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40th Anniversary College History: A Reflection of Genesee

COLLEGE FOUNDING: A unique beginning

What do an open book, the Holland Land Office, and the year 1966 have in common? They are all components of Genesee Community College’s logo. The College, chartered in 1966, is celebrating its 40th anniversary, which is a perfect time to reflect on the beginning of higher education in Genesee County. The open book in the College’s logo represents not only the County’s commitment to education, but sharing that knowledge far and wide. The Holland Land Office is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Genesee County; significant areas of the land in Western New York were sold through the Holland Land Company giving rise to establishment of Batavia in 1802 and the logical home of Genesee Community College in 1966.  

The story leading up to the college’s official charter is a defining element of the County’s mindset. In 1963, the Batavia Jaycees established a Study Committee to discern the need for and viability of a community college in Genesee County. Although the County Supervisors had previously conducted their own review of this issue and determined that student enrollment would never exceed 75 students, the Jaycees prevailed with their own survey, and their findings were reported to the Board of Supervisors in February 1964, indicating there was: a desire for a community college; a need for a community college; the financial ability to support a college; favorable economic growth; a population increase, and; sufficient student population for a college.

Through the course of the next year, a community-wide debate ensued over the possibility of establishing a college or a vocational school. Proponents of the community college developed a “Citizen’s Committee” and led a vigorous and well-planned campaign. In November 1965, the public voted “YES” by a margin of over 1400 to the proposition of establishing a community college in Genesee County. Genesee became one of only two voter-established community colleges in New York State.

In May 1966, the following individuals were appointed to the first Board of Trustees for Genesee Community College: A. Warren Dayton, Alexander; Michael Ryan, Batavia; Robert G. Fussell, Le Roy; Mrs. Almeta George, Batavia; Anthony Zambito, Elba; Neil T. Burns, Batavia; William A. Setchel, Batavia, Mrs. Robert S. Jenks, Alexander; and Francis M. Robinson, Le Roy.

EARLY YEARS: Unprecedented growth

The Board’s first task was to hire an energetic, experienced president who would have the vision to help secure the college’s future. From a large pool of applicants, the board appointed Dr. Alfred C. O’Connell in November 1966. Dr. O’Connell left his current post as the President of Harford Junior College in Bel Air, Maryland and moved to Genesee County in February 1967.

Under President O’Connell’s leadership and with his educational expertise and administrative experience, a dream grew into a sound reality. After securing 56,000 square feet of space in the Valu Discount Store on West Main Street in Batavia, construction crews worked through the summer of 1967 to appropriately renovate the space. On September 27, 1967 Genesee Community College welcomed its first class of 378 full-time and 243 part-time students—approximately 200 more students than originally projected! President O’Connell hired his first Dean of Students, Dr. Stuart Steiner, who would eventually become president of the college in 1975, and serve in this capacity for more than 30 years.

EXPANSION: Innovation educators

Growth has been a dynamic characteristic for Genesee Community College since it opened the doors. Academic programs, enrollment, faculty, staff, and facilities have all experienced steady growth and development. In January 1972, the College moved into a new, permanent facility at One College Road, overlooking the scenic hillsides and farmland of Genesee County. Twenty years later, in 1991, the Stuart Steiner Theatre opened featuring a complete fine arts center with a 328-seat theatre, box office, gallery, scene shop, costume shop, and labs for Digital Art, Drafting, Ceramics, and Theatre programs.

Another addition to the Genesee Community College facilities was the Conable Technology Building. Completed in 2000 and named after the region’s noted statesman, the late U.S. Representative Barber Conable, the two-story wing offers 42,000 square feet for state-of-the-art computer labs, a media production suite, eLearning and “smart” classrooms, and a 150-seat tiered lecture hall with the latest presentation equipment. 

Genesee has continued to grow with the addition of the Wolcott J. Humphrey III Student Union, which opened in January 2006. The 10,500 square foot facility is dedicated completely to student activities, providing several multi-purpose meeting rooms, offices for Student Government Association, and a large recreation area featuring a spectacular view of the countryside.

The College is expanding student resident complex at College Village and adding its sixth campus location in Medina, NY. The expansion at College Village will consist of three new buildings and renovation of a fourth, providing housing for 79 more students for a total occupancy of 380. Each of the 10,500 square foot buildings will accommodate 32 students in eight apartment-style suites with single bedrooms.

The Medina Campus Center is slated to open for classroom instruction in the fall of 2007. It will be a 9,000 square foot facility that features two modern computer labs and a state-of-the-art science laboratory – the first campus center to have a designated science lab.

THE FUTURE: GeneSEE Continued Success

Today, Genesee has more than 58 different associate degrees and certificate programs, and continues to develop and implement new academic programs aimed at the careers of tomorrow. Biotechnology, Web Design, Computerized Drafting and Design, and Technical Theatre are among the new or recently renewed courses.

Genesee also awards more than $10 million in annual financial aid packages, with nearly $200,000 available for student scholarships. Enrollment in the fall of 2006 inked past 6,600 of which approximately 3,100 students attended full-time. The largest student population is at the main campus in Batavia, but six other Genesee Community College Campus Centers serve the surrounding communities of: Albion and Medina in Orleans County; Lakeville and Dansville in Livingston County; Arcade and Warsaw in Wyoming County.  

This brief history of Genesee Community College was compiled in April 2007.