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ONE-ON-ONE with Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., Dean, PCPS

ONE-ON-ONE with Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., Dean, PCPS
Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D.

Get to know Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies (PCPS).

It has been more than 12 years since you became dean of PCPS. Tell us how you feel about being a leader at Scranton.

 There truly is a soul to this University and a legacy spirit, much more than any other place I’ve been. The groups of pioneers who fought hard for a cause or a vision, they are equally as important to the leaders we have with us today, both on and off campus. When I look at a named building, I see that person, and I try hard to understand his or her values and vision to keep that vision as a thread of this campus. I want others to understand our past, too, and be willing to fight for a brighter and better future for all.

Our arms are open and inviting to new and never-ending minds of learners, givers, teachers and challengers. We are a community of love.

Tell us how the college has grown and changed during your tenure.

The PCPS faculty, staff, students and community partners are extraordinary. The construction of Leahy Hall and renovations to McGurrin Hall have provided the opportunity for our University community to soar in its transformation.

Faculty and student research has expanded, Community-Based Learning projects have grown, and international travel courses have increased. The fantastic simulation environments, applied health science laboratories, equipment and technology have positively impacted our students, faculty and staff. In addition, undergraduate and graduate programs have grown.

The Leahy Community Health and Family Center has also expanded and includes a sub-acute medical clinic, counseling clinic, pro bono physical therapy clinic and a low-vision clinic for our University community to understand what it means to be “men and women for and with others” as they practice their vocation with the most vulnerable populations.

What achievement has been closest to your heart during those years?

Every day, I see achievements. Achievements are the commitment to the “call to serve.”

Our community models the “call to serve,” from the work in the Leahy Community Health and Family Center with the food pantry, University of Success, the variety of clinics to the Autism Collaborative Centers of Excellence Executive Hub on campus, service trips and travel courses, funding for students and faculty for research, innovation for new programs and state-of-the-art 

facilities. I am so grateful to our donors who make a difference for our students and faculty. We have a great alumni-mentor program. We appreciate the simple things in life by giving back to others for the greater glory of God.

Speaking of God, how has the Jesuit mission guided you in your work as dean?

Being contemplative in action means that my active life feeds my contemplative life, and my contemplative life informs my active life. I want to always return to work with zest and zeal for a purpose. I’m thankful that I experienced the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, because I understand that decision making is a nitty-gritty process if you embrace the mission from a dean’s perspective. Gratitude is the hallmark of a Jesuit mission.

Tell us more about your focus on autism through the Autism Collaborative Centers of Excellence Executive Hub and the Conference on disABILITY, which, this year, was titled “Exploring Autism Across the Spectrum: Building Inclusive Communities.”

The Autism Society estimates that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects one in 68 children and one in 42 boys in the U.S. The lifetime cost of supporting an individual with autism is calculated at about $2.5 million. The general public is not educated on this disability, and few know how to cope, educate, associate and assist with this condition.

The grant that the University received to open the Hub is one of the first steps for our region to understand the spectrum of this disability, to have collaboration across the region, and to give parents, caregivers, professionals and those on the spectrum a glimmer of hope that more research, more education and more innovative ideas are forthcoming. Help, I know, cannot come fast enough for so many. I ask and fight for faster development, more dollars to the cause and all hands in this fight, while understanding, with care and concern, patience is a true virtue.

The disABILITY Conference, too, provided opportunities to address key issues relevant to our mission by positively influencing the quality of life and wellness of individuals and families living with disabilities, especially autism. Next year’s conference will be on Oct. 6, 2020, and will feature Temple Grandin as the keynote speaker. She and so many others show that those living with autism are gifts for our human community.

There is so much that is needed in helping those with ASD live fuller lives, and we are up to the challenge.

You’re a big literacy advocate. In addition to inspiring Scranton students to direct a very successful book drive each year that culminates with the Blessing of the Books, you helped head the National Reading Crisis Project, were active in the International Reading Association, and have written on the topic (“Literacy is Freedom”). Explain how you became a fierce supporter of this cause.

Literacy is the foundation of freedom and hope. I was amazed, at the beginning of the 21st century, when I learned that one in five adults were unable to read and write. There are nearly 900 million illiterates in the world today — and two-thirds of them are women.

The Blessing of the Books project helps to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty by giving kids the opportunity to practice literacy, which is the path to freedom and democracy.

At a very young age, I remember my mom reading to me and telling me that reading was the greatest gift that anyone could have. I never went to bed without my mom reading to me. In fact, it is hard to believe, but she would read a story to me every night about a different saint, from St. Catherine of Siena to St. Barbara.

I believe that everyone should have a great book in their hand. A book opens a door — well, much more than a door; it opens a pathway to endless opportunities. I’m just amazed at how the simplest of all books can inspire, transform and invigorate the mind and soul.

Can you leave us with a favorite passage or quote that inspires you?

Well, my beautiful mother always said “Ancora imparo,” or “I am still learning.”

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