When Robin Bernstein thinks back to her entire education, the first name that comes to mind is Edward Alessi. She is reminded not only of his commitment to teaching, but also of the passion and sense of humor he brought to his classes. Bernstein is not the only one who regards Alessi as their favorite.
Alessi, assistant professor at Rutgers University School of Social Work, has been awarded “Professor of the Year” through students’ votes, not once but three times in academic years 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15.
“It couldn't have been a better experience with Professor Alessi,” Bernstein recalls. “His enthusiasm, his passion, his empathy, his interest in our learning and his sense of humor was a motivation toward completing what we had begun.”
Alessi teaches Clinical Social Work I, Clinical Social Work II, Psychopathology, and LGBT Issues. He points out that in any field of social work, the challenge is to work with students from different backgrounds and experiences.
“One challenge common to social work education is that students come from different backgrounds, ages, different stages of life. Some have more clinical experience, and some are just starting out,” he said. “But teaching is about creating an atmosphere where everyone can learn and is also about making sure it’s not too basic and it’s not too difficult and really about finding that balance.”
Another aspect that Alessi brings to his teaching is real-time research and clinical experience. As a researcher with 14 years of clinical practice experience, Alessi said that students appreciate his ability to bridge research and practice. Alessi’s research in clinical practice and LGBT issues helps to provide students with case examples that are relevant to contemporary social work practice as well as counseling and psychotherapy.
“Students are craving real stories from practitioners who have things that they are aiming to do, so that gives you the opportunity to be a role model,” he said.
Bernstein, who took Alessi’s Clinical Social Work I course in fall 2012, said Alessi also uses multiple mediums to teach his students. From online media, to role plays to presentations, while at the same time realizing the importance of traditional lectures.
Being students’ favorite professor does not necessarily make Alessi an easy professor, he said. Initially students might think of Alessi as a demanding professor and not the easiest grader, but he said as the course progresses, students begin to appreciate his teaching style since he challenges them to think out of the box.
Alessi said he owes his victories to his students, and shares the award with them.
“Students challenge me to consider different theories and approaches and help me think how to practice them effectively,” he said. “Students are the ones that really inspire me to be present in the classroom.”
At the same time, Bernstein, who still remains in touch with Alessi, is grateful to him for the way he influences his students.
“Professor Alessi’s arms reached even further than he will ever know,” she said. “The impact he has on every student leaves a lasting impression.”