On Thursday, Aug. 31, Vermont State University at Castleton held its first convocation post-merger, to welcome new and returning students, faculty, staff, and alumni into the Fall ‘24 semester.
The event, hosted by Cathy Kozlik, Dean of the School of Business and Professional Studies, included remarks from administrative leaders, acknowledgement of international students, student government officials, and influential roles during the merger process, and the convocational address delivered by VTSU interim president, Mike Smith.
Smith described new and returning students as “architects for our future,” and encouraged them to “Enjoy [their] time at Castleton. Make it what you want it to be.”
Addressing the recently finalized merger, Smith shared his excitement for new opportunities at VTSU.
“With the unification of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College, we are bringing together tremendous opportunities for our students and the state, and we celebrate this unity and shared purpose,” Smith said.
Kozlik added that, despite opposing concerns, Castleton is anything but “near death.”
“We may have a new name, we may have new banners, we may have unseen changes, but that Castleton spirit, that Castleton Way, is alive and well,” she said.
Faculty Assembly President Gregory Engel, expressed this sentiment with a punchline.
“Welcome to a new academic year at Castleton. New package, same great flavor,” said Engel, to a round of laughs and applause.
Student Government Association President Perry Ragouzis listed a few of the SGA’s recent achievements to enhance the student experience; from the expansion of dining options at Huden, investing in common room spaces for clubs and organizations, to increasing sustainability on campus through purchase of a food-dehydrator.
“Throughout the transformation process, we will continue to make sure that the Castleton student perspective continues to be represented professionally, respectfully, and equitably,” Ragouzis said.
He ended by encouraging students to apply the same sense of curiosity one has in elementary school, to higher education.
“At the time you’re here at Castleton, I challenge you to embrace the colorful, imaginative and open-minded attitude of youth,” he said.
Convocation concluded with performance of Canadian folk song, “The Royal Hudson,” by the University Chorale, which they described as symbolizing perseverance, resilience, and hope.
The chorale then led the assembly in singing the Castleton Anthem, “Alma Mater.”
Following the event, Zack Thomas, a senior, commented that the incorporation of the anthem “dispelled” his fear of Castleton losing its identity.
He explained that “it was never really the merger that bothered [him],” but overall concerns about transparency.
But the transformation has not affected him personally, and he even “appreciates the availability of more courses,” noting an online class he is taking through VTC.
Faculty, first year students, and returning students, contributed their experience of the first few weeks of school, officially VTSU.
Junior, Thomas Kehoe, agreed that “it has not affected [his] experience, but has affected people positively by giving students more opportunities across campuses.” He added that the students and faculty are “embodying the Castleton Way as they always have.”
Avery Bouchard, a freshman, shares a pre-transformation view of Castleton, despite being part of VTSU’s first class.
“I knew it as Castleton because my sister goes here,” said Bouchard. “VTSU is not really how I think of the school.”
She said that part of her wishes she could partake in the knowledge of Castleton as it was.
Natural Sciences Department Chair Preston Garcia admits he also does have an affinity for 343 green and perhaps feels a bit reserved about “seeing Sparty in a VTSU T-shirt.”
Other than that, he said he hasn’t noticed too many changes in day-to-day life. He is looking forward to “a Vermont fall and hearing what students are doing outside of the classroom.”
Garcia’s main concern is how and when we will find our next interim president position with Smith’s term ending Oct. 31, and then a long-term president to succeed that person.
Michael Talbot, chair of Arts, Humanities, and Communications, discussed how the transformation has impacted department chairs.
“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” he joked. “I used to be the chair of a department with three-and-a-half faculty and I’m now the chair of a department with 28 full-time faculty, and more part-time faculty than I can count, because they’re spread across five campuses.”
Out of the 14 departments, seven of those chairs are based at Castleton. He explained that the hard part is creating a sense of community between the campuses, which entails traveling, getting to know their spaces, needs, budgets, and more.
He emphasized the need to “lift up every campus…because we’re not separate institutions anymore.”
But “nothing has changed about teaching [his] classes,” and the same was said by English Professor and Director of Teaching and Learning, Christopher Boettcher.
“A lot of the things I would be concerned about changing, haven’t changed,” said Boettcher, noting the Alma Mater, Sparty, and traditions such as the candle lighting ceremony.
He keeps in mind previous transitions throughout Castleton history, and describes VTSU Castleton not as a new institution, but “one where the future is kind of open-ended.”
First-year and early college students Daniel Lee Wright III, Myrriam Hussane, Grace Wright, and Xavier Farnham, all shared thoughts on being the first class post-merger.
“I think it’s cool,” said Wright III. “It doesn’t really change anything for me in the future. I mean, I’ll say a different name instead of Castleton.”
“It didn’t really sway my opinion on anything either because I already planned to come here,” Hussane related. “But I think it’s exciting to be part of a new generation of college students because it hadn’t been VTSU before.”
Wright added that she “planned to come here either way,” and she “can tell it’s a good community. Everyone is very inclusive.”
“I don’t worry about the name,” said Farnham. “It doesn’t affect me, I don’t think about it.”
The general sentiment is best summarized by junior Ruben Somda.
“Castleton is still just Castleton,” he said.