Home Construction Capital campaign exceeds expectations at Fairfield University

Capital campaign exceeds expectations at Fairfield University

Mark Nemec doesn’t want to say that the money keeps rolling in at Fairfield University — but he has little choice.

Nemec, who’s coming up on his first anniversary as the university’s president, said that during his first few months in office he sort of blithely let himself be talked into extending the target of Fairfield Rising, the largest capital fundraising campaign in the school’s history, from its original $160 million to $210 million through December 2018.

Total raised so far? “We’re closing in on $215 million,” he said at his office last week. “I see that as a real vote of confidence for what we’ve done and are doing, and as representative of the sense that the university is on an upward trajectory.”

Indeed, Fairfield is ranked third in U.S. News & World Report’s latest list of the top regional universities in the North; is included in the top 15 percent of the nation’s schools in a variety of categories by College Factual, an independent website that ranks colleges on a number of factors; and maintains a 97 percent employment rate for students after graduation.

“Even our loan default rate is among the lowest around,” Nemec said. Fairfield’s 1.61 percent places it well below the national average of 11.5 percent.

Fairfield University President Mark Nemec. Photo by Kevin Zimmerman.

Enrollment is also expected to rise to record levels for the 2018-19 academic year, he said, estimating that it will come in at somewhere between 1,085 and 1,115. On May 20, the school conferred 967 bachelor’s, 385 master’s, 15 sixth-year certificates and 39 doctorate degrees.

Nemec noted that the Jesuit school has also redoubled its efforts at attracting a more diverse student body, including from a geographic standpoint. “There’s outreach, which includes our admissions team and myself going on tours to alumni groups around the country,” he said.

As a result, Nemec said he expects enrollment from students outside of the tristate area to rise from 16 percent to 21 percent this year.

The faces of Fairfield’s senior faculty are also changing. Richard Greenwald was named dean of Fairfield’s College of Arts and Sciences a few months before Nemec’s arrival, while Bruce Berdanier, dean of the School of Engineering, is returning to South Dakota State University to become dean of its engineering college; a replacement has yet to be named.

Don Gibson, former dean of the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, was promoted last year to vice provost in the Office of Academic Affairs. Zhan Li, professor and dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College of California, was recently named Gibson’s replacement, taking office on July 1.

The Dolan School is clearly meant to be one of Fairfield’s crown jewels; it is in the midst of relocating to a new 80,500-square-foot building, scheduled to open in the fall of 2019. The $42 million facility — Nemec allowed that the price has inched up from its original $40 million — will consist of 16 classrooms and feature a simulated financial trading room; big data analytics lab; entrepreneurship center with lab space, visualization and simulation lab; and active learning and case-based classrooms.

“What we’re doing is creating a model for 21st century education,” Nemec said. “The big trends now are technology, data, globalization and urbanization. These are all being addressed not only at Dolan but throughout our curriculum.”

In addition, a new residence hall in the university’s quad area designed to accommodate 220 first-year and sophomore students is on schedule to be completed in August, while two of its off-campus townhouses are receiving new exteriors. An air-conditioning unit will finally be added to cool off residents at McCormick and Campion Halls.

That work joins such recently completed projects as the 40,000-square-foot, three-level, state-of-the art RecPlex athletic facility, which opened in 2016, and the 70,000-square-foot Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies; the $19 million Tully Dining Commons; and the three-story, 380-space Kelley Center Parking Garage, all of which opened last year.

“We are the Fairfield public works budget,” Nemec joked.

Yet to be determined is the future of the existing Dolan School; a decision will likely not be made until after construction is completed on the new building, Nemec said. “We could just throw it open to competition through an RFP,” he said.

Reflecting on his first year as president, Nemec said, “I think it’s been a really strong year for us. We’re increasing our national reach and obviously we’re always in the midst of making improvements, both physically and academically.”

As for withstanding the past winter — a difficult one even by New England standards — Nemec shrugged it off. Previously the dean of the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies at the University of Chicago, he noted that he earned a Ph.D. in political science and an M.A. in education from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in English at Yale.

“We’re used to it,” he said of himself, wife Suzanne and four children. “And besides, the proximity to New York City is just as much an asset for us as it is for our students.”

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