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10 under 10: A New Generation Makes a Difference

Monday, April 11, 2016

Alumni success is a strong measure of a university’s quality. By this standard alone, a St. John’s education has been a generator of excellence for 146 years.

St. John’s alumni have become leaders in virtually every field that impacts our world. This tradition is now evident in the achievements of a new generation. Though the following 10 graduates have earned their degrees only within the past decade, they already are making a positive impact on their communities and professions. Their achievements reflect the continuing strength of the St. John’s experience.

Thomas Bamundo ’10TCB: Interning Sparks TV Career

Bamundo is Operations and Admissions Supervisor for the NBC Studios Tour at the station’s New York broadcast facility. He prepared for the position through opportunities he had as a business major at St. John’s—especially through the Executive-in-Residence program, which allows students to serve as consultants to corporate and nonprofit organizations, and an internship he secured at Sony Music. He found a lead on his first job after college when the NBC page program recruited on campus. The recruiter was impressed with the industry-related experience Bamundo received during his Sony internship. “Without St. John’s,” he said, “I never would have secured
that internship.”

Julian De La Cuesta ’06TCB: Managing for Success

De La Cuesta arrived in this country from Colombia at age 22 with “little more than a green card and a bag of clothes.” He credits St. John’s with giving him the knowledge and skills to forge his present successful career as a business executive. “When I enrolled at the University,” he recalled, “all I knew was that I had to complete my education.” He worked by day and took classes in the evening. Today, he is Offshore Sales Director for Schroders, a multinational asset management company. “I’ve been on a constant learning curve for the past eight years—and it’s been a great ride,” he observed. “St. John’s gave me my chance.”

Dylan Kitts ’13C: Pursuing Politics and Change

As a field organizer for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, Kitts reached out to potential supporters and supervised volunteers. In some states, Kitts ran local campaign offices while recruiting and training precinct captains. As a history major and philosophy minor at St. John’s, he gained an understanding of “the historic and theoretical underpinnings of our political system.” His professors encouraged him to apply for opportunities such as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant, which allowed him to spend nine months teaching in Indonesia. He went on to study human rights in Poland as a Humanity in Action fellow and received another fellowship from Green Corps: The Field School for Environmental Organizing. “Those experiences,” said Kitts, “showed me the need to correct inequities through grassroots action.”

Nicole Lalena ’12Ed, ’14GEd: Learning through Teaching

As a special education coteacher at P.S. 71 in Ridgewood, Queens, Lalena believes she is learning as much as her students. “You’re always discovering something new, about teaching and about yourself,” she said. Lalena has wanted to teach since the seventh grade. In The School of Education at St. John’s, outstanding faculty, course work, and field experience prepared her to realize that dream. Today, she is part of an Integrated Co-Teaching classroom (ICT), where she and a partner develop, evaluate, and implement plans for the academic and behavioral progress of six students with special needs. Teaching, she said, “allows you to have a positive impact on the world—you’re always making a difference, one child at a time.”

Joseph Leva ’09CPS: Following a Passion for Sports

Though Leva entered St. John’s as an undeclared freshman, his decision to follow his passion ultimately led to a blossoming career with the New York Yankees. “As a kid, I had dreams of becoming a sports agent,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t until I took my first sport management course that I decided to really focus on that area.” In 2006, he secured an internship with the Yankees and was invited to stay on with the team at the conclusion of the semester. He worked hard to differentiate himself from the others. “When everyone else was wearing a polo shirt,” he recalls, “I would wear a suit and tie.” Today, Leva serves the team as Senior Manager of Premium Sales and Service—and he remains grateful for his St. John’s experience. “I was blessed to have some great professors who really challenged me,” he said.

Marcella Mandracchia ’10Ed, ’11GEd, ’15Ed.D.: Shaping Future Educators

During a typical week, Mandracchia follows an exacting schedule—as an instructor in The School of Education, listening to dissertation defenses, analyzing data for senior faculty, showing fellow professors how to conduct online courses, and teaching three classes at Hostos Community College. “It’s the kind of work I enjoy doing,” said Mandracchia, who received her doctorate in education from St. John’s this past January—at 25 years old. In addition to field work at local schools, the University gave her the opportunity to conduct federally funded research with Seokhee Cho, Ph.D., Professor of Administrative and Instructional Leadership. The study, Project Hope, examined approaches to nurturing creativity among mathematically gifted English language learners. Mandracchia based her dissertation on the project.

“I use the techniques I researched when teaching my own classes,” she noted.

Donya Nasser ’15C: Defending Women’s Rights

Being a US Public Delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, said Nasser, “gets incredibly hectic.” But she is excited by the work, part of her appointment as a 2015–16 US Youth Observer to the United Nations. Nasser explores “the issue of women’s rights—a topic priority of mine.” In addition, she conducts policy research as a Truman-Albright Fellow at the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy in the US Department of Health and Human Services. Nasser majored in government and politics at St. John’s. She was the University’s first Truman Scholar, a UC Berkeley Public Policy and International Affairs Law Fellow, and a Harvard Law School Trials Scholarship recipient. Nasser studied gender issues in Iran as an intern with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and attended the Yenching Global Symposium in Beijing, China. She said St. John’s professors inspired her to achieve: “I’m grateful for their unstinting support.”

Melissa Favale-O’Brien, BCACP ’10Pharm.D.: Keeping Communities Healthy

As a Clinical Pharmacy Manager of Ambulatory Care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, O’Brien works to improve the lives of patients at one of the world’s largest medical centers. “I want to provide the best services possible on a daily basis,” said O’Brien, who focuses on direct patient care in an internal medicine practice. O’Brien strives to demonstrate a level of empathy strengthened by St. John’s Vincentian Mission. She also gives back to the University by participating in the Alumni Mentoring Program of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and the University’s chapter of the international professional pharmacy fraternity, LKS. “Through my continued work with the University and LKS,” she said, “I’m able to motivate and inspire the development of future pharmacists.”

Kevin Thompson ’09CPS: Entertaining for Life

A Brooklyn native, Thompson uses skills he attained at St. John’s to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry. “During my junior year, St. John’s literally handed me the one tool I would use for the rest of my life—a microphone,” said the former communication arts major, who hosted his first event as an orientation leader at the University. After graduating, he served as the studio warm-up personality for the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Today, he is a host for an entertainment company called Untouchable Events and also has his own company, KT ENT. One of Thompson’s most recognizable roles is “Mr. Moviefone” for AOL Moviefone. Extracurricular activities at St. John’s, he noted, prepared him for his career. “As a manager of the Women’s Track and Field Team,” Thompson said, “I learned to be diligent and precise. As President of my fraternity, I learned how to deal with different personalities. And, as a member of the President’s Society, I gained polish.”

Andriy Vintonyak ’12P: Putting the Dignity of Patients First

While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in radiologic sciences at St. John’s, Vintonyak realized that the University’s Vincentian Mission was a superb guide to a productive life. “It opened my eyes to the true meaning of good moral character—and how to conduct myself in the eyes of humanity,” he said. Today, Vintonyak is a Supervisor of Radiology at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, where he oversees 80 employees and performs scans on patients in a department that operates 24 hours a day. One of his goals, he said, is “to create a better hospital and community.” Studying in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, where he earned a 3.9 GPA, gave Vintonyak the knowledge and confidence to assume a managerial role. “I can still hear the voices of my philosophy and theology professors who helped shape my principles and values,” he said. “They’re at the center of how I deal with employees and patients.”