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Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce

Remarks to the “Incite Leadership” Breakfast

Kathleen McCartney, President of Smith College, December 17, 2013

I’m so pleased to be a resident of Northampton and the Pioneer Valley. Durham, New Hampshire, where I worked at the University of New Hampshire, was a little too rural. When I worked at Harvard, Cambridge could, at times, seem too urban.

Northampton is just right.

When I told people I had accepted the Smith presidency, I didn’t just hear “You’ll love Smith.” I also heard “You’ll love Northampton.” They were right. Since my husband, Bill, and I arrived in July, we’ve spent as much time as we can exploring our new home.

We climbed Mount Tom with John Brady, a geology professor at Smith. We’ve taken in the view of the Valley from the top of Mount Skinner. We enjoyed the Paradise City art show. We loved Bag Day — it was such a treat to run into so many people I knew from the college and the community.

I’ve taken my visiting friends — and family — to Herrell’s. I knew the Herrell’s experience since its beginnings as Steve’s Ice Cream in Somerville. When I wanted to recognize Smith staff this year for all of their hard work, I gave them Herrell’s hot fudge.

My own upbringing had a lot to do with a city and a college. I grew up in Medford, Massachusetts. I lived at home for college and walked up the hill each day to Tufts University. But I knew Tufts as a neighbor before I knew it as a college.

My siblings and I grew up sledding on the campus, playing on its lawns, and — yes — sneaking onto its tennis courts. I grew up on the receiving end of an institution that valued opening its campus to the community — that took pride in being an active part of a larger community. While other college and university presidents may grumble about living amid their students, the lack of privacy, the noise.... I love it.

I tell students it’s my first chance to live on a campus, and I want to make the most of it.

Bill and I had some 1,500 students in line at our house for Halloween. I’ve had welcome gifts — like a carved pumpkin — left on my steps. I greeted hundreds of rioting students at my door one September evening, demanding Mountain Day — which I gave them.

I am equally delighted to be a neighbor to Northampton. I am proud of the investments that Smith makes in Northampton’s schools. Proud, too, that since 1994, nearly 1,800 courses at Smith have been taken by Northampton High School students at no cost to them or their families. Through this partnership, Smith has given almost $7 million of credits to the community. Last year alone, 116 area students took advantage of this partnership.

I’m proud of the work our students do every day in the community. More than 60 Smith students worked at 25 nonprofit institutions in the Pioneer Valley last year, and Smith paid 75 percent of those students’ salaries.

I am proud of our investments in environmental sustainability. By the first of the year, two new solar arrays at Smith — one on top of our Indoor Track and Tennis Facility, and the other atop Ford Hall, our engineering building — will begin producing enough electricity to power the equivalent of 60 homes per year.

And I am proud to lead an institution that is one of Northampton’s largest employers.

I’d like to share some numbers with you on that front. Smith employs nearly 1,400 staff and faculty. Combined, their annual wages total more than 92 million dollars. More than 40 percent of our staff live in Northampton, Florence and Leeds.

We attract more than 7,000 visitors to the college annually through our admissions office and summer programs — and that doesn’t count our 6,000 guests at Commencement and more than 2,000 guests at reunion. We are your neighbors, your customers, your friends, and your partners in growth.

In that context, and recognizing your roles as leaders in our community, I thought I would share four directions for the college’s future that I presented in my inauguration address in October.

First, I affirmed our commitment to women’s education. Smith has a long commitment to women’s advancement — and that work is far from done.

Next summer, we will welcome 50 emerging women leaders from around the world through the Women in Public Service Project, a program co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and founded by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

And we will continue to develop opportunities both on-campus and beyond for women to take on leadership roles in every sector, both private and public.

Our second priority is one many of you face daily — the need to adapt our business model to a rapidly changing technological landscape.

Colleges throughout the world are undertaking pedagogical experiments, testing new models of learning enhanced by technology and available to an audience wider than we could have ever imagined.

Technology has a place in the liberal arts, and Smith must have a place — and a voice — in that conversation. Some of our trials will fail. More important, some will succeed, changing the way we teach and the way students learn.

Our third priority is our ongoing commitment to educational access and affordability.

The sticker cost of a college education continues to grow at a faster pace than inflation, a reality that many of you with college-aged children know all too well. We have seen, over the past 30 years, a startling growth in the gap between rich and poor students earning bachelor's degrees.

So what do we do to maintain our commitment to finding and educating the brightest, most promising young women in the world no matter what their economic situation is? We do our best to level the playing field. Sixty-four percent of Smith students receive financial aid. Twenty-two percent receive federal Pell grants. Seventeen percent of our students are, like me, the first in their families to go to college. Support of these students is a shared commitment and a value I am proud to uphold.

Our fourth priority is ensuring that our students receive a truly global education at Smith. Because we expect our students to thrive in a world whose communities are no longer well-defined by borders or languages, we must provide an education that is equally global.

We do this through our majors, our minors, our concentrations; through study away opportunities, and through new ventures alike signing on as the chief academic planning partner the Asian Women’s Leadership Institute in Malaysia.

We aim not just to bring Smith to the world, but to also bring the world to Smith. Seventeen percent of the Class of 2017 come from 48 countries other than the United States — this is our largest percentage ever.

You will see these four commitments being met in ways both visible and not.

We have several building projects on our horizon: continued renovation of the Cutter-Ziskind student residence, on Elm Street; construction of a new student health center behind the Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts; and construction of student residences at the end of Paradise Road, on the site of our current infirmary, which will replace the student beds currently in our Friedman Apartments, off Round Hill Road.

We aren’t planning to get larger, either in physical footprint or student enrollment. What we’re doing, we’re doing to stay competitive. A competitive position is not only good for Smith — it’s good for Northampton.

Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this morning.

I look forward to the work ahead, and to the chances I’ll have to work alongside all of you as your neighbor and partner in our city’s — and our region’s — success.