Janine Graziano: Kingsborough’s ‘Zen-Master’

Long before she was a professor, Janine Graziano spent time working at various eateries from Bay Ridge to Wall Street waitressing, and in that time learned a lot about herself. Working in the customer service/food industry, she developed a strong work ethic, found that she enjoyed helping others, and even managed to enjoy herself.

“It was fun, but hard work,” Graziano said. “A lot of stress and multitasking. I learned how to keep smiling under stress and how to deal with difficult people. Lots of life lessons.”

While waitressing, Graziano would always find herself helping her colleagues with their homework.

“It was funny,” said Graziano. “When I was a waitress, a lot of my colleagues would be going to school, and I was always helping everybody with their homework and it was just a natural thing for me to be a teacher.”

Graziano prides herself on mentoring young minds, and even keeping in touch with students long after they’ve graduated or are no longer her students. It’s not uncommon for Graziano to devote some of her personal time to catch up with a former student or mentee. At times she has a parent-like level of satisfaction when it comes to hearing about how her former students are doing, and she isn’t shy about mentioning how proud it makes her feel.

Patient, kind, understanding, and helpful. These are a few words that can be used to describe one of Kingsborough Community College’s most universally loved professors. The Brooklyn-born professor and mentor has taught at KBCC for 14 years, and in that time has forged many close-knit relationships with her students. Throughout her tenure at KBCC, Graziano has always welcomed students into her office to talk about and help with academic and personal matters alike and to her, that is one of the biggest and most rewarding parts of her job.

“It’s [about] the relationships you develop”, said Graziano. “It’s not just about feeling like you might have influenced somebody or maybe not even influenced, but [that you] gave someone a space to talk when maybe they didn’t have that to watch another person grow is incredibly rewarding.”

Graziano has played an integral part in KBCC’s New Start program, which is essentially a way into Kingsborough for transfer students that struggled at their previous colleges. She had this idea that she could help combine the Learning Community program that extends to groups of other students and apply it to transfer students from four-year schools.

The Learning Community is a program that offers “linked” courses that have a common theme shared between them to groups of students as either incoming freshmen, culinary students, transfer students, and more. Janine helped head and put into motion what is now called The New Start Learning Community (linked English and Philosophy courses for transfer students from four-year colleges).

“I thought, maybe it’s possible to work with students to figure out what got in your way, and how can you get it out of your way?” said Graziano.

Several students have benefitted from the New Start Learning Community. It provides a seamless transition into Kingsborough for transfer students from four-year colleges and offers a comfortable environment of familiar faces, and graspable course-work that the professors involved have set a common theme around.

Before she ever knew that she wanted to be a professor or a mentor, as a young child Graziano actually enjoyed “playing school” and always liked going to school. As a teenager, she thought that there was a possibility that she would end up being an Art History professor. Graziano ended up finding her way to becoming an English professor with a Ph.D. in Linguistics and it’s almost as if her life just naturally flowed in this direction.

Located in the Marine and Academic Center section of Kingsborough in room M391, Graziano’s office has served as a safe-haven for her students to talk about whatever is on their mind, discuss their grades, or just pop in and say hello. Her office has a door that leads out onto a beautiful patio of sorts, with a unique and alluring view; this, along with her cozy blue couch provides a comfortable and inviting setting for anyone visiting her office.

 Graziano has one of the more down to earth and nurturing personalities that one can find on campus.

“I think she’s a great teacher, a great professor, she’s easy to work with, she makes her class interesting, and she’s engaging. So overall, I think she’s a great professor and I highly recommend her,” said Matt Hirsch, current Editor-in-Chief of Scepter.

Her current and former students alike know Janine for her easy going and Zen attitude, which isn’t a surprise because off-campus and outside of work, mediation is one of Graziano’s biggest interests. Students, colleagues, and underlings alike have an overwhelming amount of positive praise for professor Graziano.

“Hands down, she’s been the absolute best person I’ve ever worked with,” said Jocelyn Figueroa, Janine’s assistant in room M391.

She began her meditation practices earlier than most, but it’s still managed to stay with her as a consistent practice throughout her life. For a lot of people, meditation is a common practice for those that want to find an outlet to relieve stress, but Graziano has a different reason for her meditation practices.

“I started meditating when I was about 16 [and] it really wasn’t about stress at that time for me,” Graziano said. It was about spirituality. I started moving away from Catholicism, but I always had that need for something spiritual.”

These days, Graziano spends a lot of her free time outside of work delving into her spiritual side. Reading about spirituality, meditating, and doing yoga. Music is another big interest of hers; she has played the guitar for several years, has taught herself to play the Ukulele, and also likes to sing, though she doesn’t sing as much as she used to. Traveling has become one of Graziano’s favorite things to do. She says that it is something that she enjoys doing alone, and not necessarily as a vacation, but instead to soak in the feeling of being in a completely new and different place.

“In January, I went to Japan and Thailand by myself and I just got back in June from Senegal, which blew me out of the water,” said Graziano. “So I’ve really, really gotten into travel.”

Also, traveling ties into her spiritual side, and when she was in Japan she spent the night in a Buddhist temple and had a session with a monk while she was there as well. In Bangkok, she had an all-day session with a Buddhist nun in vipassana yoga. Graziano describes traveling as a spiritual experience and the reason she says this is because spirituality has a lot to do with being in the “here and now” and soaking up the present moment as much as possible. In her view, this gives way to the idea that traveling (and thus being in the here and now) would allow for one’s spiritual side to flourish.

Graziano is a professor with a down-to-earth attitude that loves to see her students succeed, and likes the idea of students taking a calmer approach to their schooling.

“I just think that students should take a breath,” said Graziano. “They should meditate and take a breath because there’s a lot to think about and you’ve got time. It all doesn’t have to happen in a second.”

Photo by Steve Charles

Author: Steve Jean-Charles

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