Dr. Penny Haynes
Dr. Penny Haynes

At the October reception for Presidential Honors Scholars, Dr. Penny Haynes warmly greeted the nine recipients, all starting their freshmen year at SUNY Broome. After the ceremony wrapped up, she introduced herself to one Hornet in particular: Jacob Hotchkin of Bainbridge-Guilford.

The incoming Vice President of Academic Affairs is a native of the tiny rural community of Gilbertsville, part of a school district adjacent to Bainbridge-Guilford. A SUNY Broome alumna herself, Dr. Haynes knows what it’s like to hail from a small place – and then head to a more urban area for college. Gilbertsville has a population of less than 400 people, according to the most recent census data, and the entire village was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

“The exit is Sidney and then you drive 11 miles,” she said, explaining the location of her Otsego County hometown. “When I was a student here, I remember hearing people giggle about Harpursville because it was so far. I didn’t tell them where I was from.”

Dr. Haynes’ career took her to much more populous areas than Gilbertsville – Poughkeepsie and Schenectady among them. Now she has come full circle, and her flight path has returned her to the hive.

“From program development to reaccreditation in our regional association, Dr. Haynes has a truly impressive array of accomplishments and experience. She is an ideal fit for SUNY Broome at this time in our history,” said SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm. “We’re excited to welcome her home to her alma mater.”

Shaping the future

Dr. Haynes originally planned on an accounting career, and enrolled at LeMoyne College for a semester. While she did well in class, she longed for home – and ended up at SUNY Broome, where she earned an Associate in Applied Science in accounting over the next year and a half, mostly taking classes in the Business Building. She then transferred to SUNY Oneonta, where she earned her bachelor’s of science in business and economics before starting a family. 

Then she tested out a career in the banking industry – a logical progression considering her education. She hated it. 

“Banking was just boring. I was in the trust department and I didn’t see a lot of people,” she explained. “I thought about why I didn’t like it, and thought that maybe I missed the classes I was taking. Even though I’m not the most outgoing person, I really enjoyed the classroom experience.”

She returned to school – this time on the other side of the desk, teaching accounting and management at the Utica School of Commerce. She also returned to school herself, earning a master’s in social sciences at Binghamton University and, later, a doctorate in Organizational Learning and Leadership/Adult Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. 

Seeing the need for change at her institution, she made the leap to administration, first becoming director of a small branch campus before posts as academic dean and vice president of Academic Affairs.

“I loved it. I was surprised,” she said of her decision to join the administration side of academia. “The combination of having been in the classroom and the accounting and banking background was really helpful.”

Eventually, she made the leap to the SUNY system as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Dutchess Community College and then as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at SUNY Schenectady County Community College. During her 11 years there, she oversaw the development of new program proposals, including degree programs in criminal justice, air traffic control, alternative energy technology, casino and gaming, craft spirit distillation and more. She also oversaw the successful submission of major grants and their recent Middle States reaccreditation, implemented a new advising model, and restructured Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, to name just a few of her accomplishments.

But just as in her LeMoyne days, she felt the pull toward home. When Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Francis Battisti announced his retirement after nearly 50 years at the college, an opportunity opened up – and she eagerly applied.

“When I was a student, I was here and gone quickly – only a year and a half. But I would watch the local news and the SUNY news, and SUNY Broome always seemed to have something going on. The community really looks to us as an asset,” she reflected. “I really wanted to be here.”

Since starting at SUNY Broome in July, her days have spanned a whirlwind of activities – meeting everyone from students and professors to community stakeholders and elected officials, and learning about progress on a host of difficult and often intricate initiatives, such as the college’s Middle States reaccreditation and the new Culinary & Event Center. She’s tackling the new academic master plan, looking at Health Sciences career needs in the region and how to expand the college’s reach to older students, with options such as flexible scheduling and additional evening, weekend and online offerings.

And that’s just the start. Academic Affairs centers on the very heart of the college experience: the instructional quality of an institution, the degree programs it does and doesn’t offer, the caliber of its faculty. The burden of responsibility may seem daunting, but the work carries immense rewards.

Dr. Penny Haynes can see those rewards from her office window: the ever-present students, who are involved with more than just their classes. They connect with their professors, with each other and the larger campus community through events, applied learning activities and just plain hanging out.

“The first week of classes after I arrived, I would look out the window and see students walking, and sitting on the picnic benches talking to each other. There’s a vibe,” she reflected. “It’s much more collegial.”