When Betsy Balzano, PhD, accepted a position teaching science education at SUNY Brockport in 1971, she and her husband were looking forward to moving back to the northeastern United States from Florida.
She ended up serving on Brockport's faculty for more than 49 years, becoming a Distinguished Service Faculty, bringing more grant funding to the college that any other faculty member at the time, and leaving one of the largest bequests the college has ever received.
Originally from Pawtucket, RI, Dr. Balzano moved to the Tampa area for a teaching position after she taught two years in her native state. Although she always knew that she wanted to teach teachers, she married and taught for eight years in Tampa, working on her master's degree in the summers at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Through her work at FSU, she received an invitation to participate in a special National Science Foundation project: the Individual Science Instruction Program that balanced individual science projects with overarching science research. She taught grant writing and wrote grant applications herself, at one point receiving a $5 million grant award. As a result of that grant, one of the largest at FSU at the time, she was asked to stay at the university to work with science faculty in making the science curriculum more appropriate to elementary and secondary pupils.
To administer the grant, she took a leave from her Tampa position. At that time, she had enough credits for a master's in science at FSU, and she decided to continue her studies toward a PhD while her husband was working on his PhD in Chemistry there.
After earning their PhD's, Dr. Balzano said, "We had an agreement that we would go wherever the first one of us received a job offer." That place was SUNY Brockport. "Brockport was the right size, and we liked the community and the people."
In fall 1971, when the couple arrived, Brockport was transitioning from a teachers' school to a liberal arts college. "In a sense, we were experiencing something new. There were huge numbers of students also. There must have been 11,000 or more undergraduates."
Early in her first semester, Dr. Balzano's friend, Dr. Patricia Baker '61/'67, emerita Education and Human Development faculty, recalled being in a faculty meeting when an urgent message came in for Dr. Balzano. "We found out later that her husband had a medical emergency and passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. His death was so sudden that none of us had a chance to meet him."
At Brockport, Dr. Balzano taught methods classes, the cornerstone of teacher education, as they provide students background in what and how to teach. According to Roy Bubb '53/'62, emeritus Education and Human Development faculty member, who taught Social Studies and Language Arts methods courses with Dr. Balzano, who taught Science and Math methods, "She was very intelligent, and she had a lot of common sense. She was very articulate, and she was a prolific grant writer."
Dr. Balzano worked extensively with the Rochester City School District on grants to foster interest in math at the junior high level and to create programs encouraging students to stay in school. She also recruited students to Brockport from RCSD schools.
She established a partnership with Monroe Community College, recruiting students with associate's level degrees to Brockport. Students in the MCC program did their teacher training in RCSD schools and then taught in the City schools.
"Grants have to be interesting," said Dr. Balzano, who, even in retirement, was a fixture on campus, applying for and administering grants.
Early in her Brockport career, Dr. Balzano participated in the exchange program between SUNY Brockport and the Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro. Working with this program she had a chance to teach teachers who supervised student teachers. Teachers from the Escola Americana came to Brockport to work toward their degrees, both graduate and undergraduate. She taught the Brazilian students in Brockport and, like several other education faculty, traveled to Rio de Janeiro to work with the teachers there.
During her time at Brockport, the U.S. Department of Education learned about her ability to teach teachers of science and asked her to work with the Indonesian government to set up a program there. She traveled back and forth to Indonesia several times for several years near the end of her Brockport career.
She noted that she was fortunate to take part in international programs and to make friends wherever she went. She also took many personal trips, traveling to the Caribbean and to Europe, and she went on several cruises on rivers, such as the Danube and the Rhine. She visited St. Petersburg, and she traveled to Australia.
Wherever Dr. Balzano went, she made friends and enjoyed herself. "She loved to go out to eat, play cards, and travel," said Mr. Bubb. "She believed in having a good time. At the same time, she was always sensitive to other people's needs."
Dr. Baker pointed to another facet of Dr. Balzano's personality. She said, "Dr. Balzano was on the board of her condo complex. She was an early member of Delta Kappa Gamma, the national honor society. She was actively involved in leadership roles with the local chapter. She was able to do so along with her many other volunteer roles because she was efficient and detail-oriented."
Dr. Balzano also was philanthropic. Brockport was very important to her. She gave generously during her lifetime and also directed a significant planned gift to support programs and initiatives that were important to her at Brockport. A second bequest from her estate will only add to her legacy as one of the most substantial benefactors in Brockport's history.
Dr. Balzano's life and contributions to Brockport will be recognized during the Celebration of Lives on Saturday, Sept. 25, at noon in the SERC on the SUNY Brockport campus.