Learning Outside the Comfort Zone

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At Work: Manny Linares-Galarza

Who he is: Facilities Management, Grounds Services, Rose Hill Campus

How long at Fordham: Six years

Manny Linares-Galarza’s favorite tree is the  Ginkgo biloba tree. It’s not necessarily what one would expect from someone with a pretty thorough appreciation of trees, but like Linares-Galarza, the ginkgo has fortitude. He said he admires the tree because it has been around since prehistoric times.

Linares-Galarza’s life journey, from growing up in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn to landing his current role as a groundskeeper at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, has been filled with challenges. Raised in a foster home, Linares-Galarza said he largely found his “own way” through grade school, eventually landing a coveted spot at Brooklyn Technical High School. When college didn’t pan out as planned, he tried his hand at a training program run by the MillionTreesNYC initiative.

There, he took advantage of classes offered at the New York Botanical Garden and earned an arborist’s certificate, even though it required him to climb a lot of trees.

“I’m terrified of heights, and all you have is a rope and a saddle and you’re way up there.” he said. “Each time I was in the tree I was scared for my life, but I was 21 and I jumped on that opportunity.”

The certificate helped secure his position as a groundskeeper on campus, he said. Now, six years later, he is earning a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies and he is training to join the carpentry staff. He said that adapting isn’t always easy, but it’s for the best.

“If you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be amazed at the things you can learn,” he said. “Even the ginkgo trees have had to adapt.”

He noted that the trees once had needles like pine trees, but as the trees evolved they developed leaves.

“If you look at the ginkgo leaves they’re striated, like a bunch of needles formed together,” he said. “It’s survival of the fittest, and the tree realized that having a broad leaf would bring in more sunlight.”

Likewise, Linares-Galarza said his education has been a series of adaptations. A Pentecostal Christian, Linares-Galarza said that taking the required core courses in theology opened his mind to the many world religions. Last semester he took a Faith and Critical Reasoning course and found it particularly enlightening. He said that he notices a lot of unenlightened comments on social media among friends who haven’t been exposed to other faiths.

“Taking courses like these opens your mind to ideas you never would have considered,” he said. “Too often we close ourselves in these tight circles. We have the biases we grow up with, and we have to be mindful of the fact that in other households they’re being taught other religions in the same way.”

He said he hopes to graduate next year and set an example for his daughter Emma, who will be 2 years old in April. His wife has a master’s and is a New York City schools teacher.

“I want to instill in our daughter a desire to push forward,” he said Linares-Galarza, who  knows all too well what it’s like not to have parents to show the way.

“Whatever makes me a better person, a better provider, and a better dad, I’ll take that opportunity.”

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