Annalisa Sacca, Ph.D.
When Professor of Italian Annalisa Sacca, Ph.D., received the John W. Dobbins Professor of the Year Award from St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in April, student Luis Varela '13C, who nominated her for the award, was delighted.
“Dr. Sacca is the most amazing teacher and mentor,” he said. “She has a gift for relating everything she teaches to real-life experiences and guiding ordinary classroom discussions into conversations about larger issues.”
Since coming to St. John's in 1990, Sacca has impressed students and colleagues with her commitment to fostering the talents of those in her sphere. However, she also has earned plaudits for her efforts to improve the world beyond campus. She spearheaded the creation of the Center for Global Development; the Master's Degree Program in Global Development and Social Justice; varied study abroad programs in Rome; and summer and semester-long internships in Italy.
Indeed, Sacca's actions reflect the University's Vincentian mission. As a Senior Vincentian Research Fellow, for example, she engages in scholarship promoting the University's global vision. She is a member of the St. John's Ladies of Charity chapter and, as a representative of the Holy See on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), combats ills such as violence against women and children. In 2003, she founded Frates, an organization in Ecuador devoted to improving the lives of the indigenous population, in memory of her late husband, Franco Desideri, who shared Sacca's commitment to helping the needy.
Sacca describes the story of her youth as “like that of most immigrants.” Born in the city of Latina, outside Rome, she was in high school when she moved to the United States with her parents. Her family settled in Astoria, Queens, where her father found a position as a tailor. After earning B.A. and M.A. degrees from Queens College and a Ph.D. from New York University, Sacca pursued a career in higher education, teaching Italian language and literature. A well-respected poet, she has authored six books of poetry and is a member of the prestigious Parnassos Literary Society. “When I was nine years old I decided that I wanted to teach and write poetry, and I never changed my mind,” she said.
In her role as an educator, Sacca has embraced 21st-century issues. Sacca believes that bilingual graduates have the benefit of increased marketability in today's interconnected world. She also is an outspoken advocate of interdisciplinary education as the most effective way that college students can gain skills in multiple areas. “My goal is to help turn out well-rounded students who are positioned for success,” she said. Many of her double-major students have continued on to careers with the U.S. Department of State, international banks, law firms and public relations organizations. She has helped students obtain internships at places like the Italian Parliament and the Bioparco di Roma zoo, as well as with a Rome-based fashion designer.
Former students are quick to attest to the value of these internships. “Thanks to Dr. Sacca, I interned with Policlinico Umberto I at the University of Rome's School of Medicine,” said Varela, who plans to pursue a medical career. “It's an opportunity that is extremely difficult to get, even for Italians.”
“Dr. Sacca truly embodies the Vincentian mission,” said Joe Sciortino '08C, '10G, Chief of Staff, Office of the Staten Island Borough President. “She is thoroughly devoted to enriching the lives of her students. She opened the world up for me—introducing me to museums, cultural institutions, study abroad and the United Nations—and sparked my passion for public service.” With Sacca's encouragement, Sciortino earned a master's degree at St. John's in Global Development and Social Justice, which he credits with giving him the expertise to secure the position he has today.
Sacca calls her relationship with St. John's her “destiny.” She elaborated, “Nowhere else would I have had the kind of support I've had here to expand in so many directions and to turn my ideas into reality.” She currently is putting the final touches on a proposal she drafted to create a new interdisciplinary degree program in Global Development and Area Studies. Made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, “the program will enable students to combine a concentration like business with 15 credit hours in Italian and an internship in Italy,” she explained. “I would like to make it possible for all St. John's undergraduates to have double majors.”
Whether on the international stage or in front of the classroom, Sacca remains mindful of the power of the individual to make a difference. “Many grains of sand,” she often exhorts her students, “make a beach.”