By Ken Iselhart
The West Wing returned this semester with many new changes. Zack Miklos/The Fordham Ram
What started out as an integrated learning community for students interested in political science is now developing into a community of residents interested in living out the Jesuit values of service and intellectual exploration. Bridget Brennan, FCRH ’16 and resident assistant of the West Wing ILC said, “It’s bigger than ourselves. We’re men and women for others.”
Just this year, the ILC has been hosting a variety of events and service projects. On the National Day of Service, Saturday, Sept. 12, the West Wing, in alliance with the Dorothy Day Center and a nonprofit group called The Bronx is Blooming, spent over four hours rehabilitating Mullaly Park.
The West Wing will also help to serve meals to about 1,500 people in need at Saint Francis Xavier High School in Manhattan. In December, the ILC plans to sing Christmas carols at Murray-Weigel Hall and converse with Father O’Hare, specifically about public service from the perspective of a Jesuit priest.
Each week, residents of this program attend a one credit class that consists of lectures, guest speakers or book readings. This semester, the book residents are reading and discussing is “In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience” by Father James Martin, S.J. Later in the semester, West Wing residents will also have the opportunity to meet with the author at a dinner colloquium. Students must participate in at least two service projects and make presentations about identifying public policy problems and creating solutions.
But this program did not develop overnight. The learning community was started in 2009 by former Dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, Dr. O’Donnell, and professor Dr. Panagopoulos. It served as a response to the lack of extracurricular outlets for politically inclined students. At the time, integrated learning communities were a new concept for Fordham.
“It was kind of an experiment,” said Robert Parmach, freshman class dean, who started working with the ILC soon after its initiation. “We were just trying to get a lay of the land, find out what students wanted.” At this time, the ILC mainly consisted of just one civically engaged lecture a month.
Brennan applied to live in the West Wing her sophomore year, after hearing about it through an upperclassman. On the program in its developmental stages, Brennan stated, “There was a lack of community.”
“There was less of an explicit Ignation connection” Parmach agreed.
Showing a strong enthusiasm for the West Wing, Bridget Brennan took charge as an informal student leader of the ILC. “I didn’t have a title at that point, I was just helping them out.” This leadership position eventually led to Brennan becoming an RA in the West Wing, where Brennan, Parmach and Dr. Hume, current chair of the Political Science Department, would spearhead the West Wing’s metamorphosis into the unique ILC it is today. “The interest was there, and we felt we had to rise to the occasion, too,” said Parmach.
Since coming under strong leadership within the last few years, the West Wing has made great strides. “I think a lot of it has to do with leadership from both Bridget and Dr. Hume,” said Parmach, whose presence as the program’s academic administrator must also be underlined.
Much of the development of the West Wing was influenced by the Manresa program, which aims to expand students’ academic, intellectual, spiritual and social growth. Parmach said, “We’ve tried to build the West Wing based on some of the successes with Manresa.”
The Manresa Program and the West Wing, however, do have their differences. Manresa consists of 125 students, while the West Wing houses only around 40 students. The Manresa program requires a course that fulfills freshmen’s Eloquentia Perfecta 1 attribute, while the West Wing is a supplemental 1 credit program.
Despite these differences, it is not surprising that most of the West Wing’s residents are alumni of the Manresa Program. This year, as a testament to the bond between the two learning communities, there will be many opportunities for co-programming between Manresa and the West Wing. The West Wing continues to evolve as an ILC. Parmach hopes to add more “on the road” types of service programs. He would also like to connect undergraduates with current young Fordham alumni, and further strengthen the participatory aspects of the West Wing’s lecture based classes.
Those involved in the program are proud of its development. “We’re very pleased at where we are right now,” said Parmach. Brennan also expressed pride at the progress the ILC has made. “It definitely has come a long way in just a year and a half,” she said. Her hope is that one day, there will be a school of public service at Fordham. “It’s right on the peak of being something super important here on campus.”