Marianna Savoca: Driving Change In Higher Education

Marianna Savoca headshot.

Marianna Savoca is a staple on Stony Brook University’s campus and she’s always been a “mover and shaker.” For more than 22 years, she’s been at the helm of Stony Brook University’s Career Center, helping students find their life callings, aiding alumni in their job searches, and pairing successful alumni with new hires — all the while continuing to take on new challenges and pushing the higher education system forward to ensure professional development is taken seriously. She’s also author of A Good Job: Campus Employment as a High-Impact Practice, which was published in 2018.

But, that’s not all. Savoca — associate vice president for Career Readiness and Experiential Education — is also the past president of the Society for Experiential Education (SEE), a nonprofit membership organization composed of educators, businesses and community leaders. She stepped into this role in September 2020, as higher education was learning how to effectively acclimate to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many would have balked at that challenge, Savoca did what she knows best, stepping up to the plate to make certain that leaders in higher education were doing all they could to learn from each other during this trying time.

SEE strives to cultivate educators who effectively use experiential education as an integral part of personal, professional, civic and global learning with a goal of supporting the professional development and leadership skills of educators to advance the vision of the society. While Savoca takes on this duty in her role at Stony Brook, she embodied this vision during her tenure as the president of SEE.

“Marianna is the type of person — and leader — whose empathetic heart can see you as a whole and spot your inner superpower immediately,” said Erica Privott, an alumni career coach from Thrive Scholars. “[She] takes accountability, asks tough questions and advocates for others, all while being vulnerable and modeling compassion and balance.”

And, as part of her initiative with SEE, Savoca was able to make several changes to help the program evolve. One of the major actions she took was dropping the word “national” from the organization’s name, allowing it to become a place to where educators from other countries could turn. “[We can] re-imagine ourselves as a truly global organization,” said Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, director, Office of Experiential Education, and clinical professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University.

Another push Savoca made was to further diversity, equity and inclusion amongst members of SEE, emphasizing that making these strides could — and would — bring strength and renewed energy to the organization.

“I could see wheels turning with members as she emphasized positively directed energy and the correlation of inclusiveness to strengthening the organizational culture that led to so much success,” explained Ron Kovach, AIAASC executive director.

While her initiatives may have been her lasting legacy at SEE, many of her counterparts and those she worked with at the organization have said that her leadership style is what she will be remembered for the most, describing her as “transformative,” “inspirational,” “enthusiastic,” and so much more. “I have been associated with the Society for [more than] 15 years and I consider Dr. Savoca to be one of the finest leaders the organization has ever had,” noted Kovach.

Adds Patrick M. Green, executive director, Center for Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship (CELTS), director, Engaged Learning University Requirement, and clinical assistant professor, School of Education, at Loyola University Chicago: “Dr. Savoca sits at the intersection of activator, strategic thinker, and visionary leader. I have learned so much from working with her collaboratively and observing her leadership abilities in action.”

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