Nearly 250 first-year students fanned out across the Bronx on Aug. 25 as part of Fordham’s Urban Plunge – an annual pre-orientation program that gives new students the chance to explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods through a lens of community, diversity, and engagement.

Students helped serve lunch to those in need at POTS—Part of the Solution, revitalized Poe Park, painted banners for one of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, and did clean-up work at the community garden Drew Gardens.

A Back to School Festival that debuted last year at Fordham Plaza was also staffed by Urban Plunge students. In keeping with the philosophy that the weekend is also an opportunity for learning about their new home, students spent the morning before their service activities visiting other sites around the Bronx. In addition to tours of the Kingsbridge Armory, St. Barnabas Hospital, and the Bronx River Alliance, students visited areas along the Cross Bronx Expressway, where they learned about the highway’s impact on residents.

Urban Plunge at Fordham celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Julie Gaffney, director of Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning, which runs the program, said it’s driven by the needs of the Bronx community. That’s why health and environmental justice issues are front and center, she said.

“We really want to introduce first-year students, along with their upper-class mentors, to what’s driving community work in the Bronx right now,” she said.

“It’s an ideal ground for fostering a four-year commitment to community solution building here in the Bronx.”

Urban Plunge continued Saturday with lectures such as “What Does Engagement Look Like at Fordham.”

people standing on a highway overpass
Nilka Martel from the group Loving the Bronx leads a tour at the Cross Bronx Expressway

A Landmark with Untapped Potential

Mehak Wadhwa, a native of Richmond Hill, Queens, who is starting her first year studying physics/engineering, was one of the students who toured the Kingsbridge Armory, a decommissioned site with 100-foot ceilings less than a mile from the Rose Hill campus. 

The tour was conducted by a representative from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is responsible for the site. Wadhwa found it interesting to learn about the multiple plans for the armory that have come and gone over the years and how the future of the site is still up in the air.

“I know Manhattan, Queens, and the other boroughs, but I’ve never really gone to the Bronx. I thought Urban Plunge was a nice way to get involved in the community,” she said.

She also got to ask the Economic Development Corporation rep how any plans for the armory’s redevelopment would affect the surrounding community.

“My mother is also a small business homeowner. I’ve been reading a lot about gentrification, and as a person of color, I know how it specifically impacts them,” she said.

A Park With Literary History

a student carries a board in a park
Students helped refurbish parts of the Drew Gardens Community Garden.

A block away, Christian Sibel, a first-year student from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, ferried wheelbarrows of fertilizer to tree pits around Poe Park, where poet Edgar Allen Poe lived in a cottage from 1846 to 1849.

Sibel, who is planning to major in International Political Economy, said the opportunity to do service work influenced his decision to attend Fordham. 

“Fordham seems to be doing their best to work with the community in the Bronx, and I’m really just excited to be a part of that for the next four years. It’s exciting to explore a community different from my own,” he said. “Last night, I went out for a walk. The area is beautiful; the architecture of these buildings is incredible.”

Learning About Bronx Renewal and Advocacy 

Sophie Ritz, a first-year student at the Gabelli School of Business from Westwood, Massachusetts, was one of roughly 30 students who visited the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition on East 196 Street for several hours. There, she and her fellow “plungers” painted banners, did gardening and learned how the group, which was instrumental in the renewal of the borough during the 1970s, has now taken a lead in the push for the equitable development of the Kingsbridge Armory. 

“I didn’t know we’d learn quite as much as we did. I was surprised at how hard it was for the people to do what they wanted with the armory,” she said. 

“Maybe naively, I kind of figured that it’s in their community; they’d be able to do more of what they wanted with it.”

Back to School

The Back-to-School Festival brought next to 40 different community organizations to the Fordham Plaza, where a DJ spun tunes and students handed out school supplies and backpacks.

This year also featured tents across Fordham Road at Rose Hill Park. Sinhawe Haji, a native of Ethiopia who grew up in Washington D.C., was one of several students there giving away school supplies and helping children find things like trees with heart-shaped leaves as part of a scavenger hunt organized by the New York City Parks Department.

“It’s been so good,” she said. It’s sweet, seeing the smiles on their faces not only when they get the school supplies but also when they find whatever object in nature they’re looking for.”

Students stand inside the vast Kingsbridge Armory
The Kingsbridge Armory was one of the sites that students visited before heading to service sites.

— Photos by Rebecca Rosen, MacKenzie Brown, Emma Elsdon, Bridget Flanagan, Marai Rodriguez and Christina Ou.


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.