The Unforgettable Doctor Nicastro
Fondly Recalled and Forever Supporting Her Students
Although the Gender Communication class he took as a student was in 2002, to this day Billy Fallon (’03, ’05) remembers it clearly. The instructor walked into the room, confronted her students and asked, “How would you like to begin?” The question dumbfounded the class.
SDSU School of Communication Lecturer Billy Fallon ('03, '05) says Alana Nicastro "made a big difference" in his pursuit of a graduate degree.
“She just folded her arms and stood there,” Fallon recalled. “It was a long, uncomfortable silence. I thought she was crazy.”
But as a few students began tentatively volunteering their thoughts, the awkward silence became a serious discussion. Fallon soon came to view the instructor, Alana Nicastro (’93, ’97), Ed.D., as innovative and thought-provoking.
What she had done, he realized, was force students to examine a learning experience from a different perspective. Nicastro had challenged them to take ownership of their learning.
"One of many things I ended up taking away is that unlike professors who will (merely) impart their knowledge, she asks difficult questions and lets you struggle with them for a while,” he explained. “Those kinds of questions are the ones that develop critical thinking and nurture a love for learning and self-discovery that certainly made a big difference in my wanting to pursue a graduate degree."
Fallon is now a lecturer in the SDSU College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts School of Communication. He recently invited Nicastro, his former professor and colleague, to address students in his Communication in Professional Settings class.
Alana Nicastro ('93, '97), Ed.D., is a former instructor in the SDSU School of Communication.
Describing herself as a researcher at heart, Nicastro said her passion is helping people build their skills. When asked about her teaching style, she reflected on the questions she would pose on the first day of class that often initially elicited silence from students.
“That is something I would do because I like to violate the social norms,” the professor said. “Then we can study how we make sense of our surroundings.”
As a qualitative researcher, Nicastro prefers ethnographic methods in her approach to teaching. “Ethnography is a way of life for me," she said. She tries to understand the perspectives of her students before trying to present a curriculum.
“I think very carefully about what content I am going to share or what boundaries I am going to create so students can make sense of the content,” she explained. “Then I think about inspiring them.”
It seems to work. Student reviews of her courses are overwhelmingly positive.
A GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT
For almost two decades, Nicastro taught a variety of courses in the School of Communication. These days, she works for the United States Marine Corps at a center of excellence called the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group (MCTOG) where she offers a different perspective on educating personnel.
Nicastro formed an endowed scholarship in communication to offer graduate students funding opportunities to present their research at national and international conferences.
“I challenge military personnel to analyze their practices and hopefully encourage new ways of thinking and learning," she said. “A lot of the work I do stems from what I learned in the master’s program in communication here at San Diego State. Our renowned communication faculty prepared me well.”
It is out of an appreciation for that preparation along with a continuing dedication to SDSU communication students that the professor has now formalized a planned gift to the university. The donation will form the Alana Nicastro Endowed Scholarship in Communication in the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts. The scholarship offers graduate students funding opportunities to present their research at national and international conferences.
The endowment will provide annual scholarships for School of Communication students in perpetuity. Nicastro said her gift is a way to show her appreciation to the university while forever supporting and inspiring its students.
"I thought San Diego State was generous in developing my talents, so it's the least I can do,” she explained. “I believe teaching is about creating a space for our students to do their best thinking, and I feel that was the gift I received while I attended this university, so I just want to extend the gift to others."
As an initial skeptic who came to admire Nicastro’s teaching style and appreciate her commitment to students, Fallon said he is not surprised she would find a way to extend her positive influence in the School of Communication.
"She has a generosity of spirit and I think she is outstanding,” he observed. “I am here to tell you that she had an impact in our department, absolutely."
Now, through her scholarship endowment, Alana Nicastro always will.
Learn more about planned giving at plannedgiving.sdsu.edu.