May 26, 2009
There were many things happening in 1969. Many of the world’s
super powers signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, American
astronauts walked on the moon and Sesame Street made its
first appearance in millions of households.
It was also the year that Peter J. Tomao ’73C graduated from
prestigious Regis High School in New York City and began his
undergraduate studies at St. John’s University.
Coincidentally, 1969 was the year that St. John’s University began
its unique Independent Studies Program. For Peter Tomao, it
was a perfect fit.
“I was recruited by Dean Basilice, one of the deans at St.
John’s, who was actually my godfather,” said Tomao. “He
suggested that I contact Dr. Belli, who was in charge of this new
program, and arrange for an interview. It sounded
interesting, so I set it up, passed the interview, and was
Right from the start, Tomao was intrigued by the combination of
seminars and mentored research that constituted the basis of this
novel approach to education. “We were really encouraged to
think outside the box,” he recalled. “I satisfied some of my
credits in Political Science and Mathematics by working on a
computer program to analyze election results. I worked with a
professor from the Math Department and one from the Political
Science Department. I had to write the computer program
myself and show how it was providing accurate and useful political
The Independent Studies Program was both rigorous and
challenging, and the value-added components significantly increased
the workload of the students involved. The skills and
knowledge acquired, however, were well worth the extra work.
A successful attorney in private practice, Tomao appreciates the
benefits that this unique program infused into the students.
“The program helped me to think on my feet and write well.
There was also a strong emphasis on Group Dynamics and Psychology
throughout the program, all things that have been very useful to me
over the years, both personally and professionally.”
Four decades after the Independent Studies Program began, a
number of students who participated are coming back to alma
mater for Alumni Reunion Celebration 2009. Peter Tomao
was the driving force in bringing them back together.
“I’ve been working on social networking as part of my legal
profession,” he remarked. “I put up a message looking to
contact other students who had been in the program. I made
contact with another former student and we decided to try to get
people together for Reunion. Probably about half of the
students from my class who were in the program are coming.
That’s a pretty good percentage!”
In addition to wanting to reconnect with friends that he hasn’t
seen for decades, Tomao is eager to take a tour of the Queens
campus and get a sense of the many changes that have taken place
since his student days. “I’ve been back on campus a few
times,” he noted “but I really didn’t have a chance to take a good
look around. There are so many new buildings and facilities
since I was a student there, and I’m really looking forward to