Embracing the Call to Care

By Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D, Dean, Panuska College of Professional Studies at The University of Scranton

Dr. Debra Pellegrino


Dr. Debra Pellegrino

Being men and women for and with others is a tenet of Ignatian spirituality and is at the very core of a Catholic and Jesuit education at The University of Scranton. The Ignatian call to care for others is fully embraced across all disciplines of the Panuska College of Professional Studies – a college whose students embrace their vocation in the “helping professions.”

Students in a range of graduate professional programs – including occupational therapy (MS), physical therapy (DPT), nursing (MSN, DNP) education (MS), counseling, (MS), health administration (MS) and human resources (MS) – are united in their studies by a common desire to attend to the unique needs and circumstances of those whom they serve. Their work can be summed up by the Latin phrase cura personalis.

We must raise our Jesuit educational standard to ‘educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world.’ Solidarity is learned through ‘contact’ rather than ‘concepts.’ When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change.
— Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Former Superior General of the Society of Jesus

Programs offered through Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies have been designed with the conviction that all disciplines should be taught and understood through a balance of theory and practice. An exclusively theoretical understanding of a discipline is incomplete. Practice for which there is no understood context is of limited value. It is this belief that structures the Panuska College of Professional Studies pedagogy and curriculum. 

In addition, Scranton's mission with respect to service and social justice is particularly relevant for the Panuska College of Professional Studies. Three interrelated themes of Jesuit education – a focus on moral reflection, teaching for social justice, and the liberal treatment of subject matters – are embedded in our curriculum, as well as rigorous scholarship and service on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Our emphasis is on intellectual inquiry and clinical practice devoted to the lifelong development and improvement of our students, our faculty, our programs and the global community.

The Panuska College of Professional Studies upholds the highest academic standards in preparing undergraduate and graduate students for successful professional careers in allied health and education. All of our undergraduate and graduate programs maintain the highest national accreditations for each discipline.

The enhancement and extension of the Ignatian mission through service learning is a large part of the Panuska College of Professional Studies academic programs. These programs are committed to service learning through theory and practice and reflection through action. Students perform community service through coursework and projects as a requirement for graduation. In this way, the service aspects of their prospective careers can be understood in personal and comprehensive terms.

Service, combined with learning, adds value to each and transforms both.
— (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989)

The Leahy Community Health and Family Center, housed in Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies, is dedicated to the dual purpose of identifying and meeting the health and wellness needs of underserved individuals in the greater Scranton, PA community, while providing a place where faculty guide students in a practical educational experience.

Programs offered through the Leahy Center include a free medical clinic; physical therapy and counseling services offered by graduate students and faculty; the University of Success, a multi-year program for high school students designed to develop the skills needed to successfully gain entrance to college; the Peace Makers program, an after-school program for children aged 9 to 13 that explores the meaning, history and vision of peacemaking, also supported by graduate students and faculty; and the student-run Alice V. Leahy Food and Clothing Pantry.

The University’s new state-of-the-art Edward R. Leahy Jr. Hall, which is among the finest facilities of its type in the country, provides an even better forum for students in the “helping professions” to flourish in extraordinary ways. Interactive rehabilitation laboratories, flexible active-learning classrooms, and tele-health and low-vision research facilities will serve our community and beyond. The new home of the Panuska College of Professional Studies departments of physical therapy, occupational therapy and exercise science will enhance the development of advanced methods and techniques in the allied health care professions, by placing the best simulation environments, applied-science laboratories, equipment and technology directly in the hands of students and faculty.

In the memory of a child, who was set in the midst of us, we are dedicating this magnificent building, not for its brick and mortar, but as a new center for the physically disabled, the accident victim, someone who suffered a stoke, someone needing occupational therapy or counseling, who are poor and underserved, who can be helped by the students and professionals in the health sciences here at The University of Scranton.
— Edward Leahy ’68, H’01, Sept. 18, 2015, at Dedication of Edward R. Leahy Jr. Hall

Julie Ann Nastasi, O.T.D., occupational therapy faculty specialist, said Leahy Hall’s streetscape for rehabilitation education, with an apartment, street corner, garage, car and grocery store, is an invaluable training tool. The facility also incorporates cameras to record student practice sessions. “Watching the recording is better than strictly verbal feedback for students. It integrates learning. Students see, do and reflect,” said Dr. Nastasi.

Students studying with Paul T. Cutrufello, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise science and sport, use metabolic carts, equipped with a computer system, monitor and breathing tubes, to observe exhaled gases, heart rate and oxygen saturation in real times as a person exercises on a treadmill. “Students learn by hearing, seeing and doing - but doing is best,” said Dr. Cutrufello.

Shannon Gilman, a 2014 graduate of The University of Scranton and current student in the University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, expressed best the fruition of the Jesuit ideals we strive to instill in our students. “We are at the precipice of embracing our call to care,” she said in her remarks at the dedication ceremony of Leahy Hall. “I cannot thank Scranton enough for helping me cultivate my innermost gift of helping others.”

I too couldn’t me more grateful for talented students embracing the call to care.