A good teacher can change the way a student looks at a subject; an excellent teacher can change the way a student looks at the world. This year, we asked Touro’s graduating students a simple question: During their time at Touro, who inspired them? Who served as their mentor? Which faculty member had the greatest impact? We collated the hundreds of responses and seven faculty members rose to the top. Our students chose these seven outstanding faculty members as the recipients of Touro’s Students’ Choice.

Annecy Baez


“She is someone I admire,” said Stephanie Plascencia. “She accomplished so much—she’s a great example for young women and has given so many students great advice about how to be better social workers. She goes the extra mile, even outside the classroom. She is so passionate about helping people, you can see it."

- Stephanie Plascencia

Dr. Baez’s social work career began very early. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, her family moved to the Bronx when Dr. Baez was very young. She lived in an apartment building where many of her neighbors were Holocaust survivors.

“I noticed they had tattooed numbers on their arms,” recalled Dr. Baez.

She spent time with the survivors, many of whom lost all their relatives in the Holocaust.

“I can’t explain to you the impact that it had on me as a child,” she said. “I couldn’t believe humans could treat each other that way. It formed my desire for a world that was more just. They were my foundation.”

In high school, Dr. Baez studied Jewish literature and found particular resonance in Night by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of Anne Frank. “At that age," she said, "you’re just a sponge for literature that can help you form who you become.”

After high school, Dr. Baez attended Pace University, where she earned a bachelor’s in psychology. She worked at the Bronx State Psychiatric Hospital and later at the Little Flower Children Services, a foster care agency, before pursuing a master’s at Hunter College School of Social Work (the Silberman School of Social Work). After graduation, her social work career began at the Jewish Board of Family and Children Services, where she provided clinical services to children and their families. Dr. Baez's insatiable appetite for learning continued at the New York University (NYU) School of Social Work, where she earned her doctoral degree in clinical social work.

Dr. Baez's career has been a testament to both her abilities and her commitment to social work. As a clinical social worker, Dr. Baez provided individual, family and group psychotherapy at such agencies as the Madeleine Borg clinic of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in the Bronx and the Hispanic Clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and Western Queens Consultation Center. She was the Director of the Diagnostic Center at Julia Dyckman Andrus Memorial, a diagnostic residential trauma center for young children in foster care, where she provided developmental therapy to children with a history of childhood abuse.

Dr. Baez has also worked clinically and administratively at the City University of New York (CUNY), serving as Director of the Counseling Center at Lehman College, as well as Associate Dean of Student Support Services and Interim Director of Psychological Services at Bronx Community College. Feeling that her extensive clinical and administrative experience could be better utilized as a faculty member, she joined Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work in 2014.

“We’re teaching our students to be social workers who embody the values and ethics of our profession,” said Dr. Baez. “I love that Touro’s mission—serving the underserved—is similar to the mission of social work.”

She credited her social work training for her success as a teacher.

“Social justice is more than attending a protest or signing a petition."


“I’m here to serve others,” Dr. Baez said. “My values are everything. The values and ethics of my profession are a part of who I am. I treat my students in a way that they will then treat others—with love, compassion and respect.”

“Social justice is more than attending a protest or signing a petition," concluded Dr. Baez. "Social justice is created in everything we do.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Baez’s choice: an empty hand made of wood from India. “It was a gift from a student of mine Eglys Santos,” said Dr. Baez. “It represents my life philosophy. We are always empty-handed. We can’t hold on to things too tightly. The world is always changing.”


Baez is also a poet and writer whose writings have appeared in periodicals and anthologies. Her first book, My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories, won the 2007 Miguel Mármol Prize, which is awarded to a first book-length work of fiction in English by a Latino writer who demonstrates respect for understanding among cultures and furthers an understanding for civil liberties and human rights.

She has contributed short stories and poetry to anthologies and periodicals, including the anthologies Vinyl Donuts, National Book Foundation; Tertuliando/Hanging Out, Hunter Caribbean Studies and Latinarte; and Riverine: Anthology of Hudson Valley Writers, edited by Laurence Carr, Codhill Press; periodicals include Tacones Rojos for Caudal, Brujula/Compass (Latin American Writer’s Institute, NY), and John Hopkins University’s Callaloo.

Rabbi Abraham Goldstein, M.A.

Adjunct Instructor, Psychology

New York School of Career and Applied Studies

Abraham Goldstein


"Professor Goldstein played an integral part in my academic development," said Lubin Richards. "Each time our class met, Professor Goldstein delivered a high-quality lecture. His desire to teach and motivate is what kept me engaged in school. He is a dynamic educator and incorporates an array of approaches in his teaching style—from PowerPoint presentations to surveys to team projects—all to ensure that his students emerge with a solid understanding of the major theories of psychology."

- Lubin Richards

“Psychology is like this magical tree that has branches connected to everything. You just have to know what to do with it,” so says New York School of Career and Applied Studies (NYSCAS) professor Abraham Goldstein.

And true to his word, Goldstein, who began lecturing in 2012, teaches a myriad of courses in the psychology field. Part of his eclectic course load stems from the eclectic life the professor has led.

Goldstein traces his interest in teaching to a lone incident. At the age of seven, he was diagnosed with a severe life-threatening case of asthma and sent, by himself, to The Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children, a research hospital and convalescent home, in Colorado. “I made myself a promise,” Goldstein recalled. “If I got out of this in one piece I’d spend the rest of my life helping people.”

He did, and returned home two years later. He attended Torah Vodaath Seminary, a private high school and rabbinic seminary, before studying at Brooklyn College. He began his graduate work at Long Island University.

“I couldn’t decide between studying education and psychology,” Goldstein remembered. “William James said, ‘If you can leave this world a better place, you’ve done a lot.’ I felt I could do more with psychology.”

In the midst of his studies, he heard about a rare opportunity: a fragile Orthodox community in Virginia needed a rabbinic leader. Goldstein, an ordained Orthodox rabbi, and his wife, moved to Virginia in 1973.

“We were the only Orthodox synagogue in 150 miles in each direction,” said Goldstein. “It was very exciting. As a community leader in a small town we had a much larger role. We worked with local churches and mosques. It was a really beautiful experience.”

When his father-in-law became sick, Goldstein and his family returned to New York. Answering an ad in The Jewish Press, Goldstein became the principal of a large Jewish school catering to the recent emigre Russian population. On the side, Goldstein’s private counseling practice flourished.

In 2012, a friend teaching at NYSCAS became ill and Goldstein took over the class for her. As soon as the semester ended, Dr. Gerald David, then the acting chair of the psychology department at NYSCAS, saw Goldstein’s natural teaching aptitude and offered him a course load. Since then, Goldstein has been recruited to teach at Lander College of Arts and Sciences and Machon L’Parnassa.

“You have to be genuinely interested in your students, and at the same time, you have to be able to monitor and evaluate their progress,” Goldstein said. “Expectations can’t exceed reality. You have to understand your students like parents understand their children.”

He said he is most proud of how his teaching style is constantly evolving and improving.

“My students have become my teachers. If I was a good listener before I became a professor, I’m an excellent listener now.”


“I encourage feedback,” emphasized Goldstein. “Successful professors shouldn’t be intimidated by feedback, even if it’s critical. I've learned so much from my students; as a teacher in the 21st century, we must adapt. My students have become my teachers. If I was a good listener before I became a professor, I’m an excellent listener now.”

The promise he made to himself still stands true.

“You need to show the person coming to you that you’re working towards a common goal, above and beyond what they expect.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Goldstein’s choice: a lighthouse. “A lighthouse is a beacon of light during stormy weather,” said Goldstein. “Metaphorically, a lighthouse is a light that inspires someone during challenging times. I believe that a lighthouse is an apt symbol for the teaching profession.

“Like a lighthouse, professors illuminate the world for their students. Just as the lighthouse constantly shines, so too a professor must always be there for his or her students, shining a light for them as they make their way.”


Professor Goldstein has met two presidents. He met President Eisenhower when the president visited The Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children in Colorado and President Reagan when Goldstein’s work with Russian children was nationally recognized in 1982.


Robert Frost. Professor Goldstein’s favorite poems are The Road Not Taken and Miles to Go Before I Sleep.


Dr. Goldstein said it’s a toss-up between these two: “If you can change your mind, you can change your life,” by William James and, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened,” by Mark Twain.

Steven Luel, M.S., Ed.D.

Associate Professor, Education and Psychology


Steven Luel


“He is incredible,” said LCW graduate Elana Fisher who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work. “He knows so much and it's such an educational experience. He’s very passionate about what he teaches. Dr. Luel is also very personable and always makes time to meet with students.”

- Elana Fisher

“Dr. Luel’s class was the best class I took in all my years at LCW,” enthused Debra Zinn, currently a student in Touro’s Speech-Language Pathology graduate program. “He was so knowledgeable about the material and while some parts were complicated, Dr. Luel managed to make it totally understandable. Every question was welcome in his class. He’s a true expert in his field.”

- Debra Zinn

Growing up, LCW professor Steven Luel realized his parents were different.

“My parents were Holocaust survivors,” Dr. Luel explained. “My father was in Auschwitz and my mother was in Theresienstadt. After the war they were in the same displacement camp and they met while waiting for new shoes.”

“They suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” continued Dr. Luel. “My father had recurring nightmares and bouts of anxiety and depression. Even though they rebuilt their lives and succeeded professionally, it was obvious to me that they were in enormous pain.”

His parents’ experiences during the war helped shaped his career. In college, he read Elie Wiesel’s Night and Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

“Those helped me understand the impact the Holocaust had on my parents and the impact my parents had on me,” explained Dr. Luel. He spent his junior year abroad in Israel and visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, regularly. “I learned more and more about what happened,” he said. “It was overwhelming and unfathomable.”

After finishing NYU with a major in psychology, Dr. Luel earned a master’s degree in education and special education. He taught English in a yeshiva while he pursued an interdisciplinary doctorate in psychology and education at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“I was fascinated by trauma and understanding how trauma affects people.”


“I was fascinated by trauma and understanding how trauma affects people,” said Dr. Luel. His studies were also a way towards understanding himself. “I started treating patients with phobias and anxiety. It helped me understand my parents and myself.”

While he maintained a busy private practice, he was offered a position as a Touro faculty member in 1981. Touro’s Jewish mission spoke to him.

“As a child of Holocaust survivors, helping the Jewish community flourish is especially meaningful,” he said. “When I look at my class—the faces of these young women who are prospering and striving to pursue their professional lives—I feel that it’s more than a professorship. It’s a calling to be part of a Jewish rebirth. When I told my parents about it they were overjoyed.”

Every other year, Dr. Luel teaches his Psychology of the Holocaust and Terrorism course. It’s one of LCW’s most popular courses and it fills up quickly. The class talks about the Holocaust and then segues into the nature of evil and human aggression. 

“All these students are aiming to become mental health professionals,” said Dr. Luel. “I want them to understand what they’re going to see in the mental health field. I want them to understand the nature of evil and violence. They will encounter it in differing degrees in their professional lives, especially if they deal with domestic violence, childhood abuse and criminality.”

Despite the serious subject matter, Dr. Luel lightens the mood with stories of his own childhood and the occasional humorous instances of his parents’ behavior: Like the time Dr. Luel was on a date and his father materialized by his car window with a banana and some extra money in case Dr. Luel got hungry or ran out of cash during the date. These dashes of personality help students humanize what is an unthinkable tragedy with millions of victims. The class ends on a positive note.

“I make sure to emphasize human resilience, especially focusing on the survivors and children of survivors—rebuilding their lives and the rebirth of the state of Israel,” concluded Dr. Luel. “The aim of the course is to talk about revival, not just survival, but revival. I want my students to be able to build resilience in their patients.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Luel’s choice: A sculpture of a mother and child by Henry Moore. “Most of my courses involve human attachment and the centrality of relationships and love,” he said. “This is the essence of what I teach and that’s why I chose something that captures the mother-and-child bond. It is emblematic of the love a person needs to be healthy. Trauma can start early—even in the womb. If you’re not given a warm and secure attachment as a baby—if you’re not talked to, cuddled or sung to—the odds are stacked against you. We see it in very young children, even infants and toddlers, and it’s even clearer later.”


Following 9/11 and in preparation for his Psychology of the Holocaust and Terrorism course, Dr. Luel became fascinated by the field of counter terrorism. He took several training courses for civilians with a leading Israeli counter-terrorism specialist. “For someone who used to be terrified of guns, I have extensive firearm training,” he said.


“Daniel Silva’s spy thrillers. The lead character is Gabriel Alon, the son of Holocaust survivors and a Mossad secret agent. He’s who I wanted to be when I was ten-years-old.”


“Professor Lukic’s passion ignited our passion,” said Christina Ortiz. “You want to do what she does. You want the same passion she has. I kept a lot of the material she created and I spoke with her over the summer afer I graduated. Professor Lukic taught us that there’s always a way to get kids to fall in love with books. Sometimes kids have a big fear of looking at words and it’s our job to invite them in so they know it’s not scary. I make sure my students have access to the library during their recess and, while it took a while, they love to read now. They’re excited about new books. If you’re a teacher who is able to show by example that books are fun—the way Professor Lukic showed us—it’s a remarkable thing.”

- Christina Ortiz

Mirjana Lukic

Professor Mirjana Lukic has a story she repeats to all her classes. As a young child who emigrated from the former Yugoslavia, she picked up English slowly. During one assignment as a second-grader in PS 8 in the Bronx, she finally felt comfortable writing in English. It was an “aha!” moment for her, she recalled, that moment when she realized she felt comfortable in her new language.

Her second-grade teacher was not impressed.

The teacher reprimanded her for her use of the word “gonna” and criticized her. Humiliated and devastated, Lukic returned to her desk.

“We can’t assume what children know,” said Lukic, who says that the experience eventually informed her perception of education. “We have to reflect on our teaching to make each child successful.”

Current students at PS 8 are unlikely to have a similar experience because their teacher is Lukic herself, who is celebrating almost 30 years teaching at the same school where she was a student years ago. After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School, Lukic enrolled in Lehman College and studied linguistics. She received her master’s in education from the College of New Rochelle with the intention of teaching English as a second-language. She became a teacher at PS 8 in 1989 and has remained there ever since.

“I recalled my own experience struggling to learn English and this motivated me to ensure that children have a better experience than I did,” said Lukic.

In her tenure, she has taught child refugees from war-torn countries, victims of ethnic persecution and those, like her own family, who fled to the United States for a better future. She has taught them all with the same grace and patience.

Eleven years ago, she received a call asking if she’d like to teach a class at Touro’s Graduate School of Education.

“I wanted to share the joy of teaching with teachers who are just starting their careers,” said Lukic. “That’s been a driving force for me.”

Lukic said that what she loves the most about Touro is the feedback she receives from her students, many of whom are working teachers.

“I love modeling and demonstrating for them,” said Lukic. “When a teacher comes back to class and says: ‘I tried this strategy and it worked,’ that’s an incredibly rewarding moment.”

Last year, she noticed a familiar face in one of the Touro classrooms: a student from Bangladesh whom she had taught at PS 8. The student remembered her.

“Each child has a special light and it’s our job to find the switch.”


Lukic said teachers today are faced with a wealth of opportunity to have an impact on their students.

“There’s more flexibility in teaching now,” she explained. “Every individual teacher has their own strength—I love the arts and literacy and creative arts—so for me sharing that with potential students is a wonderful thing. Teachers are able to express their talents with their students. We want children to find what piques their interest and concentrate on that.”

“Every child has a special light,” Lukic continued. “It’s our job to find the switch.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Lukic’s choice: A book. “Everyone has a story and I think when we use a story to motivate a student and the student finds a connection to it, the story never really ends. That student will tell the same story to someone else, and that person will continue telling the story. That’s why stories are so important to me.”


The Curious Garden. “The main character, Liam, stumbles upon a patch of greenery in an abandoned railway station. As the story continues and as Liam continues to work, the entire town becomes much greener. The book is about how your actions affect others.”


All of Professor Lukic’s students know of her love of gardening. Her favorite plants are the fifeen varieties of peonies that she grows in her garden. “My neighbor told me that it’s a shame that they bloom for such a short time. I think that’s what makes them so glorious.”

Steven Rovt


“I took several of his classes and two things strike me about my time with Professor Rovt,” explained marketing management major Sara Faigy Glucksman. “He was always interested in making sure we understood the practical implications of what we learned. Everything was about how what we learned works in real life. Professor Rovt believed that if we could apply what we learned we’d remember it.

The second thing that comes to mind when I think about Professor Rovt was how he was always there for us. You could call him or text him at nine o’clock at night and hear back from him in a few minutes.”

- Sara Faigy Glucksman

“Professor Rovt’s assignments helped me create a great portfolio,” said Rachel Thau, a product specialist at TOV furniture. “During interviews, when I was asked to show my portfolio I was confident with what I presented. Professor Rovt tells it like it is. Students talk about their professional issues and he gives very clear advice. He’s not going to stick to what the textbook answer is. His class gave me the skills that allowed me to succeed.”

- Rachel Thau

No matter what course Steven Rovt is teaching, be it principles of management, business ethics, or business policy, one thing remains the same.

“If I see students struggling, I’m going to get involved,” said Rovt, who will be celebrating his fifteenth year at the college later this year. “I treat my students the same way I want to be treated. If a student is having a problem I’ll either talk with him about it, or I’ll have an academic advisor speak with them. You can’t be hands off—that doesn’t lead to anything.”

Rovt attended Lander College of Arts and Sciences himself and graduated in 1996. He then attended Long Island University for a master’s degree in public administration. In his last semester, a light flicked on inside him.

“I had a sudden urge to start teaching,” he recalled.

A mutual friend of the dean of LAS heard about his interest and reached out to see if Rovt would teach a class. “It was love at first class,” laughed Rovt, noting that he had to push off the final examination of his degree to teach his first class.

“Something crystalized for me, I realized I could make a living teaching, but more importantly, I could make a real difference.”

Rovt became an adjunct professor at Touro in 2002 and became a full-time professor in 2004. Each semester he teaches between 3-5 classes along with several independent studies with students. He has held several prestigious jobs as administrators in schools and health care companies.

Part of the success of his teaching, Rovt explained, comes from the open and dynamic nature of his classroom.

“If I’m boring myself, then I’m boring my students.”


“I avoid one-way conversation,” Rovt said. “My feeling is that if I’m boring myself, then I’m definitely boring my students. I make class participation 10-20 percent of their grade. I love it when students argue with me; I debate with them. When you can show someone something they didn’t know, it’s the most amazing feeling.”

Rovt also encourages students to bring the issues they face at their jobs into the classroom. “I’m a supervisor at such and such and my boss is doing X or Y, what do you advise? This is real teaching. It’s not just helping but really making a difference in someone’s life.”

Rovt’s passion also extends outside the classroom and he’s been active nationally combatting anti-Semitism. When Rovt found out that cyber-giant Amazon was selling Nazi memorabilia, he complained to the company. After Amazon refused to take action, Rovt reached out to the media and was featured on Eyewitness News. Shortly after the controversy became publicized, the items disappeared from Amazon’s site.

Rovt’s favorite moments of the teaching experience often occur after classes, even years after graduation. “I had a student who recognized me at the gym,” recalled Rovt. “I taught him eight years ago and now he owns a multimillion dollar business. He told me I gave him the impetus to move forward. That’s what I want for my students: I want them to have a great job and to be successful. It feels like I contributed to their ability to put bread on the table.”

Touro is also a family affair for Rovt. His wife is a graduate of Touro’s Graduate School of Education and three of his daughters have studied in LAS. One is currently enrolled in Touro’s School of Health Sciences Industrial Organizational Psychology program.

“No matter how old I get, I always feel young because of the students around me,” stated Rovt. “I teach them and they teach me. It’s truly gratifying.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Rovt’s choice: a chameleon. “I think of myself as a bit of a chameleon—able to adapt to various circumstances. That’s also what I stress to my students: you must be able to adjust to different environments in order to succeed.”


Rovt is an avid guitar player who plays hard rock and the blues. He’s even uploaded videos of his playing to Youtube. He’s jammed with students on occasion.


Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People. “Many of my students are Orthodox Jews and they’re always enamored by the book. Some describe it as reading a mussar book.”


The easiest way to spot a bad manager is if they’re micromanaging, said Rovt. “If a boss is micromanaging his employees it shows how vulnerable and unsure of himself he is. If you’re a real leader, you delegate.”

James Vaccarino


Professor Vaccarino was a teacher, both inside the classroom and outside of it,” said Brandon Gregg. “He’s an excellent teacher and the guest speakers from his class were always fascinating. He’s a very inspiring and wise professor.”

- Brandon Gregg

James “Skip” Vaccarino has a teaching philosophy he borrowed from his 30-plus years in human resources.

“As a recruiter you’re engaging people to come in and look at the uniqueness of the company,” stated Vaccarino, a professor at Touro’s Graduate School of Business. “As a teacher you’re engaging students to come in and look at what is unique about the subject and the course.”

Vaccarino trained as an early childhood specialist, and his first love was teaching. He never thought he would work in HR, but when New York City had its major financial crisis in the '70s, his public-school teaching career was put on hold. Vaccarino, then newly married, took an interview at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company.

It was a fortuitous meeting for him. “This was in the seventies and this personnel manager rotated us throughout the company with stints in recruiting, employee relationships and benefits and compensation,” said Vaccarino. “The personnel manager was creating the idea of an HR generalist, long before it became common in HR departments.”

“I didn’t even go with a resume,” laughed Vaccarino. “I didn’t even know what a resume was. I felt—not to be spiritual—that a higher power was helping me out. After I became successful, I felt that I had a mission to train people to not have that terrifying experience while waiting for their first interview.”

For the next thirty years, Vaccarino had a successful career in human resources, including launching his own staffing company. He is currently Executive Vice President at Noor Associates where he is responsible for leading a team that recruits and staffs a diverse portfolio of global clients. Previously, he held senior positions at several recruitment firms and major Wall Street banks including Brown Brothers Harriman, Smith Barney and L.F. Rothchild, Unterberg & Towbin. In 1988, he worked with the Academy of Finance, under guru Sandy Weil of Citibank, to lead a team to support non-college bound high school students in operational roles for Wall Street.

“It was a perfect career for people who couldn’t afford college,” stated Vaccarino who traveled to different high schools across NYC to introduce students to the program.

At the age of 60, Vaccarino decided it was time to return to his first passion—teaching—and go back to school to get his master’s degree in education. While at Touro’s Graduate School of Education, the Graduate School of Business heard about his HR experience and offered him the opportunity to teach a course. He began teaching in 2012.

“Teaching at Touro is a dream come true.”


Vaccarino believes that part of his teaching success stems from how he teaches. He doesn’t believe in teaching in lessons.

“I conduct my classes as if my students were attending a staff meeting,” said Vaccarino. “I give my students an agenda and I encourage them to participate, advising them that in that setting they have a responsibility to let their future managers know that they were there. I model it after meetings they will have in the corporate world.”

Since beginning at GSB, Vaccarino also helped launch the school’s successful career resource center through his contacts.

“I had 150 trained, aggressive recruiters in my company,” he explained. “I provided them with a chance to pay back some of their success by helping our students. Our career resource center runs the gamut from interview training, resume writing to social media branding. We have a tremendous and strong commitment from my old firm.”

Vaccarino, who teaches capstone courses in the MS in Human Resource Management degree, said he’s inspired by his students.

“Most of my students work a full day and then go to class for three hours, usually after a two-hour commute,” he explained. “The fact that they show up and are engaged means a lot to me. Teaching at Touro is a dream come true.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Vaccarino’s choice: a pencil. “This pencil has been my trademark both professionally and in academia,” explained Vaccarino. “I often think of this quote from journalist Dustin Dwyer: ‘When employed by a skilled teacher, this simple technology of a pencil allows kids to tinker, try, fail and try again. It builds fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, critical thinking and creativity. Best of all, in a time of shrinking school funds, this technology is incredibly affordable!'”


Visitors to Vaccarino’s home office notice it’s filled with antique toys. Vaccarino collects them. His prized possession? An original Howdy Doody doll. Visitors to Vaccarino's work office will notice that, aside from his signature Giant Pencil and cups of #2 pencils, it is filled with jars of assorted retro candies for staff members and students.


“All of us are faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” Charles R. Swindoll

Keith Veltri


"He was nothing short of a mentor for the entire four years of pharmacy school,” said Amanda Harricharran, a member of TCOP’s class of 2017 who is currently doing her residency at Brookdale Hospital. “He has the ability to keep your attention to make sure you’re following what he’s talking about. If one student didn’t understand he would reiterate to make sure that person understood. Putting his teaching aside, he didn’t discriminate when it came to GPA or your status as a student, Dr. Veltri reached out to everyone."

- Amanda Harricharran

Students in Dr. Keith Veltri’s class on infectious diseases know they’re listening to an expert whose first-hand knowledge of the pharmacy world colors all his lectures. Dr. Veltri, one of the founding faculty members of TCOP, has spent the last twenty-two years as a practicing pharmacist in Montefiore Hospital in NYC. During the early nineties, he served a critical role on a multidisciplinary team of doctors and nurses working to combat HIV-related fatalities.

“While HIV wasn’t a death sentence at that point, there were very few drug regiments available and there were fatal complications,” Dr. Veltri recalled. “Infections were on the rise. Controlling the viral infections took a good amount of work. At the department meetings we talked about the patients who were at-risk of not taking their medication and developed strategies for them. We used different tools—pharmacy calendars, incentives—to entice them to come for the drug regiments. We gave them metrocards, for example. It was really fulfilling to see our patients recover from what was once a certain fatality.”

During his tenure, Dr. Veltri also witnessed the evolving role of a pharmacist from a medication provider to an active member of a hospital staff. “Pharmacists became responsible for identifying high-risk patients and vaccinating them for a variety of diseases on discharge,” said Dr. Veltri. Under his watch, the hospital moved from the 20th percentile in vaccination rates to the 100th.

Dr. Veltri joined the faculty of TCOP when the school began in 2008.

“We were a brand-new school and there was a lot of work to be done,” said Dr. Veltri. “Seeing all we accomplished since then inspires me and makes me want to continue.”

“This is the most fulfilling job that I’ve had in my professional career.”


“I’ve had many different careers in pharmacy and I think teaching—preparing the next generation of pharmacists—is the most fulfilling job I’ve had in my my professional career,” Dr. Veltri said.

Dr. Veltri believes that part of his success as a teacher stems from his interweaving of real-life examples in his lectures. His classes are never dry as Dr. Veltri is never short of a story that occurred on his daily rounds.

“If you bring in real-life examples into the lecture, students understand the rationale,” he explained. “The goal isn’t to memorize the material, but understanding the rationale of why and what you’re learning and how you apply it.”

The other thing that sets Dr. Veltri apart is his dedication to his students. Dr. Veltri’s students’ choice nominations overflowed with stories of students describing their close relationship with him. Several students mentioned Dr. Veltri’s habit of checking in on the study hall to see how students were doing throughout the day. Dr. Veltri said his close relationships with his students stems from his own experience as a pharmacy student.

“I was afraid to ask my professors questions,” recalled Dr. Veltri. “I was concerned about the responses. For my students, opening that level of communication is critical. Students should be comfortable asking faculty or preceptors questions without being belittled. I think treating students with respect is key.”

That perhaps is an understatement for the reserved professor. A moment later, he added, “Sometimes I feel like I’m a father figure and that my students are like my children.”


We asked each member of the faculty to choose an item that holds a special significance for them.

Dr. Veltri’s choice: a bridge, or rather a quote from the book, Living, Loving and Learning by Leo F. Buscaglia. “There is a reference to life's ultimate teachers,” said Dr. Veltri. “Buscaglia specifically recounts that ‘ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing encourages them to create bridges of their own.’ It may sound corny, but I’ve always felt it to be true.”


It is probably no surprise to his students that one of Dr. Veltri’s most-read and favorite books is the principles of pharmacotherapy book. “It’s one of the books that I’m usually reading,” Veltri said. “Pharmacy and medicine are broad professions. It’s impossible to know everything and that’s why you have to keep on learning.”


Boston. “I really fell in love with the city and its old-world charm. I’m an old soul at heart.”


Dr. Velri runs 2-3 miles a day four-days a week.

Touro is everywhere in New York, across the country, around the world.
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