John Rizzi, Ph.D. ’14, takes an innovative approach to teaching in the General Studies Learning Community at Adelphi University.

John Rizzi, Ph.D. ’14, has taken an innovative approach to teaching students in the General Studies Learning Community at Adelphi University to develop critical skills as readers, writers and thinkers: His Expository Writing course uses a theme of mental illness and includes characters from popular media.

His students watch episodes of Homeland, the acclaimed Showtime series, because one of the characters suffers from bipolar disorder. They also read such works as The Bell Jar, the semi-autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963, at age 30.

JohnRizzi_Adelphi2“Students get it, and then it’s so interesting to watch their critical-thinking skills grow,” said Dr. Rizzi, who earned his doctorate in the School of Social Work. “They go from being students who say, ‘I don’t like that—that’s stupid,’ to students who tell you why they like or don’t like something.”

Dr. Rizzi sometimes teaches alongside Carla Deazle ’01, M.A. ’02, an alumna of the General Studies Learning Community , a professor in the program and its assistant director. In her equally innovative Expository Writing course, Williams-Deazle uses the theme of serial killers. Her students watch the film Psycho and episodes of the TV series Dexter.

The linkage of mental health diagnoses and mass media is the hook Dr. Rizzi also uses to instruct students on how to evaluate information from a variety of sources, use a library and write a research paper.

In June 2003, a month after he received a master’s degree in social work from New York University, he began working in Adelphi’s General Studies Learning Community in the College of Arts and Sciences. The program combines classroom instruction with individual counseling and tutoring to help freshmen meet their academic goals. After completing the General Studies Learning Community curriculum, students are accepted as sophomores into Adelphi’s other undergraduate programs.

Identity development is among Dr. Rizzi’s research subjects. He has presented research papers nationally and in South Africa and India on issues such as the personal and parental identity of gay fathers. At a women’s college in Mumbai, India, he presented on personal identity and coping with stress and anxiety.

“I take what I’m passionate about and try to present it in a creative way,” said Dr. Rizzi, a native of Massapequa, New York. “I’m passionate about questions like: How do you see yourself? How do you think others see you? How do you cope with the different sort of messages you get from society?”

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