Fiat Innovation

Consonance Capital is a health care investment firm established in 2005. It is headquartered in New York City and has had an enviable performance record since its inception. As one of the founding partners of Consonance Capital, Kevin Livingston ’93 thus has demonstrated a knack for investing. So, when Kevin thinks something is going to pay off in the long run and is willing to make an investment in it, we know it is a good deal. That is why it is so gratifying to have Kevin and his wife, Hanh, create an Academic Innovation Fund with a seed grant of $300,000. The Fund will enable our faculty and staff to develop new and distinctive academic offerings that will make Alfred University stand out in the competitive higher education marketplace.

The Academic Innovation Fund is the first of its kind in the country. Our faculty and staff will have an opportunity to submit proposals, complete with business plans that detail the start-up costs associated with a curricular innovation as well as the expected returns in the form of additional students enrolled. Where Kevin and Hanh’s plan is different is that once the new academic program starts to take off, part of the additional revenue it generates will incentivize the faculty who develop the program and part of it will be returned to the Academic Innovation Fund to perpetuate it for years to come. Guidelines for the program are in the process of being developed now.

Kevin is an Alfred University trustee and chairs our board’s Investment committee.

We intend for the $300,000 in seed money that Kevin and Hanh are investing in the Academic Innovation Fund to grow, not just from the return on investments that the Fund will make in academic program innovation, but from other donors who think the idea is worth investing in as well. Curricular innovation, after all, is critical to the success of our five-year strategic plan, Fiat Lux! New or revamped curricular offerings increase enrollment, improve student retention rates, promote faculty and staff development, provide greater options for our students, and ultimately enhance our students’ professional success.

We showcased some of the curricular innovations that our faculty and staff have produced during last month’s meeting of our board of trustees’ Academic Affairs committee.

One program recognized was Art Force 5 (AF5), which started in 2006 when Dan Napolitano, then director of student activities and now assistant dean of the School of Art and Design, was searching for a way to help students use art to heighten awareness of social issues and respond to community crises. Over the past 12 years, AF5 has grown from a co-curricular activity to a credit-bearing course. Its scope has expanded far beyond the confines of the Alfred University community; students have done community response projects at a number of schools, including the University of Notre Dame. When Oklahoma University’s (OU) campus was roiled by a racist incident, the AF5 team traveled to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in Washington, DC, and engaged members of OU’s campus and other campuses to create a piece that now resides at OU. They have done summer internships and community art projects in Rochester, building relations between police and youth. This past summer, with a grant from the State University of New York, they worked on Governor’s Island in New York City, involving students from a number of SUNY campuses in their projects. In 2019, they are developing a partnership with the New York State Office of General Services’ Harlem Gallery to pay tribute to artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

We also recognized a new MFA program in painting launched this fall through the entrepreneurial efforts of Stephanie McMahon and Kevin Wixted, professors of painting in our School of Art and Design. Our University has one of the top 10 MFA programs in the country, but historically did not offer an MFA in painting. Stefan Kürten and Jutta Haeckel spent a year in Alfred in 2012 as Randall Chairs in painting in our School of Art and Design. Out of discussions with them came the idea for an MFA painting program that would be unique in that students would spend half of their time in Alfred and half of their time in Düsseldorf, Germany. Other MFA programs incorporate a semester of study abroad. Our University’s MFA in painting program will divide students’ time equally between two continents.

This past weekend, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Confucius Institute on the Alfred University campus, with Dr. Wilfred Huang, long-time professor of business, serving as its founding director. Through the auspices of the Confucius Institute, hundreds of Chinese students have studied at Alfred University. While Confucius Institutes are found around the globe, Alfred was one of the first two universities in New York State to secure one. The initiative built on efforts by Wayne Higby—who delivered the keynote address at the 10th anniversary celebration, just as he did at the program’s inauguration—and other faculty and staff in our School of Art and Design. It has enabled Alfred University to build relationships with schools in China, resulting in a steadily growing group of alumni and friends in that country.

MostArts is another stellar example of faculty innovation that takes advantage of the unparalleled facilities we have in the Miller Performing Arts Center and Miller Theater. Lisa Lantz, professor of music, director of the University orchestra, and chair of the performing arts division, created an annual festival in 2014 that brings hundreds of visitors to our community during the second week of July. The centerpiece of the MostArts Festival, which has become one of the 25 best attended festivals in upstate New York in just five short years, is a young pianist competition, with a $10,000 first prize, which guarantees the participation of some of the country’s best young performers. Attendees have ample opportunity to hear the Festival orchestra of professional musicians from around the world. Complementing the music portion of the program are a number of art, music, and creative writing workshops, as well as a gala. With the momentum generated by MostArts, Alfred University is exploring a music major, something it has not offered for a number of years.

Please join me in thanking Kevin and Hanh Livingston for their significant philanthropic investment in promoting curricular innovation on our campus. Their gift goes to the heart of what makes Alfred University the distinguished place that it is. Most importantly, it provides a creative means for our faculty and staff to bring to life an even brighter curricular future for our students.