the tools and methods of higher education to make the world a better place.

“There’s so many skills that I’ve learned in the research that we’ve done that are just not going to be there in the classroom,” said Danielle Takacs ’23 (Biology), who has been working with Associate Professor of Biology Kara Belinsky to study (and ultimately help preserve) biodiversity among birds in the Hudson Valley. “The first time I had a bird land on my hand, I saw it and saw exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I am studying all these nights, and why I am working towards this goal of being a researcher in biology.”

A common theme across the presentations was how the partnership with faculty helps students see themselves advancing toward their goals, gaining mastery over their disciplines and becoming experts and knowledge-makers.

“Making that jump from a student to a researcher is intimidating and scary, but that’s where my teacher comes in,” said Shannon Bernhardt ’22g (Adolescent Education: Mathematics), who worked with Jason Huang, associate professor of teaching & learning, on a study investigating ways of combating the anxiety that some learners feel about math. “Not only do you have someone cheering you on every step of the way, but you have someone who’s brilliant, and experienced, and able to help you navigate this process that you’ve never experienced before. It was just so helpful to have someone with me during this research process that I could turn to, not only for encouragement, but for wisdom.”

President Wheeler also looked to the panel to look beyond their own experiences as researchers and consider how their work transcends academia to support and serve communities locally and globally.

“As an urban geographer and city planner in the City of Phoenix, I dealt with public policy, going to city council meetings, and working with the community in the city,” said Assistant Professor of Black Studies Blair Proctor, who is mentoring Britney Huston ’23 (Digital Media Production) on an Honors Thesis project exploring perceptions of Blackness, especially in Latinx communities. “I think it’s important to have those lived experiences, because they make you a stronger researcher. With mentoring and community development, which is vital for Black Studies, you can not just retain the information you learn, but you can look for ways to use it to improve society as a whole.”

The forum broke out into a first-ever New Paltz Festival of Big Ideas, where student-faculty researchers, clubs and organizations, and artists and musicians showcased their work for passersby through the afternoon. Hugo was on the scene taking pictures in the photo booth, helping cap a fun and lively Day 1 of Inauguration.


Looking for more Inauguration coverage? You can follow us @sunynewpaltz for Stories, Reels and favorite photos from the three-day program, and use this link to view livestreams for major events.