Roles that advance the goals and improve the academic standards of St. John’s University have been woven into the career of Gina M. Florio, Ph.D. However, as a recent administrative appointment wound down, she contemplated a return to full-time faculty work for the upcoming fall semester. Then, as she has so many times before, she answered a call.
Last July, Dr. Florio was appointed Interim Dean of St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a position she holds for the 2020-21 academic year. Previously, she served as Chairperson of the Strategic Priorities Review Team founded by Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, and Co-Chairperson of the Strategic Priorities Working Group. She assisted in the founding of the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion with Manouchkathe Cassagnol Pharm.D., Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and a dedicated team of faculty.
More recently, she was a member of the Return to Campus Task Force, and Operations Coordinator for the Academic Task Force led by Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs; both groups are charged with developing an institutional response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For me it was a natural step to steward the College during this uncertain time,” Dr. Florio stressed. “My overarching goal is stewardship, which to me means continuously moving forward: to advance the College and its agenda, leaving the strongest possible foundation for the permanent occupant of this position. It cannot just mean sitting back and getting by. We have to continuously improve.”
Dr. Florio joined the St. John’s faculty in 2005 as a Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry. In 2010, she was promoted to Associate Professor, with joint appointment in the departments of Chemistry and Physics. Her primary area of research is in the field of molecular electronics, an interdisciplinary field that encompasses chemistry, physics, and engineering, in which researchers try to create nanoscale electronic circuits containing individual molecules as active components.
What sets St. John’s University apart from other institutions of higher learning “is our students, hands down, coupled with our Vincentian mission,” Dr. Florio said. “I am so grateful and fortunate to have the opportunity to work with these students in the classroom, in the lab, and on the various projects with which I have been involved as an administrator.”
Dr. Florio described St. John’s students as thoughtful and creative activists, intent on making a difference in the world. The diverse population uses their unique gifts to help those in need. A graduate of the Vincentian Mission Institute program, she recalled a quote from St. Vincent de Paul, who said, “It’s not enough to do good. It must be done well.”
She added, “That is an ethos that permeates my St. John’s experience. It is something that gets me up in the morning, even in times as complex, uncertain, and scary as what we are now living.” The heart of Catholic social thought, which stresses the inherent dignity of every human person, has had a profound impact on Dr. Florio.
She has been heartened by the University community’s response to the challenges presented by COVID-19. “The way people have responded to this situation over the last five months has been breathtaking,” Dr. Florio explained. “Our people are creative problem-solvers who care about our students and our institution.”
Providing an exceptional academic experience and access to educational opportunity form the core of the St. John’s mission, Dr. Florio explained. “For a very long time, the mission was something I valued, but found difficult to integrate into my teaching. However, it has been easier as I have come to know the mission better—and the underpinnings of what it means to be Catholic and Vincentian.”
Dr. Florio added that St. John’s is well-positioned to confront the challenges facing the world today. “We learn and grow and keep moving forward,” she stressed, citing the University’s ongoing efforts to foster a climate that stands on the pillars of equity, inclusion, and antiracism.
“It is so humbling to serve in this capacity at this institution, which I love,” Dr. Florio said. “I love our students. I love our mission. It is part of who I am.”