American International College (AIC) President Vince Maniaci has announced plans to retire at the end of academic year 2021-2022. At the time of his retirement, Maniaci will have served the College for seventeen years. Joining AIC in 2005, Maniaci’s stated aim was to cultivate and progress “a diverse, urban community; strong co-curricular, athletic, and academic connections; and student-centered, culturally aware programming.” Meanwhile, faced with a multi-million dollar deficit, Maniaci made drastic changes to business-as-usual, helping set the College on a steady trajectory toward fiscal health within one year of his arrival.
During his time as president, Maniaci successfully increased undergraduate and graduate programming through the doctoral level, resulting in robust enrollments; expanded athletic programs and improved sports venues; contributed to the revitalization of the College with new construction and renovation of campus facilities in support of academics, athletics, and student life; enhanced campus safety with increased personnel and technology upgrades; and pursued grant funding, including a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2006, after an initial downsizing and retrenchment, AIC began to grow programming and enrollment. The immediate focus of the newly created strategic plan was on generating net revenue to reinvest in infrastructure such as IT, physical plant, and deferred maintenance - but most importantly to go beyond balancing the annual budget to generate a cash surplus. A main focus of the strategic plan called for an increase in enrollment and a goal to enhance student learning with the expansion of undergraduate and graduate degree programs through the doctoral level. New programming in recent years has included a minor in Spanish, the addition of a master of science in cannabis science and commerce, the statewide expansion of the master’s in education program, and the establishment of a low residency program. Health Sciences has experienced a steady growth with the introduction of exercise science, family nurse practitioner, and a doctorate in occupational therapy. At the time of Maniaci’s arrival, graduate enrollment in the fall of 2005 was approximately 380 students. As of the fall 2020 semester, the total graduate enrollment has expanded to nearly 1,250 and includes twenty-two program offerings. Undergraduate enrollment has grown as well. In recent years, despite downward trends in college enrollment in the Northeast, AIC has boasted two of its largest incoming first-year classes, with a current undergraduate population nearing 1,400 students.
Within the first five years of Maniaci’s arrival, he directed attention to athletics. With thirty-five percent of the undergraduate population comprising student-athletes, the sports and recreation facilities did not compare well to those of other schools in the Springfield area. Maniaci committed to improving the facilities, allowing the College to attract and retain a more selective group of student-athletes and improve overall student morale. New athletics programs, including track and field, rugby, women’s golf and triathlon were introduced, the wrestling practice area and athletic training services were each relocated to upgraded venues designed for optimum use, and this fall, men’s volleyball will be added to the roster. In 2016, Maniaci’s commitment to rejuvenate the Division I men’s ice hockey program moved the team from last place in the league to three consecutive Atlantic Hockey regular season championships.
Major grants have contributed to building the College’s success and enrollment numbers. In 2015, AIC received a grant of more than one million dollars from the United States Department of Education allocated over five years. The Student Support Services grant was earmarked for operational and scholarship funding to benefit the AIC Core Education (ACE) program. ACE, a federally funded program for first-generation college students, assists with the tools needed to succeed in college and to plan for success after graduation. Eligible students receive support in navigating campus services in addition to participation in workshops, cultural activities, and specialized programming. ACE offers personal mentoring, academic support, career counseling, disability referral services, financial aid assistance, and graduate school preparation. Many of the students in the program begin their college careers with extraordinary financial needs or other challenging circumstances. Students accepted into the ACE program remain in the program throughout their four-year college experience.
American International College received a one-time $347,000 Nursing Workforce Diversity Grant in 2016 from the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) in support of the College’s Nursing Education Achievement Program (NEAP). HRSA is the primary federal agency charged with improving access to health care for uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable individuals, particularly in underserved inner cities and rural communities across the United States. HRSA also provides scholarships and programs to encourage greater minority participation in the health care professions. In partnership with Baystate Medical Center, the Western Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and the Western Massachusetts Black Nurses Association, NEAP provided professional nurses to mentor participating students along with implementing multiple evidence-based supports that strengthen the ability of economically and educationally disadvantaged students to pass their courses, graduate and move into the workforce.
American International College was also awarded a $150,000 matching grant from the George I. Alden Trust in Worcester, MA. It was applied to help offset costs incurred by the Colaccino Center for Health Sciences building project. George I. Alden established the George I. Alden Trust in August 1912, designed for the purpose of maintenance of charitable or philanthropic enterprises with specific interest in the promotion of education in schools, colleges, or other educational institutions. This was the largest grant ever given to AIC by Alden Trust. It offered a unique and inspiring “all or nothing” challenge: funds would only be realized if the College’s alumni matched the pledge within eighteen months.
In 2019, the College received a $2.2 million dollar grant from the United States Department of Education entitled Title III: Strengthening Institutions for the AIC Plan for Excellence (APEX) program. That grant, distributed over five years, covers a wide range of activities associated with the development of the APEX program. APEX, the AIC Plan for Excellence, is a shared curricular experience designed to achieve four main learning goals for students, including intellectual development and lifelong learning, personal growth, social and cultural competency, as well as career and professional development. Further, APEX improves the value of an AIC education by creating synergy between practical, real-life skills and academic knowledge. The program’s intent is to blend traditional classroom learning with co-curricular experiences and other experiential learning opportunities. By making participation in APEX a requirement for all undergraduates, every scholar is afforded the resources to succeed academically and graduate with a set of tools to ensure personal and professional success. AIC was one of only thirty-six colleges and universities across the United States to receive this grant that covers program and personnel costs, technology and equipment needs, curriculum development, an endowment match, and other related project expenses. As an institution committed to providing access and opportunity to a diverse student body, this allocation of funds in support of APEX assists in serving students from socio-economic backgrounds for whom attending college is not a guarantee.
New construction and renovation of campus facilities in support of academics, athletics, and student life contributed to the revitalization of the College under Maniaci’s leadership. Landscaping upgrades, made almost immediately upon his arrival, made the campus more user-friendly, providing students with access to enjoy all areas of the grounds for recreation and relaxation, building a truly collegiate feel. Within a few years, the Saremi Center for Career Development was created to provide internship opportunities for students through an extensive job database and assists with job interview preparation and personality and leadership assessments to match skills with job titles. The development of the Center for Academic Success supports students – especially first-year, first-generation scholars – helping them realize academic success through to graduation and employment. The full renovation of the 500-seat Esther B. Griswold Theatre boasts a performance venue that supported the development of a theater arts program and major. The adjacent West Wing Gallery, along with a new communication center in the lower level of the building, broadened the scope of the Karen Spague Cultural Arts Center.
The complete overhaul of the Dining Commons in 2016 (the first in fifty years) included the new and improved Stinger Pub, a popular spot for small gatherings of students and employees. The renovation of the James F. Shea Library, a full-service learning center complete with group study rooms, project-development spaces, study pods, and open reading areas, is tailored for students who wish to study in groups or alone. The learning commons also functions as a hub of socialization. In 2018, the construction of the Colaccino Center for Health Sciences, a state-of-the-art educational facility, offers spacious classrooms and hands-on labs for undergraduate and graduate students in exercise science, nursing, physical therapy, public health, and occupational therapy. The 20,000-square-foot facility provides AIC students with simulation, rehabilitation, and human performance laboratories, as well as smart classrooms, ample study areas, faculty offices, and conference space.
A major campaign in support of athletics resulted in new and upgraded indoor and outdoor venues, among them a fitness center and athletics performance center, a field dedicated to rugby practice, the Ronald J. Abdow Field, John Hoyt Track, MassMutual Field, Alumni Varsity Club Field, and Judy Groff Softball Field.
The Schwartz Campus Center, the hub for student life, benefited from the creation of the Colaccino Lounge and deck, renovated campus store, an upgrade to the Hive café, and the addition of Starbucks. Built in 2008, Acorn Heights offers apartment-style, co-ed housing for academically successful, mature students who have reached twenty-one years of age. Most recently, the construction of Acorn B, the first-ever housing exclusively for graduate students, was added to the list of projects that have enhanced campus life and helped AIC compete in the rapidly changing landscape of college recruitment and retention.
The safety of students and staff on any campus is a priority. At AIC, campus police personnel nearly doubled in the last seven years to include highly visible patrols and vehicles. Technology upgrades expanded to more than 200 surveillance cameras (up from 27 in 2014) and include eyes on amply lit parking lots. Emergency call boxes around campus, 24/7 contact, and prompt text alerts provide timely notifications relative to emergent safety concerns. Swipe access to buildings, extended hours of shuttle transportation to residential housing off the main campus, and police escorts during shuttle off-hours, underscore the pledge to campus safety.
Combined commitments to infrastructure and programming earned AIC the status of being recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education over several years as one of the fastest-growing colleges in both the bachelor’s and master’s degree categories.
“I am proud to reflect on the many achievements that we have accomplished as an institution over what will be the course of seventeen years,” said Maniaci. “Every individual on the Board of Trustees, as well as the faculty and administration, have all contributed to the elements that make AIC unique among colleges and universities. We share a collective passion for the mission of American International College and a sincere dedication to provide access and opportunity to a diverse population of students who are inspired to grow in both knowledge and experience, and who entrust their education to us. That tradition has been the cornerstone of the institution for 136 years and will continue well into the future.”
Board of Trustees Chair Frank Colaccino, a 1973 graduate of AIC, expressed his appreciation for the leadership and growth Maniaci has spearheaded. “Vince came onboard at a critical time. The financial stability of the College was in a precarious state. AIC faced a significant budget deficit that, if left unchecked, would spell a certain end to AIC’s historic mission and purpose. Swift decisions had to be made and nearly all of the leadership traits imagined by the hiring committee needed to be realized simultaneously and immediately. As with any organization able to boast more than one hundred years of history, it was imperative that we had a president who had a vision for the future. Through challenging times and some tough decisions, Vince has been able to enact positive change that has kept AIC viable and relevant. The Board of Trustees and I are grateful for his contribution to AIC’s success and wish him all the best in his retirement.”
A national search will be underway for Maniaci’s successor for the 2022-2023 academic year who will continue with a vision of access, opportunity, and diversity.