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State of the Institute 2023: President Frances Bronet Addresses the Pratt Community

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Pratt Institute is situated in Lenapehoking, the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Lenape, past, present, and future. As learners and educators, we recognize Indigenous Peoples and Nations’ longtime traditions of maintaining a connection with the cosmologies of indigeneity through making art and storytelling and how often their culture is appropriated and taken by other artists, designers, and writers. We recognize that a land acknowledgment such as this is a small gesture in demonstrating our commitment to dismantling the ongoing legacies of oppression and not a substitute for continued action.

We can collectively envision our future when we are informed of our past. We begin by properly naming the land we reside on and recognizing ourselves as (in)voluntary immigrants to this land. We will actively challenge the legacy of settler colonialism, undo its extractive and exploitative land practices, express gratitude to the original caretakers of this land, and honor their descendants who are here today.

Hello and welcome. Happy first day of spring. It is great to see you all here. I will open, once again, with our mission statement, which illuminates the core and attends to the history of who we are.

The mission of Pratt Institute is to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society. Pratt seeks to instill in all graduates aesthetic judgment, professional knowledge, collaborative skills, and technical expertise. With a firm grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, a Pratt education blends theory with creative application in preparing graduates to become leaders in their professions. Pratt enrolls a diverse group of highly talented and dedicated students, challenging them to achieve their full potential.

We are first and foremost a world-class art, information, critical and creative professional learning environment. We are committed to the full education of a motivated and very deliberate student population. We imagine a world anchored in accountability. 

I’ll return to Pratt’s mission, the evolution of the strategic plan, and the framing of our future later in this State of the Institute. Let’s begin by reviewing where we are now.

Spring 2023 enrollment, our current semester, hit a record high at 5,051 students. This is the first time ever that our numbers for spring are over 5,000. I know you feel it. Our new student numbers for undergraduates are on pace to meet enrollment expectations for fall 2023. Year-to-date admit numbers for Black and Latinx applicants are maintaining their 2022 strength. Graduate applications are consistently lower across most programs, impacted by the new website build out, by national trends in employment, and the consequences of students, post-COVID, not returning to school. To offset the application shift, focus is on efforts to meet an increase in these program yields to provide the enrollment for new graduate students.    

And once the students are here, their success is our goal. We are taking proactive steps to become a leader among our peers in undergraduate retention rates and graduate and undergraduate (six-year) graduation rates.

We are improving the quality of data so we can curate enrollment to our programs. We are reporting enrollment numbers using dashboards shared with deans and program chairs, including numbers by race and ethnicity, by domestic and international, discount rates, Pell recipients, TOEFL scores, first-generation, gender, retention, and graduation rates. And we are completing a five-year overview of year-to-year retention of first-time/first-year applicants, plus time-and-a-half graduation rates, created for each academic program.

We have established retention funding for third and fourth year students to successfully complete their education, as well as expanded graduate program scholarships. Additionally, we developed and funded eight new pre-college scholarships over the next three years. And we just welcomed five more recipients of the Pratt President’s Wallace Augustus Rayfield wrap-around scholarship—all extraordinarily talented students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to join our community. We are working to find even more ways for creatives who wish to be here at Pratt to join us.

We are integrating and strengthening student academic support systems. Reducing the net cost of domestic attendance is also a goal, as we are able to do more targeted analysis and fiscal distribution. In order to recruit and retain a diverse student body, through enrollment efforts, we moved to the Common App, we shifted to test optional, we conducted high-touch completion outreach to applicants, and leveraged institutional awards.

Work to yield more of these students is ongoing. This is the focus of the newly hired director of special projects for enrollment management who provides full-time attention to increasing diverse enrollment. This means conducting research, building recruitment partnerships with local and national high schools and community organizations, and working with offices across campus to create routes for prospects across Pratt’s pathway programs. Examples include how Admissions is currently working with the superintendent of District 13 schools (Pratt’s district in Brooklyn) to identify opportunities for partnerships directly related to enrollment; a pilot where Admissions is partnering with the School of Architecture to develop a model for faculty-to-faculty, student-to-student programs; and Admission’s direct engagement initiative with prospective feeder schools in Brooklyn, NYC writ large, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Miami.  

Donor-supported full scholarships for diverse students continue to grow as part of our recruitment strategy. This is coupled with the work of the DEI Council Subcommittee for Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Students with leaders from each of the pathway programs at Pratt: the Higher Education Opportunity Project (or HEOP); Center for Art, Design and Community Engagement K–12; PreCollege; and Associate Degree programs. 

The Middle States Self-Study is proceeding apace; the draft of the self-study report will be finalized in fall 2023 for our external team visit in spring 2024. The strategic plan is one key element of the Middle States report and goals and measurements of progress are being tracked. As you well know, major initiatives and specific goals and tasks support the five pillars of academic excellence; student success; diversity, equity, and inclusion; civic engagement; global education. You will recognize some of your language as I identify key goals over the next half hour.

The schools are deeply committed to strengthening existing programs and Pratt’s curriculum as a whole within the arc of a Pratt education. This includes elevating, fostering, and supporting interdisciplinary teaching, research, and creative inquiry, and developing infrastructure to support interdisciplinary programs. We are seeing this through active discussions, methodologies from the Center for Teaching and Learning, updating physical spaces, and having a shared approach to digital tools across all schools. 

Scholarship and research are key to any institution of higher learning. By expanding research capacity, outreach, and recognition, we are leveraging our scholarship, entrepreneurship via tech transfer, and our civic partnerships. For example, major civic partnership initiatives that are well underway or nearing completion include the Research Yard at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Design Works High School in Downtown Brooklyn, and The Exchange on Governors Island. The winning team for Governors Island is to be announced on Earth Day in April. The 20,000-square-foot Research Yard at the Brooklyn Navy Yard opened less than two weeks ago to great internal and community celebration. The Yard welcomed Pratt’s research centers and research accelerators. The coming year will see the development of new revenue models, new public programs hosted in the Research Yard, and new partnerships with local industry in the Brooklyn Navy Yard community. We are the only AICAD school with this level of research coordination.

In our own drive to develop world-class Recognized Research Units (RRUs) at Pratt and scale up our research practice, Research Seed Grant projects were selected, and their topics included, for example, reimagining built futures of marginalized communities, mapping middle class NYC displacement, and redesigning a borough-based jail in Chinatown. Research accelerators in the Research Yard at the BNY represent civic engagement, such as the Design Clinic, the Pratt Creative Exchange, STEAMplant, the Environmental Sensing Lab, the Co-Housing Center (Arch), the Recover Adapt Mitigate Plan (RAMP) Research, the Laboratory for Integrated Archaeological Visualization and Heritage (LIAVH), and the Center for Climate Adaptation. 

In order to achieve these ambitions, the faculty and staff will need to be supported in light of the changed—and still changing—nature of work and the workforce. This includes a comprehensive faculty mentoring plan. It includes increasing the number of full-time faculty with a focus on hiring diverse faculty. Currently, we have ongoing searches for 17 faculty positions, four chairs, one dean, and the Pratt Center director. Our planning for a cluster hire of five new tenure-track faculty, focused on “diverse voices creating just [or inclusive?] futures” is advancing well. These applicants will come from a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds whose teaching and research/creative practices center diverse voices with a focus on social change and social justice. 

A tentative five-year agreement with the faculty union has been presented to Pratt faculty for ratification.   

Strengthening faculty retention will have expanded support structures, from the Center for Teaching and Learning to creating a welcoming environment. Clarified administrative processes in order to do key work is an ongoing priority. Parallel to these efforts are those that bring our community together through initiatives such as the Native/Indigenous Working Group; the Anti-Racism Symposium, Racial Healing, and Anti-Racism Workshops; and what we will learn from the completion of our AICAD Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Campus Climate Survey, which landed in your inboxes last night. Retaining and supporting diverse faculty and staff at all levels of the institution include the hiring of both a talent acquisition director in HR with a director of DEI to develop engagement, professional development, retention strategies, events, and initiatives for faculty and staff. This is parallel to the incredible work occurring in each of the schools, from internal DEI committees, to symposia, to fellowships, to seed grants and student support. Across all schools, curriculum development continues using equity and justice lenses. As we all note, there is a long way to go, but the constant commitment and output is very present.

The director for student success and the director of Higher Education Opportunities Program (HEOP) lead the Student Success Working Group to alleviate barriers to success. This requires closely monitoring student data to inform interventions including, but not limited to, academic and administrative policies, streamlining enrollment processes, and support services. It thrives on a successful partnership between the Learning/Access Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning, focused on increasing faculty awareness regarding the process for implementing required accommodations for students. Faculty and staff from Student Financial Services, Institutional Research, Academic Advisement, Foundation, Student Services, Liberal Arts, and International Student Affairs have formed a cross-departmental committee to better create holistic systems at the intersection of academic excellence and student success. This is an extraordinary endeavor.

The Resilience, Wellness, and Well-Being Center is offering appointments for students including individual health coaching, programming for life skills, mental health crisis identification and response for students, faculty, staff. Campaigns are ongoing to destigmatize mental health treatment, promote student peer mentoring and peer support, and inclusion. Services are available for underserved, underrepresented, or otherwise minoritized students. We are continuously developing, refining, and communicating protocol and policy for crisis prevention, emergency response, and resources for students and their families. We are committed to continuously assessing and improving student support services. This includes the Institute’s Title IX policies and procedures from ensuring compliance with laws and best practices to informing international students about scams and how to respond if they are targeted. Our goal is to serve the needs of students, faculty, and staff. And if you ever have a question of what to do, when, about student well-being, please reach out to Student Affairs for guidance.

Strong students are what fuel us and anchor our academic excellence. And we continue to strengthen existing school programs and curricula as a whole. New programs and initiatives that have been years in the making are on! Game Arts is in its first full year, as is the master of landscape architecture. The Black Studies minor has launched and the newest degree to receive Department of Education approval is the proposed MFA in fashion collections and communications.

The Design Works Public High School, a collaboration with the DOE, Bank Street College of Education, and Pratt, now has a school principal, a site in downtown Brooklyn, a third grant to cover our participation in the launch, and a full class of ninth graders for the school’s launch in fall 2023. The school will start fully funded by the DOE (because funding is by student numbers) in a new building with new furniture and staff.

From hundreds of projects that put our students and faculty in partnership with communities, a theme of “Pratt as a Force in NYC” has emerged, promoting the values of the Institute and how it is helping shape the city’s future through the power of a creative education and projects with ongoing local impact. And once these projects are defined, being implemented and ultimately completed, vehicles such as media outreach, op-eds, editorial articles, social media, public programs, advertising, and work with lobbyists and public relations increase the Institute’s visibility and relationships with civic, business, and cultural leaders.

Pratt has been researching and implementing how art, design, and policy fuel the city’s economic engine. Our mission and work align with the city’s goals. We are a vital institution because of our Brooklyn community and the relationships we’ve built beyond our campus. Pratt is undertaking an economic impact study assessing the services and capital Pratt provides to businesses, communities, and Pratt itself as a catalyst for the growth of the city’s design industry, including Pratt’s alumni.  

On behalf of the Institute, and with the great help of numerous members of the Pratt community, I have met with city, state, and federal government officials and task forces, addressing economic and workforce development, participatory budgeting, and future collaborations in which Pratt can support communities in their districts and across the city, and help to build a more equitable creative economy.   

An example of our expanded public programming is the new Design Equity initiative, free public discussions and events dedicated to shaping a sustainable and just future in New York City (and beyond). We are examining how civic and creative leaders effect positive change in arenas such as housing, climate resilience, education, and more. Design Equity also highlights the ways in which Pratt’s faculty and alumni bring their creative education and community-first approach to effect a more just and sustainable tomorrow. The panel on Transportation Equity and the Future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was our soft kickoff. The most recent Design Equity event, Black Live(s), Black Space(s), brought an exploration of housing by African-American professionals, architects, and developers about the discriminatory housing policies that have devastated the economic and social fabric of the Black community. The next ones will address climate resilience and equity and education equity (timed with opening of the Design Works High School).

And as we imagine a civic and local commitment, we are also dedicated to the work we are doing globally as well as for our very own international students here in the U.S. Building upon existing international programs with a goal of leading in global education prompted our participation in and report for the American Council on Education (ACE) Internationalization Laboratory. This created a map of ongoing international work and future plans that further our global education pillar in combination with related efforts around student success and diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are reviewing as well as augmenting study abroad programs to align them programmatically with our strategic goals.

Being global and welcoming also means improving the experience and overall culture for international students at Pratt. Infrastructure from the physical to the virtual includes planning meeting space for international students to convene and integrating Name Coach software so that faculty, students, and staff can hear the proper pronunciation of student names. 

Continued progress on our multiyear physical plant implementation includes increasing campus accessibility; strategizing to more efficiently utilize office space and increase academic instructional space; housing our programs effectively; and executing on our greener energy plans and deferred maintenance. 

And with accessibility as a critical goal, we are in the midst of implementing a campuswide elevator project: from the North Hall elevator being installed this summer to the East Hall elevator location study. We also need to be cognizant of any barriers for those of us who might have difficulty navigating systems, software applications, and portals, and continuously review all digital tools, software, and onePratt assets to ensure compliance and easy access. 

With both specialists in the field and our own expertise, we are looking at all the ways we use academic and administrative space. Existing and emerging modes of space utilization are intersecting. Understanding the confluence of full in-person engagement, hybrid use, and remote settings will help us prepare for an unknown future. Although some practices have expanded in the way we currently are working, with both in-person and hybrid models morphing, we need to anticipate the possibilities of even more shifts in space-time occupancy. We will look at this carefully as we plan for any new or remodeled or reconfigured buildings, floors, spaces. Coupled with our capital needs and expenditures will be careful and clear planning for goals, financing, and design development.

Providing appropriate physical spaces includes projects from examining the space needs of the School of Architecture and its current occupation of Higgins to the potential conversion of the ISC Building to a student wellness and resilience center. Similarly, a feasibility study is being conducted for the School of Art to be consolidated into a single floor that spans the Machinery, Chemistry, and Engineering Buildings on the Brooklyn campus. We also now have an immersive learning experience classroom and gallery space which uses projection and other audio/visual technology. 

We are in the midst of a major electrification project. I am sure you are seeing the scaffolding and fencing all around East Hall as we move from 19th-century power generation to a 21st-century campus. As we redo the boiler, we are using the opportunity to develop the East Hall plaza as a flexible and beautiful outdoor meeting place—designed by the landscape architecture firm SCAPE. Final drawings are done and will be executed as the conversion occurs. 

COVID helped us rethink how we process. Pratt now provides “LaunchPad,” which virtualizes our lab software to allow our students to meet the needs of their classes from a distance. PrattAnywhere is a powerful computing platform designed specifically for the Pratt community, providing access to advanced processing resources and workflows from anywhere in the world, regardless of the device being used. Building on advances made during the pandemic, it allows students, staff, and faculty members to remotely execute resource-intensive computing tasks like real-time rendering and machine learning on their personal devices. This platform also grants access to all of Pratt’s licensed software, making it easier for community members to complete complex projects and submit jobs to our output centers. This innovative approach aligns with Information Technology’s drive to create equitable, transparent, and inclusive technologies that support seamless experiences for all Pratt community members. 

Two-thirds of the building security project have been completed, adding card swipe access controls throughout the campus to allow Public Safety to remotely lock down access to buildings. Other campus safety projects and processes include increasing the lighting along the interior of the main campus, restructuring the campus traffic flow to eliminate almost all vehicular traffic at the Main Gate, adding or replacing campus cameras, and providing active-shooter training. We have just hired our new assistant VP for campus safety and preparedness. Rod Bowman will begin on April 4, filling the very big shoes of Dennis Mazone. Rod has deep experience in disaster planning, emergency management, and risk management. 

Preparations for the 2023/2024 operating and capital budgets are underway with draft budgets being presented to the Board of Trustees Finance Committee for review and approval at the April meeting. Our current investment portfolio stood at $265.5 million at the end of January 2023 and was at approximately 300 million at the end of 2021. Over the last 23 years, it has grown at approximately 5.1 percent per year since January 1, 2000, outperforming the internally established  benchmark. 

Current fundraising travels include Florida, Seoul, Manila, London, and Rome, meeting notable supporters, alumni, parents, and communities. A shout-out to the School of Architecture’s Rome Program 50th anniversary and celebration—decades of international investigation. The 135 Campaign phase I completed, surpassing the $13,500,000 goal. With the goal of wrapping up phase 1 and setting the stage for our second phase of the campaign, Trustee Kathryn Chenault, with her husband Ken, hosted over 75 Pratt friends and family for “A New Year of Pratt.” This included the announcement of Kathryn as co-chair of the Seed Change Campaign committee.  

Our initiatives are key to a successful campaign; they anchor our donor engagement and support. As we wrap up this current strategic plan and report to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, questions about our next strategic planning and the mission statement have begun to emerge. They also are the foundation of our academic direction and engaging internal and external stakeholders and advocates.

We will examine the current mission statement and pillars and see if they well represent our next few years. Our strategic plan already calls out our commitment to engage critically and creatively with contemporary and near-future issues, including the intersection of culture and technology. The opportunity exists to be even more overt with respect to sustainability leadership and research, by cultivating emerging technological practices while being responsible to our community.

Leveraging our Center for Teaching and Learning could create the preeminent global center for education and learning technology in the fine and applied arts, information, synthetic and analytical processes, design and architecture. Appropriate infrastructures for discovery and scholarship in integrated art and design would include interdisciplinarity and internationalization as priorities. 

We launched the amazing Pratt research facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard just 11 days ago. We can define our role in driving our region’s economic competitiveness through research, discovery in design and design-based tech transfer in the creative sector economy, and hold a viable role as a leading American center for innovation and entrepreneurship based in design.

And we can co-design and develop solutions to the critical social, technical, cultural and environmental issues facing 21st-century New York State, the United States, the globe, ensuring sustainability and resilience based on the model we are planning for Governors Island.

As we work to engage learners of all socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic backgrounds, we can even more deliberately enhance their success at Pratt and make sure all our students can find jobs, careers, callings in or adjacent to their fields that they would like.

These are a sample of the concerns that may define our next mission, our next set of goals, and our next plan and measurable outcomes.  

Some things are stable. Our students know that “Pratt is THE Place for them.” They have found studios and classes, teachers and colleagues, cultural and social experiences that are unique to Pratt, to Brooklyn, to NYC, and make them be part of and create a world of imagination, aspiration, and action. They are prepared to contribute and lead responsibly, to make an impact, to build consequences into a lifetime of making and thinking. None of this occurs without the hundreds of hands and heads of our staff, our faculty, and their peers.

I’ve often noted that leading this college is like heading up a think tank, engaging the most experimental, rigorous, and ambitious minds focused on the problems of our time, all with the goal of creating a better world. As you well know, the work in each of Pratt’s schools is individually and collectively examining how we identify and address issues of public urgency and how we continue to be part of the solution—in-house, as partners in the boroughs, and beyond the city. We examine how we can be climate ready; how we can collaborate with communities in flux, in ambitious projects, and in distress; and how we can address other critical cultural, social, economic, and political issues using art, design, architecture, information models that are both analytic and synthetic. 

We have already established national and international standing in academic quality and impact of colleges and schools in every field, reinforcing our daily commitment to academic excellence. 

The Office of the Provost is working on how being a leading college academically is determined and augmented by our renowned faculty, research, and creativity in all departments or schools. Structures need to be there for this level of ambition. And in order to do all these extraordinary and ambitious ventures, our own house needs to be in order. As we complete one strategic plan, we can take a reflective moment to  inventory our broad initiatives of the last few years, examine their successes and challenges, take the time to calm and prepare, and build on our platforms of strength.

Much has to be done with projects we took on. I would be remiss to not identify our own administrative errors, from consequential bumps in our website development to communicating clearly about impacts of decisions. There is tension across departments with post-COVID learning, adapting in order to work together, with lives outside campus still stressed, and increasingly seeing kindness, care, and compassion as another “task.” Post-COVID devastating effects on everyone’s health, figuring out new coping mechanisms—we feel it. The acceleration of in-person events, travel, catching up, while still not being fully in person are taking a toll. Your work in supporting what seems to be multiple requests has been valiant, and we know we have work to do to clarify and streamline processes and to alleviate the increased stress these asks have driven. You have asked for infrastructure and practices to allow you to do your work, and we have heard you. The paths forward can be found in our very own pedagogy defined by open-ended critique, understanding that the college education is about learning to learn, as well as leaving with skills and knowledge that will significantly enhance the professions and fields our students will occupy. 

This shared understanding is how we make decisions and how we support our priorities. At the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, I reviewed our highest priorities of our strategic plan. Although I spoke of dozens of priorities and implemented plans, tens more sat in the deans’ and VPs’ portfolios. 

Questions about what changed because of COVID and what stayed the same created an opportunity to review whether the strategic plan still holds. Clearly our experiential, imagination-led, embodied model, now laden with the new tools and techniques, as well as a continued commitment to sustainability, to social justice, to civic and global responsibility, hold true.  

As I wrap up, I do want to thank you for the incredible work you do. We did think the COVID years were tough, and they were, but the return has also been complex. I know how taxing this time has been, and my gratitude is unending.

Thank you for the dedication and passion you have all shown. How, despite the many changes and challenges of the past three years, the staff has adapted, adjusted, and found a way to thrive and created opportunities to learn, share, and lead together. Being proactive and checking in with our colleagues as we co-build is even more critical than ever.

And I will end with a PSA about the incredible events and shows that are occurring, from the Big Damn Prints to Pratt Shows to Commencement. Just last night, I was at the powerful photo show. The students are so proud of their insightful work. So many of their friends, colleagues came. And they are all as expansive of being in a place that accepts them and promotes their prolific explorations. If you just scroll through the number of listings on the events calendar on Pratt.edu and attend only as many as you can, you will experience the abundance of creativity and intellectual pursuit coming from your amazing students and colleagues. 

Again, thank you and have a great end of semester.