We often talk about academic excellence when we talk about Fairfield, without always taking the time to be specific, or to explain how our learning environment differs so significantly from that of our peer institutions.
So let me give you an example. This time last year, a group of seniors from our School of Engineering were given a simple set of instructions: “Invent a tool or system that will be helpful to society.”
That is a pretty broad mandate, and of course, consistent with our University’s orientation toward making the world a better place.
Four of those seniors – Andrew Krywucki ’11, Juan Navarro ’11, Kaitlin Meszaros ’11, and Darnell Rynie ’11 – decided to develop an orthopedic glove that would help stroke victims to grasp and manipulate objects.This was an idea inspired by Dr. Jerry Sergent, professor of electrical engineering, who had experienced a stroke and had limited use of his hand for a period while he recovered. The group made great strides with their glove, and we expect that further research on this technology will be taken up by another generation of undergraduates this year.
This is serious research with real world applications, and it is being undertaken by undergraduates – something that is rare at large research universities, and yet it is a defining characteristic of the Fairfield University experience.
We are among a handful of universities that have world-class teaching scholars on our faculty – leaders in physics, chemistry, nursing, the humanities, and so on – and yet we are not a doctoral degree granting institution (with the exception of the School of Nursing). This means that our undergraduates are not instructed by graduate students, who often have other priorities in large institutions. Our faculty scholars devote their time to research and teaching, giving their full attention to the young people in their undergraduate and graduate classrooms, labs, and studios.
This summer, there has been a lot of research activity on campus. As you will read in these pages, a team of student researchers has been assisting Dr. Min Xu, associate professor of physics, in his research into biomedical optics – how light can be used to detect abnormalities in cells that would indicate the early stages of cancer. It is cutting-edge research, and our students are right at the center of it.
In addition, this summer, Fairfield hosted some of the best young mathematicians in the country – two of them from Fairfield – for an intensive period of research under the guidance of Dr. Shawn Rafalski, assistant professor of mathematics.
We are on the verge of opening up a new study abroad program in environmental science in Brazil, in a joint project coordinated between Fairfield and the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense (UENF) in Campos, Brazil. Under this plan, our students would spend four weeks in intensive Portuguese language immersion before their semester of studies in Campos. Dr. Brian Walker, chair of the Biology Department, and
Dr. Dina Franceschi, associate professor of economics, are taking the lead on the program.
In April, we hosted the first campus-wide undergraduate research symposium to showcase all of our student’s brightest ideas, across the spectrum of disciplines, and two of our recent graduates have received Fulbright scholarships to study overseas, joining an impressive list of 59 Fairfield graduates who have won Fulbrights in the last 18 years. These are just a few highlights.
We know our students go on to successful careers in a variety of fields – business, teaching, medicine, the arts, and science, to name but a few. Certainly, when they leave Fairfield, our alumni report back to us that they are more prepared for the challenges ahead than their peers. They are prepared because we ask them to actively participate in the exploration for new knowledge while they are at Fairfield, and that taste for exploration and for conquering new heights never leaves them as they advance in their chosen careers.