Fordham Notes: September 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Faculty Reads: Neuroplasticity — Rewiring the Brain to Lower Anxiety

A Fordham professor is using pioneering neuroscience research on the brain’s ability to change to help pastoral counselors address clients’ anxiety.

In his latest book, The Power of Neuroplasticity for Pastoral and Spiritual Care (Lexington Books, 2014), Dr. Kirk Bingaman, an associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, explores the impact that an adaptive mechanism known as “the negativity bias” has on our wellbeing. An evolutionary cousin of the “fight or flight” phenomenon, this bias describes the brain’s propensity to experience negative events more intensely in order to alert us to potential danger.

A built-in negativity bias was vital when humans lived as hunter-gatherers ever-at-the-ready to flee from a hungry lion. In today’s world, however, this bias tends to cause excessive negativity and anxiety.

“Today [this] anxiety spills over into our relationships with others and with ourselves,” said Bingaman, who teaches in Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. “It causes us to assume the worst, to overact to situations in ways such as, ‘Why did you look at me this way? Why did you use that tone?’”

Fortunately, Bingaman says, we are not condemned to primal negativity, thanks to the human brain’s capacity to change across the lifespan. With every new experience — learning new information, creating a memory, or adapting to a new situation — the brain undergoes structural changes, generating new neural pathways and reshaping existing ones. This ability, known as neuroplasticity, forms the crux of Bingaman’s book.

He argues that the most effective way to harness the power of neuroplasticity is through mindfulness meditation and contemplative spiritual practice. Through these therapeutic techniques and spiritual practices, clients learn to become aware of their thoughts and feelings. Rather than reacting to or trying to eliminate them, clients simply observe them as they come and go.

“Thoughts and feelings have a 90-second shelf-life biochemically. So when we experience an anxious thought or feeling, it will dissipate from the blood in 90 seconds — unless we feed the thought or judge ourselves for feeling that way,” he said. “The key to mindfulness-based therapy is to let thoughts and feelings come and go without fighting them. This then reduces the limbic activity in our brains and calms the amygdala.”

Himself a pastoral counselor, Bingaman says that the science of neuroplasticity will “necessitate a paradigm shift” in the way pastoral and spiritual caregivers approach their work with clients and congregants.

“Whether it’s therapy or theology, we need to really look at the frames of reference we are using to help the person in our care to calm their anxious brain. Some of our approaches are going to fire up the limbic region, and others will do the reverse.

“We have to make more use of it in religious and spiritual circles,” he continued. “Finding a regular contemplative practice is not something just for the mystics off in the desert. It’s for you and me and everyone else.”

— Joanna Mercuri

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Stellar Welcome for Fordham's Newest Landmark

Lincoln Center campus' Robert Moses Plaza overflowed with smiling faces yesterday as nearly 1,000 Fordham Law faculty, administrators, students, and alumni joined dignitaries and well-wishers in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand new law school. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor,former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Cardinal Edward Egan were on hand. (Photos by Chris Taggart and Dana Maxson)










Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Realist Acting and the White Tee

Julie Harris’ and Hilary Swank’s costumes for "The Member of the Wedding" and "Million Dollar Baby."  
One of the lasting iconic images in American cinema is of Marlon Brando in a white undershirt in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” With much of nation’s attention focused on domestic violence, the “wife-beater” is a timely reminder of the violence that inheres in some of our most potent cultural images.

The poster for the Sept. 20 "Rethinking Realist Acting" symposium (which will be held Saturday in the 12th-floor Lounge/Corrigan Center in Lowenstein Hall at the Lincoln Center campus), features an image of a man’s tank top, but without anyone wearing it.

“The white undershirt is the most problematic symbol because it’s associated with domestic violence,” said Keri Walsh, who together with Shonni Enelow and Mary Luckhurst organized the conference.

Walsh and Enelow are both assistant professors within Fordham’s English Department and Luckhurst is the Professor of Artistic Research and Creative Practice at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The poster’s design invites reflection on the status of the object in popular culture and on what the realist acting tradition contains beyond its inflammatory icons, said Walsh. She said many playwrights and actors in the realist tradition, such as Henrik Ibsen and Lorraine Hansberry, have been feminists seeking to challenge violence against women.

Brando in the famous tee.
“What interested us about this photograph was that no one was wearing the shirt; it didn’t make any assumptions,” she said.

The image also captures the conference’s goal of revising the tradition of ‘the Method’ and other forms of realist acting, and to enlarge a sense of the people who contributed to it beyond the kneejerk stereotype of macho and violent men, said Walsh. The play by Tennessee Williams, and Brando’s realistic performance in it, “eroticized labor and fetishized rough trade.” The naturalism of Brando’s performance catapulted the white undershirt and the white t-shirt into popular consciousness and infused them with new meaning.

While Brando’s image may be the most influential, it does not mark the only appearance of the garment in a realistic performance—this symbolic imagery recurs through James Dean’s crew neck tee in "Rebel Without a Cause," and in Julie Harris’ and Hilary Swank’s costumes for "The Member of the Wedding" and "Million Dollar Baby."

How is it that such realistic performances could change the meaning of an everyday garment? Both Dean and Brando studied at the Actors Studio, where director Lee Strasberg taught his own variation of Stanislavsky’s method, which encouraged actors to reduce the seeming distance between art and life. But Walsh said that realistic acting’s roots go far deeper than the 20th century.

“Realism goes back to the 19th century with Ibsen, Chekov, and Zola, and at the conference we’ll try to look even further back than that, to the 18th century,” she said.

 -Tom Stoelker

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Off the Field at Homecoming



Though much of the attention focused on the football field at Homecoming, the University was a hive of activity all weekend—some of it on campus, some way off campus, like the Young Alumni’s Annual Yacht Cruise, which took Rams out into New York Harbor on Friday night.


Closer to home, students donned semi-formal duds for the President’s Ball at the Lombardi Field House. The following morning, those who didn’t party too much at the ball were running the periphery of the campus for the 3rd Annual 5K Ram Run, where Jason Gong and Samantha Andrens were the first to cross the finish line.


Across road at Hughes Hall, Gabelli School of Business Dean Donna Rapacciolli greeted alumni, while, Lerzan Aksoy, professor of marketing, gave a quick snapshot of her course on brand loyalty. She said that the thousands attending homecoming are an example of connection that fosters loyalty. 


At the University Museum, curator Jennifer Udell set for the tone for the rest of the day by introducing alumni to the 4th Century BC Ram's head libation cup. Convinced, alumni headed for the tents on Eddies Parade.


Under the tent, more than 6000 students, alumni, friends, family, and friends tucked into all-American fare of hamburgers and hot dogs. While such celebrations are commonplace on campuses from Michigan to Syracuse, they’re rare in New York City, something that wasn’t lost on several Rams in attendance. 

“They just don’t have the school spirit, they’re there for their education and then they’re outta’ here,” said Terry Burke, whose husband and two children attended Fordham, including Erin Burke, assistant dean at Fordham College Rose Hill. 


Burke wasn’t the only one for whom Fordham is a family affair. Jane Barnett, MC ’76, president of the Marymount College alumni board said many Marymount alumnae married Fordham alumni and sent their sons and daughters here. 


“Fordham had great teams before Vince Lombardi, but he represented something more than just a great ball player,” he said. 

Ray Longobardi, FCRH 54 said the connection is tied to shared memories, some tied to football, some not. 

“There was the idea of the game and the meaning of the word Fordham, which encompassed the world of business, and the arts, and the individual. And that combo is a rare thing… a very rare thing.” 
-Tom Stoelker



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Presenting Complex Topics to a Lay Audience

Fordham students in the Bronx Science Consortium presented their work yesterday at the Bronx Zoo.
Beyond the bears, birds, and large body of reptiles, a group of visitors to the Bronx Zoo on Wednesday, Sept. 10, were brought face-to-face with some of the latest research taking place in the Bronx.

The Bronx Science Consortium, of which Fordham University is a member, presented student science research to the Zoo's visitors at its second annual poster symposium, which took place in the Dancing Crane Pavilion. Several Fordham students participated.

Topics were both contemporary and cutting-edge: from the Ebola virus and HPV to breast cancer and hospice care; from the West Nile to the Neotropics to Brooklyn; and from bog turtles, mosquitos and langurs to invasive plants and coconuts.

While explaining university-level research can be daunting, translating it into layperson's language was one of the challenges for the 24 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students from Fordham, as well as reps from the other institutions (Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Bronx Zoo/WCS, Montefiore Hospital, and the New York Botanical Garden.)

"The research projects that the doctoral and master’s students contributed are publication-quality," said Amy Tuininga, Ph.D., acting chief research officer at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and co-director, Bronx Science Consortium Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Partnerships and Assessment. "The undergraduate research was equally impressive, and the high school students presented were creative works that interpreted their science for general audiences. Altogether, the presentations represented an unprecedented combination of excellent scientific work initiated in the Bronx."

You can read more about the Bronx Science Consortium Poster Symposium here. This year's presentation was underwritten by EmblemHealth.
-Janet Sassi 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: In Mentorship Pairing, Aspiring Physician Finds Inspiration in Surgeon

After watching a boarding schoolmate endure multiple reconstructive surgeries following a plane crash in her native Nigeria, Princess Chukwuneke knew she wanted to be a doctor. Now the Fordham senior is working toward her goal with help from Ray Longobardi, M.D., FCRH ’86, through the Fordham Mentoring Program.

Chukwuneke, who is majoring in general science with a minor in chemistry and creative writing, has found a good match with her mentor. “He’s destroyed every stereotype [I’ve had] about doctors. He’s one of the funniest persons I know, and he has wonderful rapport with his patients,” she says. “I just watch [him] and think, this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Princess Chukwuneke, a pre-med senior at Fordham College
at Rose Hill
Photo by Kathryn Gamble 
Throughout the year, she’s watched Longobardi, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, perform several surgeries, and she’s shadowed him during his rounds in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, where he is an assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery.

“The fact that he’s allowed me in to see surgeries—it’s an opportunity you don’t [often] get [as an undergraduate],” says Chukwuneke, “it’s what medical students get.” She says Longobardi also quizzes her about what she sees on X-rays, explains anything that she finds confusing, and asks her about her Fordham science classes. “He just treats me like a student interested in medicine. ‘See what you like, see what you don’t like.’ I think that is great.”

Longobardi, who has been a mentor in the Fordham Mentoring Program for four years, says, “No one learns in a vacuum. We’ve all been taught by other people. I try to impart some of the things [my teachers] taught me about taking care of people.”

It was after he broke his wrist as a freshman at Fordham that led Longobardi to one of his mentors, Kenneth Kamler, M.D., a microsurgeon specializing in hand reconstruction and finger reattachment, and an eminent adventure physician who practices medicine in remote regions. “I met him right after he came back from an expedition to the Amazon,” says Longobardi. “I was taking general chemistry then and while he was putting the cast on my arm, we were talking about the chemical reactions happening. He always made it very easy to understand what’s going on in orthopedics. That’s something that I always admired and always tried to replicate.”

It was that experience with Kamler, whom Longobardi calls “a mentor, an inspiration then, and friend to this day,” that spurred his interest in orthopedics. The interest was enhanced by his construction work experience during high school and college. “I had some ideas about drills and saws, so orthopedics kind of came naturally. But it’s not for everyone,” he says.

After observing a knee replacement surgery, Chukwuneke knew she could stomach being a doctor, but her career aspirations lie in becoming a reconstructive plastic surgeon. In 2005, when Chukwuneke was a student at the Loyola Jesuit College in Nigeria, Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 crashed in Omagwa, killing 108 people, including 60 students from the school. One of the two survivors, a friend of Chukwuneke’s, was critically burned. “I watched how she struggled through one plastic surgery after another,” says Chukwuneke. “She’s so much better now than she was.”

Chukwuneke sees plastic surgery as an outlet for her creative side. “I believe science and art are inseparable and for this reason, I tend to incorporate both in nearly everything that I do,” says Chukwuneke, who sings with Fordham’s Gloria Dei Choir and attends performances at the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet as often as she can. “Plastic surgery is the one place in medicine where I could explore both sides of me.”

Dr. Ray Longobardi
She’s also sharing some of her varied interests by tutoring and counseling high school and Fordham students. Through a summer program in Fordham’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, Chukwuneke has tutored local 10th and 11th graders in poetry and calculus, and counseled them on the college experience. Since her sophomore year she has been providing tutoring assistance in math, music history, and general chemistry to students in Fordham’s Higher Education Opportunity Program. “I love it,” she says. “It’s really rewarding for me.”

Longobardi finds fulfillment, too, in sharing his knowledge with students. A member of the admissions committee at the NYU School of Medicine, he’s conducted mock interviews with Fordham students preparing for medical school admission and given lectures to pre-health professions students.

“I really love the University. I always feel you need to give back and give back not just by giving monetary donations,” Longobardi says. “What’s really going to help students is guidance. And if there are areas that you can help in that way, that’s what’s going to make the programs at Fordham better, and give the students a better edge so that they can make better and more intelligent decisions.”

His “take-home message” to students is to “find what you really love,” says Longobardi, an avid baseball and football fan who has treated athletes from the New York Islanders, Florida Marlins, and University of Tennessee. “If you’re going to spend your life doing something, find something you love.”

—Rachel Buttner


Honoring a Sister in the Fordham Family

It’s not farfetched to say that Fordham is part of Sister Monica Kevin’s DNA. The associate professor emeritus of biology began teaching at Fordham in 1967. She also served as dean of summer session for nearly two decades, as president of the faculty senate, as director of the pre-med and pre-dent programs, and as a member of various University committees (Internal Review Board, faculty salary and benefits committee, tenure review committee….)

Sister Monica with Father McShane, 2007.
Sister Monica is a two-time Bene Merenti medal winner, receiving her 40-year medal from Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, in 2007.

And Sister Monica is a proud alumna, graduating not once, but three times. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1948, a master’s in biology in 1961, and a doctorate degree in 1964 (with a dissertation in cytology/cytogenetics).

She retired from her last position as counselor to retired faculty in June of 2013, but remained connected to the community, living at the Rose Hill apartments and attending university events through mid-April 2014.

On Palm Sunday this past spring, Sister Monica suffered a stroke while attending mass at the University church. She has been living since then with her religious community, the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk in Blue Point, Long Island.

On Sunday, Sept. 21, the Ursuline community is honoring Sister Monica with a special ceremony. The event is open to any and all who knew or worked with her, and members of the Fordham community can contact Sister Anne-Marie Kirmse at x-4746 or visit the Facebook page here  for more information.


“She was a very longstanding presence on campus, and we want to reach any retired faculty who may not know,” said Sister Anne-Marie. “The event is her community’s small-scale version of our Fordham Founders day, where we honor longstanding members of our community.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fordham Grad Student Wins Science Scholarship

Claire McKay Flynn, right, accepts her award from Anna Goldberg,
   Medical Isotope Research & Production, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Contributed photo
Claire McKay Flynn, a biological sciences student in Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS), has been awarded the Renate W. Chasman Scholarship for Women.

The $2,000 scholarship is awarded by Brookhaven Women in Science (BWIS), a not-for-profit organization at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, to encourage women to pursue careers in science, engineering, or mathematics.

McKay Flynn came to Fordham from Adelphi University, where she majored in French and biology. She participated in summer research in synthetic biology at North Carolina State University, and after a year teaching high school English in France through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program, she decided to work toward becoming a university professor. 

Flynn is keenly aware of the sometimes mistaken perception of scientific research by the public and would like to change that, especially in the area of nature conservation. She hopes to spread the word about the importance of scientific research to the general public through educational programs.

“As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to be granted many opportunities that enhanced my education,” she said. 

“I am grateful to Brookhaven National Laboratory and BWIS for the opportunity to pursue my goals in graduate work.”

Flynn was one of two scholarship recipients for the year 2013, along with Kaitlyn Anne Suarez, an undergraduate student at Union College in Schenectady.

The scholarship is named after the late Renate W. Chasman, a noted physicist at Brookhaven Lab. Chasman’s legacy includes contributions to the development of particle accelerators, as well as the design of the electron storage rings at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven and elsewhere around the world. 

—Patrick Verel


Examining the Corporate Embrace of Bohemia

Thomas Frank spoke at EPIC2014.
In an exploration of “planned bohemia,” political analyst and author Thomas Frank drew a historical contrast between today’s use of artists by corporate culture and government support of artists during the Depression.

“Back then, government protected the artists from the market and today we expose them to it,” said Frank, keynote speaker at EPIC2014, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, held Sept. 8 at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus and sponsored by the Center for Positive Marketing. The conference runs through Sept. 10.

Frank, whose book What’s the Matter with Kansas (Metropolitan, 2004) examined his home state’s culture wars, centered his talk on the trend in American cities to use artists as fodder for real estate interests and corporate boosterism.

He said urban planners from Pittsburg to Kansas City employ the term “vibrancy” to denote an artistically inclined metropolis whose vitality is supplied by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of artists and hipsters.  Even the Obama administration has used the strategy as part of its official recovery for the nation.

Frank said that Depression era artists empathized with average Americans.
Photo by Dorothea Lang curtesy Library of Congress
But unlike the public arts projects of the 1930s, which focused on giving artists work and keeping them off the dole, today’s artists are expected to seed gentrification and save cities.

“Nobody expected artists to pull us out of the depression,” he said. “But today we are counting on our artists for considerably more.”

The “vibrancy theory” envisions artist-homesteaders as providing the first step in gentrifying blighted neighborhoods, thus paving the way for the professional class to follow. He said that such an atmosphere turns the artists into a spectacle. They are expected be highly visible performers who not only rehabilitate abandoned lofts, but who also become part of the physical landscape.

“The artist who works in her room without tattoos offers nothing to this [spectacle],” he said. “She’s not investment grade.”

While Depression-era art commissioned by the Farm Security Administration was intensely concerned with documenting the plight of the average citizen, today’s funding of artists leads down the opposite track.

“The art we do today segregates the artist from the millions of Americans that go to work in places are not part of vibrancy, unless it’s to make fun of them—as in [artist] Jeff Koons’ manner of going to the state fair and saying, ‘Ha ha! Look at that balloon.’”

Frank said that “creativity worship” by management gurus has led to the commissioning of trophy buildings to be built by big-name architects like Frank Ghery.  Ghery’s sinewy facades, he said, create the impression among corporate consumers that their out-of-the-box thinking is reflected in the architect’s irregular angles.

Frank said today's artists are segregated from the average American.
Photo curtesy TheGirlsNY
But for all the lip service given to creativity, the reality is something completely different, said Frank. American society has little interest in creative thinking unless it can be monetized, which he said explains the “downward spiral of creative lives” among artists and academics who fear that honest expression and original thinking might put them out of work.

He allowed that not all of this thinking is unique to today. Even Vincent Van Gogh’s work came to light when the self-appointed elite decided his work was indeed art, rather than the musings of a madman.

Similarly, those who hear “sweet clear reason” when they listen to National Public Radio, or think that they’re in the “presence of something profound” when they hear a millionaire give a Ted Talk, are actually participating in a “professional consensus.”

“What this complacent literature purrs into our ears is that creativity is our property, our competitive edge, our class virtue,” he said. “It’s also the benevolent doctrine in which we rule the world.”

-Tom Stoelker

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rose Hill Opening Day 2014: One Part Move, Two Parts Party

For the freshmen families who had spent the summer dreading the back-breaking chore of moving to college, Opening Day at Fordham's Rose Hill campus was quite the surprise. As soon as they threw their cars into "park" outside the residence halls, families were instructed to step back and let the troops of cheering upperclassmen take care of everything. The only thing left to do was to settle in and have fun.












—Photos by Bruce Gilbert

Lincoln Center Opening Day: Students Break in New Residence Hall

Opening Day at the Lincoln Center campus was at times lightning fast, as when student workers descended upon cars parked at the curb on West 62nd Street, and at times less fast, as when incoming students waited for one of the four elevators to whisk them to their rooms as high as 22 stories up. But by days end, nearly 300 students successfully found their ways to what they'll be calling home for the next year.














—Photos by Chris Taggart