Making Our Mark

Nanci Russo Monaco ’78

Nanci Russo Monaco ’78

Nanci Russo Monaco ’78 majored in psychology at Union College before earning a PhD from the University of Buffalo in counseling and educational psychology, followed by New York State psychology licensure in 1997. Today she is an associate professor of child development at SUNY Buffalo State. Nanci is a faculty founder of the SUNY Buffalo State Resilience Project, and faculty provider of DASA anti-bullying training and New York State child abuse mandated training for teachers. She has long been interested in applied child psychology and the law. Last year, she assisted adult victims of child sexual abuse in preparing their legal claims and documenting psychological damage under the New York State Child Victims Act. Also interested in resilience, in 2005, she worked with other mental health providers to assist displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina with trauma recovery and relocation efforts, following them for several years. More recently, she has been focusing on resilience during the pandemic. Her new book, COVID Kids: Joy’s Story of Coping in a Difficult Time, is about a young elementary school child who is concerned about her mother’s exposure to the virus while working as a nurse. It also explores Joy’s anxiety about social distancing from her grandparents, friends and neighbors, attending online school and the many changes her family faces when her father loses his job. Past president of the Psychological Association of Western New York, Nanci especially loves presenting at conferences with her undergraduate and graduate students. She won the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1990 and the SUNY President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2008. Her hobbies relate to her rescue dog, Lexi, who is trained to assist children in articulating stories of trauma and resilience.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?

The most challenging aspect of my career as a child psychologist is the incredibly fast-paced nature of the field. After completing the children’s COVID book for example, I have already been asked to write another book focusing on parent and child ambivalence about returning to in-person school, the ways in which special needs children have been affected by online-only learning or highly anxious children and their response to the pandemic. New concerns about the pandemic are evolving quickly.

The most rewarding aspect of my career is college teaching. As we navigate this pandemic, I feel so blessed that so many students have reached out to reconnect. When I calculate the number of students that I have taught over the last 36 years, it is over 9,000 – staggering! I have a rare opportunity to influence thousands of future teachers, parents and psychologists. It is amazing, and not something to squander.

Who inspires/inspired you, both professionally and personally?

My parents were so inspirational. They were all about education and staying abreast of issues in the news. Every dinner was a conversation about government policies, directions for society, authors, columnists, op-eds. I will always miss their zest for life, kindness and wonderful sense of humor. As the sign says, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” I tried to be the person my parents thought I was or could be. When my dad died at 98, he was still reading the New York Times daily and could debate any issue in the news.

What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?

When I joined SUNY in 1984 as a new PhD, I was one of four women in a department of 30. So much has changed since then. Recently, my daughter’s law school class was 52% female.

Despite those gains, more needs to be done before women and men have equal access to power and money. As I watched the upcoming presidential election coverage regarding vice presidential candidates, I was appalled that we are still talking about women who are “too ambitious.” I am equally sickened by women earning $0.82 for each dollar a man earns. This happened to me when I started my career because I did not know how to properly negotiate my entry salary. Despite dozens of merit raises, my salary did not ever rise to the level of men who negotiated a better entry package, even if they had no monetary merit raises. I would tell young women at the beginning of their careers to know their value. Women can enjoy tremendous job satisfaction, but it should not necessarily come at the expense of a fair salary. I learned this lesson from my faculty position and have done things quite differently with respect to my private practice.

What was your most formative Union experience?

My most formative experience at Union was through the Psychology Club and our weekly meetings at the pub. My senior thesis set the stage for the work I did for my PhD dissertation. The psychology faculty gave us so much attention, assisting us with conference presentations and submitting journal articles. The camaraderie was amazing. It was so incredible that faculty regularly met with us informally to brainstorm about our work, and ideas for research and career directions. I now do this with my own students.