Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport grew up in the city that he now governs, and has said he doesn’t recall Fairfield University being accessible to the kids from his own neighborhood.

But as Finch spoke among Bridgeport and Fairfield neighbors in Alumni House at Friday’s press conference to celebrate the New England Board of Higher Education’s Connecticut State Merit Award that Fairfield was receiving, he acknowledged that was no longer the case.

The NEBHE works toward creating “greater educational opportunities and services for the residents of New England”, according to the official website. NEBHE is honoring the university’s commitment to Bridgeport through preparing students for post-graduation and the dedication of providing easy access and success at large.

Students, faculty and staff and community partners of Fairfield University and Bridgeport schools gathered to accept the award, acknowledging the educational scholarships, programs and projects that over the years have improved the relationship between the two communities.

Fairfield University began sponsoring the Community Partnership Scholars Program in 1999, which works toward funding one full tuition scholarship to a gifted student within four of the Bridgeport Public High Schools. Since 2001, over $16 million have been distributed in scholarships.

Fairfield University’s mission is to serve its neighbors through sharing resources and expertise for benefitting the community as a whole.  For Bridgeport, not only do they serve through financial support, but through hands-on projects and programs that integrate Fairfield University members and the Bridgeport Public Schools.

Amy Marshall, chief academic officer for the Bridgeport Public Schools, spoke at the press conference.  Being a proud resident and employee of Bridgeport and a Fairfield University alumna, Marshall says that the relationship between Fairfield and Bridgeport creates a wonderful opportunity for all who are involved.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this whole partnership, because it brings together two, what seems like exclusive, entities, but they’re not exclusive because it’s that hopeful operation of town and gown of bringing the school systems to the students here, bringing the students to our school systems,” said Marshall.

Fairfield University projects, such as Project Excel and the Connecticut Writing Project, provide assistance and resources to Bridgeport teachers and students in order to improve educational quality and overall experience within the classroom.

The Fairfield’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions Partnership gives Fairfield student teachers the opportunity to work with Bridgeport teachers. Over 25 students at Fairfield will have interned with the Bridgeport schools by end of this year.

“We want our students to understand how the world really works,” President Rev. Jeffrey von Arx S.J. said during the press conference, “to deepen their understanding of the struggles and the potential of their neighbors so that they will go out into the world with the desire to transform it for the better.”

Currently, two Fairfield undergraduates are interning with Mayor Finch at City Hall in Bridgeport.   In the middle of speaking, Mayor Finch acknowledged the crucial role Fairfield students, such as his own interns, have played in improving the Bridgeport Public Schools.

“There are very few educational environments that still exist as special as Fairfield [University],” said Mayor Finch. “The world is changing, but you, because of your Jesuit roots, I think, stick to a very important mission, and that is to change the world and make it a better place for everyone.”

Several students who were residents of Bridgeport and attend Fairfield University were present, including Pauline Santos ’14 and Bayan Abunar ’14.

“I think being involved in both [Fairfield and Bridgeport] is very important, and it’s home literally on both sides,” said Santos.  “It’s home for being a Fairfield student, it’s home for living in Bridgeport.  It’s good to know that there is a long-standing relationship that doesn’t end when we graduate, and starts before we even come here.”

“A lot of Bridgeport students who come in are dedicated, are grateful, and they want to experience everything because they wouldn’t have without the help,” said Abunar.  “They are involved, and a lot of Bridgeport students do end up going back and supporting their home.”

Santos originally overlooked Fairfield because of the close proximity to her home in Bridgeport, but Fairfield’s well-rounded experience and efforts to recruit students made the school stick out among other schools that she was considering at the time.

“Once you’re a stag, you’re always a stag,” said Santos.  “When you’re here, we’re not really thinking where we’re from.  I just love being apart of the community right now.”

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