Every semester at the College of Staten Island, the Center for the Arts is abuzz with music, drama, and dance performances. None of this would be possible without the tireless efforts of Jennifer Straniere, Director of Facilities for the Department of Performing and Creative Arts.
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Straniere, who is used to having a chaotic schedule, explains, “I have the opportunity to work with the faculty and students of the Drama, Music, and Dance programs. I supervise all areas of production for the department; this includes our faculty-directed shows, student-directed projects, student music recitals, faculty music recitals, dance recitals, and even our annual Kwanzaa celebration. My semesters are very busy with costumes, sets, props, makeup, lighting, and taking care of pianos.”
Richmond College Days
Straniere received two degrees from CSI’s predecessor Richmond College, a BA in History/Political Science with a minor in Secondary Education 1973 and an MS in Secondary Education/Social Studies in 1975. She also worked at Richmond College while pursuing her degrees. Her initial career path was education. “I worked in the Education Department at Richmond College beginning June 1973,” Straniere recalls. “While working in the department I served as assistant to the Dean of Teacher Education and as liaison to the Registrar’s office. I taught as an adjunct in the Education Department and supervised student teachers at PS 18, JHS 2, and IS 61.” However, Straniere left Richmond College following the merger of that institution with Staten Island Community College.
On to the Arts, and Back to CSI
After she left Richmond College, Straniere’s career plans took a turn toward the theater world, but still resided comfortably within the realm of education. “After leaving [Richmond College] I started working in professional theater and became a union stage manager. I then moved to the Board of Education and began working in the public schools, both as a teacher and a working artist through Project Arts,” she explains.
Eventually, Straniere returned to CSI as a production manager/stage manager in the Williamson Theatre at the Sunnyside Campus and when the Center for the Arts opened on the Willowbrook Campus, she continued to work for the College in that capacity. Then, in the fall 2003 semester, she was hired in her current role.
The Ups and Downs of a Full Professional Life
As one would expect, being in a position of such immense responsibility has its share of benefits and challenges. On the plus side, Straniere notes that “I find that working with the students has been the most rewarding part of my job. It is very important to me that the students are proud of their productions and recitals. I try to do whatever is necessary to ensure that they make the best presentation possible and do not have to worry about the technical aspects of their projects. It is also my job to promote the activities of the Department of Performing and Creative Arts. It is wonderful to see our productions and recitals covered in the Staten Island Advance and a full audience in the theater at every performance. Being a member of the College community,” she continues, “also gives me the opportunity to work on other projects on campus such as the Fall Festival and the Celestial Ball.” Both events were a success, undoubtedly because of the expert guidance and planning offered by Straniere as a member of the committees that organized those events.
As far as challenges are concerned, her chief enemy is the clock. “I think finding the time to get everything done is the biggest challenge. I juggle three different programs, which involve many faculty members and students, and there are times when projects overlap. It is my job to make sure everything is done and that it all runs smoothly.”
Woman of the Year
Straniere’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. Recently, she received Woman of Achievement honors from the Staten Island Advance. “The Advance began this award in 1962 and every year since they have recognized a new group of women who are involved in service to the community,” Straniere explains. “I was really surprised by the nomination, especially when I learned how many different people submitted my name to the Advance. I think I am typical of the women who have received this recognition in that we all are doing things we enjoy doing, which really benefit others. It is not something anyone ‘campaigns’ for. It is Staten Island’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to women who are helping to make our community a special place in which to live.”
As for her opinion regarding her selection, she says, “It was an honor to be selected …I have had the privilege of working with many Women of Achievement over the years and it is an amazing feeling to be a member of this select group. I have had the opportunity to be involved with many organizations on Staten Island and through them I have been able to touch many lives. I hope I have instilled in the people I have helped the importance of assisting) others.”
Looking Back and Forward
As she recalls the impact that her Richmond College education had on her professional life, Straniere states, “When I graduated from Richmond College my plan was to become a teacher. I have done that and much more. I have had the chance to teach creative drama to elementary school students and technical theater to high school and college students. I share my love of history every time I direct a drama or a musical. My professors gave me a love of learning; they gave me the ability to share this love and teach others.
“The ‘70s were a very special time at Richmond College—a chance to study history while it was unfolding all around us. The college had many amazing professors but some do stand out. I loved American History with Professor Greenberg and the German History courses taught by Professor Moorhus. Professor Silvernail supervised me as a student teacher and then after I graduated gave me the opportunity to be the supervisor. All of these professors were committed to their students and making sure that we got the most out of their classes. I have tried to continue that tradition.”
So, what does the future hold for this CSI alumna whose work enhances so many lives? Straniere hopes “to continue working in the arts and in education. There are many performing organizations on Staten Island and I feel the continuing need to remind people how important it is to support these groups. I constantly try to promote the Center for the Arts as a venue for local groups to use for their performances. This has the benefit of providing a professional-quality space for them and gets Staten Islanders to come to CSI and discover what a great school it is, with many educational opportunities for them or their family members.”