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August 1998

Interview: William J. Mariani,
Improving Erie Community College, One Day at a Time

 

William J. Mariani—Interim President of Erie Community College, resident of Orchard Park, New York, family oriented, motivator, and good spirited. These words describe one of the most significant educational leaders in Western New York. We welcome you to an interview session with William Mariani.
Q: Were you born and raised in Western New York?
A:
I was born and raised in the City of Lackawanna and attended St. Francis High School, then went on to St. Bonaventure University where I earned my bachelors and masters degrees.
Q: Describe your family.
A:
My wife, Marcia, and I have been married for 25 years (we grew up next door to each other in Lackawanna). We have two children—Mara, 23, is starting dental school in August, and William II, 18, is attending West Point Military Academy’s Prep School this year. We also have a great dog—a black lab named Goliath.

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Son Bill, wife Marcia, daughter Mara and Bill at Mara’s graduation from SUNY Geneseo.

Marcia has been a sixth grade teacher in the Lackawanna School System and occasionally is an adjunct professor of reading at Erie Community College. She loves to golf and ski and is an avid reader. Mara is an honor student, a great skier, ski instructor, and a lifeguard. William II is also an honor student and has been recognized as “Athlete of the Year” at his St. Francis High School graduation. He excelled not only in academics, but in lacrosse, wrestling, and the school band.

As for myself, I enjoy skiing, golf, hunting, fishing, and travel. Being around and working with people is important to me.
Q: Tell us a little about the role your family plays in your life.
A:
My family and its success is simply what has and continues to motivate me to excel in life. I have always exposed my children to new opportunities and supported them with encouragement. I believe we need to stay close to our children today. They deal with a variety of dynamics that we didn’t have while growing up. Talk to them and listen. Always know what they are doing and with whom, but give them their space.

Marcia and I spend a lot of time together. In winter, we enjoy our condo in Ellicottville and in summer, we golf with friends. We have always had as a priority spending time with our children at school and sporting events; and we always have dinner together at least four times a week. We are also fortunate that our parents and siblings are in the area. Family get-togethers occur frequently and are a lot of fun at the Mariani’s.
Q: Who is the most influential person in your life?
A:
I would like to mention a few: My parents, for their support and encouragement all my life. My dad is a great guy, a loving man who really enjoys helping people, sometimes to the extent of having his feelings hurt. I learned the old theory is true: it’s better to give than receive. My mom strongly believed in the education of her children. Her mission was to ensure that my sister and I had a thorough education, and she went out of her way to guarantee it.

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Son Bill’s welcome home party with mom Marcia holding Billy and dad holding Mara.

Also, my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lynch, God bless her, she’s passed on. She really provided me with the guidance and support that encouraged my pursuit of a degree. Up until eighth-grade, education was a task.

God also has a very profound and meaningful influence in my life. I am a Christian and respect and practice those teachings. The Franciscans had a lot to do with my success in making sure I realized if you receive, you need to give back to society in some way, through coaching, boards, United Way, or teaching. Thank you Father Everest.
Q: What jobs have you done in your life leading up to now?
A:
For a 49-year old, I have had an interesting life. Would you believe I have bartended, snow plowed, shoveled sludge in a sewage pump station, was elected to a school board trustee position at the age of 25, sold cars/printing equipment/computers, taught parochial school, taught part-time as an adjunct professor, then full-time as a department chair in the Business school, had a consulting business, and was chosen by the New York State Economic Development Department to provide marketing seminars to the Russian and Hungarian business/government community from 1991 to 1993. Prior to accepting a full-time position at ECC in 1985, I was a partner in my own business.
Q: What is the ultimate key to successful motivation?
A:
It has always been my belief that the key to successful motivation and goal achievement is clear communication. The more your team knows about the situation, its impact on them, and the organization, the more apt they will be to support change and become an active part of it. That’s the job of a leader today, to have a vision and clearly articulate that vision to the mass in a fashion that creates a win-win scenario. I love being part of the effort, it’s personally rewarding.
Q: What does Erie Community College mean to you?
A:
ECC is the best kept secret in Western New York and that is our fault. Sometimes you are so busy doing your job you forget the public needs to know what you do and if we don’t tell them, they will form their own conclusions. With the negativity of news reporting, you are in a dangerous position of allowing the public to form an opinion that is unwarranted.

ECC is a 50 year-young institution that has provided an educational opportunity to the basic core of our WNY community. There are virtually hundreds of thousands of students and graduates living in WNY that attended ECC at one time or another. Our students “stay home”, they graduate, live in our community, get jobs, buy homes, pay taxes, build families. An investment in the this College is an investment in our community. We are an economic development tool that has been under-utilized by government. You will be hearing a lot about our students and what we produce at ECC. Stay tuned Western New Yorkers!
Q: What types of challenges do you face as Interim President?
A:
Whew! How about taking a new job on an interim basis and in the first week, you find out that enrollment is down, and you are looking at a $5.7 million deficit; the State University Trustees tell you that you will have to roll back tuition from $2,600 to $2,500, and morale is at an all-time low in your institution. How’s that for challenges!

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William Mariani; Charles Swanick, chairman of Erie County Legislature; and Lynn Marinelli, Erie County Legislature - 11th District; at a news conference held on May 22, 1998 at the ECC City Campus, announcing significant grants.

We are turning it around through the help of the team. That was my approach from the beginning. We have to listen, communicate, and get the team on board. So far, we’ve been successful in working with the County Executive, his budget office, our unions, board of trustees, legislature, and fortunately, The Buffalo News. We have presented a balanced budget, with no layoffs and a reduced tuition, to the legislature for approval. We are on our way in creating change here at ECC but only together will we accomplish it.
Q: How can citizens over 50 years of age benefit from ECC?
A:
We have an established relationship with the Senior Supportive Services Corporation in Erie County where we already provide job opportunities and retraining programs to seniors and people over 50 years of age. We allow seniors to audit our academic classes. We provide a computer for seniors workforce development seminar class during the Fall and Spring and, if you think about what we discussed earlier, we train and educate their children to become productive members of our WNY community which makes all our lives more productive.
Q: What future initiatives do you plan to implement that will boost enrollment?
A:
We are an enrollment driven institution: you increase enrollment, you increase course sections and revenues—everyone is happy. But it is not that easy in an area of declining population with 17 other educational institutions. We have to look at a simple formula, survival requires reduced expenses and increasing market share with new markets.

We will be looking at programmatic consolidation this year, but not just with the intent of eliminating a program, but with a focus on strengthening it. If we have a low-enrolled program offered at all three campuses, it may offer us the opportunity to look at locating the whole program at one campus, thus allowing us to focus our resources and more of them on this program enhancing technology. It is better for the student, faculty member, and the college. But, to do this effectively, we will need a transportation network or shuttle between campuses. We will have that starting this Fall, 1998.

I also mentioned a need for new markets. We are working more closely with business, government, and grant funding agencies to ensure the product we produce is what we want. We just received a Society of Manufacturing and Engineering grant that is very prestigious for us. It will help us focus on five industry partners, with help from a special legislative grant from Legislator Lynn Marinelli to create a curriculum revision in our technologies. We are also working on initiatives to create a “prep school environment” at ECC for UB and Buffalo State applicants that are not successful in meeting the admissions requirements to either school. We are also looking at foreign students and athletes as well.

We have initiated an Advanced Studies Program that will kick-off this fall at area high schools which allow high school qualified faculty to offer college courses at their site. It will also assist us in curriculum design and communication between our faculty and that of high school. We are moving forward on a pilot Welfare-to-Work initiative targeting 100 public assistance recipients. They will be allowed to compete for a degree and offered part-time employment at the college while doing so. We also have developed an initiative with the military, offering programs at a discounted tuition at the Armory for guardsman and their spouses. It has been received very enthusiastically.

We are pursuing a “College in the County” where academic courses will be offered to Erie County employees at various county locations at a discounted tuition rate and allowing payment through payroll deduction.

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Vacationing with Bill’s niece, Alana Goszewski; his mom, Elisabeth; Marcia, Bill, and his dad, Bruno in Florida.

We are promoting Certificate Programs which are short-term, leading toward a job (computer specialist, small business manager, social worker) And lastly, we are aggressively marketing our success to the general public.
Q: Is there one particular moral your parents taught you that has carried with you?
A:
Tell the truth and treat others with the same respect you would like to be treated with. I have practiced it, required my family to practice it, and believe it has made us all better members of our society. If you don’t respect yourself first though, how can you respect others? My parents instilled in me a strong sense of esteem. Believing in yourself is strong medicine and offers a variety of opportunities to the takers. Thanks folks, you’re the best!

 

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