Current and former leaders in higher education share insights about integrative learning and career advice.

Introduction by Carol Marcy

Five Geneseo alumni who are current or former presidents of higher education institutions participated in a panel discussion, “From SUNY Geneseo Student to College President,”during Homecoming & Family Weekend on Sept. 21.

Moderated by President Denise A. Battles, the panelists discussed their career journeys and shared advice with parents, students and alumni.

Here, they also share their views of a liberal arts education and the importance of integrative learning — an approach in which students engage in different disciplines and learn to make connections between those different skills, knowledge and experiences and apply them to complex and often unstructured problems.

The panelists agree that a strong foundation is vital and that there are different approaches to integrative learning.

John Anderson ’79, retired president of Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Throughout his career, John Anderson, who received a master’s degree in physics from Geneseo, has been a professor and academic leader at a variety of institutions, including serving as president at Alfred State College. Anderson said applications of integrated learning are found across all disciplines.  

“Some institutions take a structural approach to creating integrated learning opportunities through academic majors that combine elements of many disciplines,” said Anderson, ”while others take a project-based approach and incorporate integrative learning theory in student-development and civic-engagement initiatives.”

During his tenure at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Anderson said the university approached integrated learning in a more formal fashion. “As an example, the development of a music business technology bachelor degree was responsive to local industry demands and was designed as a multidisciplinary and integrated learning major,” he said. “Faculty from physics, applied engineering, music, computer science, business, and art and design used integrative learning theory to create a major that became the fastest- growing program at the university and currently serves a growing entertainment field.”

Daniel Barwick ’90, former president of Independence Community College in Kansas and an education consultant with the American Education Resource Center. 

“Professional specialization is a bit of a myth,” said Barwick, who received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Geneseo. “Even specialists must take advantage of advances in their fields, and those advances typically come from outside influences.

“For the rest of us — non-specialists — our professional lives are dominated by the exciting and constant interplay between human psychology, group dynamics, politics, economics, ethics, law and a dozen other fields that influence how successful we are.

“This is the way the world works and graduates who understand that are able to hit the ground running,” said Barwick. “Independence Community College does that through the Entrepreneurial Mindset, in which entrepreneurship is understood as a desire to understand and solve the problems of others. This requires a broad education and a willingness to connect the elements of that education.”

Scott Dalrymple ’87, president of Columbia College in Missouri.

Scott Dalrymple earned a bachelor’s degree of English at Geneseo and years later discovered he loved the world of business and earned a master’s in business administration from the University at Buffalo. “While my analyst-level peers didn’t care that I knew Shakespeare, some of the executives did. It helped me stand out, as did my love of writing,” said Dalrymple.

“The idea that learned people should choose one primary area of study is a relatively modern one,” said Dalrymple. “Smart people have never limited themselves to the confines of academic disciplines. The most important intellectual trait isn’t raw intelligence. It’s curiosity.”

Dalrymple always tell students to be presumptuous and to read outside their field.  “Show up at office hours of professors who’ve never heard of you,” he said. “Just ask questions. Most professors will love it, I promise. You will, too. And keep asking questions, forever. Especially outside your field.”

Roy McTarnaghan ’54, founding president emeritus of Florida Gulf Coast University in Florida.

Roy McTarnaghan developed Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., to address an underserved area that had the lowest college attendance rate among 18- to 24-year-olds in the state. McTarnaghan believes an educational plan should focus on critical thinking skills and how to integrate knowledge to address and respond to complex issues.

“One’s life is enriched by a learning base including the fine arts, language and literature, math and science, history and culture,” said McTarnaghan. “How we respond to and resolve life’s challenges is the mark of a mature and healthy mind.”

As a Geneseo student in the early 1950s, McTarnaghan majored in speech therapy and audiology and took psychology and health science courses, participated in several campus theatre productions, debate and public speaking forums, a clinical internship to hone the skills and knowledge from the classroom to the world of application and therapy, and was a team member for the college representing Turkey in a statewide Model United Nations Conference. “Reaching out to tie related programs together is the hallmark of educational integration,” said McTarnaghan.

Kathleen Rose ’79, president of Gavilan College in California.

Kathleen Rose earned bachelor degrees in English and elementary education from Geneseo and has served the California community college system since 2002. For the past four years, she has served as superintendent and president of Gavilan College. Rose says one major integrative learning strategy that has become a reform effort in California and at Gavilan College is Guided Pathways, a five-year, $150-million project aimed at engaging administrators, faculty and staff to enact comprehensive changes so that all courses are designed as part of a coherent pathway with a clear outcome.

“Learning communities, meta majors and wrap-around student support systems with support from a Title V grant has shown promise as our transfer numbers have started to indicate,” says Rose. “We are in the midst of an academic reorganization to focus on student success metrics and cross-curricular efforts in the upcoming year that will incorporate service learning, our learning commons, tutoring, peer mentoring, and supplemental instruction tracked through a homegrown data system.

“At Gavilan, open forums, podcasts and student and faculty-led focus groups are beginning to shift our culture in exciting directions that align with our central mission of transfer students, career education and lifelong learning,” said Rose.