Celebrating the Achievements, Embracing the Passion

By: Usha Sankar, Ph.D.
Incubator Participant
Advanced Lecturer, Department of Biological Sciences
Academic Advisor, Senior Class

Each year, my students and I look forward to the Fordham University Undergraduate Research Symposium (FUURS), where my students present their research and project proposals. However, this year, it was going to be even more special as my students had produced original, hypotheses driven research and collected data on the correlations between air quality and health outcomes.

We started with reading articles on air quality and asthma in January. I had my students come up with different ideas to access air quality and respiratory health using data from the city and the state databases, and brainstorm novel hypotheses. I even bought hand held air quality monitors so that some of my students could make their own measurements of air quality in their dorm rooms and common areas, in addition to off campus locations.

We discussed this during my regular lab session last week and the students (and I) expressed our disappointment about having to abruptly terminate the research. The saving grace has been that I had given them deadlines to compile and submit preliminary data before spring break and present their research to the entire class. Usually, I have the students present their research at the end of the semester, but something made me schedule an earlier presentation this time. In retrospect, I am so glad I did that, as the students had preliminary data, and conclusions, as well as a presentation. They could now use this as the basis for submitting abstracts to the FUURS. Needless to say, now more than ever, I am looking forward to seeing the abstracts in the symposium proceedings.

This semester has been extraordinary in every sense, and very stressful. We have all been focused on going above and beyond for our students and providing them with the best possible learning opportunities under these unprecedented circumstances. Although my class did take a moment last week to mourn what would have been this year’s FUURS, I do want to celebrate and cheer for all the original ideas and efforts from my students. It is moments like these, along with the time I have spent with the ReIMAGINE Higher Ed Incubator, that have provided me with the optimism and the feeling that there is a bright future ahead for higher education. When all of us – faculty, staff, administrators, and students – work together, we can expect our students to become scientists, innovators, and leaders who will create positive change!

Facing the Future

By: Samir Haddad
Reading Group Participant
Associate Professor, Philosophy

One of the lessons we’re already drawing from the COVID-19 crisis, is that as an institution and a society we need to be better prepared for the future. The rapid and positive response of students, faculty, staff, and administrators to completely change the way that Fordham operates has been truly impressive, but we’ve also learned that we were woefully unprepared for this event. We’re now all under pressure to plan and be ready for what lies ahead us, even as so much of the future remains so uncertain.

I believe that this planning and preparation is absolutely essential, but I worry about the effects it may have on all of us engaged in the mission of education. We are understandably afraid of what the future of the pandemic holds, and we need to do our best to make sure that the worst possibilities in that future are held at bay. We need to change our policies and actions so that we are protected against the damage that the pandemic can do – damage to our bodies, to Fordham, to our community, to the economy, to our democracy, to the very fabric of our society. But I worry that this fear of the future of the pandemic becomes a fear of the future as such. I worry that in our fear we will become focused on being in total control of everything in the future, on trying to anticipate every possible event and every eventuality.

I worry about this because fear of the future is fundamentally an anti-educational attitude. Everyone involved in education – students, teachers, staff, and administrators – must love the future and welcome it with open arms. And central to this love is a willingness to be surprised. The best educational experiences occur when something happens in the classroom that we had no idea was coming, when someone says something completely unpredictable, so that everyone in the room, the teacher included, learns something new. Education is all about preparing students for the future, but without all of the protections, so that they will chase it and embrace it. An education that does not love the future and is afraid to be surprised by it, is hard to imagine as an education at all.

So as we continue to reimagine higher education – something the crisis is forcing us all to do – I hope that we can balance the fear in our minds with an equal measure of love. 

Taking A Seat at the Grown-Ups’ Table

By: Andrew Souther
Incubator Participant
Undergraduate Student, FCRH, Class of 2021

Growing up in New Orleans, I am very familiar with “hurricane parties.” When the power first goes out, neighbors gather to share generators and gas stoves. As a little kid, you’re just excited to be out of school. There is an eerie sense that things will be “different” for a while, but the reality may not set in until later.

When Fordham University decided to cancel in-person classes on March 9, I felt a bit of déjà vu. The temperature was in the 70s for the first time in a while, and social-distancing standards were still an abstract idea, so students spread out across the lawns celebrating a few unexpected days off. This “hurricane party” felt a bit different though. It’s odd to look at this kind of situation from the perspective of a “grown-up” for the first time—or at least an “almost-grown-up.” I grew anxious as I felt my plans and responsibilities being thrown off course.

After flying home a week later, I realized I had to cut back and focus on the important things. I emailed a few friends and professors sadly, discussing plans for ongoing projects: “Thanks for all of the help with research on this, but I’ve decided not to submit for that essay contest this year…” Then on March 19, Professor Anne Fernald emailed members of the Incubator, offering us the option to leave if we felt the need to prioritize other matters. I thought about the offer, but it became clear that this group was something I should hold on to.

The ReIMAGINE Higher Ed Leadership Team was clearly putting in so much effort to transition our work online, and I felt compelled to match that effort with whatever I could manage. In fact, only one day after in-person classes were cancelled, the Incubator met online, and I saw all the faces I was familiar with on Tuesday evenings. As other classes and clubs struggled to transition, these meetings became a consistent and comforting presence in my week. Despite life obstacles that may not be visible to me, fellow participants have brought understanding, optimism, and funny costumes to our Zoom calls.

However, that does not mean continuing with the Incubator has been easy. This work was difficult even before moving online. I imagine it’s always challenging—and occasionally frustrating—trying to solve serious problems or building something valuable. My group has designed a first-year course focused on advocacy skills for students from under-represented or disadvantaged populations on campus. In the past few weeks, we have faced deadlines for project proposals and videos, and it has been hectic. In a certain sense, it’s a powerful coincidence that my time in the Incubator has aligned with these stressful few months. Just as I’ve unfortunately realized what it feels like to be a “grown-up” at a “hurricane party” facing an uncertain future, Fordham has given me this opportunity to work as a grown-up with other real grown-ups. I do not feel nearly as experienced as fellow participants from the faculty, staff, graduate schools, or local community, but I am glad I stayed at the table and have a place in the Incubator.

A Turning Point For Higher Education

By: Stephanie Adomavicius
Director of Communications and Events, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

A crisis can be defined as “an unstable or crucial time in which a decisive change is impending” (Merriam-Webster). In this case, companies and organizations, as well as political and government figures, are encouraged to be as prepared as possible by having a trained spokesperson appointed, a communications plan ready to roll out and a detailed course of action. A crisis can also be described as a turning point for better or worse. It can be a defining moment for an organization where its leaders take control of the situation and shine, thus allowing positive, unplanned awareness to be spread, or conversely, it can be the downfall of a brand name. Yet, no matter how prepared and groomed an organization may be, sometimes it is difficult to anticipate the worst case scenario.

As a communications professional, I’ve been watching the coronavirus pandemic play out with a watchful eye, remembering all the important lessons that were instilled in me during my graduate courses; the importance of having a crisis communications plan, the impact of being transparent and accountable and the power of knowing your audience. While every crisis can be a learning opportunity for what not to do, this health crisis has brought certain issues to the forefront and has cast them center stage while the world is watching; one of which is higher education and topics of teaching and learning. Although it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole, only seeing the “what could have been” for the spring semester and focusing on all the challenges everyone is experiencing while social distancing, I for one choose not to go down that path and see this as a turning point for higher education.

The ReIMAGINE Higher Education Initiative calls upon participants in the Reading Group and the Incubator to create an innovative and connected culture at Fordham, equipped to reimagine the Ignatian University for the 21st Century, and it aims to prepare faculty, staff, students, and community members for “a world in flux.” A world in flux….this statement has never been as applicable and as relevant as it is today. Now more than ever those in higher education – administrators, faculty and students – need to approach each challenge as an opportunity, each task with an innovative eye and each question with an inquisitive and creative mindset. In this case, we all have become true participants of the ReIMAGINE Higher Education Initiative.

Furthermore, this health crisis has thrown the laggards and those slow to adapt new methodologies into the deep end of the technology and innovation pool. Is it a scary feeling? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? Of course and this is okay. However, as we are several weeks into this virtual setting, some faculty, administrators and students are starting to catch their breath, and are finding different ways to keep themselves afloat, as they are juggling new responsibilities in different locations around the world. It can then be argued that each member of the Fordham community is operating his/her own authentic Incubator/maker lab space, conceptualizing ideas revolving around the accessibility and the operation of technology, novel ideas on how to study, learn new material, and complete assignments, and even groundbreaking ways to complete processes and deadlines within departments that may have been paper-based. We are all learning from each other and adjusting, which is a beautiful thing, and the answers to many complex and important questions will soon reveal and uncover themselves down the line. In my opinion, some questions include:

  • How will the issue of tuition be addressed as the unemployment rate remains high?
  • How has the college experience shifted?
  • Will students want to stay closer to home?
  • How do we define a classroom?
  • Will all classes have a greater online component going forward?
  • How can we further assist students with disabilities and make things more accessible in an online format?
  • How will degree requirements need to be adjusted for undergraduate and graduate programs, and do older requirements even apply moving forward in this new world?
  • How will admission requirements adjust for incoming students?
  • How will international student enrollment differ?

We all hold the answers to some of these questions, and as the Fordham community continues to grow together during this turbulent time, sharing feedback and being there for one another, we are all making a difference and are altering the course of higher education one block at a time; the ultimate goal of the ReIMAGINE Higher Education Initiative.

In conclusion, putting both my communications and higher education leader hat on, watching the Fordham community come together and rise to the challenge during this health crisis has been a humbling and inspiring presentation filled with empathy, trust and kindness. While this is no doubt an emotionally grueling and unprecedented time in our personal and professional lives, we need to count our blessings and embrace the resilient, supportive community that Fordham is comprised of. Although some believe this new normal will forever change the way the world interacts and operates, I think it will make us more appreciative and grateful for the people and resources that we have, while simultaneously molding each of us to think big and be bold. This is our turning point in higher education. Let’s embrace our moment and welcome it.

Stay well and be safe!

A Community That Stays Connected

By: Allison Pfingst
Reading Group Participant
Administrator and Advisor, Fashion Studies Program

Connection is a word that has come to take on tremendous meaning during the COVID-19 crisis. We are increasingly worried both about the effects that a lack of internet connection and of personal connection may have on ourselves and our students, as this pandemic shows few signs of slowing down. 

Yet as we face these serious concerns about the tenuousness of our connectivity, I am seeing it grow and strengthen before my eyes. It is taking new and meaningful forms that I believe, if we maintain them, will make Fordham stronger and more flexible than it has ever been.

Faculty are taking on the work of colleagues that are facing the challenges of full-time quarantine childcare. Father McShane’s thoughtful prayers, that he sends out via email, provide comfort to us all, regardless of faith. Professors who struggled to turn on their classroom projectors are now Zooming regularly with their students.

Every single member of the Fordham community has been thrust outside of his/her comfort zone. And every single member of the Fordham community is compassionately working across all boundaries of department, office, and position to ease these transitions on us all for the greater good.

If we can maintain that openness and solidarity and direct it towards the ideas that are forming in the ReIMAGINE Higher Education groups, there is truly no limit to what we can accomplish. Interdisciplinary programs that are funded, nimble, and fully supported by the departments? Easy. Food and housing security for all of our students? A no brainer. Courses that integrate the work of our fabulous Student Services teams? Of course! All of it is possible if we continue to work together in the way that we have during this crisis.

That’s a tall order.
It’s a little lofty.
It’s a little beyond the call of a school or a workplace.
It verges on preachy.
But that’s exactly what I’ve always loved about Fordham. It has always challenged its community to go further. It has never been enough to just be a good student or a good employee. Fordham expects you to be a good person, a man or woman for others. 

2020 is a new world that will require a new education, and I’m looking forward to watching how the Fordham community takes on that challenge together.