Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Mary Kokinda

defaultName: Mary Kokinda

Education:  BA (English & Film Studies), University of Rochester; MA (Inclusive Education), Warner School of Education

Current city/state of residence: Brighton, NY

Job Title: Teacher

Employer: Pittsford Schools, NY

Community activities:  Foster Parent, Horizons at Warner School Teacher in summer, connected with Buffalo Pugs & Small Breed Rescue Group


When and how did you choose your major?

I began thinking that I would be a math major, eventually turned math teacher, but I had always been an avid reader and enjoyed writing so taking more English courses was a natural inclination.  Along the way I discovered Professor Johnson who taught an English/Film course.  His personality and lectures captivated me.  In my junior year I finally declared my double major in English and Film Studies on paper!  Additionally, my uncle, who is a Creative Director in Advertising in NYC, advised me to get a broad education like an English degree because it could be applied to so much and gave you rich background knowledge.  I also knew it was an important choice in case I ever decided to become a teacher.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I remember telling everyone that my plan was not to have a plan because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.  I had a close friend who had moved to NYC so I moved in with her and four other people in a studio apartment in Manhattan.  (None of us were ever home so sharing a small space wasn’t as bad as it sounds!)  I was able to work as an assistant to my uncle for a while and was quickly schooled in the minutia of working in a major city – I needed a new wardrobe and a new confidence!  When one of my many roommates, a younger girl, left to return to college in the fall, I responded to a voicemail that had been left for her on the message machine (this was pre-cell phone world) from the production office for a feature film.  The girl had been a production assistant (PA) on Sex and the City, which had wrapped, but they called her to interview for the feature film they were about to begin shooting.  I called back explaining that I had on-set experience (I had just watched my uncle’s crew film commercials for three days) and that I was available.  The next day I was hired.  After a fantastic experience working as an Office Production Assistant for the movie The Family Man (with Nicholas Cage) I returned to Rochester, my hometown, having realized that living in the city was not for me, but totally satisfied that I tried that path. In fact, the movie itself seemed to echo my life, as it’s essentially the story of a man who realizes that less can be more and that money or fame is not the same as success.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

As I sat on film and commercial sets I was always drawn to the children.  In fact, I’d been working off and on as a nanny all throughout high school and college.  After living in NYC I tried living in LA to see if the more residential, suburban atmosphere would be the right setting for me as I continued to work in the film industry.  My connections were all mid-project and I ended up being a nanny for the actor Thomas Gibson who was starring in the tv show Dharma & Greg at the time.   Deep in my heart I knew that I would eventually work with kids and again I returned to my hometown of Rochester.  I absolutely love being a teacher however I am so glad that I took the risks I did right after college and had experiences in the other world, film, that captured my attention.  It has made me a better teacher for sure.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Knowing how to write well and communicate my thinking has been the most useful skill that I honed in my college experience.  My professors were demanding and I was even scared of their high expectations but it brought out the best in me.

How do you stay connected with the University?

I have continued to take course work at the Warner School.  I also work at Horizons at Warner.  And I love getting Rochester Review in the mail!

What advice do you have for current students?

I was always able to approach any of my UR professors for support or advice.  I’m not a very social person so each interaction with professors was anxiety-provoking for me, however it was worth it every time.  The professors love what they do and they care.  They were always willing to help me since I was willing to make the effort to be open with them.  I encourage all college students to reach out to their professors and connect with them.

Rochester Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Staff Members Honored

Univ. Communications – Two members of the University of Rochester’s Fraternity and Sorority Affairs (FSA) unit within the Office of the Dean of Students were honored during the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) annual meeting in St. Louis, Mo., last month. The AFA is a professional organization for individuals concerned with the advisement of fraternities and sororities.

John DiSarro, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at Rochester, was awarded the 2011 Essentials Award for an article he wrote for AFA’s monthly e-newsletter, Essentials. DiSarro’s article, titled Using Restorative Circles to Resolve a Fraternal Crisis, was included in the June 2011 issue and explored the lessons learned from incorporating alternative dispute resolution processes in FSA’s judicial procedures. The Essentials Award recognizes authors who have written thought-provoking pieces that present relevant and practical ideas to AFA members. DiSarro’s article was selected from a pool of more than 50.

DiSarro, a native of Bethlehem, Pa., joined Fraternity and Sorority Affairs in 2007 as a graduate assistant while he pursued a master’s degree in education leadership and higher education student affairs from the University’s Warner School of Education. DiSarro, who is a member of Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, graduated summa cum laude from the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Tara Leigh Sands, the Expectations for Excellence graduate assistant in FSA, received the AFA’s Marlin Bradley Ally Scholarship, which covered the registration costs associated with attending the conference.

Sands, a native of New Jersey, joined FSA in 2008 after completing a degree at Western Carolina University. At Western Carolina, she served as a Greek Assistant Resident Director, supervising and training a team of student house managers and managing the Greek Village Budget. She also was a graduate advisor for the College Panhellenic Council, where she coordinated formal recruitment efforts and served on the Greek Life Advisory Committee. Sands, who joined Gamma Phi Beta sorority as an alumnae initiate in fall 2009, is currently pursuing a degree from the Warner School.

Additionally, Monica Miranda Smalls, director of FSA at Rochester and AFA’s outgoing president, ended her term by presenting the inaugural Monica L. Miranda Smalls Scholarship. Similar to the Marlin Bradley Ally Scholarship, this award is given to a young professional or graduate student and offsets the cost of attending the organization’s annual conference. It is the first scholarship created that gives preference to members of culturally-based fraternities and sororities in an effort to increase access for underrepresented members of AFA.

Smalls, who was inducted as AFA’s president in 2010, is a member of two other professional organizations, the NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). She has been actively involved with her sorority, Omega Phi Beta, for 18 years and served as the inaugural chair of the Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2009. Smalls also is enrolled in the educational leadership program at the Warner School of Education.

Founded in 1976, the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors provides support and professional development for its 1,700 members by fostering partnerships across higher education and offering innovative resources and services to those involved in advising fraternities and sororities.

Article written by Melissa Greco Lopes, editor of The Buzz and student life publicist in University Communications. Photos courtesy of Monica Miranda Smalls, Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.