BY RYAN HATHAWAY // OCT. 7, 2014 //
Dr. David Szczerbacki is among the newest employees at Curry College. But with 35 years of experience in higher education, Curry’s chief academic officer is hardly new to academia.
Szczerbacki joined Curry in June of this year, replacing Dr. David Potash, who is now president of Wilbur Wright College, an associate degree school in Chicago. Dr. Sue Pennini, dean of institutional planning at Curry, served as interim CAO for a year prior to Szczerbacki’s arrival.
Szczerbacki says his goals at Curry include engaging faculty in the development of new academic programs, and expanding the college’s breadth of academic offerings, including interdisciplinary courses. He is also a proponent of experiential learning opportunities, such as internships, clinical studies, teaching assistantships and other ways that meld academics and professional experiences. Ultimately, Szczerbacki says, the college must be responsive to the needs and wants of its students.
“Customer satisfaction data must be taken seriously; if you don’t take it seriously, you do so at your own peril,” he says. Szczerbacki holds a Ph.D. in policy studies from the State University of New York, and a master’s degree focused on urban systems and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Gannon University in Erie, Pa.
Szczerbacki has worn many hats throughout his 35-year career in higher education. He first worked at Alfred University, located in southwestern New York, as a management professor and, later, dean of the college of engineering and professional studies. Szczerbacki also served as the dean of the college of business, vice president of academic and statutory affairs, and provost. A provost is essentially the same as a chief academic officer; they are both a school’s top academic administrator.
In 2004, Szczerbacki joined The College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., serving as provost and vice president of academic affairs. His tenure there was nearly a short one, as he was one of four finalists for the presidency at the State University College in Oneonta in 2008. That job ultimately went to Dr. Nancy Kleniewski, then the provost of Bridgewater State in Massachusetts.
Szczerbacki did rise to a presidency in October 2010, serving as interim president at St. Rose for three and a half months. He took over the position permanently in 2012. However, he unexpectedly stepped down from the position after just one year, citing personal reasons.
At his presidential inauguration at St. Rose, Szczerbacki said he needed to earn the “trust, allegiance, confidence and commitment” of everyone connected to the college. Here at Curry, he is off to a good start on those fronts. A common sentiment expressed by Curry faculty is an appreciation of Szczerbacki’s ability to listen to those who have something to say about the college.
“It is invigorating to work with Dave,” says Dr. Maureen Murphy, chairperson of the Nursing Department, via email. “He listens — actively, drills down, synthesizes and succinctly reflects — all of what I bring to the table. He guides my efforts to lead the nursing division in ways that allow me maximum autonomy.”
Murphy says her department is excited about developing new interdisciplinary relationships on campus. Nursing is the college’s largest academic department, serving nearly a third of all undergraduates at Curry.
“One idea we have discussed is a possible collaboration between nursing and theater,” says Murphy. “The theater students would be given an illness, and need to role play with the nurse as the nurse attempted to diagnose and treat the illness.”
Professor Jerry Gibbs of the Communication Department says he was happy the college hired someone from a “similar school.” St. Rose is an independent college sponsored by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. However, the college has a similar student-to-faculty ratio as Curry (13-1 at St. Rose), with an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,900. The Education Department at St. Rose serves about a third of all undergraduates, around the same percentage as Curry’s Nursing Department. Both colleges have a disproportionate number of female students (around 65 percent), and tuition is about the same.
Professors Steven Gunning and Dr. Anthony Fabrizio, the new chairperson of the Management Department, both expressed hope that Szczerbacki’s background in business will help their department flourish in the years ahead.
“He’s bringing a lot of experience,” says Fabrizio, who noted that Curry’s Management Department is working to earn IACBE accreditation. Accreditation by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education is something “many parents and employers look for…when assessing the quality of a business management program,” Fabrizio says.
For his part, Szczerbacki says there are some things the college can do in the short term to serve student learning. As an example, he cited bolstering internship programs.
“Students aren’t taking advantage of it right now,” says Szczerbacki. “We are poised for a major surge in the growth and development of our internship program if a larger percentage of students participate.”
Szczerbacki also revealed a little bit of his philosophy in searching for the best faculty. “Recruitment and the process of hiring is a vital part of my job,” he says. “We want teachers who not only understand the material, but also how to relate that information effectively so it is understood by each student.”
However, Szczerbacki clarifies that it’s a two-way street. “As much as faculty must find ways to relate and build connections with their students, students need to get used to working with all types of teachers,” he says.
Szczerbacki is still new to the campus and is still getting to know each academic department as well as various student leaders. However, his overall philosophy of leadership could perhaps be culled from his 2012 St. Rose inauguration speech.
“I believe leaders have a responsibility to shape and articulate a vision, and to inspire, engage, and activate others to buy into that vision.”