Genesee Community College’s Board of Trustees voted last evening to honor three individuals instrumental in the College’s early years – Dr. Alfred C. O’Connell, Neil T. Burns, and William W. Stuart – with Genesee’s first-ever honorary associate degrees. The degrees will be awarded during the College’s 40th Anniversary Convocation, scheduled for May 3. Mr. Stuart and Mr. Burns will be awarded the honorary degree posthumously.
Last year the state enacted legislation that allows community colleges to offer honorary associate degrees. Under policies adopted earlier this year by Genesee’s Board of Trustees, honorary associate degrees may be conferred upon individuals who contribute significantly to the life of the College and serve as an inspiration to students, faculty and staff, and the community.
The three individuals to be honored at the May 3 convocation each played a unique role in the growth of Genesee Community College during its early years, said Board Chair Marcia H. Noonan:
• Dr. Alfred C. O’Connell was the founding president of Genesee Community College. After arriving from Harford Community College in Maryland in 1966, Dr. O’Connell set out to recruit an extraordinary faculty from across the United States. He strongly encouraged faculty members to provide personal attention and guidance to students – a tradition that continues through today. Dr. O’Connell served as the first president of the College for four years. During his retirement, he resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
• Neil T. Burns, who died last week, one of Genesee Community College’s founding trustees and a former board chair. Mr. Burns was instrumental in the planning of the Batavia Campus and the development of the College’s core curriculum. One of his highest priorities was building community awareness of the College. Mr. Burns remained involved in the College over the years, and was a member of the Genesee Community College Foundation’s Legacy Council at the time of his death.
• William W. Stuart, a resident of Elba until his death and chair of the Genesee County Board of Supervisors in 1965, when voters established the College by referendum. While Mr. Stuart was initially opposed to the establishment of a college in Genesee County, after voters approved its establishment, he publicly vowed to make the fledgling Genesee Community College the best college possible. He was true to his word and was instrumental in obtaining an initial site for the College on West Main Street Road and in the acquisition of the current Batavia Campus. The Batavia Campus Forum is named in honor of Mr. Stuart.
Each of these three individuals left their mark on Genesee Community College, according to President Stuart Steiner. “Many individuals contributed to the life and growth of this College,” he said. “But it is appropriate to single out three people who made extraordinary contributions to Genesee during its formative years, and to remember that much of the success we enjoy today is due to their untiring efforts many years ago.”