Educating the Whole Person

Fairfield University
Written by Claire Suttles

As a Jesuit institution, Fairfield University focuses on educating the whole person, a concept known as cura personalis. “It is developing the whole student—mind, body, and spirit – and valuing academic excellence and service to others, especially poor and socially marginalized people,” explains Dr. Lynn Babington, Provost/SVP for Academic Affairs. “[We are] really helping young men and women discover who they are and who they could be.”
Community involvement is core to the university’s approach. “We are very engaged in our community. I think almost every student graduates from here having done either service learning courses—where part of the course is actually engagement in the community—or they have multiple internships or other experiential learning opportunities. We feel it is really important to move from classroom to career through experiences within the workforce and within the community [while also] giving back.”

Students across all academic disciplines are expected to engage with the local community, including those in undergraduate and graduate programs that are not traditionally associated with volunteer work. “We think those students also benefit from a Jesuit education because they are learning through a lens of serving the most vulnerable populations and really being part and parcel with the community in which we live.”

Moreover, the surrounding community is truly in need of the University’s support. “Fairfield County is the wealthiest county in the United States, and yet Bridgeport is one of the poorest cities,” Dr. Babington points out. “So that means there is a huge gap between the very, very wealthy and the very poor. So our University is deeply engaged with the city of Bridgeport in all kinds of programs; everything from a health promotion center to financial budgeting and tax preparation from our business school.”

Environmental science students and geography students have worked with the mayor’s office to geomap areas of food scarcity. English majors work with local students on language development, while nursing students run health screenings at the Connecticut Refugee Center. “In practically every discipline at the university there are multiple courses that combine in-the-classroom [experience] and an experiential service within the community.”

Fairfield University faculty and staff are also “deeply embedded” in the local school system, doing “everything from helping educate and train the teachers to working with at risk families as they are engaged with their kids at school.”

While community engagement is critical, academic achievement is also stressed. “We have a strong core curriculum that is required of all of our students and that includes a number of courses in the humanities and liberal arts, including philosophy and history and the sciences and mathematics and applied ethics. We feel that this really forms the basis for students to then move on and integrate the majors that they are interested in, whether it is a professional school [or a liberal arts major]. Jesuit education is very broad based, comprehensive, but based on the liberal arts tradition.”

Fairfield University’s mix of academic rigor and community involvement has made its nursing program one of the best in the nation. “Both the undergraduate and graduate program is one of the top ten programs in the country. I think what separates our nursing program is the strong Jesuit foundation and liberal arts foundation, [which produces nurses] who are aren’t just good scientists and good at the technical aspects of care, but who communicate very well and can work and lead teams whether it is in a hospital, or a community health center, or a physician’s office. Our nursing students do exceptionally well and we continue to receive accolades nationally for that program.”

The university is currently building a new nursing and health sciences center to house the nationally recognized program, as well as other health studies programs such as nutrition and public health. “That will allow us to continue to grow those programs, but also provide cutting edge facilities for both education and training.” The facility will also incorporate a center for palliative care in community partnership with local hospitals, healthcare centers, and senior centers.

The Dolan School of Business is another well-respected program. “Their tagline is Creating Ethical Business Leaders and we have a strong focus on that,” Dr. Babington shares. In 2016, Graduate programs at the Dolan School were named among the best in the nation according to the annual “Best Graduate Schools” ranking from U.S. News and World Report. Fairfield University undergraduates also have access to top-notch business education. This includes the opportunity to work with faculty on their award winning research, “which is very unusual at the undergraduate level.”

All of the university’s students have an opportunity to participate in the business competition Fairfield Startup. “It is not just for business students,” Dr. Babington explains. “We are very focused on interdisciplinary [education] here at Fairfield.” University alumni have put up money to create a “Shark Tank” like contest in which each team develops a business plan and then tries to convince the alumni sponsors that their idea is the best. The winners receive money and one-on-one support to make their concept a reality. “The winners of these business competitions spend the summer with their team, trying to launch businesses. And several of them over the last few years have been able to file patents and have been able to directly start engaging in these startups after college.”

Fairfield University’s Entrepreneurship Laboratory provides startup support for entrepreneurial members of the community. Created as a partnership between Fairfield University, The Town of Fairfield Economic Development Department, and Kleban Properties, the initiative is located in downtown Fairfield above the Fairfield University Bookstore. Participants receive shared office space, access to mentors and discounted services, technology resources, workshops, and startup funding.

Business-minded students will soon have access to even more options at Fairfield University; the institution is renovating and expanding the Dolan School of Business. There are also plans for a new facility for the School of Communication, Arts, and Media. This broad discipline includes everything from film, television, media production and theatre arts to public relations and digital journalism.

These communication students benefit from the university’s business relationships and Connecticut location. “We have a lot of partnerships with local businesses in the community.” Students have the opportunity to intern with locally based media giants such as ESPN and ABC, or they can take an hour train ride into New York City to access virtually any communications internship imaginable.

The New York metro area has internship options for all of the university’s academic disciplines, providing valuable experience and opening countless doors. “I think every student has at least one internship before they finish,” Dr. Babington reports. This real world work experience adds to students’ well-rounded, Jesuit-driven education. “We really want to make sure that, when our students leave here, they are team-ready so they can walk into the workplace and work with diverse groups of people and have good communication skills. That, frankly, puts us at a huge advantage.”

Many students find internships and first jobs with Fairfield University graduates. “Many of our alum work in New York or Boston and they hire our students as interns during the summer and breaks. They also preferentially hire our students because they know the kind of students they are getting: someone who can walk in the door and work on a team and be able to communicate well.”

This on-the-job-success is demonstrated by the university’s impressive postgraduate employment statistics. “Every year in October, universities are required to survey and find out what their graduates are doing. Consistently in the last five years, over 98 percent of our grads that graduate in May either have jobs, or are in graduate school, military service, Peace Corps or something [similar] by October. We are really proud of that. People leave here and they are very successful in obtaining those jobs.”

Meaningful employment is a critical goal for any recent graduate; but Fairfield University aims to go beyond that. The institution is committed to arming students with all the qualities they need for long-term success, both on and off the job. Dr. Babington summarizes, “We want people to be responsible citizens in this ever challenging world we live in.”



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