Soribel Genao, Ph.D. ’03CPS
The journey of Soribel Genao, Ph.D. ’03CPS brought her from the low-income Manhattan neighborhood of her youth—where obtaining a college education was a rarity—to her current success as a noted educator. Her achievement illustrates how resourcefulness and discipline can transform one’s life.
At St. John’s University, Genao became the first in her family to earn a college degree. Today, she is an Assistant Professor in Queens College’s Educational Leadership Program and a respected speaker, writer and researcher on the topic of preparing school administrators.
“Although my mother, who emigrated here from the Dominican Republic, was not able to attend college,” Genao said, “she always emphasized the importance of education.” Consequently, when Genao was a sophomore at Seward Park High School in Manhattan, she seized the opportunity to participate in a college preparatory program run by the Governor’s Committee on Scholastic Achievement. During weekly classes she learned about the benefits of college, higher education options and how to navigate the application process.
At Seward Park, students received additional academic advisement from University Settlement, a nonprofit, community-based organization. An advisor from the group strongly suggested that Genao apply to St. John’s. “At the time, I was planning to become a journalist,” she said. “So I was receptive to the idea of applying—I knew the University has a reputation for preparing graduates for success, and that most of the professors in the Mass Communication program have first-hand experience in the field.”
Although she majored in Journalism, Genao changed her career plans as a result of friendships she formed at St. John’s. She met Yomaris Peralta ’03Ed, ’05GEd and Breacis Rodriguez ’03Ed, ’05GEd through the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which at the time was part of the University’s Division of Special Opportunity Programs. Genao says her interest in education was sparked by listening to Peralta and Rodriquez discuss their courses. “I was particularly taken with the importance of collaboration in putting ideas into action,” she said.
Genao decided to apply her natural curiosity—and the writing, research and interviewing skills she perfected at St. John’s—to a career in education. She chose to focus on training future teachers who would share her appreciation for the role community organizations can play in helping students to learn. Genao went on to earn a master’s degree in urban affairs at Hunter College and a doctorate in public administration at Rutgers University.
Today, Genao’s research centers on education policy, collaborative measurement and administrative and organizational behavior. She believes that dedicated and innovative principals from a cross-section of cultural backgrounds are vital to improving schools. She also is interested in enhancing the way districts can use outside partnerships to replicate educational successes achieved elsewhere.
Among her many accomplishments, Genao developed a plan for the Newark Public Schools’ Office of Alternative Education to boost academic opportunities for at-risk youth. She has written and spoken extensively on the value of diversity among school leaders. As a member of Friends Beyond Borders, she has led groups of New York City educators on trips to the Dominican Republic, where they examined the impact of poverty and injustice on teaching. She also has studied those issues during visits to Ghana and South Africa.
Crediting St. John’s with helping her learn how to position herself and “be comfortable with who I am,” Genao has won recognition from many quarters. Most recently, she was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Henry Street Settlement’s 11th Annual Youth Scholarship Awards in June. “When opportunity knocks,” she advised the audience of college-bound seniors, “open the door.”