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By Amanda Kelly
Features Editor, The Ionian
Interim Dean of theSchool of Arts and Science Jeanne Zaino recalls one of the first events she attended as a faculty member atIonaCollege, a Woman of Achievement Luncheon honoring the 2005 award recipient, Professor Emeritus of Economics Mary Lesser.
“[The luncheon] made such an impression on me,” Zaino said. “One of my colleagues in the [political science] department and I said, ‘That’s the kind of professor we want to be."
Zaino’s praises of Lesser echo those of the many current and pastIonastudents and faculty members who gathered in the McGrath room for an economics department alumni event. The event honored Lesser not only for her dedication to Iona, but also to recognize and honor the immense impact she has had on the economics department during her nearly 30 year career at Iona.
After receiving her BA, MA and PhD from Fordham University, Lesser joined Iona’s economics department in 1982. Lesser’s tenure is marked by her years serving as Chair of the Economics Department, moderator of both the Economics Club and the College Fed Challenge (a team competition for undergraduates inspired by the workings of the Federal Open Market Committee) and Executive Director of the Eastern Economic Association-headquartered at Iona College-from 1997 to her departure from the college in 2009.
“Mary Lesser is like the Magic Johnson of Iona College faculty,” said Professor of Economics Robert Jantzen, who was recently awarded the Bene Merenti Award for his 30 years of service at Iona. “She’s the person who can do it all with excellence; so, for 30 years, Mary Lesser was the heart and soul of the department.”
Above all, Jantzen noted, Lesser was completely beloved by her students.
“I had to move from the first floor to the third floor in the old Economics house because there was so much traffic of students coming by and asking, ‘Could you tell me where Dr. Lesser’s office is?’” he joked.
Lesser’s nurturing and compassionate personality only added to her abilities as a professor and to the high regard in which she is held by her students and colleagues at Iona.
Iona alumnus Susom Ghosh seemed to speak for all in attendance as he firmly stated that Lesser cares deeply for each and every one of her students in a way that goes beyond the call of duty for a professor. “I personally believe that Dr. Lesser was not just a great professor,” Ghosh said, “but someone whose caring and accommodating attitude defined a new level in the education field.”
Emcee of the event Assistant Professor of Economics Caitlin Greatrex, a former student of Lesser’s, spoke words of praise at Lesser’s Woman of Achievement Luncheon in 2005, and spoke words of praise for Lesser seven years later as a truly remarkable professor and an outstanding mentor and friend.
“Her inspirational teaching style and her ability to make economics both fun and exciting…and her effect on me is a very big reason as to why I am standing in this capacity today. Mary has made such a difference in my life and in the lives of everyone in this room,” Greatrex said.
Even those who never had the opportunity experience Lesser as a professor, those who were meeting her for the first time that night, were able to express the lasting impact Lesser has had on the economics department.
Economics Club President Sinead Knightly noted that without the hard work and dedication of both Lesser and Jantzen, the economics department as well as the Economics Club and Fed Challenge would not be where they are today. Both educators committed themselves wholly to building the prominence of the economics department and were able to entice students to pursue a degree in the field of economics.
As Lesser graciously thanked her colleagues and students for the honor, she urged the Iona alumni in the room to do her one favor: to open the door of opportunity to their fellow Gael economists.
“We are a family, that’s what makes Iona special. Reach back, give someone else an opportunity, open the door for somebody. Trust that the college has prepared them, that you won’t be ashamed of the person that walks through that door in your name and in the name of the college,” Lesser said.
Lesser’s wish to build the connections between current and former Iona students certainly serves as a reflection of her dedication to Iona students-even to those whom she has never met. Her passion for teaching will surely be missed by the economics department and also by the college as a whole.
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