- by Mount Saint Mary College
Family moves student into residence hall on move in day, wearing masks

Mount Saint Mary College welcomed hundreds of students to residence halls on campus – including upperclassmen, transfer students, and those just starting their college careers – from Thursday, August 20 through Sunday, August 23.

Students moved into their residence halls in phases this semester in order to maximize social distancing. Freshman students arrived first, with upperclassmen moving in on Friday and over the weekend. 

With fewer people moving in at the same time, the process was a little quieter than it has been in the past. But with beautiful Hudson Valley weather as the backdrop and a new adventure awaiting them, Mount students were excited to be on campus.

First-year student Sharon Leung of East Meadow, N.Y., a Biology major on the Pre-med track, moved in to her room in Sakac Hall on Friday, August 21. She was happy to be able to live on campus.

“I’m so excited,” Leung said. “When I heard we’d have the ability to move in and not take all online classes, I was ecstatic. We have to take extra precautions and be extra careful to stay on campus, but I’m fine with it.”

This is the first time that students returned to take classes on campus since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. To keep everyone safe, the Mount transitioned to online learning for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester.

The first day of classes for the Fall 2020 semester is Monday, August 24. To keep the Mount’s faculty, staff, and population of about 2,200 students healthy, the college has implemented many new safeguards and protocols. For example, in addition to social distancing of at least six feet whenever possible, students will be required to wear a mask in all public places at all times. In addition, main areas, classrooms, and residences halls will be cleaned regularly.  

First-year student Kylie Dragonetti of Massapequa, N.Y., a Nursing major, is pleased about these new precautions, she said.

“I’m going to wear my mask, I’m going to follow every guideline I can to keep others safe and keep myself safe, and we’ll deal with what we’ve got...It might not be exactly what we planned, but we’re still going to have fun and study hard.” -Kylie Dragonetti

But even in these uncertain times, Dragonetti said the choice to come to the Mount was easy.

“As soon as I set foot on the campus the first time, I said ‘Oh my gosh, this is definitely the right college,’” Dragonetti noted. “Everyone is so nice, there’s beautiful scenery, and the Nursing program has a great reputation. Nothing compares to Mount Saint Mary.”

She added, “I’m looking forward to having a great education in the Nursing field.”

Mount Nursing students enjoy state-of-the-art simulation labs and clinical relationships with dozens of area hospitals. The Mount’s passionate faculty are dedicated to the success of both their undergraduate and graduate students.

Leung, who is on the college’s lacrosse team, is already bonding with other members of the Mount family. She met her roommate, fellow lacrosse player Emily Perin of Watertown, Conn., in February. The pair soon became good friends.

Leung says she’s looking forward to starting her classes and feeding her passion for science. “I’ve always been in love with science,” she explained. “No other subject has gotten my attention as much as science, especially Biology.”

Courses from Earth Science to Organic Chemistry, taught by the Mount’s expert faculty, are the backbone of the college’s strong degree programs in the Natural Sciences. They also prepare students for graduate study, including physician assistant, medical, veterinary, and dental school, or for careers in industry or education.

In addition to Nursing and Natural Sciences, many Mount first-year students are majoring in Business. These programs include Accounting, Business Management and Administration, Finance, Marketing, and Sports Management. The college also offers comprehensive areas of study in Psychology, English, Math, Information Technology, Sociology, History, Teacher Education, and more.

But the Mount is more than just the majors and courses it offers: the college community is committed to service. It’s a part of the college’s identity that has not gone unnoticed by incoming students. 

Leung is planning on becoming a surgeon. She has always felt a strong desire to help people, and she says the Mount’s mission of service and community greatly compliments her goals and dreams.

“I love it,” she said. “When I came here, I knew this was the perfect match for me." 

Dragonetti shared Leung’s sentiment: “I’ve always loved helping people,” she explained. “I’m a people person. I was very drawn to medical stuff and always found it so interesting. By becoming a nurse, I can help people…I’m ready to start learning how to be a great nurse at the Mount.”

Hybrid Courses and Mount Hy-Flex

As part of the Mount’s Hybrid Flexible (Mount Hy-Flex) program, courses this semester will be a mixture of online/virtual and in person education. This gives professors a large range of options for teaching their courses. This semester, professors will utilize many methods of instruction, from in-person to fully online/virtual – and everything in between. Most courses will blend online and in-person elements, creating a hybrid learning experience.

Leung is looking forward to learning both online and in person.

“In high school from March to June, we were all taking online classes, so I’m used to it,” explained Leung. “But the fact that I actually can also go into a classroom and have discussions too is important to me.” 

She added, “I know my professors can talk to me and help if I need it either way…I was a little bit nervous about that, but they’ve been reassuring me through emails already.”

Abaunza takes the reins as VP for Academic Affairs

New to Mount Saint Mary College this semester is George Abaunza, a dedicated professor and administrator who was recently named Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA).

“It is with great enthusiasm and humility that I begin my tenure as the Vice President for Academic Affairs of Mount Saint Mary College...I was drawn to the Mount by its rich history of dedication to the transformation of the lives of its students and its community-service orientation. I look forward to building together with colleagues at the Mount a shared vision for the college’s future that leverages its past successes and traditions, within the context of its Liberal Arts mission, to realize the powerful mandate of educating students for the 21st century within a Dominican framework of enduring values.” - George Abaunza

 The Mount’s VPAA is responsible for the administration of all academics, including the Mount’s School of Business and School of Nursing, as well as the College’s six Divisions (Arts and Letters, Education, Math and IT, Natural Sciences, Philosophy and Religious Studies, and Social Sciences).

Abaunza comes to the Mount from Felician University in Lodi, N.J. Over the course of two decades, Abaunza served in many roles at the University, most recently as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. In addition, he was full professor of Philosophy, and previously Associate Dean of Humanities, as well as Associate Dean for Assessment and Development, in the School of Arts and Sciences, and served as Interim Dean for the School of Education.  

Abaunza earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Florida State University in 2005. His areas of specialization include Philosophy of Education, Social, and Political Philosophy.

Cotter to retire after 57 years

As the Mount starts a new semester, it will be doing so without author, poet, and educator James Finn Cotter, who retired from teaching at the college after 57 years of dedication and outstanding service.

Cotter, a professor of English with the Mount’s Division of Arts and Letters, began his tenure with the college in 1963. In his nearly six decades with the Mount, Cotter has taught in or chaired the Divisions of Humanities, Arts and Letters, and Religious Studies and Philosophy. His legacy is truly part of the DNA of the college, from his administrative service to the thousands of students on which he imparted a love of literature. 

“Walking into a classroom had been as natural as eating, drinking, and breathing,” Cotter explained. “I enjoy the poems we will discuss, the plays we will read, the stories we will analyze. The task is there before us, we are the readers and responders. Without us, there would be no Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, Hopkins, Dickinson, Frost, or Salinger. We keep them alive by being their audience, supporters, friends, and lovers. Each day is a new day, and each class has new faces and voices that will share their learning. Of course, I will miss the classroom, but my memories are real and remain in me alive and well.”

Cotter was Master of Ceremonies at 40 Mount Commencement Ceremonies, just as he was for the Mount’s first Commencement in 1964. Only two people have led the procession in the entire history of the college: Cotter and professor emeritus James McEnery, who passed away in December of 2015.

In recognition of his contributions to the college, Cotter will be granted professor emeritus status.

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