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International Fellowship Program Brings Staten Island Students to Rome

Monday, February 2, 2015

Twenty undergraduate students from St. John’s Staten Island campus took a behind-the-scenes look at law enforcement and social justice in Italy when they traveled to Rome in December as part of the inaugural Vice Provost’s International Fellowship.

Led by James O'Keefe, Ph.D. ’79SVC, vice provost of the Staten Island campus, the Spring 2015 seminar was titled "International Perspectives on Justice." A retired deputy commissioner in the New York City Police Department, O'Keefe is associate professor of criminal justice and a former associate dean in the University’s College of Professional Studies,

“One of my initial goals as vice provost was to increase the representation of Staten Island students in our Study Abroad programs," observed O’Keefe, who was appointed to the post last January.

O'Keefe consulted Anthony Pacheco, vice president for global programs at St. John’s, and Matthew Pucciarelli, associate vice president for global studies. They awarded him a weeklong fellowship that allowed Staten Island students to experience Study Abroad at a minimal cost. "The idea is that every year a different faculty member will lead a different seminar in his or her respective academic discipline," O’Keefe stressed.

The seminar focuses on all forms of justice. "No matter what major you study or what career you may decide upon, justice is always an issue," he observed. "I explained to the advising deans of the four colleges here at Staten Island that this opportunity was available to all our students, and it wouldn't have succeeded without their support and full cooperation."

Students from all majors were allowed to use the course as an elective. "We had students  from accounting, speech pathology, and education, as well as criminal justice," O’Keefe noted, adding that he was overwhelmed by the positive response. "Word of mouth really sold it. Once I put it out there, the students recruited each other."

During the week in Rome, O'Keefe balanced classroom lectures with visits to historic sites and others pertinent to the seminar topic. Thanks to professional connections he developed while a member of the NYPD, he was granted special access to the Italian Supreme Court and the Forensic Science Lab of the Police Service. Students also heard lectures from Italian police officials and visited landmarks such as the Colosseum, Vatican City, and the Spanish Steps.

"I'm so grateful this program came about, because I never would've experienced Study Abroad without it," said criminal justice major Krissa Sagona ’15CPS. "Exploring all that history was amazing." William Bennett ’16CPS, a criminal justice major who is also an NYPD cadet, jumped at the chance to visit the Eternal City. "We learned so much there,” he said. “I was especially interested in how their police force operated compared to ours."

"Now that the trip is over and students have a new perspective, it's time to get some scholarly work done," O'Keefe said. "I'll be posting reading lists and having them write reflections. For the rest of the semester, it will run as a traditional course."

Students stayed at St. John's University's Rome campus during the seminar. “The Rome staff were prepared for whatever was on my agenda,” O’Keefe noted, “and had tour guides waiting for us, all of whom were scholars. They also provided the students with subway tickets, meal vouchers, and whatever they needed."

"As an accounting major, I never thought I'd have this opportunity," said Thomas Sanicola ’16TCB. Andrew Squatrito '16 TCB, also an accounting major, noted, "It was beautiful."