Edgar McIntosh had been weighing whether or not to pursue a doctoral degree in education.
“I was in a job that I enjoy,” said McIntosh, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment at Scarsdale Public Schools. “I didn’t necessarily need to go for a doctorate—it was aspirational.”
While the degree would help him with his career, McIntosh said he didn’t think pursuing a doctorate was something he could do, until he met Toby Tetenbaum, Ph.D., a professor in Fordham’s Graduate School of Education (GSE).
“She was really the tipping point in many ways,” he said. “She just kind of gave me this sense of confidence, not only that I should do it but that I could do it. She just kind of looked in my eyes and said, ‘you can do this.’”
Her charisma, generosity, humor, and honesty have helped him even when he felt like he was struggling.
“I was waffling between my topics (for my dissertation) and every class she would say, ‘plant the flag Edgar! Plant the flag,’” McIntosh recalled. “She quite literally changed the course of my life.”
Tetenbaum, a licensed psychologist, touched the lives of hundreds of students over her 45 years with the University, where she held teaching roles in both the Division of Psychological and Educational Services and the Division of Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy at GSE.
But McIntosh, who is on track to complete his doctoral program in May 2020, will be one of her last. At age 80, Tetenbaum is preparing to retire.
“I’m proud of probably having over 1,000 doctoral student mentees—I have eight to go,” she said. “The best part of my job is seeing these people grow. My reward comes from an email that says, ‘thanks to you and the program, I got promoted,’ or ‘I got the job I was looking for.’”
Tetenbaum’s legacy at Fordham almost didn’t happen. She got her Ph.D. in educational psychology at New York University (NYU) in 1974 and had been working as an adjunct professor at NYU and City College of New York (CCNY), when she heard about a full-time opening in GSE. She was hesitant at first, but her mentor suggested she go for the interview.
Tetenbaum followed her mentor’s advice, got the job, and stayed for more than four decades. She credits the connections she has made with her students as the main reason she stayed so long.
Grant Grastorf, Ph.D., GSE’18, is one of those students who stays in touch with his mentor.
“One of Toby’s best traits is staying in touch after graduation,” said Grastorf, the academic operations administrator at Fordham’s Westchester campus. “Toby continues the relationships with her students by remembering special occasions like birthdays, hosting gatherings at her house for her former students—holiday parties and summer pool parties, meeting for lunch just to get caught up, and letting you know that you’re special. She always asks how you’re doing.”
Virginia Roach, Ed.D., dean of GSE, said Tetenbaum has left an impact on many former students.
“She’s had a substantial impact on the careers of many people who have gone on (to success) in the greater metro area and beyond,” she said. “She will be missed.”
A Different Start
Tetenbaum got her bachelor’s degree in 1960 in psychology from Hunter College and started teaching in elementary and middle school. She soon realized she needed a different challenge.
“I said, ‘no, no I can’t do this—I need to work with adults,” she said.
She received her master’s in education from CCNY in 1970, before going for her Ph.D. at NYU.
Since then, during her career at Fordham, Tetenbaum has taught and conducted research in organizational behavior, chaos theory in leadership, creativity and innovation in organizations, and women in leadership.
One of her biggest accomplishments was designing, implementing, and running a human resource master’s program at GSE for 20 years.
“The students from that master’s program are still a community that give one another jobs, so they’ve stayed in touch, which I think is a really good mark of the program,” Tetenbaum said.
An Evolving World
During her time at Fordham, Tetenbaum said she’s seen the world, particularly the business world, change dramatically.
“We talk a lot about the ‘VUCA’ world, which is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Students need to learn how to manage themselves and manage people in a VUCA world,” she said.
Tetenbaum saw those changes up close, working for more than 20 years as a trainer, coach, and consultant for corporations. She helped them integrate company cultures, evaluate their programs, and develop talent management systems. She said her experience in the industry helped her as a teacher and gave her students a leg up.
“I can bring the real world into my academic world, and I can bring the theories and models of my academic world into the business world,” she said. “It was a nice mesh, and my students appreciated it.”
During her time coaching and consulting, Tetenbaum said she’s seen an increase in the number of companies investing in emotional intelligence, or “people skills.”
“Workers were technically skilled, but when they had to join teams and work with other people they weren’t as skilled,” she said. “The company said, ‘we have to do something about this,’ and that’s why emotional intelligence, which would never two decades ago have been in business arenas, is very big in all of them.”
Despite the longevity of her career, Tetenbaum said it hasn’t always been easy, particularly when she first started as the only woman in her department.
“When I came, it was very patriarchal,” she said. “Maybe in retrospect, no worse than any other place.”
She’s focused a lot of her time and effort on mentoring women and studying female leadership.
“Women do not have a lot of female mentors; we want to see how executive women handle issues in the workplace but there aren’t that many executive women to look up to to find those cues,” she said.
Because of her work, Tetenbaum was asked to lead a workshop on “imposter syndrome” at Fordham’s Women’s Philanthropy Summit held on Oct. 23.
Tetenbaum described the syndrome as often “feeling you’re fooling people—it’s not genuine that you have succeeded.” She said that she even felt it during that session.
“I found out I was doing my workshop in this room … with three screens, and although I’ve done tons of presentations in my 50 years in academia and in business, I got totally intimidated,” she told her audience.
Tetenbaum called on those in attendance to continue to push against challenges and not wait for those in power to make changes.
“I think it’s one of the reasons I never liked the term ’empowerment’—that we empower you,” she said. “Because in all honesty, whatever you’re being empowered to do is minimal, whoever empowered you still holds the power.”
She said she hopes one of her lasting legacies will be encouraging women to take matters into their own hands and fight through the “imposter syndrome” so they can succeed.
“You want to advance your career, you step up,” she said. “One of these should be your mantra —I don’t care whether it’s lean in, step in, or just do it—when you face those barriers.”
One of her current doctoral students, Sarah Ruback, said that Tetenbaum has served as a mentor for her and has inspired her to push herself.
“I want to make her proud,” said Ruback, director of professional development and leadership at St. Christopher’s Inc, a nonprofit agency that serves at-risk adolescents in Westchester and Orange counties in New York. “There are people who come in and change the trajectory of your life and I think she’s that person.”
Encouraging Innovation in Academia
Tetenbaum also said she wanted to leave behind a message of encouraging people across academia to embrace innovation.
“We need more academics who are innovative, creative, looking to the future,” she said.
Roach said that Tetenbaum’s vision for the future has helped guide the department forward and will be a part of her legacy at the university.
“She has been a futurist—looking at the futurist literature and what implications that had for education and training,” Roach said. “It’s that sort of level of thinking into the future that is a gift from Toby and something that we will continue.”
While she’s preparing to leave her full-time position, Tetenbaum’s not done working just yet. She’ll be teaching classes as an adjunct at the University of Connecticut—Stamford campus and Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, both closer to her home in Greenwich, Connecticut, while continuing her work as a consultant and coach for businesses.
As she prepares to say goodbye to the university she called home for more than four decades, Tetenbaum said she hopes her students can carry on her lessons.
“I hope I leave behind a large group of committed, dedicated educators and business people who care about their work, but more so the people around them with whom they work,” she said.