President Obama Goes to Hudson Valley Community College and meets Joe Sarubbi

How many times in your life do you go to work and find out you’re going to meet the President of the United States?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 started off a typical work day at Hudson Valley Community College for Joe Sarubbi, over-scheduled with meetings and phone calls, and dozens of emails to go through. It was also his wife’s birthday. But it wasn’t until that afternoon when Wednesday became a very atypical work day.

“I got a call from Dr. Carolyn Curtis, the VP of Academic Affairs. She told me that an advance team from the White House was on its way to HVCC–to my lab–to see if it would be suitable for a potential visit from and speech by President Obama on the link between community colleges and emerging technologies. It was a surreal experience, but I felt like it was a great day for community colleges.”

According to Sarubbi, the advance team wanted a venue that was appropriate and logistically easy. To achieve that goal, Sarubbi spent several hours with them helping them get a feel for the campus.

“I knew my lab was too small and not appropriate for the speech,” he said. “But the auto lab–I knew that was exactly the right space. We helped them understand the value of setting the event around electrical equipment–that which would be found in a wind turbine or chip factory. I knew we could transform a garage into the perfect venue for the President to show the connection between community colleges and emerging technologies.”

Sarubbi left HVCC late that afternoon, not knowing the decision of the advance team. But it was his wife’s birthday, and they had dinner plans. Just as they sat down and ordered, Sarubbi’s cell phone vibrated. It was the Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Sarah Boggess, delivering the news that HVCC was chosen. “I’ll never forget saying to my wife, ‘Colleen honey, it’s the President calling.’ I was virtually living at the college until the moment of the event.”

An IBEW Journeyman Electrician by training, Sarubbi’s been teaching at HVCC for 30 years. Recently, he was appointed Executive Director TEC-SMART, (Training and Education Center for Semiconductor Manufacturing and Alternative and Renewable Technologies), a state-of-the-art education facility under construction in Malta at the Saratoga Technology and Energy Park (STEP), and which will offer energy efficiency training for the building trades. Existing photovoltaic and semiconductor manufacturing programs are slated for expansion. More certificate programs in clean energy technologies are on the books.

“It’s moving right along as scheduled,” said Sarubbi. “We broke ground in March of this year–the end of March, actually. The roof is on. We’re scheduled for a January 2010 opening. We’ll have five dedicated labs for training students in solar, geothermal, wind, alternative fuels, and semiconductor manufacturing. We’re really ratcheting up clean energy training.”

All the funding for TEC-SMART is from the State of New York. NYSERDA has provided incentives. “Not sure we could have pulled this off without NYSERDA’s involvement,” he said. “They’ve been the best possible partner.”

Admission to the President’s speech was severely restricted. How were the students selected?

Luck of the draw.

Students who were registered for regular classes during the President’s speech won the lottery. He wanted classes to carry on as usual, and wanted to cause as little disruption as possible, if that’s possible.

The President visited Sarubbi’s class and spoke with some of those lucky students. I’ve been in that classroom. I was feeling the six degrees of separation thing.

“They were in shock and awe, but the President was so at ease. He made sure that he shook the hand of each student in that class–he really talked right to them. In fact, one of the students was so articulate in his response, the President told him that his instructor should give him an ‘A.'”

Besides TEC-SMART, GlobalFoundries, a new $4.2bn chip-making facility which will employ about 1,400 workers, is also under construction at Luther Forest, adjacent to the STEP campus. TEC-SMART will be training GlobalFoundries’ future employees.

HVCC’s renewable energy classes were popular before the President’s visit. Classes are frequently sold out; waiting lists exist.

In the last 24 hours, clips of President Obama at HVCC run on cable TV. Sarubbi said that media follow up is already underway, coming back to interview students after the visit. HVCC’s popularity may be approaching a new strata.

But what about Colleen’s birthday? I mean…

“I made it up to her,” said Sarubbi. “On Sunday, the day before the President’s visit, I walked her through the entire route he would take. And I got her a ticket into the event.”


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