Ellen Fahey-Smith: Going Global, Giving Back

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Some of Ellen Fahey-Smith’s earliest memories include football games at Rose Hill and the giant elevators at Lincoln Center. And it’s no wonder—she grew up in a family of Fordham alumni, including her father, several uncles, a sister, a brother, and more.

Though her dad passed away when she was only 12, his influence remains.

“No matter what was going on, there was always a smile on his face. He was always asking what he could do for others,” Fahey-Smith says. “Fordham was a big part of him; because of him, one of my close childhood friends considered Fordham for her daughter years later.”

Fahey-Smith went on to become a double Ram, graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill in 1986 and earning an MBA from the Gabelli School of Business in 1995. She spent almost a decade working in international banking before moving into higher education.

Now an associate vice president in the Office of the Provost, she engages with the deans, vice presidents, and other senior leadership to support academic and strategic initiatives throughout Fordham. It’s a role that allows her to make a deep and deliberate impact across the University. That includes helping shape curricular planning at all of the undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools; promoting the expansion of both institutional and academic research; and advancing Fordham’s global connections, such as the programs in China, South Africa, and the U.K.

Having studied abroad as an undergraduate and served as an alumna representative on Gabelli’s first Global Advisory Board before joining the Office of the Provost, Fahey-Smith has seen the growth of these and other global opportunities for Fordham students from every angle. “A real commitment early on for the Jesuits was to go out and set the world on fire,” she says, “and this is a real intentional focus for Fordham.”

She also helps connect alumni around the globe to Fordham. She has attended Alumni Regional Receptions in London, in Munich, and in China, where she’ll return for three receptions in November. “These folks are looking for a little taste of home,” she says of the alumni living abroad, “and the receptions are a fun way to engage with them.”

Fahey-Smith loves connecting with her fellow alumni, but she’s passionate about supporting current students too. In 2003, she and her husband, Chris Smith, GABELLI ’83, ’89, who she met through mutual friends at Fordham, established the Christopher Smith and Ellen Fahey-Smith Endowed Scholarship for undergraduates at the Gabelli School.

“I’m really very concerned with this educational opportunity gap that exists,” Fahey-Smith says. “Education is essential to bringing generations of families out of poverty, and jobs of the future will require post-secondary education.”

Fahey-Smith, who earned a doctorate in higher education management from UPenn in 2015, knows firsthand how important financial aid can be. When her father passed away, he left a widow and seven young children. “I was awarded a scholarship out of high school that was a tremendous help,” she says.

Now she has the opportunity to help others. “It’s really been just a sheer pleasure for me and Chris to actually meet and hear from some of the scholars at Fordham,” Fahey-Smith says. “They are so bright, so articulate, and so thrilled to be at Fordham.”

She and Chris were particularly happy about the launch of Faith & Hope | The Campaign for Financial Aid. “That’s really our passion,” Fahey-Smith says.

Fahey-Smith knows that the students they are helping will benefit from their Fordham education just as she and her husband did. “It was a formative time of my life,” she says, “and for Chris. He really does exhibit the trait of being a person for others. I think those Jesuit values were instilled in both of us and help us navigate the stressful times and also see the joy in life.”

Her strong belief in Fordham’s mission and the mission of higher education continues to inspire her. “It’s been an integral part of my life,” she says. “And it’s been a real thrill to see Fordham go from where it was to where it is now. And to feel as though I’m helping in that process.”

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