Our first encounter was like a warm breeze on a hot summer’s day.
In a good way.
We had just emerged from a typically grim parking garage on the Fordham University campus and had exactly 10 minutes until the information session. An impeccably dressed young woman in a flowing skirt and matching hair, seemingly beamed down from above, smiled in our general direction.
We asked her how to get to Duane Library and after she apologized for the heat (it was that 95-degree day in April, 2023) and the distance ahead (past two great lawns and on the opposite end of the 85-acre campus) she smiled again, wished us well, and vanished.
Our brisk stroll on this hot, sunny day made a terrific second impression. Nearly everyone who could be outside was outside, stretched out across the first, and then second, great lawn. Flowers blooming, trees budding, frisbees flying – it was hard to believe that moments before we had been surfing the rough and tumble traffic of the Bronx. Episodic breaks in the greenery jolted us back that reality, as we could see and hear the bustling city, including the occasional siren, enrobing the otherwise peaceful, bucolic environs.
A metaphor, perhaps, for the real world lurking just beyond the ivory towers.
We arrived right on time at Duane Library, home of the admissions and theology departments. Built in 1926, it hasn’t been a library since the mid-2000s; its stone walls, vaulted ceilings, heavy-metal chandeliers, tall stained glass windows and ethereal echoes felt more like a church. Jess, our tour guide, later told us that her father, also an alum, believed the place was haunted. Apparently, he's not the only one.
Our meeting room was packed, with an overflow of parents and prospective students lining the back wall. We made a bee-line for the first row, which as usual was empty. Nobody wanted to sit up front it seemed, except us.
The info session was brief, only about 15 minutes, covering the basics of the application process, while also touting Fordham’s second campus near Lincoln Center, proximity to the Bronx Zoo, the Botanical Gardens (literally across the street), and Arthur Avenue, famous for Italian bakeries, delis and restaurants. Yankee Stadium is also just a subway ride away. Did we mention the campus sometimes doubles as a movie set? (The Exorcist, A Beautiful Mind, Wall Street, etc.)
Fordham’s commitment to sustainability, diversity and social leadership were highlighted, as well as the recent installation of a new president, Tania Tetlow, the first female and layperson to hold the post in the school’s 181-year history.
Total population is 10,000 students, about 6,400 of which reside on the Rose Hill campus, another 2,000 or so at its Lincoln Center location (eight miles away), and the balance across a Westchester County campus and European satellites in London and Spain. Students hail from all 50 states and 90 countries. Forty-two percent are people of color and 7% are international.
Fordham’s tagline is “The Jesuit University of New York.” The “Jesuit” part centers on a dedication to social leadership, diverse perspectives and the core principle of educating the “whole person” for the “greater good.” Fordham is 43% Catholic, and all faiths are welcome. Certain theology courses are required to graduate but the mission is “to convert students to humanity, not Catholicism.”
As a university, Fordham features two liberal arts colleges (Rose Hill and Lincoln Center) offering 70 majors, minors and pre-professional programs as well as the Gabelli School of Business. Average class size is 23, with a 14:1 student-teacher ratio. Students can take up to 40% of classes at either location. Studies are based on a core curriculum and students are encouraged to explore possible majors and minors with an eye toward finding connections between diverse disciplines.
The “New York” element pretty much speaks for itself, given that the Big Apple is not only for the biting in terms of food, entertainment and shopping, but also internship, employment and research opportunities. New York City is Fordham’s campus and community, classroom. There’s a Metro North stop at the campus entrance and Midtown Manhattan is a 20-minute train ride away. A van shuttles between the two campuses.
Much of our tour was conducted outdoors, standing outside mostly gothic-style buildings, learning about important matters such as food options, laundry and which dorms have air conditioning. Sports are D1 (Go Rams!) with 17 club sports (200 clubs overall) for the rest of us. No Greek Life. Given the school’s location, heavy emphasis was afforded the university’s security apparatus, as well.
Our first step inside was a stunner. Fordham’s main library, Walsh, is one of the largest in North America. Beyond its gothic exterior, the cavernous atrium centers on a towering, curved column sandwiched between two multi-story angled walls, suggesting an open book. Clever. Walsh is home to some two million volumes, and ranks ahead of Yale, Harvard and Columbia in the Princeton Review’s estimation.
We cooled our heels in the common room of one of Fordham’s newer dorms and also entered the Fordham University Church, built in 1845 and incorporating stained glass windows that didn’t fit St. Patrick’s Cathedral. At this point, we had been on tour for more than an hour, it was hot, and we had a rush-hour drive home ahead of us.
We took a quick walk through the very impressive new student center, paused in front of the first of the two great lawns to take in the majesty of Keating Hall, and then headed back to our favorite parking garage.
Our windswept friend was nowhere in evidence to bid us a fond farewell, but her spirit, and Fordham’s prodigious attributes, powered us through the tangle of the Bronx River Parkway and the ride home to Connecticut.