Mark Leccese: Longtime professor, reporter, trumpet player retiring after 16 years at Emerson


Cherilyn Kim

Mark Leccese

By Ryan Forgosh, Staff Writer, News

Mark Leccese has been a reporter, an editor, and everything in between. Now, after 16 years at Emerson, the longtime journalism professor is stepping away from the classroom and looking forward to his next chapter—music.

“I’m proud of what I accomplished as a professor at Emerson College,” said Leccese, who left the newsroom and took a full-time teaching position at Emerson in 2007. “But personally, I’m ready for change.”

Leccese has left an impact on students throughout his 16 years of teaching at the college, and students still at the school are sad to see him go. 

I looked forward to every class with Mark,” said sophomore journalism major Sam Bracy, who had Leccese last semester for Public Affairs Reporting. “He always had a story to tell. They were entertaining, even when I’d already heard them.”

Among students and coworkers alike, Leccese is well-known for the long stories he’s told in class. Though no matter the subject, his students noted that he always tied the stories back to a lesson they took away and applied in their own journalistic pursuits.

“When he announced to my Public Affairs class that he was retiring, he tried to say it so casually and then continue with one of his famously long-winded lectures that I always lived for every second of,” said Izzy Bryars, another sophomore journalism student. “Obviously, we stopped him and were like, ‘What?!’ But I think that short interaction sums up Mark as a teacher—educating through stories from his own legendary career but never actually being about him.”

Leccese, who turned 65 years old in December, has had an extensive career as a journalist. As a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he wrote for the school newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, and quickly fell in love with the job. Leccese recounted how he would often focus more on the paper than on his classes.

From there, he immediately began working as a correspondent for the United Press International—landing the job before even graduating—before becoming a political reporter for Fitchburg’s Sentinel and Enterprise. He covered this beat for about three years before becoming an editor for the Belmont Citizen in 1982 at only 25 years old. 

Five years later, he was named editor-in-chief of the Tab chain of local newspapers. According to Zippia, a career statistics firm, the average age of an editor-in-chief of a newspaper is 43 years old.

In the 1990s, Leccese returned to the field as a reporter, covering the web of Massachusetts state politics for various publications. 

Although he didn’t start teaching full-time until the late 2000s, Lecesse taught his first college class at Boston College as a 26-year-old graduate student. He specifically chose Boston College because of the opportunity afforded by teaching fellowship.

“I wanted to be like the people I had had as teachers,” he said. 

A few years later, Leccese was approached to teach a class at Boston University—an overture that he almost couldn’t believe.

“I was like, ‘What? Are you kidding?’” he said. “That’s a good school. You don’t want me teaching a course there. But [a BU professor] talked me into going over to meet with them, [and then] I started teaching as an adjunct there.”

That turn of events made it easier for Leccese to take up teaching at yet another university: Emerson College. In 2003, Leccese created the Public Affairs Reporting class and began teaching as an adjunct. He returned to his professional journalism work for a few years, but was contacted again four years later about a full-time opening. 

“By the time I applied for a job here, I was 49,” Leccese said. “When you’re the age I was, I started to think a lot about ‘What do I have to give back?’ Journalism was pretty much it.”

Douglas Struck, who has been teaching at Emerson since 2009, has worked alongside Leccese for 14 years. He characterized Leccese as the journalism department’s “Mr. Local,” who was able to help incoming student journalists root themselves in the city and state around them.

“Professionally, journalistically, he is an encyclopedia of knowledge about Massachusetts, and about the media in Massachusetts, about the government in Massachusetts, about the politicians in Massachusetts,” Struck said in an interview. “Nobody else on our faculty has that kind of depth of local experience.”

Lecesse’s former students agree.

Knowing Mark is knowing more about Boston, about music, about history, about storytelling,” said Bryars.

Leccese has decades of experience both working as a professor and as a journalist. His peers, such as Struck, view him as an invaluable resource, one that will not be easily replaced. 

“He’s truly irreplaceable in this department,” Struck said. “Everybody loves Mark, because he is an incredibly nice guy, because he’s incredibly patient, and because his long decades of experience, of actually doing journalism, really show through in his classes.”

In addition to mentoring students, Leccese has also served as a mentor to other faculty at Emerson College, including Professor Daniel DeFraia. The 2022–23 school year is DeFraia’s first year as a full-time faculty member, and Leccese was assigned to be his mentor.

“He’s been a warm, open, accessible resource for me.” DeFraia said. “We get together occasionally for conversations. I may bring an issue to him and ask for his advice on how to teach a class, organize the class, develop a lecture, manage time, help students things like that, and then he provides his advice based on his decades of experience.”

While journalism has been his passion for over 40 years, Leccese plans on using his retirement to pursue his other passions.

“I’ve been a pretty dedicated amateur musician for a long time,” said Leccese, who plays the trumpet and bass in his spare time. “I’d had this thought for many years: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if, for a few years, the main thing you did was music?’”

Leccese received his master’s degree in English from Boston College in 1991, and now, after over 30 years, he’s ready to be a student again. At Berklee College of Music, Leccese will be studying music theory, practicing, and rehearsing with other students, he said.

For 16 years, Leccese has had an impact on faculty and students alike at Emerson College, helping form their careers to come.

“[Leccese] said, ‘There’s a lot of students in our department who want to be journalists, but they don’t have the movie in their head to show them what it’s really about,” said Struck. “To me, Mark is the producer, director and star of that movie, and he gave it to his students.”