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St. John’s Celebrates Success of Mentoring Program

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The growing success of the St. John’s University Student and Faculty Engagement (SAFE) program was celebrated by more than 80 members of the University community at a special dinner held at the Faculty Club on the Queens, NY, campus on November 15, 2017.  

The second annual event, hosted by Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, marked the achievements of the SAFE program—a unique mentoring experience that uses individual pairing to provide first-year students with mentors at St. John’s who help them successfully transition from high school to college.

Volunteer mentors make early outreach to specific incoming first-year students. The mentors then maintain regular contact with their mentees throughout their first year to help them with academic achievement and social adjustment.

Founded in 2011 by Andrew Ferdinandi, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Counselor Education from The School of Education, the SAFE program has worked to ensure student success by helping them navigate the many challenges associated with making the transition to college life. The SAFE program builds upon the sense of welcome, comfort, and student-faculty engagement that is the hallmark of the St. John’s University experience.

At the dinner, an attentive audience listened as the keynote speaker, third-year student Gabriel “Gabe” Lopez Jr. of Los Angeles, CA, shared how the SAFE program transformed his St. John’s experience. Gabe, a visually-impaired student with a double major in psychology and Italian and a minor in legal studies, traveled across the country to attend college. Before arriving on campus, Gabe joined the SAFE program and was paired with his mentor, Matthew Pucciarelli, Ed.M., Associate Provost of Global Studies.  

Gabe described how during his first year at St. John’s, many of his fears of attending college in a new city were quickly put to rest because of the supportive attention provided to him through the SAFE program. Gabe recounted how his mentor immediately helped him adjust to college life through regular contact, personal meetings, and interactions on- and off-campus. “Matt is a great support to me, and I have a real passion for the work of the SAFE program,” said Gabe.

Demonstrating the lasting impact the SAFE program has had on him, after a successful first year on campus, Gabe became more engaged in campus life. He has served as a resident advisor, and is now preparing to spend a semester abroad.  

As a junior, Gabe now serves as a mentor to his own first-year student, “I am excited to have an opportunity to have an impact on other students,” said Gabe, adding, “both sides of the SAFE program offer lasting rewards.”

“The SAFE program is terrific because you get to meet our great students up close,” said Mr. Pucciarelli. “It has been a great privilege for me to be a mentor.”

Encouraging his colleagues to become SAFE mentors, Mr. Pucciarelli noted, “The better you know our students, the better you can do your job here at St. John’s, whatever your role is at the University.”

As an Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Mary Jo Perry is already engaged in the academic experience of students. Reflecting on her additional role as a SAFE program mentor, she observed, “I enjoy being a sounding board for my student mentees, and I get to see the real personal growth and change that they experience during their time at St. John’s.”

During the dinner, Dr. Gempesaw surprised Dr. Ferdinandi by presenting him with the Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award. Dr. Gempesaw praised Dr. Ferdinandi for his commitment to living the Vincentian mission of St. John’s by working to establish and grow the SAFE program to ensure student success and transform their lives.  

Dr. Gempesaw also noted that retention rates of students participating in the SAFE program exceed the retention rates for undergraduates at the Queens campus.  

“When you give of yourself voluntarily—that is true love,” said Dr. Gempesaw. “Here at St. John’s University, we have people who show true love for our students.” Dr. Gempesaw continued, “By making a real impact on our students, SAFE mentors are working to transform lives, and in acting as volunteer mentors, they, too, are having their lives transformed.”

Citing the recently released ranking by The Chronicle of Higher Education of “Colleges With the Highest Student-Mobility Rates,” Dr. Gempesaw praised St. John’s University for being recognized nationally as the number one Catholic college or university and the number two ranked school among four-year private institutions for student-mobility. The student-mobility rate is a measure of the percentage of all students in a birth cohort at a particular college whose parents were in the bottom 20 percent for household income, and who reached the top 20 percent for individual earnings.  

“The mission of St. John’s University and your personal commitment to it is making a difference in the lives of our students,” Dr. Gempesaw stressed, adding, “it is a cause that we must continue to support, and tonight it is what we celebrate.”

“When you step outside of yourself to extend a hand to help others, you are doing the work of St. Vincent, and you are doing valuable work here at St. John’s University,” said Dr. Ferdinandi.  “I am so blessed to be a part of a University that recognizes and fosters a culture of student and faculty engagement,” he said. “When I come to campus, I never tell my family I am going to work. I tell them that I am going to St. John’s.”

The SAFE program invites all members of the University 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