Waterford visitors seek to expand intellectual exchanges with Fisher

By Tanner Swan


When two Waterford Institute of Technology faculty members visited St. John Fisher’s campus in mid-October, they had high hopes that the foundation for abroad programs could continue to flourish.

While this marks Walter O’Leary’s fifth visit at St. John Fisher College, Marian O’Neill made her first appearance at the college with the hope to attract interest from Fisher students for her new creative summer school that is being developed at WIT.  In O’Leary’s case, he looks to further build on the good standing relationship between the twin cities of Waterford, Ireland and Rochester.

“There is a really good synergy between the two schools,” O’Leary says.  “If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to exchange lectures, so I think that speaks for itself.”  O’Leary is referring to both WIT and St. John Fisher’s current faculty swap where Fisher’s own Dr. Todd Harrison is teaching at WIT while Dr. Jean McArdle from WIT is here at Fisher for the school year of 2014.

O’Neill and O’Leary each highlight both the similarities and the differences between WIT and St. John Fisher.  An obvious difference right away is that the students at WIT are paid for their education, while the students at Fisher pay for their education, according to O’Leary.  Consequently, this means developing up to date facilities among other things are more of a struggle for WIT.  With that said, the environments for students going abroad offer a unique and rewarding experience that both O’Leary and O’Neill believe are necessary.

O’Leary conveys that while the United States is unquestionably the economic engine and military might of the world, Americans must consider the opportunities that exist all over the world.  “At some point you are going to have to deal with the other 97 percent... And you are going to have to deal with them on their terms,” he says.

He explains that while it would be extremely rare to find students at WIT who haven’t left their home country at some point or another, it wouldn’t be extraordinarily unusual to come across a Fisher student who hasn’t been outside the state of New York.  Furthermore, O’Leary aims to open more students’ minds about considering the possibility of having enriching opportunities globally.

Marian O’Neill further elaborated on O’Leary’s comments by illustrating the importance of seizing an opportunity. As someone who has been both a student and a teacher in places all over the world  including Singapore and at the Middlesex University in England, she promotes the concept of studying abroad.  “I think in the 1980’s, if I was to look for the job I have now, I wouldn’t have gotten it,” she says.  “But going away to England, going away to Singapore, I was successful.”


Fisher professor Father Bill Graf, center, is flanked by Waterford Institute of Technology visitors Walter O'Leary, left, and Marian O'Neill, right.

While O’Leary has spent a significant amount of time in the Rochester area recruiting students, Marian O’Neill was returning to Rochester for the first time in many years.  O’Neill spent some time in Rochester on business trips before her time at WIT, and actually almost considered making it a permanent home.  As business took her elsewhere, she says she is delighted to have the chance of coming back to Rochester for a visit.

“It has been a little overwhelming,” she admits.  “But in a positive sense.  Everyone has been so friendly.”

Both O’Leary and O’Neill remain confident that the two schools remain on the same page with the foreign exchange program, and looks forward to see some continual improvement.  They address that they would like to see more students from Ireland visit schools like Fisher on an “abroad” program.
“It does enrich their education experience because of the economic circumstances,” O’Leary says.  He explains that considering how Ireland is smaller than the state of New York, WIT students and all other students from Ireland would benefit from studying in an environment like St. John Fisher’s.  “I think getting off the plane, they would then know whether to turn right or left,” O’Leary adds.