Hofstra dedicates room to longest-serving professor

Hofstra dedicates room to longest-serving professor

Professor Michael D’Innocenzo believes that teachers should often be as close to the age of their students as possible, in order to bridge the growing intergenerational divides in society.

Ironically, he’ll be an 83-year-old instructor in October.

“I came from a generation where you got a job,” D’Innocenzo said. “And you sort of expected to keep it for life.”

Despite being offered positions and professorships elsewhere, D’Innocenzo, of Mineola, still teaches freshmen history courses at Hofstra University, where he is headed into his 59th year as a professor. D’Innocenzo is the Harry H. Watchel Distinguished Teaching Professor for the Study of Nonviolent Social Change at Hofstra.

On Thursday, the university dedicated a seminar room to D’Innocenzo as the longest-serving professor in Hofstra’s history.

“It’s a punctuation of an amazing journey,” D’Innocenzo said. “I’ve watched Hofstra grow from a small college into a prestigious university around me.”

“I first met Mike 48 years ago when I first arrived at Hofstra,” Herman Berliner, Hofstra’s dean of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business and former provost, said. “Fast forward all these years and he has clearly stood the test of time.”

D’Innocenzo, a son of immigrants, was born in Nyack, New York, in 1935. His teaching and research began with a focus on the foundations of American liberty and the principles of society. A history honors paper on Charles Beard and the Constitution at Union College in 1957 won D’Innocenzo the Freling Smith Essay Prize, the first of many accolades in his career.

“What a privilege it has been for me to be a student who was able to find a calling as a teacher,” D’Innocenzo wrote in an essay submitted to the American Historical Association in 2008. He was awarded the 2008 Distinguished Teaching Award.

“I thought it was a long shot just to enter,” D’Innocenzo said on the 2008 award. “I almost missed the deadline for submission, too.”

D’Innocenzo is still rigorous in his teaching philosophy, highlighting the importance of community discussion and engagement. For years, he escorted as many as 50 students on trips as long as four days to historically significant New England landmarks like Lexington, Concord and Salem.

“Not many faculty were willing to take that kind of responsibility,” D’Innocenzo said. “Or to have to supervise teenagers for so many overnight stays.”

Other unconventional teaching methods D’Innocenzo has used over his career include one-on-one oral discussions, contextual lectures on broad topics and autobiographies.

“I was blown away by his infectious enthusiasm,” Stanislao Pugliese, a former student of D’Innocenzo’s and current distinguished Hofstra professor, said about meeting him. Pugliese emceed the seminar room dedication ceremonies.

“Mike’s still got a twinkle in his eye to this day. He’s an invaluable resource to us,” Pugliese said.

Throughout his tenure at Hofstra, D’Innocenzo has remained highly competitive, in addition to his level of engagement. D’Innocenzo boasts of his successful intramural softball and basketball teams at Hofstra, and defeating both students and colleagues.

“I know from firsthand experience Mike was an excellent, competitive athlete,” Berliner said. “He and I had the opportunity to play tennis a few times and I quickly moved on to swimming and bowling.”

At the ceremony in Shapiro Hall, there was standing room only as D’Innocenzo’s colleagues stood and gave testimonies to his influence and legacy.

Michael Caplice, Long Island regional director of intergovernmental and community affairs of the state comptroller’s office, read aloud a letter from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a former student of D’Innocenzo’s.

“I had the privilege of studying with Professor D’Innnocenzo when I was a history major at Hofstra,” Caplice said. “He has been an inspiration to me, and I am delighted that Hofstra has decided to honor his legacy.”

“Mike is the embodiment of a living legend at Hofstra,” Dr. Gail Simmons, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said at the dedication.

“I am so delighted to know [Mike], and I am so delighted to know the seminar room is going to be infused with your aura,” Simmons said.

“I’m almost speechless,” D’Innocenzo said to laughter.

D’Innocenzo concluded the dedication with his own speech, speaking at length about the pride he feels in the university.

“Hofstra’s quest for excellence and justice shall never die,” he said.


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