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October 10, 2013

At Convocation, Berkman stresses student focus

By Jordan Gonzalez

President Ronald Berkman emphasized the importance of Cleveland State University’s focus on the students – which he described as the “guidepost” for him and the university – at his 2013 state of the university address on Oct. 3.

Speaking to a mixed audience of students and faculty in Waetjen Auditorium, Berkman reiterated the common Cleveland State mantra of engagement, especially as it pertains to students. He said he’s come to understand more each year how that engagement works.

“The more I learn (about Cleveland State) the more I believe that we deeply share a common cause that guides our work,” Berkman said, “and that is a desire for our students to succeed.”

His speech was preceded by the annual University Honors and Awards and followed by hors d’oeuvres that were served buffet-style in the atrium outside of Waetjen.

Many of the new initiatives Cleveland State is directly aiming at improving the student’s experience and bringing them into leadership roles, he said. Some examples are academic-based, such as the curriculum changes with the four- to three-credit conversion, the new performance-based tuition rebate and multi-term registration.

Other examples lie in the partnerships Cleveland State has nurtured, such as with Playhouse Square, where students work alongside a professional theater company; the engineering students who work at a state of the art human motion and control lab (part of the partnership with the Parker-Hannifin Corporation), and the Campus International School, a professional development school (a partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Cleveland State University).

He also mentioned the KeyBank, CMSD and Cleveland State partnership that enacted the recent MC2STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) school, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school, and he said that it will grow future Vikings.

“This partnership is a central partnership for all of us,” Berkman said. “K through 12 and higher education are inextricably connected. We live in the same educational biosphere.”

Finally, he praised the new student ambassador program, which he and his wife, Patsy Bilbao-Berkman, started. The students will serve as hosts or hostesses and represent the university to V.I.P. dignitaries and speakers.

Dozens of the new student ambassadors were in attendance, wearing freshly printed, green polos that feature the Cleveland State logo on the front.

“These students will communicate the mission and culture of the university, enhance CSU tradition and produce university-wide recognition and pride,” Berkman said. “They will build leadership skills and important interpersonal skills.”

Andrea Hooks, a junior studying Organizational Leadership, was recently chosen to be a student ambassador. She further explained the purpose and responsibilities of the new student ambassadors.

“We are going to be the face of the university,” Hook said. “We will be the representative that are taking [special guests] around.”

Hooks spoke favorably of the direction Berkman is taking the university. She was impressed by an interview she did with him this past summer, saying that she believes a lot of the criticism against him has been due to a misunderstanding.

“I think that the communication got lost between getting it from the head office to the students,” Hooks said. “He’s still in the process of talking to students and making them understand, because you had a lot of students that got information and some of them weren’t even going to be affected by the 4-3 credit [conversion].”

Before Berkman’s speech, the convocation ceremony took place, where the annual University Honors and Awards were presented. Dr. Peter Dunham, associate professor of anthropology, won the Distinguished Faculty Award for Service and the Dr. Jennie S. Hwang Award for Faculty Excellence. He said it was fantastic to be recognized, but he had no idea he would win the Distinguished Faculty Award and that he was “stunned.”

“There are a lot of really, really, really good professors here at Cleveland State that do the same sorts of things that I do – labor and anonymity, all the time – never get recognition for it,” Dunham said. “So I kind of feel like I accept this on their behalf, because I’m not by any stretch of the imagination the only person here at Cleveland State who deserves this award.”

He spoke favorably of Berkman’s speech.

“I’d like to reiterate his point that Cleveland State is all about students – that’s what we’re here for,” Dunham said. “And when we get ourselves caught up with all kinds of other questions and issues, the one thing we have to come back and remind ourselves about is that we need to build our programming to help build our students.”