In January 2004, Alissa Italiano slipped on some ice and slammed her head on the sidewalk outside her dorm at Seton Hall University. She picked herself up and went about her day, not realizing that she had actually blacked out. Alissa had suffered a traumatic brain injury that would change her life forever. “Just like that, my life as I knew it was taken from me,” she recalls. Recuperation and rehabilitation followed, and it took more than a year before Alissa was ready to return to the classroom.
She transferred to SU to study part time through UC and to be closer to home. Always a bright, capable student, now Alissa’s progress was slow. She was plagued by headaches and memory loss, but forged ahead. “I received endless encouragement and motivation from so many people at UC,” Alissa says. “Emileen Butler, my advisor, played the biggest role in helping me stay on track.” In 2009, Alissa was selected to participate in the Leadership Institute, a prestigious program developed by SU’s Office of Student Life to cultivate leaders. She took part in an annual retreat, performed community service, and mentored other students, all while juggling courses for a dual major in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Maxwell School. In December, 2011, Alissa completed her bachelor’s degree in policy studies. Alissa landed a great job at the Syracuse Housing Authority, where she is an administrative analyst.
She is still plagued by headaches, and memory problems persist almost eight years after her accident. “I use ‘triggers’ to help me recall things,” she says. “I’ll repeat what’s said to me several times, or write it down. I’ve learned new ways of doing things and I have new systems in place.” Still, Alissa feels like she is working toward goals she set many years ago. “My college experience definitely prepared me well for the work I am doing,” she asserts. “Every day, I try to apply what I learned, because my professional goal is to make things better in whatever I’m doing.” Her next goal? A master’s degree, from SU.