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The Power of Inspiration

2019 Torch Award winner Susanna Fessler, center, poses in the Campus Center Assembly Hall during award ceremonies on Friday, with Interim Provost Edelgard Wulfert and senior Michael Delfino, who nominated Fessler for her award. (Photos by Elijah Guerrero)

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 16, 2019) — Graduating senior Michael Delfino confesses to being frequently amazed at the dedication displayed by his academic advisor, frequent teacher and constant supporter, Susanna Fessler, professor of East Asian Studies.

“Her kindness, generosity, and all her other remarkable traits were not only offered to me, but to the campus community as a whole,” he wrote in the nomination letter that led to her being named the 2019 winner of UAlbany’s Faculty & Student Engagement Torch Award.

The honor, to be presented in an awards celebration on Friday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Campus Center Assembly Hall, recognizes a faculty member who has had an outstanding positive impact on a graduating senior’s academic and personal success.

“From the very beginning, Dr. Fessler went above and beyond what anyone would expect,” said Delfino, an East Asian Studies major with a minor in Fessler’s specialty, Japanese studies. He recalled that prior to his transfer to UAlbany from Orange County Community College in the fall of 2016, Fessler was on sabbatical in Japan. “Even though there was a significant time difference and she was buried in research, she made sure that my transfer went as smoothly as possible.”

Maximizing Delfino’s academic experience, each semester Fessler created multiple charts to assist his consideration of class options. He ultimately set his academic focus on East Asian Studies, and took all the classes Fessler offered.

2019 UAlbany Torch Awards

Torch Award winner Susanna Fessler and her nominator, Michael Delfino, fourth and third from left, are accompanied by the other leading nominees and their nominators; left to right, Ian Rapisarda and Prashanth Rangan, Bradey Liverio and Guy Cortesi, and Shamus Chowenhill and Vivek Jain.

“With each class, I grew more as a person,” he said. “Not only does she teach the class in a way that is engaging and understandable, but she radiates a passion that students cannot help but find addicting.” She also seemed to always be on call. “She will answer an email immediately,” said Delfino, “whether it be during school hours or later in the evening.”

Fessler met often with Delfino to talk about his future aspirations and growing interest in East Asian literature. She provided frequent encouragement and reassurance. She forwarded him emails about events, new publications, and other field-related information. “If she comes across recycled books that she believes are imperative for me to have, she will grab them for me.” Her hunting has provide Delfino with more than 10 novels and a Japanese language dictionary.

Fessler will also be recognized during Commencement Weekend and, in the fall, will provide remarks to incoming students at Convocation.

Other Nominees Honored

In addition to Delfino’s support for Fessler, the Torch Awards committee found other nomination letters compelling. To be recognized tomorrow along with Fessler are Guy Cortesi, professor of practice in Engineering and Applied Science; Vivek Jain, associate professor of Physics; and Prashanth Rangan, associate professor of Biology.

Computer Engineering major Bradey Liverio lauded Cortesi for coming up with “some incredible projects,” making all course material “interesting and enjoyable to learn,” and impressing his students to not give up on any of their dreams and passions. Cortesi, said Liverio, provided life lessons “on how to live a wonderful life and to be a successful all-around person.”

Physics major Shamus Chowenhill paid tribute to Jain for introducing him to and engaging him in “an area of physics that I would never have otherwise seen as an undergraduate” and for creating a work environment that taught him how to produce results on deadline and “how to make those results presentable to an audience of fellow physicists.”

Human Biology major Ian Rapisarda pointed to Rangan’s unique ability to see potential in his students, and to see “something in me that I had not.” Knowing Rapisarda’s quest to become a doctor, Rangan invited him into his lab. “Beyond grateful and honored,” Rapisarda said, “if and when I do achieve my goal of becoming a doctor, it will undoubtedly be as a result of Dr. Rangan guidance.”

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