March 26, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 39°F


Senior devotes energy to study mental health

When senior Joe Fraioli says he wants to change the world, it’s hard to doubt the genuine smile that accompanies his conviction.

But many of Fraioli’s friends and mentors know his smile is strong because of the history of struggle lying beneath it. After overcoming depression in high school, Fraioli has devoted much of his time and energy on campus toward advocating for mental health awareness by sharing his experiences with others.

Senior Joe Fraioli, a sociology and psychology double major, stands Tuesday next to his team’s autism walk poster in the autism laboratory in Williams Hall. Fraioli serves as a co-president of Ithaca College’s Active Minds. ANDREW BURACZENSKI/THE ITHACAN

“That’s probably been the biggest change in me — becoming comfortable saying to someone, ‘I was suicidal at one point, and I was able to get over it, and I want to help other people,’” he said. “Getting past that barrier and realizing that you’re helping other people is really inspiring for me.”

Fraioli, a sociology and psychology double major, is bound for law school at the University of Iowa after graduation, and he hopes to work internationally as part of a legal team advocating for mental health policy and gay rights issues. The Long Island, N.Y., native said he wants to dedicate his life to this work after realizing its importance from serving as a co-president of the Ithaca College chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that promotes mental health awareness, and becoming an integral member of an autism research group.

It’s Fraioli’s selfless heart and passion for his field that his friends say the campus community will miss when he graduates in May.

LeBron Rankins, a psychologist at the college and the campus adviser of Active Minds, said when Fraioli approached him about two years ago about reigniting Active Minds on campus, he knew immediately that his heart was in the right place.

“When I first met him, I thought, ‘This kid has a ton of energy and talks really fast,’” he said. “But his enthusiasm about wanting to make Active Minds meaningful here stood out to me the most — a real sense of commitment to what he was getting involved in.”

For outstanding success while restarting the campus chapter, Fraioli earned the national “Revitalization Award” from Active Minds. The biggest events credited to Fraioli’s leadership have been “Stomp Out the Stigma” and “Everybody Matters,” both of which fused high-energy campus participation with raising awareness of mental health issues like suicide.

Fraioli has also been selfless with his time as part of a research team focused on treating autism, particularly in improving the relationships between parents and their children with autism. Fraioli spent three semesters over his sophomore and junior years receiving credit for working with psychology assistant professor Bill Hudenko and about a dozen other students, but for the past two semesters, he has continued on the team as a volunteer.

Hudenko said Fraioli has been a real asset to the team.

“I knew early on that he was exceptional,” he said. “He’s motivated, passionate, dedicated and intelligent. … Joe makes connections that many other students wouldn’t make, which is very helpful for me.”

Fraioli, who became interested in autism research after seeing family friends struggle with the disease, said he spends countless hours in the research lab in Williams Hall. But his friends say his ability to make working situations fun is one of his most lovable qualities.

Senior Katie Wright said one of her fondest memories with Fraioli is performing room checks while the two worked as resident assistants in the first-year program.

“He was speaking in voices and accents, and all sorts of things to entertain me while checking rooms,” she said. “He does that a lot — keeps things professional and gets done what needs to but makes sure that everyone has fun while doing it.”

Rankins, who has known Fraioli for nearly three years, said he’s seen Fraioli gain a stronger sense of the organization’s direction over the years, and Fraioli’s “nonapologetic” leadership style will serve him well in the future.

“I look forward to seeing what becomes of Joe’s life,” he said. “He’s the kind of person who will truly make a difference that will impact a lot of people.”

During his commitment to both passions, Fraioli has maintained a nearly perfect 4.0 GPA and been inducted into three honor societies. He said his motivation as well as his humility comes from a daily recognition of his blessings.

“I’m just grateful for what I have knowing there are people who have less,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to give back to people in other countries, and my time on earth would be wasted if I didn’t do something like that.”