Our Story


When Chancellor Kenneth A. “Buzz” Shaw became SU’s tenth Chancellor and President in 1991, he envisioned Syracuse University becoming the nation’s leading student-centered research university – making student learning the University’s highest priority. This vision coincided with a national reawakening of the service movement. Unlike efforts of earlier decades, SU’s renewed commitment would promote volunteer service as a fundamental part of the student learning experience at SU, becoming a core value of “the mission and curriculum of the University.” (Shaw, 1994) It would be intentional, focused, and driven by results. And it would be organized.

“This is integral to what we do as a university, and it comes at a time when the country is renewing its efforts to involve young people in service to the nation.” (Shaw, 1994)

Mary Ann Shaw, associate of the Chancellor and his wife, wove the first threads of the fabric that is today’s Shaw Center. A patient and tenacious visionary, she accomplished her goals by empowering others to do what they do best, convening a cross-section of more than 100 campus and community members to brainstorm ideas for a center. During 1992-93, goals and action plans emerged. A design team studied successful models of service learning programs at other institutions of higher learning and received technical advice and assistance from Campus Compact, a national coalition of college and university presidents committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education. The team tapped into existing traditions at SU, from Professor William Coplin’s Public Affairs model in the Maxwell School to engagement programs at Hendricks Chapel, as many hands – from advancement, academic and student affairs, student groups and the community – stitched the fabric of the center.

The Center for Public and Community Service (CPCS) officially launched in September 1994, thanks to a three-year grant from the Carrier Corporation, continued support from the Chancellor’s Office and two student staff. CPCS began as a pilot project in a small suite of offices in the Schine Student Center with founding director, Pamela Kirwin Heintz, at the helm.

1997 provided an opportunity for CPCS and SU to expand its commitment by responding to President Clinton’s America Reads Challenge. In partnership with SU’s School of Education, the Syracuse City School District, the Office of Financial Aid, and the Chancellor’s Office, CPCS developed the SU Literacy Corps. Through this program hundreds of trained SU tutors continue to go into the Syracuse community every year to work with children and families struggling with literacy challenges.

By 2001, with continued support from the Chancellor, his associate Mary Ann, and leadership from vice chancellor and provost, Deborah Freund, CPCS became a division of academic affairs. In 2004, retiring SU Board of Trustees Chair, Joseph O. Lampe ’53, G’55, described Mary Ann’s work as “unparalleled and visionary,” and by proclamation, the Board honored her commitment to campus and community by renaming the center – the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service. SU’s 11th Chancellor and President, Nancy Cantor, arrived in 2004 and underscored the center’s role and mission with a clarion call for Scholarship in Action, a bold vision to serve the public good through academic excellence, innovation and engaging the world. (Cantor, 2005)

Over the years, our tapestry of Service Learning, Literacy and Leadership has been enriched through the generosity of many —the Carrier Corporation, Key Bank, Chase Bank, Morgan Stanley, Starbucks, and Coke-a-Cola to name a few— as well as individual gifts from the Kenneth A. and Mary Ann Shaw and Marion Entwistle endowments, the Robert B. Menschel family, the Whitman and Falk colleges, the Vision Fund, SRC and the Winnick Family Foundation. The continued commitment and support from the Chancellor’s Office, Academic Affairs, and Financial Aid allows the Shaw Center to be this special place on campus where higher education can “make a difference” as we help prepare our students to “work for the world, in the world”. (Cantor, 2011)

From a dinner conversation with Founder Mary Ann Shaw in Ireland, former Assistant Director for Literacy Initiatives, Roberta “Bobby” Gillen, knew the center would be a home for her. Accompanying her husband on an executive programs conference in Limerick, Ireland, in 2000, Bobby engaged in a conversation with Buzz and Mary Ann Shaw that would transform her life and thousands of those around her. Her twelve-year tenure with the Shaw Center has shaped the SU Literacy Corps into Shaw Center Literacy Initiatives – a strong and growing resource for urban education. Working with campus, community, and corporate partners, Bobby has overseen more than 300 SU student tutors yearly, who provide close to 40,000 hours of literacy support in classrooms, after-school programs and adult literacy sites throughout Syracuse. Advancing from a part-time SU Literacy Corps role to Assistant Director in 2003, Bobby shaped the growth of SU’s literacy leadership. With her retirement in the summer of 2012, she leaves a legacy of programs firmly in place – successful literacy outreach partnerships that touch young lives on and off campus every single day.

With ever-changing threads and strands, the Shaw Center continues to evolve as a powerful learning environment on campus and force in and with the community. Mary Ann provided the first threads and the frame for this amazing tapestry. Bobby stitched and secured literacy to the whole – connecting points that will provide strength for those yet to come. We look forward with excitement as stories yet untold continue weaving the tapestry known as the Shaw Center.

Chancellor Kenneth Buzz Shaw and Mary Ann Shaw Visit to Campus and Quad Bench Rededication 2018