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Students return to mix of new and familiar at St. Lawrence County colleges

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Alexandria J. Haehl, her parents and her grandparents stuffed their cars with everything she would need for a 15-week stay and drove more than two hours from Old Forge to St. Lawrence University, Canton, on Sunday.

“I’m really excited,” said Miss Haehl, a freshman living away from home for the first time. She is spending her first few days in the north country rock climbing and golfing before her classes in International Studies begin.

“It’s really easy to move in here; there’s lots of people helping me all the time,” she said.

Miss Haehl is one of thousands of students who flock to St. Lawrence County at summer’s end. They fill campus bookstores, haul furniture into dorms from the back of packed cars and hug their parents goodbye as another school year begins.

No matter which of the county’s four colleges they attend, returning students will be encounter new programs, projects and people when they arrive on campus.

Perhaps the most marked change is the two new presidents who will steer the county’s SUNY colleges through the year ahead. Joseph C. Hoffman will lead SUNY Canton as acting president, and Dennis L. Hefner takes the reins at SUNY Potsdam as interim president. Both started their jobs in June.

SUNY Canton has begun a search for a new president; Mr. Hoffman is eligible to take the position permanently and may be considered in the search.

SUNY Potsdam received permission from the SUNY system to begin its search earlier this month, and a search committee is being created.

“This is going to be a collaborative effort with all segments of the campus,” said SUNY Potsdam College Council chairwoman June F. O’Neill.

Mr. Hefner will return to retirement as soon as a successor is found.

Meanwhile, two major construction projects are nearing completion at SUNY Potsdam. The $8.7 million renovation of the Maxcy Hall ice arena will wrap up in early November, and the Department of Theatre and Dance is preparing for the opening of a $48 million Performing Arts Center in the spring.

At Clarkson University, Potsdam, the biggest change is happening off campus — the college is expanding its distance learning program.

While distance learning once was offered only to students pursuing MBA degrees, soon all of Clarkson’s graduate programs will be available online.

Ten such programs already have been approved. Students can use a number of software programs and websites to complete their coursework without ever setting foot on campus.

“This will enable you to get a job while taking some classes online and essentially graduating and completing your degree completely online,” said Kerop D. Janoyan, director of distance learning at Clarkson.

The last few years have brought enough advances that technical problems no longer are of great concern, Mr. Janoyan said.

“Technology has come a long way. You can do a lot of things primarily through virtual labs,” he said.

The true challenge comes when trying to decide how to best teach the necessary information in an unusual setting.

“How do we deliver the course material and serve the students the best, both on campus and online?” Mr. Janoyan asked.

Final numbers are not in yet, but dozens are expected to enroll in the program’s first year.

St. Lawrence University has introduced a new major, the Business in Liberal Arts degree, for students who want to learn business skills while pursuing a traditional liberal arts degree.

Construction continues on SLU’s new $13 million residence hall. The hall will be heated and cooled by environmentally friendly geothermal wells. Drilling on the 450-foot deep wells has begun.

Classes at all four colleges begin this week.

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