State University of New York Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson recognized a recent SUNY Geneseo graduate during her third State of the University System address on Jan. 23.
Johnson highlighted four strategic themes during the address, one of which was innovation and entrepreneurship. The other themes were individualized learning, sustainability, and partnerships.
It was during Johnson’s discussion of innovation and entrepreneurship that she highlighted Five North Chocolate, a company founded by Benjamin Conard, a 2016 graduate of SUNY Geneseo.
Gift bags provided those attending the speech featured products that “reflect the creativity and entrepreneurship of our campuses and students in this space,” Johnson said.
The items included maple syrup produced by students of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; maple popcorn from Buck Hill Farm, a client of the SUNY Cobleskill farm & food business incubator; and Five North Chocolate, which was named by Fairtrade International as the No. 1 fair trade advocate in the world.
Conard was also recognized as No. 1 in North America by Adeco in its CEO challenge, placing top ten worldwide. Five North is also the first packaged goods brand to feature the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce seal, for its commitment to LGBTQ visibility, Johnson said.
The chancellor than asked Conard to stand “so we can thank you for adding so much sweetness to our lives?”
Conard, in a 2016 interview with the Livingston County News, said the Five North project combines his passions for chocolate and social consciousness. He said the company is committed to helping to alleviate poverty and child labor and promoting gender equality.
“I’m a chocolate lover, of high quality chocolate. Our products have a high cocoa content, 72 percent, which is nearly double that of popular store-bought chocolate,” Conard said in the interview.
Five North purchases and uses only fair trade chocolate in its products. Its sugar and vanilla products are also certified fair trade ingredients produced by farmers around the world who ensure fair wages, good working conditions, no child or forced labor and a democratic workplace.
Combining fair trade ingredients with healthy alternatives such as chia seed, goji berry and pistachio nuts, results in a delicious, health conscious snack that is also socially responsible by helping support farmers in Africa and around the world, Conard said in the 2016 interview.
Five North takes its name from the product’s origin. West Africa is a nation of 2 million square miles positioned above 5 degrees north latitude and is responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa.
As a sophomore at SUNY Geneseo, Conard started the college’s Fair Trade University Campaign.
Several schools, including SUNY Geneseo, were also able to showcase during the address some of their work within the fields of research, student opportunity, workforce development, campus partnerships, and more.
SUNY Geneseo highlighted an online sustainability initiative, The Designing Open Modules on Environmental Sustainability, or DOMES, project develop by professors Karleen West (political science and international relations) and Suann Yang (biology).
The DOMES project is a modular online curriculum that allows faculty to incorporate sustainability themes into any class through a series of lower-stakes assignments. Introductory materials in the curriculum serve to introduce students to the principles of sustainability, specifically focused on food systems. As they move through the module, students are prompted to conduct mini-research assignments that engage with these issues through the lens of whatever discipline their specific class focuses on. As students complete assignments for the DOMES modules, they share projects through Geneseo’s OER repository, KnightScholar. These projects in turn become part of instructional materials for future classes. In this way, student research and reflection become part of the curriculum in an iterative process that promotes conversation across time between students in different classes and disciplines.
Since its beginning in 2017, faculty from a range of departments, including biology, political science, international relations, English, anthropology, and mathematics have incorporated modules into their classes. More than eighty student research projects, representing the work of nearly 300 students, are now part of the online archive.
Although Geneseo hosts the DOMES project, West and Yang created the initiative as an open educational resource and invite partners from other campuses to collaborate.