August 5, 2022

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Roxana Toma

Interview by Matthew Berge, graduate student, Social and Public Policy 

Photo of interviewer, Matthew Berge and of interviewee, Dr. Roxana Toma

Roxana Toma is associate professor of social and public policy in the School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State College. Toma has a B.S. in economics, a Ph.D. in public administration and takes an interdisciplinary approach to examining corruption and social capital models of attitude and value formation. Her doctoral research on corruption earned her the Graduate School Dissertation Award at North Carolina State University (2009). She is also the 2015 recipient of the Susan H. Turben Award for Excellence in Scholarship at SUNY Empire State College.  Toma has been published in multiple journals, including
Sociology Compass, Military Psychology, International Journal of Social Science & Human Behavior Study, and The International Encyclopedia of Statistical Science. She is the co-editor/co-author of Confronting Corruption in Business: Trusted Leadership, Civic Engagement (Routledge, 2016). Her work continues to focus on corruption, and she is looking to expand it to include students and faculty research collaborators from Europe and the Middle East. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

1. How long have you been at SUNY Empire, and what made you choose this college? 

Toma: I joined SUNY Empire 12 years ago, in July 2010. I chose SUNY Empire over other options for several reasons. First, I wished to focus on graduate students specifically, and other schools did not afford me this opportunity. Further, the position allowed me to teach my area of expertise, quantitative research methods and policy analysis. Geography was another factor, as my only sibling lives in the northeast, and it is easier to take trips back home to Europe from the eastern seaboard. Politics also played a role, as I wished to be in a state that closely reflects my political views. Most importantly, I wanted to serve students at a public institution where I knew I could make a difference, especially at an institution like SUNY Empire, which primarily serves non-traditional college students. 

2. What has been your most rewarding and/or memorable experience? 

Toma: There are too many to choose just one because my most memorable experiences are about my students, not myself. It is most rewarding when students thank me for challenging them to do their best work, and it genuinely touches me when these students express how impactful my courses and guidance bettered their academic experience. Some of my most memorable experiences involve writing letters of recommendation for former students. Using my social capital to help them excel in their careers is most rewarding for me. 

3. What are your hobbies/interests outside of teaching? 

Toma: I keep myself busy volunteering in my free time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I served with the FEMA Medical Reserve Corps, where I delivered food three times each week. The gratitude shown by the people I had delivered food to will always stick with me. I also volunteer at soup kitchens. Helping feed the destitute and volunteering gives me some of my most lasting experiences. 

I also love to travel and explore unfamiliar places. I have visited Japan twice and cannot wait to return because I feel like there is still so much more to see! Someday I wish to visit India, but currently, I am planning a trip to Egypt to watch the sunrise at the pyramids of Giza, which is on my bucket list. 

Walking by the water, especially the ocean, is most rejuvenating. I get the same rejuvenating feeling when cooking, and I love to cook for other people, like my fellow volunteers at the soup kitchen and FEMA Medical Reserve Corps.

4. Is there a fun or interesting fact you can share about yourself? 

Toma: I am fascinated with Greek culture and recently discovered I have Greek roots from my father, which may explain my interest. I also have a deep passion for the intersection of theology, philosophy, and ethics. Sometimes, I wish I could have written a dissertation on this subject, as these subjects were deeply rooted in my foundational education in Romania. 

5. If you could give one piece of advice to new students, what would it be? 

Toma: Resilience pays off. Students should look for ways, like self-care, to increase their resilience, as this is what is needed most—this is what I often hear from students at graduation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

6. What do you look forward to most this fall as we move into a new school year?

Toma: I look forward to engaging in more sustained research (because of a reduced courseload) in the 2022-2023 academic year. My current research focuses on increasing student online engagement, especially in the post-COVID era, embracing the new normal. The study will focus on how to build online college communities, and to grow social capital for students and professors alike. This research will benefit the SUNY Empire community, especially the students, by learning what does and does not work in the new age of online learning. 

7. Which class do you prefer teaching, research methods or policy analysis?  

Toma: Aw man, this is a tough one! I love teaching both courses because they are my courses. However, I find that most students inherently see the benefits of research methods but do not see the value of policy analysis until they take this class. Ultimately, I prefer policy analysis because I can show students the importance of policy analyses in policymaking. I get to ensure that policy students see the benefits of policy analysis and walk away with essential skills like how to conduct a cost benefit analysis. 



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