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Professor who advocated for York College retires

Of the things Dr. Shirley Ostholm has accomplished during her 35 years teaching at York College, she is most proud of the difference she has made in the lives of thousands of young adults.

"Seeing the success of students is the greatest joy of academia," she said. "At York, we are a college of possibilities and we have so many intelligent students."

On Saturday, nearly 100 of her former pupils gathered at the college to say goodbye to their favorite teacher and school activist.

Ostholm had taught political science at the college and served as the pre-law adviser, helping students get into law school and succeed as attorneys and politicians.

One of her most prominent former students is First Deputy Police Commissioner George Grasso, the second-highest ranking NYPD officer. Grasso, who graduated from York in 1980, said he owes Ostholm a huge debt of gratitude for pointing him in the direction that led to his career

"She's very warm, comes across as very sincere and very informed, and she pulls you into wanting to learn," said Grasso, who graduated from St. John's Law School and was the NYPD's commissioner for legal matters prior to being promoted to his current post. .

Ostholm began teaching at York as an adjunct professor in 1972 as she was finishing her doctoral degree in political science at Columbia University. She was hired as a full-time professor a year later after she earned her doctorate.

Ostholm said she wanted to give her students a different experience when it came to legal education.

"We did get involved with talking to legislators in the community about possibilities," she said.

The professor expanded this outreach by helping her students get internship positions with leaders in the state Legislature, the City Council and other governing bodies.

Ostholm said many of those internships led to full-time jobs that helped students pay for their law degrees.

"She's led me in a direction that I had interest in before. She put me in places that do nothing but keep the energy going," said Grasso's son, Joseph, 19, who is a junior at the college and one of her students.

As hard as she worked for her pupils, the professor went the distance for the college. Ostholm was very active in the campus community, fighting for more services and programs for the students. When the school faced the possibility of moving from its Jamaica campus in the mid-1970s, she organized demonstrations in Albany and City Hall to make sure that did not happen.

"We had some practical lessons in protest politics," she said.

Although she will be moving to Florida to spend her free time, Ostholm said she plans to continue promoting political awareness and community outreach.

"We have to use the knowledge and skills that are learned here for the better of the country and the world," she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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Jack Glasser from Whitestone says:
I was also a student of Dr Ostholm who steered me to Law School more than 35 years ago! Today I can't thank her enough!
Sept. 17, 2012, 7:05 pm

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