By: Ariel Kahan  | 

From Venezuela to Furst Hall: A Panzarelli Story

Everybody knows that some classes in YU are absolutely impossible to register for because they fill up so quickly. While there are a few classes in this category, any class with Prof. Alexandra Panzarelli comes to mind. For the past five years, Prof. Panzarelli has been a student favorite. Getting into her class is almost impossible, and those who walk out of her class walk out with a smile and a story.

There is much more behind the professor we all know and love. 

Alexandra Panzarelli was born in June 1980, in the rural Venezuelan town of Valle de la Pascua. She was raised by her mom, grandmother and aunts in a large house surrounded by many types of trees and beautiful nature. She had many pets that she always played with and enjoyed going to school thoroughly. 

Since Venezuela was still a democracy during her childhood, Panzarelli believes that she received an excellent education in well-run public schools. Her school’s student body consisted of many students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, which Panzarelli believes affected her growth tremendously. She also believes that she was educated by incredible and caring teachers who were engaging and piqued her interest. Her professors influenced her with more open and multicultural views that often differed from the views of her conservative hometown. 

In fact, these excellent public schools helped her develop a passion for politics at the age of 14 at UEN Rafael Cabrera Malo high school. Panzarelli and some of her fellow students started a journal called “El Lente” (“The Lens”), which helped her develop her love of politics. In addition to the newspaper, she was part of the science club.

After high school, Panzarelli attended Universidad Central de Venezuela, one of Venezuela’s finest and oldest universities. She studied political theory and comparative politics for five years. After graduating, she worked as a program assistant for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), where she worked to develop solutions to the HIV crisis. In 2007, she received a full scholarship to study politics at NYU and completed her master’s in 2009.

Panzarelli then returned to Venezuela to teach politics at her alma mater until she left Venezuela again in 2014. Asked why she left, she said she “decided to come back to America because of the complicated political situation. I was the victim of violence many times and decided to leave for my own safety.”

YU was privileged to welcome Panzarelli in 2018 and she has consistently been a student favorite ever since. She teaches many courses in comparative politics. Asked about the best part about working at YU, she responded, “The students. I got very attached to my students at YU because I was super intimidated the first time I taught, and since the beginning, they were super welcoming and warm and kind to me.” 

In addition, she stated that the biggest lesson she learned at YU was how to deal with arguments and polarization in the classroom and learn from her students, even when they disagreed with her: “I learned to be more tolerant and understanding and put myself in their shoes.” 

Former students agreed with this sentiment. “Prof. Panzarelli is unparalleled in how much she cares for her students’ success,” said Daniel Melool (YC ‘22).“She always did her best to ensure that students were learning and being cared for in and outside the classroom. Her presence at YU will not soon be forgotten.”

During her time at YU, Panzarelli has become known for the kindness and generosity she shows to her students, including bringing snacks for them on multiple occasions. When asked why she shows such kindness, she remarked, “My students were very kind to me and very welcome. I felt at home at YU and never felt like a stranger. I feel that we are all the same and learned so much from them. Engaging with them in a way where we are all comfortable heels the atmosphere of the class and that my students know that professors aren’t just here to follow a program, we are here to learn from our students as well.”

Her attitude and approach clearly paid off, as students nominated her for the Part-Time Faculty Award in 2022, which she described as the “biggest honor in my life.”

Unfortunately, Panzarelli is leaving YU after this semester for the International Republican Institute, where she will work as a program director for Latin America and the Caribbean. However, she feels like she “is not really leaving” and plans to return to YU immediately if the opportunity arises. 

On behalf of all of her students, I can say that we hope she comes back as soon as possible, as YU is a better place when she is there.