Home Home Home About Us Home About Us About Us About Us /links/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html About Us About Us /archives/index.html About Us /archives/index.html About Us /archives/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html /links/index.html
Home About Us About Us /links/index.html /advertising/index.html /advertising/index.html
About Us /archives/index.html /archives/index.html /subscribe/index.html /subscribe/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /survey/index.html /links/index.html










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month


















New York City
September 2002

President Barbara Sirvis, Southern Vermont College: A Special Leader for a Special Place
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

Baileigh, who sits not too far from the president of Southern Vermont College (SVC) is probably the college’s most visible recruiter. An Irish herding dog the color of Bailey’s Irish crème, Baileigh’s reflective face on the SVC web site seems the perfect complement to the smiling welcome of her mistress, Dr. Barbara P. Sirvis. Only one of them, however, sits under the desk. The online picture of the two, part of Dr. Sirvis’s presidential web page, is telling: both text and photo convey the message that SVC, a small, independent college in Bennington, VT, is a caring, friendly place, almost like family. Visitors are urged to tell the Admissions staff that they’d like to meet the canine undergraduate, and everyone –“that goes for faculty and staff, not just students”– is always urged to stop in to see the president, even if just for “a hug.” Students at SVC are known by name.

The tone set by the web page is reinforced by the College mission statement that the Southern Vermont College philosophy “begins with a deep belief in the potential of every individual.” Every student “can recite that opening line by heart,” President Sirvis says, and also every faculty and staff member. All college presidents are expected to balance the budget and secure funding, she points out, so that while the financial well being of SVC has been a major accomplishment of her tenure there, it is not what she cites first as what she is most proud of. Instead, as she enters her sixth year as president, she points to “a sense of community,” a great satisfaction at having involved the “entire college campus in the creation of a functional strategic plan that brings together mission, vision and academic programs.” She is proud also of increasing the visibility of the college. The better known, the more partners in the surrounding community and in the state at large – not to mention The South Bronx. That’s right, one of New York City’s most populous and diverse boroughs is sending students, many of them people of color, to rural Vermont, which is 97 percent white. And SVC and Bennington are loving it, Dr. Sirvis says.

That’s not all that’s unusual about SVC, a place that advertises the emphasis it places “on serving students who have yet to fulfill their potential, ensuring accessibility to those with extra needs, financial and academic, who are serious about bettering their lives through higher education.” For a school with only 500 students, which will probably cap at 800-850 in a few years, SVC has a particularly rich mix of undergraduates, about 40 percent of whom live on campus. Approximately 30 percent are adults, 60 percent first-generation to attend college, 12 percent students with learning disabilites, and 13 percent students of color. And then there are international students–from France, Bulgaria, Morocco, West Ghana, all living together happily, the president says delightedly. Admissions officers look at a student’s entire portfolio. Potential students look at web sites. And then there’s word of mouth: SVC already has caught the attention of a number of high schools, public and private, in the Northeast, including New York City, and, with an increasing infusion of grant money, has become a more prominent competitor as a “career-oriented liberal arts college.”

Students love the place, the president says, because “here they are individuals.” There’s the young African American who created her own program, “The Gospel Diva,” on the college’s expanded radio station, the Jewish student who arrived with his electric menorah, and the foster child from the Bronx. And then there are Vermont’s own, such as the undergraduate who went on to become the local police chief. “We are,” the president says, “a private college with a public mission.”

Do they succeed? Well, they have a 70 percent retention rate, which is considered “excellent” for an institution such as SVC, and a 90 percent employment rate, in the first year after graduation. Students receive extraordinary attention as freshmen, do at least one field placement (service learning), and enjoy entry into a diverse job market. At SVC the hot fields are also the open fields: Criminal Justice, Nursing, Psychology and Business. Partnerships with hospitals have been growing, collaborative programs especially in radiologic technology. Since 9/11, the number of applicants in justice fields–police, sheriff, immigration and naturalization, paralegal, etc.–has gone up three times overall and six times for women.

The special place that is SVC has in Dr. Barbara Sirvis a special person in more senses than one. A former special education teacher, with particular interest in children with physical disabilities, she received her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University and went on to pick up degrees and expertise in management and administration. Before coming to Vermont, Dr. Sirvis was Vice President of Academic Affairs at SUNY Brockport and has held and holds national and international posts in higher education. As for Baileigh, she’s just special all on her own.#


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.