Despite his busy schedule during SUNY Plattsburgh’s fall reopening, Dr. Alexander Enyedi, President, agreed to an interview with Strictly Business where he shared his approach to leadership, lessons learned during 2020 spring semester and his vision for the future.
Your first semester here could certainly be divided into a “before” COVID and “after”. What in your experience has prepared you to lead during these unprecedented times?
Great question. Nothing really prepares you for a once in a lifetime pandemic but my earlier administrative positions provided me experience in emergency planning and building and executing strategic plans. That has been foundational helping me lead the SUNY Plattsburgh campus through this crisis. While working for the California State University in Northern California, I led campus-wide collaborations in Academic Affairs to deal with a variety of safety concerns including wildfires, extended power outages and earthquake planning. Many times, these crises required split-second decisions to ensure safety and well-being of students, staff and faculty.
As I do my work, I always ask this question, “What does success look like?” And I heed Steven Covey’s advice to “always begin with the end in mind”. [Covey was an American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker. His most popular book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He also wrote Principle-Centered Leadership. In 1996, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential people. He was a professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University at the time of his passing in 2012.]
Here at SUNY Plattsburgh, for a successful fall restart, we needed to envision the future and work in reverse. Ultimately, this involved multiple teams addressing our core operations and mission — health and safety, academic continuity, student life, continuing to build an inclusive academy, and recruiting the incoming Fall 2020 class of students.
In my experience, I have learned to avoid over saturation which can lead to paralysis. It is important to identify three or four key items to address; then FOCUS and FINISH.
What are some lessons learned from the pivot to remote instruction in mid-March 2020?
The first lesson learned was the critical importance of communication. Since mid- March, there has been so much information arriving at a rapid pace. In some cases, that information changed daily. There were many unknowns at the outset of COVID. The challenge we met initially was to distill and organize information quickly to campus so we could make our transition to remote learning and simultaneously provide students a safe way to leave campus. Because we serve multiple audiences—students, faculty, staff, and the community at large – our goal was to be transparent and timely with information.
The second lesson was to maintain a flexible mindset. We quickly recognized there were going to be unanticipated issues and we needed to be prepared to meet them. For example, using ZOOM requires a tremendous internet bandwidth that we needed to quickly resolve. Many students needed access to technology to continue online education and this was addressed by establishing a laptop loan program and providing hotspots to get online.
The third lesson was that success requires a team. Everyone across campus pulled together to make the transition to remote instruction happen. The college also sought help from individuals beyond the campus including the city mayor, town supervisor, Clinton County Department of Health, County Legislature, and CVPH Medical Center. No single person could have built our restart plan. It reflects the experience and wisdom of hundreds of the college’s talented faculty and staff.
Has your management style changed now that more faculty and staff, as well as students, are working remotely? How?
I would characterize my management style as principled, consultative, collaborative, transparent, and decisive. In addition, I am a firm believer in the shared governance model that is critical to a successful college. During COVID it has been even more important to approach my work in this way. At the moment, we are predominately working on campus, but it wasn’t always that way. We’ve been phasing employees back to being fulltime on campus since June 1. Since March, I have participated in a plethora of Zoom calls with campus stakeholders. However, Zoom is a challenging medium; it prevents robust social interactions that are key to satisfying live, face-to-face, meetings. Consequently, I scheduled more one-on-one calls with campus stakeholders to better focus the discussion. I deliberately increased the frequency of communication to campus. I also offered live “town hall meetings” to interact with large (500+) audiences of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and parents. With the start of activities this fall, I have resumed my daily “walkabouts” to meet students, staff, and faculty in person. This is very important to me as I learn how and why our campus community is passionate about the college.
Has the direction of any of the educational programming required revisioning or refocusing since the pandemic and need for more remote instruction? Which ones? How?
We had to rethink and innovate the educational programming that requires face-to-face or in-person components. As an example, Nursing, K-12 Education, Audiology, Biology and Chemistry fall into that category. Laboratories, internships, community placement for experiential hours or credentialing had to be rethought, particularly for the fall semester restart. This work was an important component of the Academic Continuity Workgroup’s thinking and planning this summer.
How many unions does your position require you to manage? How is this collaboration going in the challenging and chaotic times? Secrets to success?
The college has two unions that represent faculty and staff at SUNY Plattsburgh: United University Professionals (UUP) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). They have been partners as we worked through the summer and into the fall restart. In addition to our regular conversations with union leadership, I established biweekly meetings for UUP/CSEA leaders to discuss issues, concerns and suggestions for the campus restart plan. These meetings are collaborative and very collegial. I believe it is important to listen and I value their contributions, which have made for a better plan and solid opening.
What is your vision for the future in terms of SUNY Plattsburgh and its
community of the larger city/town?
During the Presidential search process, three major “vision” opportunities for SUNY Plattsburgh, and the local community, emerged: Equity, Engagement and Enrollment.
Equity — Building an inclusive academy and community.
Engagement — Elevating collaboration and engagement with community and campus stakeholders.
Enrollment — leading the development of a data-driven Strategic Enrollment Management Plan.
SUNY Plattsburgh can lead the way to develop diversity, equity and inclusion programming, and through positive action, change campus culture and surrounding community culture to create an inclusive community.
It is my goal to elevate the relationship between the campus and local community and to build the trust of the community through heightened engagement with civic and business leaders, not-for-profit organizations and community activists. The quality of the relationships we build both on and off campus, and by celebrating the strengths of the community, will serve to confirm the important role SUNY Plattsburgh plays to ensure prosperity for North Country residents.
Finally, the development and implementation of a sophisticated, data-driven, strategic enrollment management (SEM) plan is a priority and critical for the college’s sustainability. This will be particularly important in the post-COVID world as we work to educate New York’s students.
I am excited for the opportunity to be a catalyst for the next iteration of the college.
What additional help has SUNY Plattsburgh’s alumni given the college since the pandemic’s arrival?
During the pandemic, I have discovered that our extensive network of alumni are incredible advocates and contributors to the success of SUNY Plattsburgh. In fact, more than 8,300 alumni live here in Clinton County. I am very proud of our alumni support for the Plattsburgh College Foundation’s COVID Emergency Response Fund which has supported students during this difficult time. Alumni donations established grants to assist students with unexpected financial needs and the programs that support them. Our Office of Alumni Relations can reach out to anyone who would like to learn more.
What would you like the North Country business community to know about SUNY Plattsburgh since its recent reopening and beyond?
SUNY Plattsburgh is the business community’s source for bright, talented, career-ready graduates to build economic prosperity in the North Country. To this end, SUNY Plattsburgh will continue to provide graduates with expertise and training in K-12 education, nursing, health care, business, and entrepreneurship combined with a solid liberal arts education. Our graduates are ready to solve the important issues of the region.
DR. ALEXANDER ENYEDI, 11TH PRESIDENT OF SUNY PLATTSBURGH
Born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Enyedi grew up in what he describes as a “semi-rural” setting and developed an interest in science, specifically biology, at an early age. While in high school, Enyedi began flight lessons and soloed when he was 16 years old. (He earned his license at 17.) Aviation has become a lifelong passion.
Enyedi began his own college education by earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in Science from the University of Guelph (Ontario). As an international student coming to the United States in 1986, he earned his Ph.D. in Plant anthology/Biochemistry from Pennsylvania State University. He was then awarded a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Agricultural Biotechnology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Upon completion of the fellowship, in 1993, Enyedi began his teaching and administrative career at Western Michigan University (WMU), Kalamazoo, Michigan, as an Assistant Professor of Biology and made full Professor in 2002. His first administrative role came in 2001, when he was named Chair of the Biological Sciences Department—a position he held from 2001 to 2005. He then served as the Associate Dean and Senior Associate Dean in the College of
Arts and Sciences for the remainder of his 22-year career at WMU. During his tenure, Enyedi had direct oversight of 26 departments, schools and interdisciplinary programs.
In 2015, Enyedi accepted the job of Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Humboldt State University, Arcata, California,
which offers a mix of programs — similar to SUNY Plattsburgh’s — and is located in a rural region not unlike the North Country. While at Humboldt, Enyedi oversaw three academic colleges: The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Institutional Effectiveness; the library; enrollment management; international education; distance education; and the Office for Research and Sponsored Programs among other units. He established a new Center for Teaching and
Learning and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, coordinated a new RN to BSN program in collaboration with other institutions, and led the effort to create and implement a new five-year strategic enrollment management plan.
This veteran academic leader, administrator and scholar arrived in Plattsburgh in January 2020, in the midst of a snowstorm, ready and eager to assume the leadership of SUNY Plattsburgh.
Dr. Alexander Enyedi
101 Broad Street
Plattsburgh, New York
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
As part of SB’s interview with Dr. Enyedi we inserted a few personal queries…
Who is your role model? Why?
The answer is easy: Dr. Thomas Kent, my former dean at Western Michigan University (WMU). I served as Dr. Kent’s Associate Dean for five years in the College of Arts and Sciences. During my time with him, I learned how to be a principled leader and decision maker. I learned the importance of leaders being both inspirational and aspirational. I learned the critical importance
of listening carefully and I also learned why micromanagement is a poor strategy. I discovered the impact of visiting in person as much as possible (versus email) so that meaningful conversations can be held which develop deeper connections and rapport. Because of Dr. Kent’s mentorship, I was selected to be the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Michigan University (WMU) when he retired. Unfortunately, Dr. Kent passed away in 2019, but he was wonderful supporter and advocate of my work. I still miss him.
What do you do to unwind and recharge?
I enjoy spending time outdoors, particularly hiking in the Adirondacks. Now that I’m learning more about this beautiful region, I am motivated to join the ranks of the “46ers” and climb the local high peaks. Also, my wife, Andrea, and I play Scrabble, and we’re very competitive with each other.
Lastly, I am a licensed pilot, so aviation is another great way to unwind because it requires addressing challenges and activities that are vastly different than my work with the college. I am looking forward to putting my floatplane rating to use out on Lake Champlain.