Kathleen “Kathy” Schiaffino, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology who spent more than 20 years teaching at Fordham, died on May 14 after complications related to cancer. She was 69 years old.
Schiaffino joined the Fordham faculty in 1989 after earning her doctorate in social/personality psychology from the City University of New York. She received tenure and was promoted to associate professor in 1996. From 2008 through 2014, she served as chair of the department.
“She was a real advocate for the department and faculty,” said Ann Higgins-D’Alessandro, Ph.D., a longtime friend and professor of psychology at the University. “She ran the department effectively and smoothly. But she also invested time and energy into university-wide projects.”
Barry Rosenfeld, Ph.D., chair of the psychology department, described Schiaffino as a beloved instructor, who was also a highly respected research mentor at the Rose Hill campus.
“The volume of students that turned to her for dissertation mentorship was extraordinary, and I don’t ever recall her turning one away,” he said.
One of the professor’s mentees, Lisa DeBellis, Ph.D., FCRH ’05, GSAS ’14, said that, even as an undergraduate student, she’d looked up to Schiaffino.
“She always encouraged me to strive for great things, and I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to know her,” she said. “She was one of the reasons I wanted to become a psychologist, because she made her job look like so much fun. I will remember and miss her always.”
During her time at Fordham, Schiaffino, a resident of Hopewell Junction, New York, taught a number of psychology courses, including social psychology, health psychology, and psychological research methodology. Her research was broadly focused on chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis, and more specifically on illness representations and the impact that these representations had on adjustment and changes in one’s identity.
Tiffany Yip, Ph.D., director of Fordham’s Applied Developmental Psychology program, called Schiaffino a “smart, insightful, fair, and caring” leader with a “wicked sense of humor.” Yip, who worked closely with Schiaffino when she served as the department’s chair, said she appreciated Schiaffino’s wisdom and “balanced and thoughtful leadership.”
“She had a natural warmth that put people at ease, yet just underneath [that], she had no problems voicing her opinion if she thought something was not right,” she said.
“I am better for having known Kathy and am thankful that our paths crossed.”
Lindsay Till Hoyt, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology, recalled Schiaffino’s welcoming demeanor when she first interviewed for a teaching position at Fordham in 2015. Schiaffino was wearing jeans and sneakers and greeted her with a warm smile, which made her feel more comfortable, she said.
“I could tell right away that she had an easy and casual nature,” she said. “Yet, at the same time, she was fiercely dedicated to her work and her students.”
A memorial was held for Schiaffino at the McHoul Funeral Home in Fishkill, New York, on May 19.
Schiaffino is survived by her husband, son, daughter, sister and three grandchildren.