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Lorna Ronald, Director of Prestigious Fellowships Office, on Applying Discernment

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When Lorna Ronald, Ph.D., was considering taking the job as director of the Office of Prestigious Fellowships, she said the University’s strategic plan clinched the deal.

“It’s the first anti-racist strategic plan I’ve read,” she said. “Fordham has an underlying aim to increase access and inclusion. And that is very exciting.”

Ronald came to New York from the United Kingdom, where she went to Oxford University as an undergraduate, and earned her master’s at the Imperial College London. Her doctoral studies, completed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, focused on how society shapes science and technology and vice versa. For her dissertation, she examined advertising in the pharmaceutical industry. From there, it was a short leap to examining how knowledge itself is created, and, more importantly, which knowledges are privileged in our society.

Today, she sees her job as one that allows more students— not just a privileged few—to gain access to knowledge.

Getting to Know You

Ronald arrived on campus in July and hit the ground running. She sat in on student presentations at Fordham’s first annual Undergraduate Summer Research Program. As students fielded rapid-fire questions from their professors about their work, she took notes, wrote down names, and introduced herself to students during breaks. In September, she was at Fordham Plaza, showing support at the Back-to-School festival—once again chatting up students, asking them about their work.

“I’m very eager to get first and second-year students interested in [applying for]awards,” she said.

In addition to competitive awards like the Fulbright, Ronald is eager to interest students in other, lesser-known awards. She is particularly keen on scholarships that send students abroad.

“Doing research or service, like the kind they do in Global Outreach, is wonderful early in their undergraduate careers because it’s going to have more of an impact on their studies and their college experience,” she said.

An Exercise in Discernment

At the end of each school year, the annual tally of prestigious awards and fellowships won by students and alumni is published with great fanfare. The timing coincides with commencement and mostly highlights graduating seniors.

While Ronald would be the last one to downplay the act of earning an award, she is emphatic that the process of applying for one holds its own value. The process, which can take as many as 20 drafts, is another part of students’ development, she said. She said that if a student starts applying early in their college career they become familiar with the process of talking about their goals and exactly what it is they want to learn. By the time they reach their senior year, applying for big-name awards, like the Fulbright, is not nearly as intimidating. Indeed they’ve already laid the groundwork. In addition, the content of an application is never wasted. It can be appropriated, tweaked, and honed for other awards and even grad school applications.

“It’s a beautiful opportunity to really think about yourself and your place in the world,” she said. “Some of the applications are great because they delve into a student’s identity, so it’s an opportunity to really think about who they are as a person.”

She added that the process is also very much aligned with the concept of discernment, which is a key tenant of the Society of Jesus.

“We often go through life going from one thing to the next without taking time to fully reflect in this way, and it is my understanding of Jesuit education is that it allows for these moments of reflection—so I see our work as being a really nice fit,” she said.

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