By Danielle Silvia
Students and faculty are grieving the loss of John Leustek, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Department of Public Health. Leustek died on Monday, June 11 at the age of 30 after a battle with cancer.
Leustek had just finished his first year as an employee at the College at the time of his death, and was held in high regard by his colleagues. Leustek completed his bachelor’s degree in communication arts at Marymount Manhattan College and also held a master’s degree in communication from the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.
The majority of his research focused on interpersonal communication. Leustek’s works include studies about family communication, health communication, social support and topic avoidance. Most recently, he completed a comprehensive study on the coping strategies used by parents of children diagnosed with autism.
Leustek was posthumously awarded doctoral degrees in both interpersonal and health communication from Rutgers University, which he was notably close to achieving at the time of his death.
Leustek taught several courses at the College, including interpersonal communication, interpersonal health communication and topics in communication studies.
Leustek was a key player in facilitating discussions between the departments of Communication Studies and Public Health at the College.
Students fondly remember Leustek for his interactive teaching style. Kelly Scheper, a senior communication studies major, remembers how helpful Leustek was as her adviser.
“His down to earth attitude and genuine kindness made me really enjoy talking with him,” she said.
Faculty remember Leustek for his intelligence and affectionate character. Professor Keli Fazio, a faculty affiliate of the Department of Public Health and professor of communication studies, says that the combination of these characteristics is what made Leustek so memorable. She explained that every conversation she had with Leustek was inspiring, informative and always left her laughing.
Fazio remembers how Leustek always made lunch in the 1855 Room more interesting by the peppering conversation with fun facts he always had up his sleeve. His attitude conveyed his sense of humor and curiosity in such a manner that proved him to be “an educator in the truest way.”
John Pollock, professor of health and human rights communication and faculty affiliate of the Department of Public Health, looked back on Leustek’s interview scholarship presentation, in which both Pollock and other faculty members immediately recognized what a great fit Leustek would be at the College.
“(The Department of Communication Studies faculty) were all charmed by his combination of shining intelligence and ebullient good humor,” Pollock said. “What struck me as most unusual among social scientists was John’s ability to elaborate a clear narrative while brilliantly dodging potentially confusing statistics so that non-social scientists on our faculty could readily understand his material.”
Pollock also praised Leustek’s ability to engage an audience.
“The talent for clarity that transcends statistics is a rare gift, and we were all enchanted, not only by his personality, but also by his consummate skill as a teacher and explainer,” Pollock said.
Paul D’Angelo, an associate professor of media and political communication and chair of the Department of Communication Studies, remembers how Leustek would often say that working at the College was his “dream job,” and how his enthusiasm for learning and teaching developed an environment that was conducive for students to accomplish their goals.
Leustek leaves behind many loved ones, including his wife, Emily, who cherishes his memory both in and out of the classroom. She expressed to D’Angelo that the best thing about being married to Leustek was that she learned something new every day, and that he was an exceptional educator because of his own potential to learn about any subject.
Leustek will be sorely missed by College community. His desire to make the world a kinder, more intelligent place will be motivation for future students and faculty to continue his mission.