A Year of Firsts: New Faces, Initiatives and… Natural Disasters

The opening of the 2011 school year took an ominous tone. With the beginning of Freshman Orientation for the class of 2015 just days away, an earthquake struck the East Coast with tremors reaching from Washington, D.C., to Boston and stretching as far west as Detroit. Then, residents of New York faced Hurricane Irene, a storm looming down the coast and set to hit the city a mere twenty-four hours before Convocation, the official kick-off of the academic year. 

A year of firsts, indeed. 

After the storm had cleared and students reemerged from the safe haven of their dorms (where they bunked with Polytechnic Institute of NYU President Jerry Hultin), the beginning of the 2011 school year continued on, ushering in a slew of new faces and traditions at NYU-Poly, including an expanded Welcome Week, which offered workshops and seminars to ease students into their new environment. 

Greeting the incoming Class of 2015 at Convocation, Anita Farrington was modest about her newbie status at NYU-Poly. The Dean of Student Affairs is a veteran administrator who has been with NYU since 1981, having served as the Assistant Dean for Freshman at NYU's College of Arts & Science before her most recent appointment at NYU-Poly. 

"Being Freshman Dean for many years made me very sensitive to the importance of the first-year experience," she says. "We have a very small window of time to make it clear that they're part of our village."

Another new addition to the NYU-Poly community, Future of Cities Global Fellow and former Toronto Mayor David Miller, also spoke at Convocation, where he challenged incoming students to find innovative solutions to solve urban problems at a time when, globally, there are more people living in cities than not. He will take on many roles at the Institute including one as co-instructor of a studio class focused on increasing sustainability in local parks. 

With the close of Convocation began another new tradition at NYU-Poly: the freshman class was broken into small groups for i2e Dialogue Discussions, in which faculty members led sessions about the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, assigned to incoming students over the summer. 

A Running Start 

Well-practiced at easing first-year students into college life, Dean Farrington has taken her considerable experience and aimed it at the larger target of Student Affairs, which encompasses a vast array of services, such as residential life, career planning and institutional compliance, among other features. Already she and her staff have sent students into Manhattan for Broadway plays, taken a toxicity tour offered through the BMW Guggenheim Lab, and helped organized the NYU Presidential Welcome and Reality Show. The last event "made it known that this is the other legacy we're part of in terms of resources," said Dean Farrington about the services that the Institute's students can access as members of NYU.

The office has also expanded to include new hires Daniel Choi, Director of Student Activities and Operations Manager (a position never before held at NYU-Poly), and Judith Simonsen, coordinator of student advocacy and compliance. 

"In the next phase, we'll be ready to bring NYU students to Brooklyn because there's a lot here for them," says the Dean, explaining that she's begun conversations with NYU administrators about programming that will introduce next year's incoming freshmen to the Institute.

In the meantime, a full menu of newly-introduced activities and programs are available to the NYU-Poly student body, including piano recitals (the next is scheduled for Halloween) and a reception for student veterans of the armed forces, as well as a series of public interviews with leading innovators. 

The Philosophy Behind the Deliverables

It may be tempting to see the new or expanded programs from the Division of Student Affairs as a series of unrelated events produced by newcomers excited to be a part of NYU-Poly, but a deliberate and methodical philosophy governs their output. "The reason I was magnetized here," explains Choi about his decision to join NYU-Poly, "is because it matches my philosophy: living and learning should be integrated."

"Dean Farrington has charged us to look for ways to enhance the academic tone of student life, as well as to look at retaining students and increasing their satisfaction," continues Choi. For him, that has meant interlacing residential life with educational moments, such as holding dinners at Othmer Residence Hall for faculty and student guests. Describing the dinners as a modest change, Choi becomes more animated when he discusses "TED Talk Tuesdays," screenings of taped presentations by speakers selected by the nonprofit TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) that he's hosting on a biweekly basis at Othmer.

Despite all the programs being introduced by their office, Dean Farrington and Choi are adamant about their support of NYU-Poly's traditions. "There are some really interesting, awesome, sustainable programs that have happened in the past that I would like to continue," says Choi, citing as an example the annual reception for students who make the dean's list, a celebration that is being reinstated this academic year.

"We will always have our NYU-Poly identity," echoes Dean Farrington. "That's something we support straight out because of our two legacies."

Still, the sheer number of first-year administrators and first-time events being introduced infuse the campus with an undeniable "new energy," as Dean Farrington puts it. "We all feel like we're on the threshold, and we're beginning to get to the deliverables," she says, smiling. "It's an exciting moment for all of us."