A man in a blue shirt and blazer stands in front of a microphone at a podium, smiling as he speaks to the audience.
Joseph Celentano, MBA ’04, senior adjunct professor of management and a Diversity in Business Award recipient

Joseph Celentano, MBA ’04, senior adjunct professor of management, is recognized for his outstanding achievements in actively supporting the growth of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the community.

“My father had a great influence on my life,” said Joseph Celentano, MBA ’04, senior adjunct professor of management at the Adelphi University Robert B. Willumstad School of Business. “He was a simple man, but he always stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. That quality, I believe, was infused in me.”

Those who know Celentano would agree, and on March 19, he will be honored as one of the 28 recipients in the 2024 Diversity in Business Awards program presented by Long Island Business News. According to the organization’s site, the honorees, who are selected by the publication’s editorial staff, are being recognized for “outstanding achievements in actively supporting the growth of diversity and equality in the community.” Celentano is being honored specifically for his roles as chair of the Willumstad School’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Council, and as coordinator of the Adelphi College Rise Program. The program encourages high school students underrepresented in higher education to seek a college education.

The Willumstad DEIB Council was formed in 2020 as part of a University-wide commitment to advancing diversity in ways that reflect the changing demographics of the population and the growing globalization of society. Celentano was a founding member of the council, and its members elected him its chair.

The Adelphi College Rise Program, a partnership with Uniondale High School funded by private donations, is one of the council’s most successful initiatives. Under the program, members of the Adelphi community who have been trained and certified in mentoring by New York state, spend part of one day each week at the high school mentoring the participating Uniondale students. These students also get to spend a day on the Adelphi campus getting acquainted with what college life looks like. Then, through a course called Financial Literacy for Life, these students receive 1 college credit.

Celentano said the campus visit alone is an eye-opener.

“Most of the students think of education as something that happens in a single building,” he said. “They are amazed by the facilities on our campus setting, and it gives them a sense of the possibilities that lie before them. And the course, complete with a transcript that says, ‘Welcome to Your College Career,’ shows them they are capable of doing college-level work and hopefully inspires them to continue their education.”

Promoting Tolerance and Understanding Through the Two Museums Program

Another DEIB standout was the Two Museums Program field trip, also supported by private donations, in which 18 Jewish and African American Adelphi students, accompanied by Celentano and other faculty members, took a bus to Washington, D.C., and spent two days touring the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. To be accepted to the program, the students had to submit an essay expressing their interest in learning more about intolerance.

“The purpose of the trip was to get the students to better understand each other’s history and the oppression they had in common,” Celentano said. “They loved it. In addition to the tours, we had a dinner speaker who was a Holocaust survivor. After hearing his story, the students were lined up to ask for his autograph.”

When they returned from the trip, the students were asked to write about their experience and to what extent it motivated them to devote part of their lives to combatting hatred and intolerance.

Standing Up for Others and Doing the Right Thing

Celentano’s dedication to helping others raise themselves up stems from his own humble beginnings. “I was raised in a family that had little formal education,” he said. “I grew up with the perception that college was not for people like me—it was something for other people.”

Despite that perception, Celentano loved school and continued on to college—the first in his family to do so. After earning an associate’s degree, he went to work for the United States Postal Service, where, over 35 years, he rose from entry-level clerk to regional manager. Celentano says it was during those years that he found a way to honor his father’s example through his own actions.

“I became the union shop steward,” he said, “and that was my opportunity to stand up for others.”

It was also an opportunity to continue his education. Celentano went back to college part time and earned a bachelor’s degree in business at Empire State University, part of the SUNY system, when he was 32. When he was 40, the postal service put him into a developmental program for future leaders, and that inspired him to go back to school again—this time in Adelphi’s MBA program. Two years later, he graduated, the only one in his cohort with a 4.0 academic average. One of his professors, recognizing Celentano’s talents, asked him if he would be interested in teaching at the college level, and in 2008 he got the call to join the Willumstad School faculty. He retired from the postal service and has spent the past 16 years helping students of all ages realize their potential.

Celentano’s hope for his legacy is as humble as his upbringing. “I had opportunities many other people haven’t had, and I decided I would like to pay it back,” he said. “I would like to be remembered as a good guy who did the right thing because he cared.”

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