Fall 2020 News Magazine

A Message from the Dean

R. Karl Rethemeyer, PhD


The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape
– Oxford Languages (languages.oup.com)

Like so many people this year, I have been struck by the resilience of our University, our State, and our country in the face of challenges that have not confronted us for more than a century. In the last eight months we have done things that I thought would be impossible. We converted an in-person semester to fully online instruction in 10 days. We built systems to let us safely provide instruction to nearly 18,000 students this fall, with more than 25% of those courses being in person. And we did so without, so far as we know, one member of the faculty, staff, or student body becoming ill through contact in the classroom. The Rockefeller College enrolled more masters-level students than ever before, and our spring enrollments — which are currently more than twice our number at this time last year — indicate that once again our programs are attracting students from the Capital Region, across the country, and around the world. Our University has created the support systems to help the most vulnerable among our students to continue learning — from shipping students computers pulled out of library study carrels to working out arrangements with local Internet providers to help our students, to the Purple Pantry, Purple Thread, and Student Emergency Fund — the UAlbany community has answered the call.

Widening the lens, our nation and its institutions have proven resilient too. In the midst of the pandemic, we held elections that attracted the greatest number of participants ever, and possibly the highest percentage of the electorate in over a century. In spite of efforts to delegitimize the results, the vast majority of public servants — people who were never lionized on The West Wing or Madame Secretary — did what we know they almost always do: they set aside their political allegiances and followed the law. From poll watchers to county elections officials to state election boards, the will of the American people was heeded. And while there will be library walls (I guess more accurately, library hard drives) filled with dissertations on the failures of the federal response, we watched leaders at the local and state level form regional solutions — dare I say, regional networks (as the network guy I had to get that in) — that compensated for absent federal leadership. And even our federal leaders did manage to mount a key response to the economic crisis by passing the largest fiscal stimulus package in history. While this program did not help everyone who needed relief, it did allow millions of people to make ends meet so that their families could stay safe and work when appropriate. More is needed now, but the federal relief prevented immediate calamity. Our system of government has, so far, proven itself capable of responding to a multi-front war… just not the shooting war the Pentagon has planned for.

However, this summer also reminds us of the second meaning of resilience: the ability to snap back into shape even when that shape conflicts with our aspirations and ideals. Metaphorically, our institutions — government, civil society, our system of laws and norms, our habits of mind — have let us resume some semblance of normal in the face of COVID. And that is a good thing. We want our institutions to help us maintain a life worth living.

But our institutions also help us collectively to snap back into practices and policies that enforce and perpetuate the worst of our history and who we are. Our institutions contain the residue of 400 years of oppressing those who are different, which often confines people of color, people who are seeking to express their true identity, people who wish to live by their own sense of conscience and morality to a lesser life — or sometimes to no life at all, as happened to George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and too many others. Our institutions too easily snap back into a shape that permits us to treat those who are different as lesser humans. As a College we are trying to play our part by critically reviewing our core curriculum to assure that we have made positive steps toward inclusion, diversity, and equity in the courses every student must complete.

So, our resilience as a nation is not an unalloyed good. And we are also discovering that some institutions that we thought would protect us from descending into a government of persons — especially our norms for what constitutes acceptable behavior by those engaged in politics and policy — may not be resilient to the challenges we face collectively. We have deep work to do as people interested in public affairs and the public good if we are to renovate our institutions to be more resilient to our challenges while less likely to snap back into the shapes that exclude.

During this season of celebration, I would ask us first to remember those we have lost this year. As of this writing, nearly 260,000 people have lost their lives to COVID, many of them people of color, and many others who were engaged in treating their fellow citizens when they fell ill. We will miss them as we light candles, decorate our homes, or engage in our rituals of remembrance and renewal at this winter season. Please also remember our students, who have worked so diligently to continue their studies while living at home, caring for younger siblings or older relatives, and worrying as they or their family members are unable to work. The Rockefeller College family has been extremely generous this year. If you can, please consider a gift to the UAlbany Student Emergency Fund. Finally, I want to recognize the extraordinary contributions of the Rockefeller faculty and staff. Each has made sacrifices to meet the needs of our students. Being remote has so deeply reinforced to me that Rockefeller College is not a building or a place, but a community of scholars, students, and alumni who are held together by a common devotion to the public good. Each and every member of our community has lived that sense of community over the last eight months.

I wish all of you the very best this holiday season. Please, please, please be safe: Be physically distant but socially close to those you love and care for. And thank you again for being part of the Rockefeller College family.

With best wishes for a good New Year,


R. Karl Rethemeyer, Dean
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy


The 2020 Election


Leading up to the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election and in the weeks following, the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy hosted a series of virtual events, covering a range of topics impacting the election and future of the nation. Throughout the series, over 400 participants joined the interactive discussions led by UAlbany and Rockefeller College faculty and alumni experts.



As the effects of climate change have become more and more evident, the global conversation on energy policy has gotten louder and louder. Consequently, energy policy and climate change played a key role throughout the 2020 United States presidential election — in debates and on the campaign trail — as candidates stated their positions on policy and regulations regarding rising global temperatures. Taking the opportunity to look closely at those policies, Rockefeller College adjunct professor William Saxonis led his Spring 2020 students enrolled in PAD 475/575 “Understanding Energy Policy and Climate Change: A Federal, State, and Local Government Perspective” through a semester-long project to better understand the implications.



On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers signed the most influential document in American history, the U.S. Constitution. In celebration of Constitution Day 2020, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy asked faculty and students the following question: What is the most pressing Constitutional issue facing our country today?


National Powers Combine

UAlbany’s #2 ranked School of Criminal Justice joins Rockefeller College

Strategically restructuring and uniting two of its nationally ranked academic units, the University at Albany, SUNY announced that the School of Criminal Justice will join the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy effective June 1, 2020.


Nationally Recognized Experts


Since receiving his PhD in political science from City University of New York in 1975, Jeffrey Straussman has dedicated his life to teaching, research, and institutional leadership for the past 45 years. Now, the former dean of Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy is turning the page to a new and well-deserved chapter — retirement.



For the second straight year, Rockefeller College Dean R. Karl Rethemeyer has been named to City & State’s Education Power 50. In addition, University at Albany President Havidán Rodríguez also made a second appearance, while Rockefeller College alumnus and SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras headed the list.



With the second wave of COVID-19 raging across the U.S., researchers at the University at Albany are examining the role information can play in stemming the pandemic’s tide. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy Associate Professor Erika Martin is senior author with current and former doctoral students on two new articles on the coronavirus.



Rockefeller College added two new faculty, Mikhail Ivonchyk and Mary Ellen Stitt, while Zsófia Barta, Gang Chen, Ashley Fox, and Timothy Weaver were awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of associate professor. In addition, Dana Peterson was appointed as the Senior Executive Director of the School of Criminal Justice.


Outstanding Students


Over the years, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has given numerous Rockefeller students the exceptional opportunity to get involved in advancing energy solutions through its internship program. While the day-to-day life of workforces across the world were disrupted due to the ongoing pandemic, NYSERDA was still able to give students invaluable real-world experience with its 2020 remote summer internship. NYSERDA’s Allison Capello tells more about the internship program and Rockefeller students Ryan DeNardo, Leslie Green, Agata Pijanowski, and Brittania Smead share their experience interning at NYSERDA and offer advice to fellow students pursuing virtual internships.



Gaining valuable real-world experience through a professional internship is an integral component of Rockefeller College’s MPA program. However, when the COVID-19 crisis hit the U.S. in March 2020 employers sent their workforces home, causing many internships to be put on hold or cancelled. Fortunately, with the help of Rockefeller College’s Office of Career Development, students were able to prepare for and secure remote internships in the public and private sectors, adapting to the current times. MPA students Zach Dickman, Miguelina M. Pierre-Louis, and Gabrielle Schwartz share their experiences interning from a distance in the summer of 2020.


Alumni Spotlights


Each year, Rockefeller College proudly bestows its highest honor on a number of distinguished individuals for their exemplary service to the public and to the College. This year, Rockefeller College is delighted to present Alumni Awards to the following extraordinary individuals for their achievements in the areas of political science, public administration, criminal justice, leadership, and continuing professional development.


UAlbany-educated Jim Malatras, the president of SUNY Empire, was named the 14th chancellor of the State University of New York, leading the largest system of universities, colleges and community colleges in the United States. Malatras, who received his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in political science from UAlbany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, is the first SUNY grad to lead the 64-campus institution.



Graduates of the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy accounted for six of City & State’s 2020 Albany 40 Under 40 Rising Stars list as Philip Bolen, Joseph Garba, Aaron Gladd, Jonas Neri, Ben Parsons, and Joseph Storch earned recognition.


Center/Partner News


Center for Collaborative HIV Research in Practice and Policy researchers recently published three articles in a special issue of Public Health Reports, highlighting the center’s work toward its mission to establish thought leadership on groundbreaking efforts to “end the epidemic” (ETE) of HIV in New York.



The Institute of Nonprofit Leadership and Community Development is an interdisciplinary community that works to improve nonprofit efficiency and impact in the Capital Region. Its Nonprofit University is a professional development subscription series for all levels in organizations. Taught by university faculty and subject matter experts from across the region, Nonprofit U’s interactive and engaging workshops cover all aspects of nonprofit operations and management. Learn more about its upcoming workshops.




Britney Roache