STAC President ready to help students, his extended ‘family’


(Photo courtesy Annie Lombardi): STAC President Ken Daly strolls alongside students outside the College.

Kathryn Cambrea, Editor in chief

Each morning, students enter the doors of St. Thomas Aquinas College for in-person classes, a reality that was not even an option a year ago. They require the negative COVID-19 test, a daily green pass from the “STAC Engage” App, and a mask on their faces. 

As they approach the campus, President Ken Daly awaits them. Not to check their passes. Not to check their temperatures. But to truly hear them.

“The highlight of my day is in the morning when I stand out front, and I see all the students coming into class,” Daly said, “And they probably think I am there to check their ID card or their green pass. I’m really there just to welcome them, to see how they’re doing, to see how I can help them.”

This philosophy extends to plans Daly implemented for STAC students and changes that have already been made since officially becoming the College’s President on July 1, 2020, succeeding Dr. Margaret Mary Fitzpatrick, who led the College for 25 years. 

The student is first. It’s all about the student.

— President Ken Daly

Daly’s approach is multifaceted. He acknowledged how the world is currently facing what is called a “tri-sis.” Think of a crisis, but with three problems in one, which intertwine and intensify one another.

“There’s a health crisis, there’s an economic crisis, and then there is a social justice crisis. The health crisis is the worst in a hundred years, the economic crisis the worst in 75 years, the social justice crisis the worst in 50 years,” Daly said. “All happening at once, all happening at the same time, and all impacting 18 to 22 year olds perhaps more than anyone, so I think the biggest challenge is: How do you support students who are going through something that none of us have ever gone through before, all at once? And the ways you support them is you give them a safety net, you give them a forum, you give them direct support to keep them in school.”

Daly detailed his plans to attract students to the College as well as to bring more value to the experiences of current students, which he anticipates will take effect in the fall. There will be a new admissions office for prospective students to visit, and a new Career Services will be moved to and expanded where the STAC Bookstore is currently located. The Romano Student Alumni Center will receive what he calls an “extreme makeover” complete with furniture, fresh painting and floors, and additional upgrades to make the setting more inviting and sociable. Regarding rumors about a cafe or Starbucks emerging on campus, Daly said that this is an investment that is definitely being considered for the future after the three major renovations mentioned above are completed prior to the fall.

As for changes that have already been made to help students, STAC adopted its very first Center for Social Justice (CSJ). Director of Admissions Samantha Bazile leads the Social Justice and Equity (SJE) Forum and Dr. Carolyn Fraker leads the Justice Studies Institute, according to STAC’s website. Through leading the CSJ, Daly has made it a commitment to attend each of the 17 SJE meetings to listen to students and see how he can help them.

“Some of our students didn’t have laptops. We provided them with a laptop. Some didn’t have Wi-Fi. We helped them with access. Some couldn’t afford the tuition, so we helped them afford attending STAC. I think the issue of our time is making sure every student has a chance to go to college and eliminating all the barriers — some of the barriers right now are health, some are economic, and some are social justice related. And my job as a president is to really eliminate those barriers so every student has an opportunity,” Daly said.

The College has even introduced a new minor in Human Rights and Social Justice. 

Daly credits his background to his desire for social justice and helping students. He has experience serving on the boards of colleges, working as an adjunct professor, and mentoring students for their careers. Daly appreciates the diversity he was exposed to in his high school, Brooklyn Tech, as well as during his 30 years working for National Grid. Therefore, he wants to provide students with more experiential learning opportunities as well as make their time at STAC memorable and engaging.

Also, he appreciates how his mother and father have inspired him to respect everyone. His father Michael’s experience as a firefighter in New York City made his respect and work ethic palpable in Daly’s eyes. His father’s favorite baseball player is and always has been Jackie Robinson, resulting in Daly and his 14-year-old son, Kenny, admiring Robinson as well. In fact, Daly’s father had the pleasure to meet Robinson when he was Kenny’s age. This athlete and courageous activist, to Daly, his father, and his family, serves as an inspiration for being the first black man to play in Major League Baseball. In Daly’s office, there is a photograph of Robinson, as well as a quote from his autobiography, “I Never Had It Made.”

The quote reads, “Until Everyone Has It Made.”

As Daly gestured toward the photo, he said, “It is a reminder for me who my dad’s heroes in life were, and how my dad always taught me to do the right thing and be respectful to other people, because he lived through an era where that didn’t always happen.”

To embody this sentiment further, in honor of his late mother Margaret, Daly launched a scholarship in her name which has already raised two hundred thousand dollars, giving more students the ability and opportunity to attend college. He even makes a point to match the money raised.

“My mom never had a chance to go to college, since back then, a young woman unfortunately was not given those opportunities. And she always wanted to and she always would have loved to attend college, so she made sure we went to college. This fact that now she can give this gift to our students so they get to go to college, that means a lot to me and gives me inspiration,” Daly said.

Daly acknowledges how changes he made and is making to the College have come with challenges, with the COVID-19 pandemic being the driver behind all of these challenges. Although Daly did not officially become President until July of 2020, he was informed that he would be the next President in December of 2019, which was before the pandemic impacted and forever changed everyone’s lives in March of last year. Daly had to construct a one-hundred-day plan and with COVID-19 he had to be able to adapt. Therefore, while some changes were envisioned before becoming President, others emerged once he occupied the role. Being able to adapt is crucial to Daly.

“When you’re a president, you can’t just focus on the here and now. You have to focus on the future,” he said.

Evidently, people did not anticipate a pandemic to change the world. Daly — having served as the Chief Operating Officer of National Grid’s US Electric — not only comes with a passion for sustainability and the environment, he comes with the ability and experience in responding quickly and accordingly to crises. 

Daly attributes challenges he has faced to the global pandemic, but mitigation measures have been taken. Aside from STAC establishing resources to help students economically and in the area of social justice, the College’s COVID-19 Task Force efforts and the requirement of students and faculty to take Vault Health tests have helped ensure safety. Daly is proud that over eight thousand tests have been administered, which is well over the number of STAC’s students, which is approximately twelve hundred. To him, this collection and analysis of data regarding COVID-19 cases have enabled the College to open and hopefully, stay open.

Daly uses the phrase, “student-centric,” to label his work and initiatives as STAC’s President. 

“My job is I guess President, but more so it’s Supporter of Students that should be what my title is: how to make students successful. That’s why I’m here,” he said.

“I want the student to come first, way before me, even though I am President,” he added. “The student is first. It’s all about the student.”

(Photo courtesy Annie Lombardi): President Ken Daly and his wife Laurie pose for a picture at the 48th Annual President’s Council Golf Tournament.

Daly’s own children, some of whom are young adults, are students. Although Daly’s youngest son, Kenny, is still in middle school, he has three other children who are close in age to the students he leads. His daughter, Megan, 17, is a senior in high school, his son, Marc, 19, is a student at University of Southern California, and his daughter, Kristen, 21, is a student at Northeastern University. His wife, Laurie, volunteers at the College and assists his efforts in meeting with and supporting STAC students.

These meetings with students may occur virtually due to the current pandemic, but Daly can be found most days with a masked smile greeting STAC students, whom he regards as extended family and has pledged to help.

“Having a strong family network at home, I think really gives me a sense of purpose that I want to help my extended family, my other ‘twelve hundred children’ my students as well.”