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Dr. Gempesaw Lauds Student-Faculty Engagement; Celebrates Growth and Expansion of SAFE Mentoring Program at St. John’s University

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University, joined with students, faculty, staff, and administrators at an appreciation dinner on Thursday, November 3, 2016, to celebrate the successful growth and recent expansion of St. John’s University’s Student and Faculty Engagement (SAFE) Program.

The goal of the SAFE Program is to provide first-year students at the Queens campus with mentors that can help them successfully transition from high school to college. In the spring 2017 semester, the SAFE Program is expanding to include sophomores.  

In fall 2011, the SAFE Program was created by Andrew Ferdinandi, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Counselor Education, The School of Education. During the same year, the University Freshman Center was under the leadership of the Associate Provost for Student Success, Jacqueline Grogan, Ed.D. Together, they decided to launch the SAFE Program as a pilot program. 

A key to the success of the SAFE Program are the mentors. Mentors are recruited and required to attend training sessions over the summer to understand the process and specific terminology of SAFE. Mentors call, and then meet with, their students within the first month of school to welcome them to St. John’s University. The SAFE program hosts no less than two events during each semester so the SAFE mentees can have a little fun between going to their classes and studying.

The program began with only 10 faculty mentors and 107 students. This year, the program includes 37 mentors serving approximately the same number of students.  Mentorship has been expanded to include staff, administrators, and students. Mentors are trained to deliver a high-quality mentoring experience to mentees by building trust, expanding student confidence, and creating mutual opportunities for student-mentor engagement.  To support the inclusion of sophomore students, 65 new mentor applications have been submitted from across the campus. 

As guests mingled at the appreciation dinner, Dr. Ferdinandi said, “These individuals give freely of their time, effort, and energy to help our freshmen find their way. This effort deserves our full respect and support. While the SAFE Program was my idea, the truth is, without these hard working people, this idea would go nowhere.”

During the dinner celebrating the successful expansion of the SAFE Program, attendees were addressed, via Web-Ex, by Gabriel Consunji, a 2016 magna cum laude graduate of St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Science who majored in Biology. Gabriel, a native of California, returned home after graduation and is now studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).  He spoke eloquently about how his transition to life at St. John’s was both eased and enhanced through the fostering relationship that he quickly developed with his SAFE mentor, Irene Caccavallo, a staff member in the Office of the Provost. 

Gabriel explained that early in his college experience, the SAFE Program served to expand his awareness of campus life and exposed him to resources and extra-curricular opportunities that truly enhanced his personal student success story. Recalling how the SAFE Program helped to bridge the geographic divide and ease the journey from high school to college, Gabriel fondly shared how his mentor helped him from the very moment he stepped foot on campus for New Student Orientation. He warmly reminisced how, on short notice, his mentor once helped him to track down the availability of a ukulele for a class assignment. That process, in turn, helped him connect with the Chamber Music Society on campus that ultimately led to his active participation in the organization.  “Be the light that guides St. John’s University,” implored Gabriel, a proud graduate who hopes to pursue a career in medicine as well as mentoring.

At a speech given that evening, Dr. Grogan shared that “under Dr. Gempesaw’s leadership, mentoring programs on campus are expanding, including the SAFE Program, and he challenged the SAFE Program to recruit new mentors for current sophomore students.”  She mentioned that “with a quick-witted email created by Dr. Ferdinandi—and with organizational assistance from Geraldine Castelli of the University Freshmen Center and Graduate Assistant Ruby Wheaton—within 72 hours there were 65 mentors volunteering their time for the sophomore SAFE Program.”

Dr. Gempesaw lauded all of the mentors that share their time and talents to actively engage with and mentor students. Citing the ongoing work of the Freshman Center and the marked improvement in first-year retention rates at St. John’s that increased to 84 percent this year, a 5 percent increase from just two years ago, Dr. Gempesaw challenged the entire University community to support student retention efforts. Noting how college students who successfully complete their first two years persist and graduate at higher rates than others, Dr. Gempesaw cheered the recent expansion of the SAFE Program to include sophomores.  He remarked, “Not everyone is given the opportunity to transform lives . . . the SAFE Program at St. John’s does just that and more, and its reach is only limited by the need for additional mentors.”  He continued, “I am so proud of what you have done, and what you will continue to do, to help St. John’s University achieve our number-one strategic priority—to ‘ensure student success’ and better live out our Vincentian mission of service.”

The SAFE program invites all members of the St. John’s community to become a mentor to assist our students.  If you are interested in learning more about the SAFE Program or want to become a mentor, please contact safe@stjohns.edu.

Current SAFE Mentors

Last NameFirst NameTitle/PositionDepartment
AcampadoKarenCareer & Internship AdvisorUniversity Career Services
BeaudetBobCareer and Internship Advisor- Tobin College of BusinessUniversity Career Services
BruhnGregoryAssistant Director of Academics & Short-Term ProgramsOffice of Global Programs
CaccavalloIreneAdministrative AssisitantOffice of the Provost
CamachoTainaGraduate StudentExperimental Psychology/SJC
CascioMaryStudent Employment ManagerHuman Resources
CastelliGeraldine Assistant Director/Freshman AdvisorUniversity Freshman Center
ChengSherryGraduate StudentPsychology/SJC
CroftJamesAssistant ProfessorLegal Studies/CPS
FerdinandiAndrew Associate ProfessorCounselor Education/SOE
FewellCheresaCareer and Internship AdvisorCareer Services
GentileCorrineDirector of Enrollment Mgt EventsAmissions Office
Gonzalez-QuilesKimberleyGraduate StudentExperimental Psychology/SJC
GouldthorpeKyleTransfer Student Service Coordinator Transfer Student Services
GrilloJaimeCareer Advisor, College of Professional StudiesUniversity Career Services
KilianGinaAssociate Director of Transfer AdmissionUndergraduate Admissions
KyriakidesMichelleDirector of Experimential LearningUniversity Career Services
LopezGabrielUndergraduate StudentPsychology/SJC
MarottaMeaganGraduate Student Mental Health Counseling/SOE
MosleyAliciaGraduate StudentMental Health Counseling/SOE
PelkowskiMary HAssociate Dean for Student EngagementStudent Affairs
PerryMary JoAssociate ProfessorRadiologic Sciences/College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences 
PhiliposeTomAssociate Director and InstructorWriting Center/English 
PitilliLawrenceAssociate Professor of SpeechEnglish and Speech/CPS
PucciarelliMatthewAssociate ProvostGlobal Programs
RosenBarrieAdjunct ProfessorEnglish/CPS
RussellMichaelGraduate StudentMental Health Counseling/SOE
RussoCecelia MDirector/Pre-AdmissionPrograms/ Asst tp VPSpecial & Opportunity Programs
SaccaAnnalisaProfessorLanguages and Literatures
SakowskiChrinstinaTransfer Admissions CounselorAdmissions Office
SewardShakeraGraduate StudentMental Health Counseling/SOE
SwikeJimProject ManagerInformation Technology
TagatacPaoloAssistant DirectorTransfer Student Services
ToalaConnieGraduate StudentSchool Counseling/SOE
TongsonDanielleGraduate StudentMental Health Counseling/SOE
WarneMary EllenFinancial Aid CounselorStudent Financial Services
WheatonRubyGraduate Assistant/Graduate StudentSAFE Program/Experimental Psychology/SJC
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