C/J Program Founder Back for Classroom Encore
Some call him a legend. Some call him a mentor. And some even credit their success to him. Tom Proietti ’67 has been either a student or faculty member at St. John Fisher College for the past four decades, and he has returned this year as a Resident Scholar in Media for his final year of teaching.
Proietti graduated from Fisher in 1967 with two bachelor’s degrees and went on to Syracuse University, where he earned a master’s degree in radio/television/film from the Newhouse School of Public Communication. A former newspaper, radio, and television journalist, Proietti also spent time in the advertising business, working as Vice President of Marketing and Programming at Time Warner Communications/Greater Rochester Cablevision.
He is one of the founders of Fisher’s Communication/Journalism program, which is where he had his first teaching stint from 1968-1980. After spending some time in the business world, he returned to teaching in 1985 at Monroe Community College (MCC) for 27 years. He retired from MCC in spring 2012.
In 2009, Fisher’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) named its chapter in honor of Proietti. Since its inception in 2007, the Tom Proietti Chapter of PRSSA has helped Fisher students develop extracurricular growth opportunities in public relations.
Proietti has taught media courses in England for the past 22 years, each year taking a group of students with him for the experience during their Christmas break. He is also a regular on the college guest lecture circuit, and is often called upon to speak at professional and community group events. And when there is a big issue that the local media has latched on to, he is often asked for his expert perspective for the nightly newscast.
Proietti in London with students in January 2012.
When he’s not teaching, he has managed to find time to become involved in a variety of other things around the community. He’s a founding member of The Little Theatre Film Society, a monthly commentator on media issues on WXXI-AM’s 1370 Connection, and volunteers for several organizations including the Rochester Ad Council, Rochester Public Library, and WXXI’s Programming Council.
Proietti takes off his teaching and volunteer hats often to wear his grandpa hat, one he wears proudly. He has three granddaughters whom he refers to as “my world.”
We asked Proietti to look back and reflect on his career and time in the classroom:
Q: Did you always know that the communications industry was where you wanted to be?
A: Not at all. I grew up in a restaurant family and my dad had plans for me to open his third location. I had no interest.
The media bug bit me with early viewing of CBS Reports documentaries like “Harvest of Shame” and so many others. And people like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Fisher graduate Jack Palvino had a huge influence on me. I also began to work at the D&C in sports in fall of 1963 and I was smitten.
Q: How has teaching changed since you started in 1968?
A: The technological changes in teaching since 1968 have been absolutely incredible and monstrously spectacular in scope. What I find most fascinating is the Kent State incident in May of 1970. It changed the entire landscape of classroom interactions between students and teachers. It had a profound influence on me personally.
I also think most of us are much better academic and career advisers than we were in the ’60s and early ’70s. Internships became the norm in many fields after 1975 or so, and career counseling became so much more critical than it had been. We also spent a lot more time helping students build portfolios and courses that build competencies for the world of work. We have done this without sacrificing the true value of a liberal arts education.
Q: Do you have a favorite teachable moment that you recall?
A: My amazing wife Donna Marie came to visit my first Fisher course ever about three weeks into the semester. She came at my request and out of her curiosity. I knew I was not doing well and I needed some tips. After just that one class, she told me: "You are boring. You are trying to be someone you are not. Just be yourself. The person I married is funny, engaging, and sometimes irreverent. Don't be afraid to be yourself." It was the best advice I ever had.
Q: What has been your favorite part about teaching at Fisher, and teaching in general?
A: My first stint at Fisher was a total rush of innovation and involvement for the entire College, and I was there riding the wave - and even causing a few waves along the way. I had so many mentors in people like Charlie Lavery, Joe Dorsey, John Cavanaugh, Julian Granberry, Joe Trovato, and others. Watching Fisher grow in size and stature was quite a thrill. We went coed. We added programs and buildings and faculty. We diversified in so many ways, yet never wavered from our core. I returned to Fisher in 2000 at the urging of Katherine Keough, Lauren Vicker, and Mary Loporcaro. Jack Palvino was also part of the team that put Fisher back on my radar and into my life.
Fisher students have always been very special to me. They are truly a brand unto themselves and their success has always been the barometer by which I measure my success. I allow them into my life and they tend to stay there. There is true affection involved on all sides.
College teaching is truly infectious in the best possible ways. I find myself learning as much from my students as they could ever learn from me, if not more. It allows a certain amount of performance in the midst of true intellectual probing and scholarship. I honestly believe that my approach to my students has always been the Customer Intimacy Model. I do love them and for the most part, they return the love in spades.
The classroom is my stage and I so enjoy being there. I hope the performance is worth the ticket.
Q: Looking back, do you have any regrets in your career?
A: Not one. All the pieces fell together the right way. My life is and has been a charm.
Q: Do you have any advice for today’s students about following their passion and dreams?
A: Yes. Internships, more internships, learn how to develop your personal brand, and then do another internship. Network. Build a portfolio. Learn to connect the dots and even how to make the dots. And boogie as much as you can. Life is so short.
Q: How do you want students and your colleagues at Fisher to remember you?
A: As a person of passion about my students and my scholarship but also as someone who so enjoyed a good laugh.
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