Bulletin News

SUNY Cortland to Honor Peter DiNardo ’68


The late Peter A. DiNardo ’68, who during a remarkable teaching career at SUNY Oneonta also strongly influenced the modern, international clinical practice of psychology in the areas of fear, panic and anxiety, will become the 14th inductee into the SUNY Cortland Academic Hall of Fame.

DiNardo, a SUNY distinguished teaching professor of psychology who died in 2008 at age 62, will be recognized on Monday, March 2, during the President’s List reception, an event honoring the College’s students who achieve grades of A-minus or better in each of their courses for a given semester as well as meeting other academic performance criteria.

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum will open the event, which will recognize 413 students this year and include their parents and other guests. Judith M. Waring, DiNardo’s widow, will attend the ceremony to accept the posthumous honor. Benjamin Lovett, SUNY Cortland assistant professor of psychology, will discuss how the late SUNY Oneonta professor’s example can inspire tomorrow’s scholars in all disciplines. The President’s List reception begins at 4 p.m. in the Corey Union Function Room.

Created in 2006, the Academic Hall of Fame recognizes SUNY Cortland alumni who graduated 10 or more years ago with magna cum laude or higher honors, and who have made significant contributions to society through their chosen professions. The Hall of Fame wall is located in the Dorothea “Dottie” Kreig Allen Fowler ’52, M ’74 Old Main Grand Entrance Hall.

Last year, the College honored Robert Hofmann ’82, who led Vermont’s largest government department and in a long and successful career has moved seamlessly between executive roles in the private and public sectors.

This year, DiNardo will be recognized based on a remarkable career in which he merged exceptional classroom teaching with research that continues to impact the field of psychology.

“Dr. DiNardo is one of our most accomplished graduates, and will be an outstanding addition to the Academic Hall of Fame,” stated R. Bruce Mattingly, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We hope that our current students will be inspired by his example.”

Lovett, who joined the College’s Psychology Department in September and has conducted considerable research in the areas of disability diagnosis and testing accommodations, said psychology professionals continue to use the method that DiNardo developed to diagnose certain kinds of psychological disorders.

“DiNardo was a co-author of a structured interview process that was used to determine whether or not someone met the official, formal criteria for having anxiety disorders as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, which is the most widely used classification system in North America for psychiatric disorders,” said Lovett, who earned his doctorate in school psychology from Syracuse University and previously served Elmira College since 2007, most recently as associate professor of psychology.

“People are often very interested in treatments for psychological disorders but the unsung heroes are the people who allow us to assess those disorders in the first place,” Lovett said. “So my hope is it will be an inspirational message to students to work on problems that need solving, whether or not they’re the most popular things at the moment.”

Born in Schenectady, N.Y., DiNardo graduated from Linton High School. As a student at SUNY Cortland, he received two prestigious Donovan C. Moffett Presidential Scholarships. After graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from SUNY Cortland, he earned a doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

During his 34 years at SUNY Oneonta, as a clinical psychologist DiNardo conducted research on patients with anxiety and its disorders. Part of his work was done in Oneonta, N.Y., and part in Albany, N.Y., where he was a research associate at the University at Albany’s Center for Stress and Anxiety Disorders. The center for years operated as a large, federally funded research clinic and its mission continues through the university Psychology Department’s Anxiety Disorders Research Program. The collaboration resulted in new conceptualizations of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. In particular, DiNardo worked on an instrument he called the anxiety disorders interview schedule (ADIS).

DiNardo co-authored the clinical manual Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule Adult Version (ADIS-IV): Specimen Set, published in 1996 by Oxford University Press. He was the co-author of an August 1990 Journal of Abnormal Psychology article, “Syndrome Co-morbidity in Patients Diagnosed with a DSM-III-R Anxiety Disorder,” which involved structured interviews of 130 patients using his signature methodology.

DiNardo was credited for developing innovative questions and protocols in diagnosing patients, including the use of heart rate as a control for a client’s interview response. One study compared the measurement of heart rates for interviewed clients who had a phobic fear of dogs to non-phobic persons who had experienced actual dog bites. DiNardo’s findings were described as “revolutionary” in the field by a professional peer. He was investigating motion sickness susceptibility at the time of his death.

As a researcher, DiNardo succeeded at supporting his investigations by winning major grants, including one from the National Institutes of Mental Health to examine the relationship between fear of heights and motion sickness susceptibility.

Outside his research, DiNardo was an avid educator and mentor. He taught introductory to more advanced psychology courses including abnormal psychology, trained students in beginning or advanced psychological research, and supervised teaching assistants and students engaged in independent study.

DiNardo is described as having been “a master at the core processes of genuine education of students” by a former long-time colleague Steven Gilbert, a SUNY Oneonta professor emeritus of psychology.

“Pete had amazing rapport with students that always put them in the exact zone necessary for them to learn, grow and perform,” said Gilbert, in reference to how DiNardo related to students in the classroom, research lab or on a team presenting findings at a regional professional conference.

“They sensed that he respected them and cared about them, but also, that he expected much from them, and that his expectations were very high but also always attainable,” Gilbert said. “Students knew they were safe with him; that they could explore ideas without fear of ridicule. His prods, questions, redirections, requests for clarification or alternative possibilities, fishing for deeper analysis — all stimulated our best thinking.”

Honored as a top instructor on campus both by students and faculty, DiNardo was described by one student who would go on to pursue graduate studies in the field as a “sage on the stage” for his well-organized lectures and clarity in thought and speech and a “guide on the side” for his personalized mentoring process.

Another former student who became a doctoral candidate noted that DiNardo “stressed the ‘independent’ component of independent research, treating me as a colleague and collaborator, rather than simply a research assistant. Looking back on this experience, I am struck by Dr. DiNardo’s ability to motivate and inspire.”

The proposal that SUNY’s chancellor promote DiNardo to “distinguished” notes that students might enter his introductory course in a different major, or undecided, but by the semester’s end such was his influence that well more than 20 percent had selected psychology as their major.

By the mid-2000s, DiNardo had encouraged 25 different student researchers to efforts that resulted in 17 professional presentations with them at national and international conferences. His students served as co-authors on at least 58 of his published research papers. He often served other institutions on dissertation committees of doctoral candidates in his field.

Colleagues noted that much of DiNardo’s student-centered service was voluntary and conducted on his own time, including his participation in the Summer Academy Faculty Lecture series sponsored by the Educational Opportunity Program.

His dedication to students, adherence to the highest academic standards and continued professional growth and scholarship earned him a 1995 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. SUNY also promoted DiNardo in 2006 to distinguished teaching professor of psychology, one rank above that of full professor.

In 1997, SUNY Oneonta named him as the third recipient of its Susan Sutton Smith Prize for Academic Excellence.