April 30, 2012
Reflecting St. John’s University’s focus on student success,
20 faculty from across the University are
mentoring more than 100 freshmen as part of a new
program created by a professor of education and implemented in
partnership with the University Freshman Center and other campus
The Student and Faculty Engagement (SAFE) program
was created by
Andrew Ferdinandi, Ed.D., Associate Professor of
Human Services and Counseling in The
School of Education at St. John’s. The goal of SAFE is to
provide freshmen with mentors who can help them successfully
transition from high school to college.
The program recruits faculty mentors to assist first-year students,
building trust and opportunities for engagement. “Students have
told me that having a quality relationship with someone on campus
makes a huge difference in how they feel about college,” said Dr.
Ferdinandi. “We’ve found that the more involved a student is, the
greater the chances of graduating.”
Throughout the summer of 2011, the program trained faculty
volunteers to engage students through SAFE. They learned the
importance of using language that is inclusive, supportive, and
non-judgmental. Depending on their individual schedules, the
professors agreed to mentor from three to 10 students each for an
After the training concluded, professors began reaching out in June
with “good will” phone calls to incoming freshmen. “There are
many things we learn from students through this kind of phone
call,” said Dr. Ferdinandi. “Asking them questions will help us get
to know each student and determine if there is anything we need to
do to help them successfully adjust to college life.”
Monthly outreach continued throughout the academic year, so mentors
can ask students about their transition to college life. “New
students typically have a lot of the same concerns,” Dr. Ferdinandi
explained. “So our volunteers cover topics like choosing a major,
finances, residence life, making friends and campus activities. In
essence, we try to determine how well a student is making a
connection to the school.”
“I am honored that so many faculty have given of their time and
energy to help bring SAFE to life,” said Dr. Ferdinandi. “I
don’t think any other university is engaging students to the degree
that we are with SAFE. It is very exciting.”
Faculty volunteers sometimes needed assistance in answering
students’ questions. It is for this reason that campus partners
were established. “The University community has been very
willing to support this initiative” Ferdinandi stated.
“Networking with the campus partners has not only helped the
students, but our faculty too.”
As SAFE faculty members connected with specific departments, they
also boosted their knowledge of the many services available to our
students. As a result, students gained additional contacts to help
them on campus. When students did not have a positive transition,
their faculty mentors and campus partners worked as a team to
resolve the issue.
While Dr. Ferdinandi spearheaded SAFE, he is grateful for vital
assistance he received from the St. John’s community. “Having an
idea is a starting point,” he said. “But it takes many people to
bring an idea to life.” In particular, he mentioned Julia
Upton, RSM, Ph.D., Provost, and
Jacqueline Grogan, Ed.D., Associate Provost for Student
Success. He also thanked
Geraldine Castelli, Assistant Director for the University
Freshman Center, for the hours she dedicated as a facilitator
between the parties involved.
“When we take the time to help a student and show them we care
about them not just with words but action, we do the work of St.
Vincent,” said Dr. Ferdinandi. “That speaks to the core of what St.
John’s is about.”
SAFE is now seeking to invite all members of the St. John’s
community to become a mentor to assist first-year students.
If you are interested in joining SAFE, please send your contact
information to SAFE@stjohns.edu.