interview

Author Interview Series-Marijo Russell O’Grady

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Marijo Russell O’Grady hails from Western New York, Chautauqua County. She received her Bachelor of Science (1983) and Master of Science (1985) from Buffalo State College in Art Education with a Concentration in Art Therapy. She worked in residential life during her undergraduate and graduate tenure at Buffalo State College. Marijo worked at North Adams State College, now known as Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, as a Residence Director, then moved to Rivier College in Nashua, N.H.as the Director of Student Activities/Assistant Director of Residents. She moved to NYC in 1989 and began a Ph.D. program in Higher Education Administration at New York University, while working full time in Housing and Residential Life, as the Coordinator of Residential Student Development. Her dissertation was centered around racial identity theory and first year African American students at a predominantly White institutions and completed her doctorate in 1999.

Marijo has served as the Associate Vice President/Dean for Students at the New York City campus of Pace University, in New York City since June 1998. She oversees the areas of Student Development and Campus Activities, Housing and Residential Life, Counseling Services including accessibility and wellness, Multicultural Affairs, LGBTQA & Social Justice, Sexual Assault Education and Prevention, Judicial and Compliance, Summer Conferences, and OASIS, a college support program for students on the autism spectrum. In addition, she serves on their Scientific Review board for external researchers related to health and wellness the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR) for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She also serves on the NASPA Region II Advisory Board and is the NYC Metropolitan representative and former chair of the Graduate and New Professionals committee and Careers in Student Affairs. She assists with the Downtown Little League’s Challenger team, assisting children with special needs, playing ball. In the past, she served on the Board of Directors and Secretary for the Downtown Little League and had served on the School Leadership Teams for PS 234 and PS 126 in lower Manhattan. Additionally, she is a member of the Liberty Community Gardens. Lastly, she is the principal owner of www.innovativecollegesolutions.com.

In 2012, she was recipient of the “Top 100 Irish Educators” award by the Irish Voice. She was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2016 (the Noble prize for community service). She is married to an Art Professor and has a 19 year old son. They reside in lower Manhattan.

Marina Raydun: Having started in 1998, you were already the Associate Vice President and Dean for Students at Pace University (located in downtown Manhattan) during 9/11. It was a terrifying time for everyone. How did that experience move you to co-author Crisis, Compassion, and Resiliency in Student Affairs: Using Triage Practices to Foster Well-Being?

Marijo Russel O’Grady: I began my role in 1998 as the Dean for Students at Pace University’s NYC campus (and later was promoted). 9/11 was a terrifying experience in general, coupling that as a resident of downtown with a 2 year old, and as a leader at the closest university to WTC. This experience has had a long lasting impact on me and my family and my university. The idea for the book was something I had long considered, given, I often felt my life was triage. Katie Treadwell, my co-author was in her doctoral program and asked to interview me about my 9/11 experience. She was writing her dissertation about leaders in higher education and their crisis response and experiences. I told her the first day I met her that we should write this book. It was something we both felt we needed to do and were committed to assisting leaders on this topic.

MR: What did the process of co-writing this book look like? Did you collaborate, read each other’s chapters?

MRO: Katie and I mapped out the chapters and what we thought was the best direction and content for the book. We knew the chapters we each wanted to write and the message we wanted to convey. We then reached out to colleagues in the field to write other chapters. We collaborated on our chapters and edited one another’s writing. We did the same with the other chapters, continuing to edit to the final manuscript. We had originally thought we would look for publishers, and then felt we should first propose the book to our professional organization, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and we were accepted. NASPA staff also did the final editing, collaborating with Kate and I.

MR: How did publishing this book change your writing process?

MRO: In terms of my writing process, I really started with writing from my heart to tell my story and to provide best practices on crisis management (I have handled many crises throughout my career, but 9/11 was the most daunting). I then continued to refine my writing and gained valuable experience in terms of editing other’s work. I am not always the best writer, since I am used to writing memos (LOL), but am very proud of this book.

MR: You work with teenagers and young adults. Do you ever get book recommendations from them? What is your favorite genre to read?

MRO: I love working with young adults and sometimes do get book recommendations from my students. Most often, I am advising them on some great reads. I love to read, period. Summer is my reading time, but I read throughout the year. I have no favorite genre---love cooking, love psychology, love fiction, culture, race and ethnicity, mysteries, leadership and change management, etc.

MR: Is there a book that changed your life?

MRO: I loved Care of the Soul by Thomas More; Song Yet Sung by James McBride; The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haid; The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax, Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, to name a few.

MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?

MRO: Anything written by James McBride, and actually, searching and reading aboutmy genealogy. On my dad’s side, we were Russell, Stetson, Buss and Babcock—prominent historical family names.

MR: Are there any books you have read over and over again?

MRO: My own!! HAHA. Song Yet Sung over and over and over! Reframing Organizations by Bolman and Deal!!! Also Lost Horizon and Moveable Feast

MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?

MRO: Growing up in a very small rural western NY town with three sisters, a very protestant father and very Catholic mother, we did not read anything racy. Also, being from a small town, where your great aunt was the librarian and all the neighbors in the town knew every move you make….there was not any opportunity! LOL

MR: You have probably seen it all over the course of your career in the field of student development and student affairs. Have you ever considered writing a novel inspired by some of the many characters you may have come across (yours truly, perhaps…)?

MRO: I have often thought about it, but want to protect the privacy of my students. However, I have some great, unbelievable stories to tell! In addition, I do remember you, Marina, as a student here at Pace!

MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be?

MRO: Probably, JFK, since he was such an inspiring and courageous leader, joining at the table I would love Barack Obama to join us (they in my mind, help to unite our country). I also would love to sit again with my grandmother (Elgie Babcock Russell) and hear more about her childhood……. She always believed she was a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) and was frustrated she could not prove it… I did. She was an amazing, generous, warm and caring person with a great deal of spunk!

Learn more about Dr. Marijo Russel O’Grady’s book here:

https://www.naspa.org/publications/books/crisis-compassion-and-resiliency

Buy the book here:

shorturl.at/eEOV3

Author Interview Series-Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Just before college, Ray won first place in the National Pen Women Competition for his fictional short story, Distinction, as well as winning second place in the New York Best of City - The Written Word. While attending college, Ray Melnik's course on existential literature opened a whole new world for him. He pursued a musical career as a singer and lyricist, after leaving college. In the early 1980s he was the lead singer for One Hand Clap and then Fine Malibus, with Steve Stevens, current guitarist and song writer for Billy Idol. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ray was engineer and co-owner of MANNIK Productions, a recording studio in the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York. In addition to lyrics, Ray, wrote a monthly column about pro audio for a music trade magazine, American Liverpool. Later moving into the field of technology as a network engineer and then architect, he wrote for the technology panel of a regional newspaper, Times Herald Record, and was the primary writer of articles based on home technology for the website New Technology Home.

Ray currently works as a Senior Network Architect in New York City, New York and is a resident of Staten Island, New York. His first novel, The Room, published in September 2007, is a story grounded in reason. His second novel, To Your Own Self Be True, the sequel, follows with the same intention. Burnished Bridge published March 2010 is Ray Melnik's first novella, and is a love story written on a canvass of fictional science. A series ending novel, Eyes In This World was published in September 2013. A novella, Ghost In The Park,was published in April 2016.

 

Marina Raydun:     What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

Ray Melnik: I write science fiction, and given I’m an over the top skeptic, I take pains to make sure the events portrayed in my stories are realistic enough for the reader to suspend disbelief. For example, in my novel, To Your Own Self Be True, there is a scientific device at the center of the story. In describing some of the functions, it talks of harmonics and I made sure to use frequencies accurately matching notes on a piano. In another scene, frequencies traverse a field, so I looked up the humidity levels for that particular day in the area the novel takes place knowing that humidity has a small but measurable effect on sound speed. So, I would say it’s the extra research tangents taken to make sure the details described seem believable.

MR: What literary character is most like you?

RM: I would have to say that I have always related to Meursault, the protagonist in the novel, The Stanger, by Albert Camus. Not that I relate to his obvious detachment from others but to the way he perceives reality and sees the absurd in life. If I reference my own characters, the protagonist in my first novel, The Room, is modeled after my own beliefs and thoughts exactly. Doing so in my first story was an experience that made me feel incredibly exposed, but it was therapy at the same time as I was getting over a failed marriage.

MR: What book do you wish you had written?

RM: That would be, Contact, by Carl Sagan. It embodies everything I feel about the wonders of the cosmos. It is a wonderful story about science, the vastness of space, religion versus reason and a climax that makes you feel we are not alone in the universe.

MR: What is your biggest failure?

RM: Nothing to me is that permanent that it can’t be overcome, but that said, I would probably settle on my first marriage. Even then I would not have changed a thing since my children mean everything to me. Failures are temporary and we are human. Like Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

MR:  Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

RM: Just self-imposed. I purposely won’t read fiction when I am in the process of writing fiction. With all the moments between writing the passages in the chapters and keeping foreshadowing straight, it is difficult to read other fiction because it breaks my concentration.

MR:    What is your favorite genre to read?

RM: I enjoy fictional novels, but there is no question that my favorite books to read are about the sciences. I love them all, but my very favorite subjects are astrophysics and quantum physics. Not only because they fuel the ideas for my fictional stories but because they are two subjects that are beginning to reveal the true nature of reality, and perhaps the only two that really can. We are living in a golden age of both fields of study, and if people would open their eyes to what was discovered it might just give us the humility we so desperately lack. I believe it was Richard Dawkins who said that when it comes to life, there is no question why; only how. The how we are discovering. The why is up to us.

MR:    What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

RM: When I published my first novel I was taken aback by a few people who seemed to go out of their way to be mean. You pour your heart into the story and in the process, you expose yourself. But then someone writes a review that says they were so engrossed that they missed their subway stop, or that the story made them think long after they finished. My favorite good review called my first book, post existential; existentialism with hope.

MR:  If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

RM: That would be, Carl Sagan. I have read every book he has ever written, at least twice. He died almost 21 years ago now, and the world is sorely in need of another person like him. His grasp of reality and the things that are important were second to none. What an interesting conversation that would be over drinks, although it had been rumored he preferred cannabis.

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

RM: For short trips, just the task at hand with music, of course. On long drives, such as every few weeks to upstate New York, I think of possible essays. Sometimes they are put to paper, but many times just stored away.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

RM: Writing is a side passion that I’m grateful I can pursue given a demanding career in tech. I have purposefully kept royalties at the lowest possible level in the hope that the price point would entice readers to give my stories a read. My goal many times is to introduce readers to characters of reason, not well represented in literature. It has attracted its share of religious backlash, but others have written to me to say it made them think differently than they had before. That’s success to me.

To learn more about Ray Melnik and his novels, please visit:

Website: http://emergentnovels.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorRayMelnik/