By Jess Szabo
Most of us leave the details of our old job behind when we take a new one, but Dr. Marianne Buttenschon, will be taking her lifelong immersion in local education right with her to the New York State Assembly as she fills the vacancy left by U.S. Congressman Anthony Brindisi this year. Buttenschon is currently Dean of the Institute for Emergency Preparedness Public Service at Mohawk Valley Community College.
“MVCC has been part of my life for quite some time,” Buttenschon said. “I began as a student in the Criminal Justice program. I was also an intern. I worked in the business office.” She added that her husband and both of her children have also attended MVCC.
Over the years of her family’s involvement in the school, Buttenschon watched MVCC grow into a place focused on the education of the entire person. The success of this approach is evident in the results, including a sports program that produced a member of the Yankees.
“We support the individual to achieve their goals and dreams,” Buttenschon said. “Education takes a holistic approach. It’s not just cognitive development or advancement. It’s mental health. It’s economic development. It’s developing a sense of self-worth.”
When people hear words like “support” or “self-worth” during a discussion on education, they are often left with an incorrect impression. There is a misconception that supporting students to achieve their dreams and instilling a sense of self-worth involves empty platitudes or means that the administration and faculty has low expectations of their students, focusing more on feelings and boosting a sense of false confidence than rigorous academic expectations or genuine learning.
Buttenschon stressed that supporting the whole individual in education is actually the opposite of this approach. When an individual is supported to achieve their dreams through education, that person is instead offered concrete solutions and resources meant to address the issues that stand in the way of their learning.
“Traditionally, higher education was focused strictly on providing academic knowledge to students,” Buttenschon said. “But when other needs are not being met, there is a barrier to that knowledge.”
She used the example of the recent holiday season to illustrate this point.
“Many look at the holidays as a time to rejoice,” Buttenschon said. “But when someone is faced with mental illness, or mental illness in the family, physical illness, poverty, or other lack of basic resources, it is a challenging time.”
Students who face such challenges over the holidays will not return refreshed and prepared to tackle a new semester, as is expected. This will in turn impact their ability to learn anything in the those new classes.
“We don’t just look at one aspect of a person’s development,” Buttenschon further explained. “At the college here, we have a food pantry. Every year we have a clothing drive. It’s offered as a prepare for success event. All the clothes are free, but the students also learn what to wear to a job interview. They learn how to put an outfit together that will help them get a job.”
She sees this holistic approach to education as a way to bring things back to the basics and provide a secure base for further career preparation or academics depending on the student’s goals.
“It’s not ‘feel good,’ she said. “We identify challenges the student faces and seek answers to those challenges. Those answers can be operational.”
Providing resources that may be lacking allows the student to focus in on the basics they need to build a strong and solid foundation to build on in order to forge their path in the community.
“What is needed and the resources to meet those needs are linked in order to ensure the individual has the opportunity to experience individual success,” Buttenschon said. “Then you can take the next step and ask ‘How do you link this person to the community? Higher education has expanded from liberal arts to trades. We need a diverse group of individuals with diverse expertise to support our communities.”
The idea of providing a strong base for taking education into the community is one Buttenschon not only promotes and teaches, but exemplifies in her own life.
Once she finished her studies at MVCC, Buttenschon went on to receive a B.A. in Public Justice from SUNY-IT and an M.A. in Public Policy at Binghampton University. She earned her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Northeastern University. Buttenschon then took that education and applied it to work in the New York State court system, numerous nonprofit boards, and several volunteer positions.
“I have never missed a heart walk. I have never missed a breast cancer walk,” Buttenschon said.
She looks forward to taking her pattern of meeting needs to further individual achievement that supports community building to the state government. While she will be taking a leave of absence from the school to focus on her new role, Buttenschon will continue to serve the same people she has spent the first decades of her career serving, and she will continue to use the same holistic, practical approach she has seen achieve such success in the community.
“When I meet with people, I ask them to tell me how they plan on overcoming the challenges they present,” she said. “For me to create legislation that isn’t going to be operational isn’t going to do any good for a community. I look forward to this honor that has been bestowed upon me. It is a clear honor to work with everyone within the community,” she said. “My career has provided me with the foundation to work with the legislature in Albany as well as all members of our community. My role is to be a liason between this community and Albany.”