SUNY Oswego was recently ranked #48 nationally in Washington Monthly’s list of top Master’s Universities for its advancement of academics and public good.

Washington Monthly's rankings differ from most services because rather than emphasizing factors like exclusivity, they focus on social mobility, research, community engagement and service. Also considered in the rankings are whether or not the schools earned the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, which SUNY Oswego recently received in 2020 for its third five-year cycle.

SUNY Oswego was placed in the Master’s Universities list among schools who offer master’s programs but not doctoral degree programs. 

In addition, Oswego ranked 35th in the Northeast in the Best Bang for the Buck category, with “schools ranked according to how well they help non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices,” the website explained. “The list is created by isolating the social mobility metrics from the main rankings of four-year institutions.”

Record of service 

SUNY Oswego, which started as an innovative public teaching school 160 years ago, has its foundations rooted in teaching, service and giving back to the community. This includes an emphasis on the essential opportunity that community service provides to SUNY Oswego and to its students.

In 2019-20, a total of 1,778 SUNY Oswego volunteers completed a total of 22,802 hours of community service. Most volunteers come from residence halls and courses that require service, but also from Greek life, other student organizations and students interested in doing service for their own benefit. 

“Students who engage in community service have a higher sense of belonging on campus and feel more connected to the community –- both on and off campus,” said Catherine Farrell, who coordinated community services for the college through December 2021. “Doing service is also a great mental health break for students by allowing them to get off campus, give back, think about something else other than their classes and feel like they contributed something important. Students are exposed to different people, populations and experiences while completing service that they otherwise may not have interacted with.”

Community service allows students to add to their resumes and apply their in-class lessons to real-world experiences, Farrell noted.

There are countless examples of SUNY Oswego students getting involved in the community. In fall 2021, over 100 members of five Greek organizations partnered with the community service program Shining Waters to complete over 150 hours of shore clean-up.  

Other initiatives -- such as the SHOP (Students Helping Oz Peers) pantry providing food, toiletries, clothing and more -- come from college leaders identifying a need and rallying the resources to support it.

Learning via service

Students have the unique opportunity at SUNY Oswego to engage in a number of service-learning courses, which give students the opportunity to serve in the community and reflect upon those experiences in an academic setting. 

Michelle Bandla, Director of EXCEL (Experiential Courses and Engaged Learning) at SUNY Oswego, who oversees service-learning initiatives, explains the unique experience students get when they take a service-learning course, like GST 102 and GST 302.

“GST 102 gives students the opportunity to learn and assess community needs,” Bandla said. “It gives students the opportunity to learn about poverty, social justice and civic engagement. Then, in GST 302, students are able to take a step back and assess ‘How do I impact the community as a volunteer? How can I use my experiences or my privilege to impact the community that I live in?’” 

Bandla also highlighted Focus Forward, the popular service-learning program that partners with five school districts in the Oswego area. Focus Forward gives students the opportunity to take part in school-based mentoring. 

Through the early stages of the pandemic, Focus Forward adapted to offer virtual mentoring services through a pen-pal system and real-time Zoom meetings. After successfully returning to in-person mentoring this fall, Focus Forward utilized 54 college-student mentors and served more than 60 middle and high-school mentees allowing for ideal one-to-one matches to provide academic and social support in a time of increased need created by the pandemic. A total of 89 students stepped up to mentor throughout the last year to serve in nine schools across five districts.

Bandla’s office also supports service-based lessons that occur in academic courses across campus. For example, the English and creative writing department offers a service-learning section of English 102 in which, this fall, students learned and wrote about civic engagement and contributed over 110 hours of service in the Oswego community.

Other academic service-learning opportunities include Vote Oswego, created by political science faculty member Allison Rank, which gives students the opportunity to engage in a course that teaches them the ins-and-outs of running a voter awareness and registration campaign and engaging the student body in the importance of elections and voting. 

“We’re always growing and expanding,” said Bandla. “We’re always looking for more opportunities for students to do service and to create more partnerships with those in the community.” 

Diversity initiatives for public good

Further encompassing the school’s mission of service and empowering each individual to pursue a meaningful life as a productive member of society, SUNY Oswego has continued on its mission toward equity and inclusion to promote public good. 

A few highlights from 2021 were:

  • The ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) Student Leadership Conference returned with in-person presentations Sept. 21 to 27 with a “Migration Stories of Courage” conference theme. The conference also hosted the 11th annual Peace Walk from City Hall to the Marano Campus Center, celebrating the 1963 March on Washington in support of jobs and freedom. 

  • SUNY Oswego began embarking upon its Grand Challenge: Race, Racism and Social Justice. Beginning in fall 2021 and for the next three years  —  across all disciplines, departments and divisions  —  the SUNY Oswego campus community will deeply engage with multi-dimensional issues of the social construction of racial identities, complex systems of oppression and privilege, and societal transformation. 

“Our next Grand Challenges effort will give Oswego students, faculty and staff a unique opportunity to address the impact that race, racism and social justice have across every aspect of our global community,” then-President Deborah F. Stanley said in announcing the initiative. 

Washington Monthly rankings

To learn more about Washington Monthly’s rankings and detailed methodology, visit their website

The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification is only awarded to select schools who follow a process of self-study and are then selected by a review committee led by the Swearer Center for Public Engagement.