Faculty Focus: St. John’s Professor Embraces Challenges of Online Learning

They win awards for their research. They write bestsellers. However, what sets the faculty at St. John’s University apart is their genuine concern for students, their desire to see them succeed in the classroom and life, and their passion for St. John’s mission. In this recurring series, we profile just a few of the many faculty members who make a difference in our University community—and our world.

Ceceilia Parnther headshot
January 21, 2021

Student success is not only a cornerstone principle of St. John’s University—it is the primary research focus for Ceceilia Parnther, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in Administrative and Instructional Leadership in The School of Education. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused an abrupt shift in teaching modalities, Dr. Parnther was eager to uncover the virtues of remote learning.

“I love the online environment,” Dr. Parnther stressed. “The modality provides an opportunity to express myself creatively and to support my students in doing so as well. We are also able to engage and work with experts from all over the country.” 

Dr. Parnther commends her students for their flexibility and good humor during these uncertain times and is grateful for their feedback and support. “Face-to-face connections are incredibly important, so I have been very intentional about creating a caring and comfortable online environment for students to learn. I think it is paying off.”

Dr. Parnther studies programs that increase access and completion for underrepresented, underprepared, and low-income students in college. “I am specifically interested in how students learn: what gets in the way of learning, retention, persistence, and gainful employment,” she explained.

Arriving at St. John’s in 2018, Dr. Parnther sought to engage with a diverse group of students committed to positively impacting their local communities and the world. “St. John’s students are driven and dynamic critical thinkers. They know what they want and are persistent in working toward their goals.”

She is deeply impacted by the University’s Vincentian mission, and it impacts the way she teaches. “The mission challenges me to teach with compassion, to engage with diverse texts and content providers in my work, to celebrate diverse perspectives, and to reflect often.”

Promoting diversity and inclusion at St. John’s has been one of her major priorities. Dr. Parnther serves on her department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and has participated in the University’s “Racial Justice Conversations: Becoming Agents of Change.” 

She also supports the work of the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion. “Promoting diversity and inclusion is not only a large part of my research—it is a part of who I am.” 

Linda Romano, Director of Digital Communications in the University’s Office of Marketing and Communications and one of Dr. Parnther’s former students, praised her ability to navigate her classes during the pandemic. “Dr. Parnther clearly has a depth of knowledge about higher education,” Ms. Romano explained. “She was great about encouraging us to learn more while giving us space to process and think critically about how COVID-19 is affecting our lives as both students and professionals. I left her class feeling energized about my program and with more confidence in the direction of my dissertation research.”

Dr. Parnther has learned some important lessons from the COVID experience—especially the value of community. “So many people struggle in different ways. Simple check-ins, nurturing relationships, and showing care make a difference. I have learned that leading with concern and compassion can have a lasting impact.”

She added, “I help students develop research that increases access and opportunity in education. Helping to take an idea and watching it turn into a meaningful research project is an honor and a privilege. I am thankful every day.”