As part of an annual pre-orientation program, incoming first-year students will learn directly from local residents and policy experts about how they can shape policy decisions and build a better future for Fordham and its neighbors. 

Students in the Urban Plunge program will meet on Friday, Aug. 25, at the Rose Hill campus to discuss the Cross Bronx Expressway, a major highway that has been blamed for worsening air and noise quality and separating communities in the Bronx. In a conversation guided by Nilka Martell, founder and director of the community-based non-profit organization Loving the Bronx, students will learn about health issues associated with the expressway and Martell’s efforts to cap portions of the expressway and develop public green spaces around it. 

As someone who was born and raised and still lives in the Bronx, I can definitely attest to the fact that the largest impact of these highways is our asthma rates,” Martell said in a 2021 interview with New York Public Radio. “If you visit the Bronx and you ask anyone whether they have asthma or they know of anyone that has asthma, 10 out of 10, they will tell you yes, largely due to the existing infrastructure and the open portions of highways and the overdevelopment around these highways.” 

In addition to Martell, the panel will feature three policy experts who will share their own perspective on health issues associated with the expressway, as well as how public involvement can shape policy-making: Dr. Salihah Dick, asthma program manager in New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Neighborhood Health Action Center in the Bronx; Paul Philps, director of the New York City Department of City Planning‘s office in the Bronx; and Victor Martínez, senior policy advisor for Ritchie Torres, the U.S. representative for New York’s 15th congressional district (that covers most of the South Bronx). Following the panel, students will participate in neighborhood walks along the Cross Bronx Expressway in partnership with local community-based organizations. 

This collaboration with Nilka Martell, Dr. Salihah Dick, Paul Philps, and Víctor Martínez reinforces our institutional commitment to environmental justice, community engagement, and experiential learning,” said Julie Gafney, Ph.D., assistant vice president of strategic mission initiatives and executive director of Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning. “Together, we are forging a path towards a sustainable and equitable future, aligned with Fordham’s mission and in pursuit of the Laudato Si’ goals. Our united efforts aim to achieve real and lasting solutions to protect our common home.”

The panel discussion, which will take place from 9 to 9:45 a.m. on Edwards Parade, is open to the public. The rain location is the McShane Campus Center, Room 311.


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.