President Bronet Remarks
Meet the New President Dallas Dinner
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas at Las Colinas
Good evening, everyone. I am Frances Bronet, the new, incredibly proud, President of Pratt Institute. It is so wonderful to see all of you here and to be in this beautiful space.
Thank you so much to the volunteer leaders of the Pratt Alumni Dallas/Ft. Worth Network for welcoming me here in Texas. At this time, I’d like to recognize the leaders of the Dallas/Ft. Worth network: Irina Calin, chair; Sharon Cowart, vice chair, and Megan Rowe, young alumni chair. Unfortunately, Megan is unable to join us this evening.
I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce Joan McCormick, vice president of Institutional Advancement, and Stacy White, assistant director of Alumni Relations. I want to thank Stacy for organizing this lovely dinner and for working with all of you to establish the Pratt Alumni Dallas/Ft. Worth Network.
The recent launch of the 12 regional alumni networks, including Dallas/Ft. Worth, is an important step for Pratt and our alumni nationwide. These networks will provide an opportunity for Pratt alumni to gather together to get to know each other, network, and enhance their creative and professional opportunities. And to have fun! I encourage all of you to play an active role in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Network, and promise you will get a tremendous amount out of it. I was lucky enough to be at the inaugural Chicago kick off and go to 2 alumni events to date. This is the best!
Let me tell you--this is an amazing time to be part of the Pratt network! We received more applications for freshman admission this year than ever before in Pratt’s history, and graduate applications are up 10 percent over last year. Every year, Pratt continues to attract more and more talented applicants. And this makes perfect sense. Pratt is one of the top five higher education institutions in the world. When you are at that level, everyone wants a piece of you.
In addition, we are located in the heart of the most dynamic place in the world—New York City, and, in particular, Brooklyn, where art, architecture, design, and the innovation economy are booming. Pratt is a recognized catalyst for the growth in Brooklyn’s creative sector and will be an increasingly sought-after partner for innovators around the globe.
As you may know, I began in my new role on January 2. I must say, these last few weeks have been a whirlwind of phenomenal encounters with people throughout the Pratt community. From them I can already tell—Pratt is even more remarkable than I imagined it would be. I was lucky enough to have 2 weeks where the students had not yet arrived and faculty were deeply buried in their offices preparing for their classes, so I could meet all the people who make Pratt run—from the guys in the boiler room, to financial aid officers, to the 99 custodial and maintenance staff, to the directors of centers . . . From every one I heard about the family of Pratt, the care of the community. And you know, these are the very guardians of this oasis and its citizens—so when a student has had a tough night working out a problem and walks across the campus dejected, one kind word from a gardener could change everything. Our “family” feels this love for the students—they are truly in loco parentis.
This month, the place is a-buzz. Classes are deeply in gear, and now I have met with all the departments, visited the facilities and talked to the students in their dorms and faculty. It gets more and more incredible. The passion for this place is palpable (alliteration). Pratt is one of those rare institutions of higher education that provides its students with a holistic, fully-embodied education, one that allows them to explore and follow their passion so that they can engage with it for the rest of their lives. At a time when technological advances are reshaping industries and career fields that were long considered the most secure, creative thinking is more important than ever. We can’t know what the jobs of the future will be, but Pratt alumni, faculty, and students know that remaining relevant means focusing on asking the right questions, not simply having the “right” answers. Pratt prepares them to do that, regardless of the arena.
In addition, in our increasingly global society, openness and inclusivity are more important than ever. With a long history of accessibility, Pratt continues to welcome students from diverse backgrounds and fields of study, and many for whom a creative career felt completely out of reach. We have a way to go still.
Having grown up without art or music, and with a father who really wanted me to go to secretarial school for job security, this resonates with me. This is perhaps a good time to tell you a bit more about my background and how I came to Pratt.
I grew up in Montreal in a community of immigrants, all of us working class. My father was a laborer in a factory—he was a craftsman (made purses) and my mother started as a garment worker. My father completed second grade and my mother left to work in eighth grade. We lived extremely modestly. In fact, we didn’t have books in the house, nor a record player. I was a good student, an “organizer” and hung with the smart kids. As high achievers, we took for granted we would go to university. I studied engineering and architecture (overachiever) and making sure to “minimize maximum regret” and keep all paths open to get a real job.
McGill was about $800/year (only $2000 now) for Canadian citizens, and, on top of that, I received full scholarships, and government bursaries so I even had money to give to my parents. We did all live at home. I know that that is a luxury that most students in the United States do not have, and that is one reason increasing scholarship support at Pratt is so important to me. But more about that later.
I have always been passionate about social justice. As an architect I designed moderate income housing, women’s shelters, sat on community boards for housing and education. I was also anchored in aesthetic practices. That is what led me to the University of Oregon, where I was Dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts which had everything from metalsmithing, sculpture, architecture to planning public policy and management addressing intersections of urban planning, immigration, and community change—exploring how urban planning interventions shape immigrant neighborhoods and in turn, how immigrants are reshaping cities.
The combination of visual culture and social engagement are just 2 of the many factors that drew me to Pratt Institute. And every day I learn more about this world of investigation. I am deeply intrigued by the combination of fine arts, intrinsic and critical thinking, design practice and critical citizenship. How many U.S. institutions of higher education have an MFA Writing Program focused on social justice? One, and it’s at Pratt. Where did university-based community planning get its start in the U.S.? At Pratt, with the Pratt Center for Community Development. It’s in our DNA, just as founder Charles Pratt intended it to be when he set out to create an institution of higher education that would serve people from all walks of life. I know you don’t spend your time poring over our website, so I can quote that the “core of Pratt’s founding was based on how education can have a transformational on people’s lives, Pratt set out to provide an affordable college education that was accessible to working men and women. When the college opened in 1887, it was among the first in the country to welcome students regardless of class, color, or gender. The rapidly industrializing economy at the turn of the 20th century required new training initiatives and educational experiences for workers. Pratt responded by providing programs that prepared students to enter the fields of design and engineering. Early Pratt students became architects, engineers, dressmakers, and furniture makers. Pratt’s engineering and design programs were complemented by a liberal arts curriculum that provided students with a rich and full understanding of the world in which they would be working. This approach remains a part of the Pratt curriculum.
Today as we begin a journey for the next strategic plan 2018 (2 x 1009) -2023 (7 x 17 x 17), we will continue to fulfill the founder’s vision. To continue to fulfill the Charles Pratt’s vision of an institution of higher education that would serve people from all walks of life, and to make a Pratt education attainable, scholarships are key.
I am SO grateful to all of you and to the Alumni of Pratt.
As I said earlier, industries and professional fields are changing more unpredictably and rapidly than ever before—in some cases in the four or five years it takes for a student to complete a degree. To remain relevant and add value in these uncertain times, higher education must evolve, and Pratt is emblematic of how it can successfully do so. This is a pivotal moment for Pratt, and I am so excited to lead the Institute.
Again, thank all of you who are here. You are our greatest asset, our most eloquent ambassadors, and the embodiment of Pratt’s ideals. I look forward to learning more about all of our amazing Dallas/Ft. Worth alumni in the months and years to come.
Thank you, and enjoy the evening!