Houghton College Utica (New York) is a non-residential cohort program offering courses leading to an Associate of Arts degree. It is aimed at students with barriers to higher education – particularly resettled refugees, immigrants and other new Americans. The curriculum is designed to create involved, active graduates well-versed in the sciences, humanities and social sciences, readying them for further education or the kind of employment that will allow them to be successful community-builders and flourishing citizens. Houghton College Utica began this fall with a cohort of 16 students all hailing from Burma.

The site is modeled after Houghton College Buffalo, a similar two-year program which launched in 2014 and has had a graduation rate of 85 percent – well above the national average.

City of Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri welcomed Houghton College to the area and expressed his gratitude to all those involved. He noted how, over the city’s 100-year involvement with refugee populations, these individuals have become part of the fabric of Utica. “We understand this is the future of our great city, and it’s in their hands,” Palmieri said. “And now that we have a college that’s going to be able to accentuate and help the very people who are going to help us – it just bodes well for Utica.”

Houghton College President Shirley A. Mullen highlighted Utica’s historic commitment to global engagement, noting that the Tabernacle Baptist Church, which is now home to a large Burmese Karen population, became involved in the original missionary work of Adoniram Judson in Burma in the early 19th century. She noted that Houghton College, a university of The Wesleyan Church, had its origin in Utica in 1842 as a church supporting abolition and women’s rights. She emphasized the appropriateness of Houghton Utica bringing together the city and college’s commitment to global engagement and social justice.

Palmieri and Mullen joined Dr. Mark Caruana, dean of Houghton College Utica, and Dr. Matthew Pickering, district superintendent of the Central New York District of The Wesleyan Church, for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. Also present for the occasion were representatives for Oneida County: Executive Anthony Picente, New York State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-47 and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi.

Rev. Michael Ballman, founder of the Oneida Square Project and a 1992 Houghton graduate, presented a commemorative mosaic mural created by his team at Oneida Square Public Art and Design. The mural connected visual elements of Houghton’s main campus with the Utica skyline, a representation of the connection between the college and the city of Utica.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, current students gave tours of the facility, interacted with community members and Houghton representatives and informally shared their unique stories and testimonies. One such student is Ser Nay Ler Pwe, a Karen refugee from the country of Burma. A gifted guitarist, he enthusiastically accompanies the cohort’s chapel services. Ser Nay, his sister Tee Paw Saw, and their cousin Paw Wah are all current students, and the entire cohort – including HC Utica administration – recently attended Ser Nay’s naturalization ceremony, where he became an official citizen of the United States.

For more information about Houghton College Utica, visit www.houghton.edu/utica.

Photo: Houghton College Utica students with Dr. Shirley A. Mullen, Houghton College president, and Dr. Paul Mills.