Alumna and Adjunct Instructor Answers the Emergency Call
Real learning for real life—inside and outside of the classroom—aptly describes the pedagogical and professional efforts of alumna Nancy Silvestri ’07CPS, ’08G, senior advisor for New York City Emergency Management (NYC-EM) and Adjunct Instructor in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Ms. Silvestri began the Spring 2020 semester teaching a weekly undergraduate course, Crisis Management at the State and Local Levels. A few weeks into the semester, as the COVID-19 global health crisis began to get closer to home and her daily work responsibilities at NYC-EM, Ms. Silvestri quickly realized that adjustments were needed. “I tore up my syllabus and revamped the course curriculum to reflect my students’ growing interest in following crisis decision-making in real time.”
Ms. Silvestri, a former Graduate Assistant in the University’s Department of Government and Politics, knows firsthand the integration of communication and crisis management. As a student, a combination of academics, internships, and extracurricular activities enabled her to sharpen her communication skills.
Upon graduation, she began working as a Community Research Assistant in the Office of Communications at the Town of Hempstead, the largest township in the United States. In 2011, Ms. Silvestri moved over to NYC-EM, and her timing, combined with Mother Nature, provided her with a crash course in emergency management.
“I joined NYC-EM just one month before Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, so I learned very quickly about urban emergency management,” she said. “I used that knowledge a year later when Hurricane Sandy, the most damaging and costliest hurricane to hit New York City in 40 years, came to shore and devastated many of the City’s coastal neighborhoods.”
As an undergraduate, Ms. Silvestri fully embraced campus life, and she shared her St. John’s experience with her twin sister Jennifer, who earned her Pharm.D. from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 2009. Ms. Silvestri was an active member of The Torch, the independent student newspaper of St. John’s, and it was in the newsroom that she met her future husband, Albert Silvestri ’06CPS, ’07G, ’07APC, who at the time served as Editor-in-Chief. Years later, the pair would return to campus for their wedding that was celebrated at St. Thomas More Church. They reside in nearby Kew Gardens, NY, and are the proud parents of a two-year-old daughter.
In her evening class, now being conducted remotely, Ms. Silvestri regularly integrates aspects of her day job. Students are working on a semester-long simulation with assigned roles that will conclude with an exercise in coronavirus planning and response. Via Blackboard, the class examines and uses an online message board to critique press conferences; discuss principles of crisis leadership and decision-making; and explore emergency declarations and authorities, crisis communication, and coordination across all levels of government.
“Learning about crisis management during a real crisis has been eye-opening,” shared Ashley Mangra, a sophomore from Richmond Hill, NY, majoring in Government and Politics. “The true-to-life lessons learned in this class give me the ability and greater insight to determine whether or not different levels of government are effectively handling this crisis.”
Another student in Ms. Silvestri’s class is Luke Button, a sophomore majoring in Government and Politics and Philosophy from Montgomery, NY, who is not only learning about crisis management, but through the course was inspired to respond and volunteer.
“Ms. Silvestri’s firsthand experience offers an element of authenticity that cannot be found in textbooks or lectures,” he said. “Her stories of working during Hurricane Sandy, major snowstorms, and now COVID-19 show me the practical aspects of dealing with crises. I enjoy hearing what happens behind the scenes that the public never knows about: the long hours, early mornings, and dedication of Professor Silvestri and her colleagues.”
Describing his current living and learning experience, Mr. Button shared: “Initially, I was in my apartment here in Queens, doing homework and working via Zoom chats. I soon realized that I needed to assist the people around me who are affected by COVID-19. So, I have been helping my friends make bike deliveries for Invisible Hands, bringing groceries to elderly people in my neighborhood. I will soon join Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response Team, setting up and staffing field hospitals here in New York City.”
With inspiration from his current class work and guidance from Ms. Silvestri, Jerome J. Bost, a junior Government and Politics major from Riverhead, NY, completed an online course sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) entitled Fundamentals of Emergency Management. Mr. Bost, who serves as a legislative aide for the Suffolk County Legislature, hopes to emulate his professor and advance in his public service career. “She is the best!”
Reflecting on the proud Catholic and Vincentian mission of the University, Ms. Silvestri observed: “I enjoyed my St. John’s student experience as it prepared me for a meaningful career in public service that I am now able to bring to the classroom. I love giving back, and I have no doubt that our current students will one day do the same.”