“It was so rewarding to know you were opening doors for people."

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

Memorable professors: Robert Ernst and Birdsall Viault.

Advice to current students: “Get a good, solid liberal arts education.  A broad background will help you to look at a problem and analyze it from many perspectives.”

Hooked on History

Michael Schaefer transferred to Adelphi in 1961 with a background in electrical engineering. At Adelphi, he chose to pursue a major in history, and his knowledge of and passion for the subject only grew.

Elected to the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society at Adelphi, Mr. Schaefer graduated with departmental honors and received the Chester L. Barrows Award in recognition of scholarly achievement. It’s no surprise that someone so in tune with the study of the past traces the milestones of his personal and professional journey as they occurred alongside important moments in history.

Mr. Schaefer’s favorite experiences at Adelphi revolved around his time in the classroom and the relationships he formed with professors. As a sophomore, he recalled sitting in government class amid the 1962 Missile Crisis. “I’ll never forget it. One day my professor ended class by saying, ‘see you Monday…if we’re still here,’” he said.

Like many of Adelphi’s alumni, Mr. Schaefer recalled having to pass a swimming test in Woodruff Hall in order to graduate. In 1963, the Swirbul Library, a facility current Adelphi students use for research and studying, was built. “Before that time we used to have a small library on the first floor of Levermore Hall.” That same year, Adelphi College became a University. “My diploma reads Adelphi College,” he said.

He credited Adelphi Professor Viault with motivating him to explore a different location for graduate school. Professor Viault, who earned his doctorate degree in North Carolina at Duke University, and completed his dissertation while teaching at Adelphi, urged Mr. Schaefer to apply to schools in the south. “As someone born and raised in the northeast…visiting the University of Virginia was one of those experiences that was just, ‘wow’!”

Pursuing his master’s degree in history at UVA turned out to be a good decision for more than just the education he’d receive; it was where he met his wife, Irene, also from New York. “At that time, undergraduate programs were all men, only nursing had women,” he said. “They were just starting to accept women to graduate school.”

“Virginia was a whole different experience,” said Mr. Schaefer. Thinking back to his years in Virginia, he recalled events surrounding the civil rights movement; President Lyndon B. Johnson coming to office following the assassination of John F. Kennedy; and Martin Luther King leading demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after marching from Selma, Alabama, in a campaign for voting rights.

After completing his master’s degree, Mr. Schaefer returned to New York, where he registered with a teacher placement agency on Long Island. He ended up taking a different avenue in education than he had originally planned. “I was informed that there was an opening as an assistant director of admissions at New York Institute of Technology,” he said. This turned out to be the first position of many throughout a long and rewarding career in admissions. “That’s how I got started! I liked admissions, and I kept going.” He pursued graduate studies in higher education administration at Teachers College, Columbia University.

As director of admissions, he interacted with Adelphi health professions advisors, Warren Eickelberg and Charles Shopsis. Mr. Schaefer noted he was very proud that an Adelphi graduate, Thomas Scandalis ’82, attended NYCOM and later became its dean.

When he started at NYCOM in 1978, it was only the college’s second year in existence. “The school was established in large measure by osteopathic physician Kenneth Riland, who was Nelson Rockefeller’s physician. Dr. Riland dreamed of establishing a school of osteopathic medicine in New York State. It was through the backing of Rockefeller and the cooperation of NY Tech that he was able to launch it,” he recalled. “Mr. Rockefeller and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger both addressed NYCOM’s inaugural class!”

Mr. Schaefer, who retired in 2004, saw the institution transform over the course of his 26 years there. “We started small, but grew tremendously in terms of the number of buildings on campus; the dollars raised; the number of students we admitted,” he said. “When I retired, our graduating class numbered 298.” The only Osteopathic Medical School on Long Island, NYCOM is also one of the largest medical schools in the United States.

What keeps someone in the same field for an entire career? Loving what you do. “It was so rewarding to know you were opening doors for people,” said Mr. Schaefer, who recalled one trip to Cornell University, where a student told him that, before Mr. Schaefer’s visit, he didn’t know anything about osteopathic medicine, but now he wanted to pursue it. “The best feeling was knowing I opened up doors for people, and that that made all the difference in their lives,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Mr. Schaefer and his wife have two children and five grandchildren. Even the Schaefers’ hometown of Jackson Heights, New York, is steeped in history. “Jackson Heights is the first ‘garden apartment’ community in the United States,” he said. He is involved in community service as president of the local conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and with the homebound members of his church.  When he and his wife are not enjoying their grandchildren and the restaurants in their neighborhood, they enjoy the varied cultural activities of Manhattan and traveling.

Published June 2013

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