By Prasanna Tati
Dr. Katia Passerini announced last week that she will be transitioning from her three year term as Interim Dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT to Dean of the College of Professional Studies at St. John’s University in Queens, New York.
Dr. Passerini’s journey with higher education began when she emigrated from her native Rome, Italy to George Washington University of Washington DC, where she would later receive her MBA and PhD as a Fulbright Scholar. At George Washington University, Dr. Passerini was a teaching assistant for a few courses and discovered her passion for teaching; she enjoyed handing knowledge to students and sharing her own research.
When asked about her love for teaching, Dr. Passerini mentioned, “Teaching is about delayed gratification. I couldn’t really tell if I was making a difference – maybe it’s because I gave a lot of homework – but now I have students emailing me back and thanking me. They’re using the things I taught them in everyday life to actually make a living, and that is very important.”
In the 90s when “everyone was getting MBAs,” she said, immigrating to the United States was a huge step. For the goals she had after coming to a new country to pursue higher education, Dr. Passerini said, “Frankly, I simply wanted to be a good instructor, scholar, and colleague. My big dream was to be an academic at a reputable institution in the NY-NJ area, and to make an impact on the learning of students and the growth of the IS research community.”
Once Dr. Passerini received her PhD, she worked in management consulting to practice and apply what she learned in college. After gaining some valuable experience, she began to look for job opportunities in academia in the NY-NJ area. NJIT was not a college she had even heard of until she found it in her job search. As she began to research the institution and learn more about the Management department and school dynamic, “everything just clicked”, she said. Though NJIT was not the institution that offered her the highest salary or shortest commute, Dr. Passerini found that it provided the most opportunity.
In 2003, she joined the Martin Tuchman School of Management as an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems. After winning several accolades for her excellence in teaching, she was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2008. In 2013, right after her promotion to Full Professor, an opportunity to serve as an interim Dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College presented itself. Reminiscing on her interest to try out administration, Dr. Passerini says, “When the Dean search was launched, I applied, and the rest is history.”
Initially, Dr. Passerini’s end goal was not administration, rather administration was, she says, “an opportunity that I decided to take and that engaged me to the point that it indeed became a goal in itself.” From her appointment as Assistant Professor to interim Dean, Dr. Passerini has had the opportunity to work with numerous students, colleagues, and programs all of whom praise her work ethic and passion without end.
Raiha Khan, a computational mathematics major, said of Dr. Passerini, “She is such an approachable, intellectual, and inspiring leader. Regardless of her tough schedule, she always has a warm smile on her face, and I must admit that her welcoming nature greatly influenced my decision to spend my next four years at NJIT.”
Another student, junior biology major Ramsha Javed, said of Dr. Passerini, “Although I have only had the chance to meet with Dean Passerini on a one to one basis a few times, I came to know Dean Passerini as one of the most compassionate, inspiring, and attentive people I have ever met. Despite her busy schedule, she has always taken the time to talk to every person individually and make him or her feel as though they are appreciated and have the capabilities to be successful in the future.”
Alicia Feghhi, Assistant Director of Leadership and Professional Development said of Dr. Passerini, “Her work ethic, relentless nature, approachable demeanor to students, and, above all, passion for the Honors College is impeccable. Our students and staff are very lucky to have had such a visionary leader. She made the Honors College what it is today. She has left a legacy of leadership. She is one in a million, and St. John’s hit the jackpot.”
Dr. Passerini will be taking her talents to St. John’s University in Queens, New York this summer where she will be Dean of the College of Professional Studies. “I do not really believe in firm plans. So, I did not plan for the transition but when the opportunity came, I realized that this was the next natural step in my career as it leveraged my eclectic background in political science, economics, business, and IS, my interest in applied research and the professionalization of education, and my heritage,” she said of her decision to move to St. John’s University. St. John’s actually has a number of campuses, and one of them is in Dr. Passerini’s home city of Rome, Italy so she “will be able to work on establishing new academic programs locally, internationally, and online.”
From her journey as a young graduate student moving to the states to the soon to be Dean of the College of Professional Studies, Dr. Passerini says she has learned a valuable lesson along the way: “be open to opportunities.”
When she initially started her PhD program, Dr. Passerini thought she knew exactly what she wanted to do: study the impact of technology on learning. Her advisor, Dr. Mary Granger, smiled and told Dr. Passerini something she would never forget, “Katia, if you already know exactly what you are going to do, you will not learn anything during your doctoral program.” To this day, Dr. Passerini says that students walk into her office concerned about their future, and all she does is that she says, “I still do not know what I want to do, and if I do, it is likely to change.”
Dr. Passerini accredits part of her success to the mentors she’s had throughout her life who have listened to her doubts and bounced ideas back and forth in order to help her make the best decisions she could. Dr. Passerini urges students to see their professors outside of class with thought-provoking questions to spark interest and good learning that both ends can find rewarding. In fact, Honors Scholars through the annual survey show a very low percentage of time spent with professors outside of class, which is a point for improvement for the Honors College.
As always, the University is undergoing more and more growth by the semester as areas like the one above are identified and improved to support the learning of students at the University. Dr. Passerini expects that NJIT will exceed expectations with recruitment and retainment of scholars even after she leaves.
In closing, as a message to the entire university, Dr. Passerini says, “NJIT is an amazing institution and I enjoyed my 13 years in the University. I know that the incredible colleagues, students, and alumni that I have met will continue to be part of my professional and personal life.”