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President Tomás Morales, College of Staten Island
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

Tomas MoralesNow in his fifth year as the third president of the College of Staten Island (CSI), Dr. Tomás D. Morales expresses delight at hearing that an early April preliminary report from the Middle States evaluation team indicated “a very positive outcome” for CSI. Out of 14 assessment areas for “standards of higher education excellence,” the president notes that 12 received “commendations.” “Commendations in 12 out of 14 assessment areas doesn’t just happen,” reflects Morales, “it comes about due to the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff and their invaluable contributions to the process.” He is especially pleased, he adds, because his “philosophy” about assessment is that it should not be just about what an institution does but also about how it is “transforming itself into a learning organization,” not just for students, but for faculty, administration and staff. The president notes with pride how all college divisions and committees worked together toward meeting the evaluation challenge and how the prospect of evaluation under the new Strategic Plan, “Many Voices, One Vision,” prompted CSI to revise its mission, vision and values statements.

And, of course, he was delighted to note CSI’s importance in the grand CUNY scheme as the home of the university’s Interdisciplinary High Performance Computing Center, the largest academic HPC center in the New York metropolitan area, currently serving 400 users. The consulting firm of Hendrickson, Durham & Richardson was recently selected for professional design and construction-related services for a new 175,000 gross square foot, $210 million academic computational science research building that will house the CUNY IHPCC on the CSI campus.

What would President Morales say to parents and prospective students about what makes CSI stand out? He pauses for just a second to catch an enthusiastic breath: “CSI is all about transforming lives. We embrace hands-on undergraduate research and scholarship with world-class faculty mentorships in a global classroom, are home to over 300 international students, offer the only student teaching opportunity in the Galapagos as well as many other study abroad opportunities, and recently inducted our second class of faculty, staff and students into the Phi Beta Delta honor society for international scholars. As the only public institution on Staten Island, we are dedicated to our community by offering students a full spectrum of services, whether they are in our two-year programs, opportunity programs, or working towards a graduate degree. Our campus is also home to more than 130 full-time Ph.D. students, and our faculty and staff continue to earn prestigious national awards.”

Reflecting the history of CSI, which grew out of a merger between Staten Island Community College and Richmond College, the college is particularly focused on ensuring that A.A. students “transition successfully” to baccalaureate degree programs. Additionally, since 2007, the school has seen a 66.5 percent increase in baccalaureate freshmen, an 84 percent increase in the total number of baccalaureate students on campus, a doubling of the baccalaureate-to-associate’s freshmen ratio, a tripling of the baccalaureate-to-associate’s total student ration, and a 22.5 percent increase in the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded. So far, President Morales says, these accomplishments have raised expectations of excellence, and the college is currently enjoying record enrollment. Data also show a greater overall baccalaureate graduation rate. As for direct entrants from high school, the president points out that during the five years he has been at the helm, SAT scores have risen considerably.

Articulation — the smooth transition from associate’s to baccalaureate — is certainly one reason for greater admissions and retention at CSI, but the college’s various and diverse mentoring programs for all students have certainly made a difference. A two-day mandatory orientation–advisement session for entering students that was piloted last summer has been extremely effective, the president reports. At the end of the program, all students leave with their schedules complete, and thus, no registration anxieties. New academic offerings —“what students want”— have also played a major role in strengthening efforts to attract and retain students. From 2006-2007 and from 2010-2011, the number of CSI students studying abroad increased 110 percent. The president also points out that on his watch, there has been a 38 percent increase in CSI students participating in the Macaulay Honors College, and his scholarship program has record numbers of valedictorians and salutatorians from high schools in Brooklyn and Staten Island enrolling.

When Education Update caught up with Dr. Morales, he had just returned from the college’s 11th annual Undergraduate Conference on Research, Scholarship and Performance and was filled with admiration for what he saw and heard: over 170 poster presentations and performances by more than 300 undergraduates who were doing work more commonly associated with doctoral-level projects. Morales was quick to point out the “hard work and dedication of the college’s faculty who mentor our students,” adding that the “faculty play a central role in mentoring and guiding student research.”

He was especially taken with posters describing research regarding the resurgence of turtle populations at the former Fresh Kills Landfill (which will soon be transformed into New York City’s largest parkland), anti-Semitism and its relation to attitudes toward Israel, and breast cancer. Underscoring the president’s commitment to inclusion was the presentation by the Little Fe Supercomputer Team, comprised of some of CSI’s best students, technical staff and an exceptionally talented high school students. The diverse, interdisciplinary team has expertise in a broad range of computational science, mathematics and engineering and includes members with physical and developmental challenges. The team built a high performance, parallel processing supercomputer and is currently developing the software to power CUNY’s first autonomous vehicle.

President Morales has a B.A. in history (secondary education) from SUNY and a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Education Administration and Policy Studies from SUNY Albany. His over 32 years in higher education were in senior executive positions at SUNY, CUNY and the California State system. For sure, he knows the large urban university scene. In fact, he represents CUNY on many national boards and coalitions that focus on urban colleges and universities. He serves on the Executive Committees of AASCU and HACU, and CUMU, and further keeps the University on the national stage by participating on task forces that concern themselves with college readiness and reducing the number of students entering college who need remediation — constant questions for colleges and universities around the country.

He soon paused in the recital of data to note — a heartfelt expression — that he also truly loves Staten Island. #



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