Fordham University is poised to establish a new body of research on how people can flourish on the job in times of stress and unusual pressure.

The Human Resiliency Institute, established in May at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, will bring interdisciplinary study to the techniques that allow some people to easily handle tense times at work.

For its first project, the institute will focus on the airline industry—specifically, three airports in the region where employees are getting training in how to solve problems, defuse tensions and bounce back from moments of conflict and angst.

“The front-line people … work in a highly stressed environment,” said James Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Education (GSE), where the institute is based. “Helping them deal with those stresses is what resiliency is all about.”

The director of the institute, Tom Murphy, developed a resiliency training program, called Resiliency Edge, for the airline industry. The training also offers lessons for other sectors where tensions run high.

He brought Resiliency Edge to JFK International Airport in May, and found that 97 percent of participants found it effective. The training kicked off at Newark airport on Nov. 19 and came to LaGuardia Airport on Dec. 16.

The institute will augment GSE’s human resources degree program while providing new research opportunities to other academic departments, Hennessy said.

“There’s an opportunity to carve out an area of research focusing on the effects of resiliency training on workforces, wherever those workforces happen to be,” he said.

The institute is already working with the Graduate School of Business Administration and will likely reach out to the Graduate School of Social Service, Hennessy said.

Murphy said hospitals have already started inquiring about his training program. He got the idea for the program after seeing how airline employees responded to the 9/11 attacks.

As a longtime customer service expert who trained thousands of people in the airline industry, he felt their grief at seeing their colleagues perish in the attacks. But he was struck by how vigorously they performed on the job, despite their anguish.

“I saw people lose a lot,” he said. “I could see them being brave and strong, and I wanted to see what the source of their strength was.”

In his book, Reclaiming the Sky (AMACOM, 2006), he gives some examples. Anne MacFarlane, an information agent at Logan International Airport in Boston, sought to help others after losing her daughter—also an airline employee—on United Flight 175.

“Rather than withdraw from life, she went right back into it, which was a powerful lesson in resiliency,” he said.

Murphy’s training program shows workers how to manage pressures and focus their energies on solving customers’ problems, using the traits of adaptability, optimism, engagement and proactivity.

Research will focus on potential benefits such as cost savings and better employee retention and morale, Murphy said. Safety will be another study area, since employees who are more attentive to customers may also become more attentive to their environment, he said.

“That’s the purpose of the institute, to come in with that evaluative arm,” he said.

Murphy has also been working with Fordham’s Center for Catholic Leadership and the Archdiocese of New York on a program, Everyday Givers, that teaches service principles to students at Catholic high schools in the area.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].