By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA — The new SUNY Oneonta President, Alberto Cardelle, said he is aiming to make things easier and safer for students as well as to improve town-gown relationships.
Prior to taking over the role of SUNY President, Cardelle was a provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fitchburg State
University in Massachusetts. Before that, he spent 15 years at East Stroudsburg University, where he began as an assistant professor for public health in 1999, eventually becoming a department chair in 2001.
Cardelle spoke about his experiences growing up and what led him to take over the mantle of president at the largest college in the area.
“I was always in higher education, first as a faculty member and then moved up and continued to work as an administrator, because higher education, I believe, is one of the most important vehicles for social mobility and for transforming the opportunities of individuals,” Cardelle said. “I don’t know anything else except maybe healthcare that can be the great equalizer with regards to opportunity that people have to improve their lives.”
Cardelle said he grew up in Miami, but “not the one you see on TV. Miami was a small town.” He is the son of first-generation Cuban immigrants, which informed his experience as an educator. He grew up in a close-knit community with other Cuban immigrants. Cardelle said growing up was “wonderful” and he liked sports such as soccer and baseball and went to Walt Disney World as a kid many times.
“In that sense of being a close-knit family is what I remember growing up,” Cardelle said. “It was not until I left Miami that I realized I was part of a minority. I got my education about being an immigrant after I left Miami, which was interesting, because in Miami we were so insulated from that.”
Cardelle described an experience where he was in north Florida and was speaking Spanish with a dad.
“Somebody just walked by, came up to us and said ‘you’re in the United States, speak English.’ And so that was the first time that occurred to me that not everybody felt as if we belonged here.”
He said watching the embarrassment his parents have was “rough.”
“I think that many students that come from immigrant’s background don’t really understand how to work higher education,” Cardelle said. “The truth is, even if you’re not from an immigrant family, if you’re a first-generation student, if you’re a student that none of your parents have gone to college, you really don’t have anyone to ask what’s an office hour, what’s a syllabus, how do I graduate.”
Cardelle said 29% of incoming freshman are racially or ethnically diverse, indicating a changing demographic to Oneonta.
“I had to learn a lot and try to navigate higher education and the college experience by myself,” Cardelle said. “And that’s partially why I was so attracted to being an administrator in higher education, because I
wanted to make it as easy as possible for everyone,” Cardelle said.
“Everybody needs higher education,” Cardelle said. “Without regional comprehensives we wouldn’t
have teachers, we wouldn’t have healthcare professionals, we wouldn’t have nurses, we wouldn’t have artists, writers. All societies need institutions like ours that are accessible.”
Cardelle said “fantastic teachers” and the ability for SUNY to give students the opportunity to “take what they learned and apply it” makes SUNY Oneonta a place that stands out from other colleges. “Not many places have that to the extent that we have here,” Cardelle said.
Cardelle called SUNY Oneonta an “aesthetically beautiful” place where you can “feel safe and get to know people the way it’s laid out.”
“I think it has a real small town feeling within the campus,” Cardelle said. “I think the community is small enough for it to be safe but then provides great restaurants, great performing arts. It’s a really great combination. Students are attracted to go into town and the town wants them to go there. And that doesn’t always happen that way.”
Cardelle said the school has been working a lot on improving town-gown relationships including a plan dedicated to educating off-campus students. “They are part of a community and they have to be good citizens of that community,” Cardelle said. “And we also try to work with community members to let them know how they can work with the students themselves. … I am committed to working closely with the common council, the city leaders and the county leaders to ensure that Oneonta remains an important true partner in the community.”
Cardelle said COVID numbers are trending in the right direction, mostly thanks to vaccines. He said there is one student in isolation, but pool testing shows low positivity testing.
“A lot of the work we continue to do is paying off,” Cardelle said.
“We get affected by things that happen outside the campus but right now I say our campus is doing everything we can do to continue to plan to wrap up the semester in person and without any disruptions and we’re already starting to think about planning for the spring.”