New Year’s resolutions have helped earmark January as a time when people focus on creating meaningful change—both personally and professionally—so it’s fitting that it’s also National Mentoring Month, a time to celebrate the role we can play in helping each other reach our goals.

For Luigi Fata, however, a keen focus on mentorship is not just for the new year; it’s business as usual.

“My fundamental belief is it’s always beneficial to you to help others—as much as it’s beneficial to them getting the help,” said Fata, a 1991 graduate of Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business.

He’s a firm believer in empowering people, whether he’s working as vice president of E.T. Browne Drug Company, which manufactures the Palmer’s brand of cocoa butter products, or participating in the Fordham Mentoring Program, which he said he’s done for about 10 years.

“I realized, now I have the ability to share my story with others and help them get through the process of what they want to be when they grow up,” he said. “It’s very important to find what makes people tick and what their passions are and, as a leader or a manager or a mentor, help them do more of that.”

Navigating Fordham as a First-Generation Student

Born in the Bronx to an Italian immigrant and a Yonkers native, Fata grew up just miles from Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, but he “had no real idea” or sense of the University until his older sister enrolled in an evening course.

“My mom was a high school student and my dad, being an immigrant, only went to third grade,” Fata said. “So, we never really knew what college was about until my sister went.”

Now, attending Fordham is a family affair: Fata met his wife, Maria Calicchia-Fata, FCRH ’92, at the University, and he and Maria are two-time Ram parents. Their son, Nicholas, is a junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill and their daughter, Marisa, majored in communication and culture, earning both a B.A. and M.A. after completing an accelerated master’s degree program through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences last year.

Fata said that as soon he and his father drove onto campus to drop his sister off for class, he knew he’d apply to Fordham when the time came. He initially enrolled as a liberal arts major in hopes of becoming a teacher, but switched things up, ultimately earning a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing and a minor in management.

Fata also played basketball at Fordham. As a standout player on his high school team, he had received athletics scholarship offers from some Division II schools, so he assumed it would be pretty easy to “walk on” to Fordham’s Division I team. He quickly learned just how wrong he was when he arrived “as a scrawny little freshman,” he said, and discovered how much “bigger, stronger, and faster” the team was.

But it wasn’t a total bust: Fata ended up captaining the junior varsity basketball team and meeting “most of my good friends to this day.” And he credits his tryout woes with teaching him new ways to approach—and ultimately solve—problems.

“Those experiences really help define you,” he said. “That’s why playing basketball was one of the best things I did at Fordham: learning how to fight for something like that is a lifelong skill. Never give up on an idea, and find your way through a problem.”

Teaching It Forward

That drive and appetite for problem-solving has served him well in his sales career, he said. Starting with his first sales job with Duracell fresh out of college—an opportunity he discovered when he attended a Fordham career fair—Fata has worked in sales and marketing for various consumer products, from batteries and razors to makeup and skin care.

“I started as a sales rep, where I’d go into the store, and I would literally do things like clean the shelves, straighten up the product on shelves, dust off the product, make it look good, and then jump in my car, go to the next store, and do the same thing,” Fata said. “It was real grunt work at the time, but it was all about learning.”

Fata’s desire to teach never left him, and in 1992 he decided to pursue an M.B.A. to be better positioned to teach as an adjunct professor down the line. He graduated from Long Island University’s satellite campus at Mercy College in Westchester County, New York, in 1996. Degree in hand, Fata has taught at a community college in Westchester “as part of my giving back, as part of me feeling like I could scratch that itch of being a teacher while being in the business world.”

In that vein, Fata got involved in the Fordham Mentoring Program. “It’s partially teaching” and “partially helping people understand their opportunities,” he said.

In May, he participated in the University’s First-Generation Celebration, a virtual event featuring alumni speakers and mentors familiar with the challenges associated with being the first in your family to attend college.

His participation in that celebration and his service as a mentor have created a “virtuous circle” of sorts. At the kickoff event for the 2021–2022 Fordham Mentoring Program, Fata shared a story about one of his mentees, Marie Lynch, FCRH ’18, and his daughter. When Marisa was a first-year student at Fordham, Lynch helped her secure an internship in the athletics department. Now Lynch is officially a mentor herself, having joined the Fordham Mentoring Program last fall.

“As Fordham alumni, we always will put out a hand,” Fata said. “It’s a question of whether you choose, as a Fordham student, to take that hand and run with it. At some point [after you graduate, you reach your hand out, too], like Marie did. She reached her hand out to my daughter, and it came full circle.”

Fordham Five (Plus One)

What are you most passionate about? People!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Be uniquely, genuinely, honestly you!

What’s your favorite place in New York City? Grand Central Station. In the world? Fontana di Trevi in Rome.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you? The Catcher in the Rye

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most? My wife—teacher and best mom ever!

What are you optimistic about? Life in general.