Nora Dwyer moved to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus from South Berwick, Maine, in 2011, with dreams of becoming a journalist in the media capital of the world.
But fate had another plan.
“The direction I thought I wanted all of the sudden seemed foreign to me,” said Dwyer. “In college you’re trying to come up with a life plan. For me, it was especially scary because I’ve always been somebody who thought I knew exactly what I wanted.”
Although she loved to write, she’d also worked with the homeless in high school. So in her sophomore year, Dwyer threw herself wholeheartedly into social work as her major. In May of 2013, she founded the Student Coalition for Street Outreach, which visits people living on the streets of New York and provides food and a sympathetic ear.
“You really get to see the impact of giving someone a sandwich on the street, or having a conversation with someone who’s typically marginalized,” said Dwyer, who last year earned the prestigious Truman scholarship in part based on her rigorous community service.
This semester, she handed over leadership of the group so she could focus on Denim Day NYC, a sexual assault awareness campaign inspired by a 1998 Italian supreme court decision that threw out a rape conviction because the victim wore tight jeans. The group held a dialogue at the Lincoln Center campus on April 27 on how faculty, students, and administrators can combat sexual assault on campus.
While the homeless outreach was a very direct kind of service, Dwyer said, Denim Day is an exercise in community organizing and advocacy.
“Denim Day was an opportunity to see a different side of activism and social change, and that’s why it intrigued me,” she said. “You are talking about wider changes.”
Looking back on her four years at Fordham, Dwyer said no single experience made her realize how much she belonged here—although she mentioned Mary Shelley, assistant director of the Campion Institute for Prestigious Scholarships, and Elaine Congress, PhD, associate dean at the Graduate School of Social Service, as mentors and staunch supporters.
“It’s a culmination of small moments that remind you that there are people here who care about you, challenge you, and want to see you succeed,” she said. “Whether or not you get every award or grade you want, they’re still going to be in your corner.”
After she graduates today, she is putting her Truman award towards graduate studies at Boston College next year. Her plan is ultimately to pursue a doctorate in social work. Since her studies at Boston College don’t start until spring 2016, she’s bracing for a break in academic life.
“Fordham offered so many different options, and you could really take ahold of your own identity in a way that I’m not sure you could do at other schools, and that’s something I’m really thankful for,” she said.
“No university’s perfect, and no student is perfect, but I don’t think at Fordham it’s about trying to reach a level of perfection. It’s more about finding your unique drive.”