As D’Youville Faces A Period of Transition, College President Lorrie Clemo Shifts Focus on Buffalo


Dr. Lorrie Clemo came in as D’Youville College’s president during a period of transition and new challenges for the 110-year-old institution. Clemo, who had previously worked at the State University of New York at Oswego as provost and vice-president of academic affairs, is the first lay member to serve as president. Her predecessor, Sister Denise Roche, who had served as the college’s president for nearly four decades, was a member of the order of the Grey Nuns who had founded D’Youville in the early 20th century.

However, Clemo’s lay status is more a side note for D’Youville; like many Catholic institutions of higher learning, its academics and functioning are mostly secular. More significant for Clemo were the challenges she faced in attracting new students and retaining new ones. D’Youville faces expected challenges like adapting to changing educational and employment trends, but also faced the unexpected: Governor Cuomo’s announcement that the state would offer free tuition at its SUNY schools. How would D’Youville compete against a free, quality education?

Quality and value, according to Clemo.

“(It was a challenge) creating a message that would be very meaningful to students and parents as they’re thinking about where to go for their education and conveying the importance of investing and the value (the college) provides to them,” she said. “It’s an easy sell now. But initially it was a challenge because it came out of the blue for us. We thought we were competing with free, but there’s such a return on investment that students will have that will multiply over the course of their lives.

Allan Mendoza interviewing president of D’Youville, Dr Lorrie Clemo. ( photo Rubens M.)

Part of that message is the quality of its current programs, to be sure. And since Clemo started at D’Youville, she’s worked to make the college more competitive as well as be more responsive to the needs of the faculty and students, including six public salons to discuss her vision for the college. Clemo also noted she wanted to expand D’Youville’s global footprint by expanding the college’s online offerings and reach out to non-traditional students beyond the 18-22 traditional student age range, including students in the middle of their careers.

But among one of the most important shift for the college is an added focus on Buffalo and the west side for its recruitment. Like many colleges, the D’Youville sends representatives to recruit abroad, but it is finding that its ties to business have been key in attracting students.  Local business has been a partner in helping Clemo shape her vision for D’Youville by helping with job-preparedness efforts. Already, D’Youville graduates see a higher first-year income compared to other institutions both nationally in Western New York. She cites local brand recognition and the school’s reputation as a source of quality hires.

D’Youville college is diversity, not only national students but also international students. ( photo Rubens M. ) 

Another approach she is exploring is offering co-op, apprenticeship-type program where students earn their way into a degree while earning money. Clemo has reached out with local businesses for input to help implement the program. Again, co-op programs serve an important role; instead of accumulating debt, they allow students to pay their way through school — being paid first year wages — while doing work relevant to their field. While other institutions have implemented programs like this, she notes this is the first time this has been done for medical programs in Western New York.

Along with providing valuable experience for these students as well as a source of employees to local businesses, Clemo notes that these efforts help in retention. While provost and vice-president at Oswego, student retention was one of her focuses, which she continues to focus on today in her current role at D’Youville. Retention efforts are normally viewed as a response to at-risk students. There’s the obvious at-risk of failing, at-risk of transferring, at-risk of dropping out due to financial issues. For the first category, the college offers outreach and assistance through its services such as its student success center, which the college hopes to expand later this year. For the other two, Clemo hopes D’Youville’s unique offerings, such as the business co-op arrangement, aid in these retention efforts. These also extend to STEM fields, as well not just business. These projects have included work on environmental, engineering and even cybersecurity.

While students in STEM fields also enjoy a valuable experience as students as co-ops with local businesses, the funding aspect is just as important, according to Clemo. Banco Santander and the National Science Foundation have been key, not just for funding these projects, but for providing stipends for students. Clemo hopes that the stipends will have students stay on campus and focus on their studies and future fields rather than work in the service industry back at home.

For many of these award recipients, Buffalo is home. And it’s no coincidence that many of them are recent or first-generation immigrants, often from modest backgrounds. Granting these awards to local students is an indirect support to the community, but Clemo sees the college’s duty to be more of a direct help to the community.

“The college needs to be responsible for the neighborhood around them,” she says.

“D’Youville has begun to network with local organizations, particularly those that aid the local immigrant and refugee community. For example, a member of the nursing faculty works with local community health center Jericho Road. The college has even begun working with other local colleges, including some refugee and recent immigrant students from Houghton College, for example”. Clemo added

While public service has been a key aspect of the college, Clemo hopes that these efforts help build name-recognition to not just Buffalo, but the West Side as well. If there was ever a case that illustrated the need for getting D’Youville’s name out there in the neighborhood, it was the case of an immigrant who had been a doctor in his home country. He had stopped practicing because he didn’t know how to get the credentials to resume practicing in the United States. But out of curiosity, he had visited the library, initially unaware about the college and its educational offerings. However, this simple interaction led to him attending D’Youville, and ultimately began practicing medicine again. Clemo hopes that D’Youville’s community outreach helps create more of these mutually beneficial interactions.

It’s only been seven months since Clemo took office, but she’s thus far laid out solid plans for D’Youville and how it plans to leverage Buffalo — and the West Side.

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