Of the nearly two million people entering the workforce this year with a degree from an academic institution, nearly 1,500 of them have been educated at St. Bonaventure University or Siena College, the two Province-sponsored schools, both located in New York State.
Both SBU and Siena have a long history of providing education in the Catholic-Franciscan tradition – this was Bonaventure’s 158th commencement ceremony and Siena’s 78th. But that didn’t keep each school from celebrating historic firsts for several of its academic programs.
For the first time in St. Bonaventure University’s 37-year involvement in New York State’s Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, an entire HEOP class expected to have a 100 percent graduation rate. The HEOP program provides access to higher education to students who are economically disadvantaged and academically underprepared. It provides a generous financial aid package, as well as a rigorous academic intervention program aimed at bringing underprepared students up to speed.
Students who are accepted into the HEOP program might “live in a toxic environment or a dangerous neighborhood,” explained program director Bridget Kehrer. “A lot of them take care of younger siblings and are never able to fully invest themselves in their academics. And then there are a number of students who had to work throughout high school to help contribute financially to the household.” Some students continue to work while attending St. Bonaventure so they can send money back home.
St. Bonaventure’s HEOP program has a history of success. Three times in the past seven years, a HEOP student was named the Ideal Bonaventure Student, while three other HEOP students received honorable mention. Additionally, three HEOP students were selected to give the student address at May and December graduation ceremonies over the past four years.
“Obviously we’re really excited for these students,” said Kehrer of this year’s class of 20 students. “Their success speaks to the university’s commitment to the program, its willingness to provide resources in partnership with New York State, and to stand behind the program. We have great collaboration with other departments on campus that help us provide resources and academic support to our students – faculty and staff who have as much buy-in with the program as I and the students do. We have a lot of support.”
This was also the first commencement presided over by Dr. Dennis DePerro, who was appointed president of St. Bonaventure University last June. The school will welcome its largest freshman class in a decade this fall and will begin a capital campaign in the near future.
Siena College also celebrated a historic first when it held its first nurses pinning ceremony. The Baldwin Nursing Program – a bachelor of science degree in nursing completion program for RNs who hold an associate’s degree – was founded in 2016. Siena’s first-ever nursing program holds on-campus classes on Wednesdays, providing nurses and employers with a predictable schedule so that nurses can advance their education while continuing to work.
“Hospitals are urging, and in some cases requiring, their RNs with associate’s degrees to get their bachelor of science in nursing, and are providing substantial tuition reimbursement for staff nurses to further their studies,” said program director Lisa Flack at the time the program was announced. “Numerous research studies have shown hospitals and patients benefit from nurses with a bachelor’s degree, and many RNs want to expand their education, but have struggled to find a schedule that works for them and their employer.”
Siena’s program lasts for two years and includes a full curriculum of on-campus courses each Wednesday, as well as a clinical practice segment that provides students with in-the-field experiences. Twelve students made up the first class to graduate from the program.
The day before graduation, which fell on Mother’s Day this year, St. Bonaventure and Siena each offered the traditional baccalaureate Mass. Francis Di Spigno, OFM, executive director of university ministries, offered the Mass for St. Bonaventure and college chaplain Lawrence Anderson, OFM, presided at the Mass for Siena College.
On graduation day at the Reilly Center at St. Bonaventure University, DePerro presented 417 undergraduates and 242 graduates with degrees. Honorary degrees were also presented to John and Kay Meisch, longtime benefactors of the university, and Jim Meyer, ‘76, ‘79, CEO of Sirius XM, who was the keynote speaker.
At Siena College, president F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, awarded 767 bachelor’s degrees and 59 master’s degrees in accounting. This year’s keynote speaker was Gerald “Jerry” DeFrancisco, ‘68, former president of humanitarian services for the American Red Cross. DeFrancisco helped transform the governance, service delivery processes and organizational structure for Red Cross humanitarian outreach and led recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Siena’s graduation ceremony, held at Albany’s Times Union Center.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: Photos and videos of the commencement celebrations can be found on the websites of St. Bonaventure University and Siena College.
- “Siena, St. Bonaventure Graduates Encouraged to Follow Spirit of St. Francis” – May 24, 2017, HNP Today
- “Siena Launches New Nursing Program for RNs Seeking Bachelor’s Degree” – April 6, 2016, Siena.edu
- “HEOP Class at St. Bonaventure University on Historic Track to Program’s First-Ever 100% Graduation Rate” – May 11, 2018, SBU.edu