Section: Capital Region,  Page: D3

Date: Thursday, July 9, 2009

Most college students meet their professors in person before they graduate. Most college students can pick their classmates out of a crowd.

But at Excelsior College's graduation this weekend, hundreds of students are coming to Albany from around the country to earn a degree from the nation's oldest distance learning college.

It will be unlike commencements at other schools. The 300 graduates hail from Ohio, Michigan and Florida. They are soldiers recently returned from Iraq, retirees looking to finish the degree they always meant to get, and those looking to qualify for promotions at work by furthering their education.

Some will graduate with their grown children in the audience, with military uniforms instead of black robes, and next to academic advisers they just met.

Overall, 5,000 graduates finished their Excelsior degrees this academic year, including 77 from the Capital Region.

The group will meet today and Thursday, with events at The Desmond Hotel in Colonie and at Excelsior. A graduation ceremony will be held at The Egg on Friday night, with CNN journalist Soledad O'Brien as the graduation speaker.

SUNY provost departs

The State University of New York system has another job vacancy among the top ranks.

Risa Palm, the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at SUNY, recently accepted a job at Georgia State University in Atlanta. On Sept. 1, she will assume the role of senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Palm, who has been with SUNY since October 2006, has had a long career in higher education administration. Palm previously served as executive vice chancellor and provost at Louisiana State University.

From 1997 to 2003, she was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

"With more than three decades of experience in leadership posts at some of the nation's premier universities, Dr. Palm is the ideal candidate to help propel Georgia State University into the future as a leading urban research university," Georgia State president Mark P. Becker said in a prepared statement. "Her focus on excellence in research, instruction and learning is in line with our goal of attracting outstanding faculty and students to our unique and thriving campus."

A national search for Palm's replacement is to begin shortly, SUNY spokesman David Henahan said.

RPI warning system

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute now has a state of the art warning system for events of extreme danger.

The newest component of the RPIAlert system was tested this week. It has four speakers that will broadcast when a life-threatening situation is believed to be happening on the campus. That's part of a nationwide movement toward such warning systems in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in which a student killed 32 people and himself.

The speakers are sited at the Folsom Library, the Rensselaer Union, the '86 Field, and the Houston Fieldhouse so as to reach as many people on campus as possible.

When the system is activated during an emergency, a siren will sound, followed by a voice message.

Got a tip? Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at