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Iona Bronxville Comes To Life

“Home, is where I want to be.” A simple yet universal sentiment popularized in song by The Talking Heads 40 years ago.

Today, talk to anyone around Iona Bronxville, and they’ll tell you—they’re already there.

“I live in New Rochelle, but this is home. It feels like a family. We spend a lot of time here together and you can just tell these are going to be lifelong friends,” said nursing student Sofia Votto ’24, of North Branford, Conn. “The coursework is hard, which is understandable. You need to be prepared for the medical profession. But you can step outside and just take a minute to breathe here. You need that.”

A sense of peace and purpose undoubtedly permeates the campus.

Since opening for classes in January 2023, Iona Bronxville has become home to the arts, athletics, academics and other programs central to the Iona experience. Students, faculty, and staff participating in these programs, meanwhile, have brought the vision for this campus to life.

“As we reimagined what this new campus could be, it was really important that we designed spaces that would create new patterns of interaction,” said Iona President Seamus Carey, Ph.D. “To see the Iona community creating new patterns that breathe life into all facets of the campus is rewarding because it is an expression of the freedom that is endemic to an Iona education.”

A New School Is Born

Iona Bronxville spans 28 bucolic acres of prime real estate in Southern Westchester County, N.Y. Acquired from Concordia College in May 2021, the campus consists of stately brick buildings, grassy, tree-lined courtyards, athletic fields, gymnasiums, performance spaces and an underlying foundation of faith. While full of opportunity, the campus needed a second wind.

It came just two months later.

In July 2021, Iona announced it would develop the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences on its new campus in Bronxville. Supported by $20 million from NewYork-Presbyterian, the new school was quickly hailed as a model for the future of collaborative health care education.

Today, the 32,000-square-foot Kelly Center for Health Sciences serves as the school’s flagship academic building. Complete with cutting-edge training equipment and simulation labs, the facility honors benefactors Alfred F. Kelly Jr. ’80, ’81MBA, ’19H, retired executive chairman and chief executive officer of Visa, and Peggy Kelly ’81, ’84MBA, who generously gifted $5 million to name the building. It opened in January 2023.

As the need for health care professionals continues to grow, so does the school. Iona currently offers ten undergraduate and graduate degree programs in nursing, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and audiology, marriage and family therapy, social work, mental health counseling, communications sciences and disorders, and health and wellness.

“At Iona, we take an interprofessional approach to health science education. That means our students work and learn alongside one another as they collaborate across disciplines and build their own professional identities. Having our health science programs together on one centralized campus is thereby invaluable,” said Kavita R. Dhanwada, Ph.D., founding dean of the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences. “Combined with strong content knowledge, our students are ready on day one as they enter the workforce.”

Three nursing students walk on the Bronxville Campus.

Making A Difference

During a recent nursing lab, Molly Guillaume ’25 carefully inserted a breathing tube into her patient—one of the school’s new “high-fidelity” mannequins. From giving birth to simulating a heart attack, the mannequins are as life-like as it gets.

A nursing student and professor review how to handle a syringe.

“It feels amazing. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, but until you actually get to do it, it almost feels surreal,” Guillaume said. “It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. You know you’re going to be making a difference in someone’s life.”

The training doesn’t end there.

Utilizing virtual reality, students immerse themselves into the most intense of simulations—such as assisting with a delivery or treating a frantic patient having a psychotic episode in the Emergency Room.

Star Trek fans can liken this to the holodeck. The simulations look and feel completely real. But faculty use it as an important training tool.

Most importantly, training culminates with clinicals. This is where students put their classroom knowledge directly into real-world practice. For many, that means working side-by-side with top doctors and nurses within NewYork-Presbyterian hospitals. For others, it means putting lessons into action in service to local health care clinics and service providers.

Earlier this year, through the summer and fall months, Jessica Brand ’25MS put her occupational therapy training to good use as the coordinator of a Westchester County adapted hiking pilot program. Using all-terrain wheelchairs, she assisted people with significant physical disabilities so they could safely navigate the county’s beautiful hiking trails while enjoying the experience with family and friends.

Brand said she chose Iona because the OT program aligns both with her professional interests and her personal values. As an undergraduate psychology major, Brand “fell in love” with anatomy, physiology, and neurology, and then later discovered that OT not only combines all three, but also promotes mental health and self-empowerment. She was hooked.

“With each semester, I’m even more convinced that this is what I was meant to do,” said Brand, of Eastchester, N.Y. “I believe in taking care of people in a holistic manner and really putting someone’s health back in their own hands.”

Iona’s OT program was one of only five across New York State that had a 100 percent pass rate on the most recent National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.

Aligning with Iona’s mission of service, Iona also continues to provide clinical opportunities right on campus.

The Iona Family Therapy Center, for instance, is a nonprofit organization that has been in operation for over 40 years. From its brand-new space at Iona Bronxville, graduate students in the Marriage & Family Therapy program guide clients through everything from couples therapy, co-parenting and divorce to stress management, bereavement and bullying.

Stacey Smith ’23MS turned to Iona’s Marriage & Family Therapy program after feeling called to change careers. Winning the department’s 2023 Award for Academic Excellence, she hopes to inspire more Black and Indigenous people of color to enter the field, especially taking on clinical supervisor and other leadership positions.

“Retiring from a telecommunications technical field to enter a field that is totally opposite, has been an arduous, yet fulfilling and rewarding journey,” Smith said. “The skills and knowledge I have learned through this program will assist me with changing the perspective lens of mental health to a more positive and healthier one.”

Unlimited Potential

On any given day, new life continues to sprout up across Iona Bronxville.

In the Kelly Center, occupational therapy students help a patient relearn how to cook after a stroke. In the Sommer Center, the Irish dance team perfects an 8-Hand performance in the new dance studio. Across the quad, meanwhile, the café preps salad bowls as students study on the lawn in white Adirondack chairs.

All these threads are part of one Iona tapestry. Each beautiful in its own way, they are even stronger and more vibrant together.

The baseball team at Iona Bronxville.

“With any multi-faceted project such as this, it’s important to consider all the various constituents that will be utilizing the spaces, and how each one fits into the bigger picture,” said Michael J. Smeriglio, vice president for Facilities & Campus Operations. “What impresses me most about Iona is that with everything we’re planning and working on, not a meeting goes by where someone doesn’t bring up, ‘This is for the students.’”

“With any multi-faceted project such as this, it’s important to consider all the various constituents that will be utilizing the spaces, and how each one fits into the bigger picture,” said Michael J. Smeriglio, vice president for Facilities & Campus Operations. “What impresses me most about Iona is that with everything we’re planning and working on, not a meeting goes by where someone doesn’t bring up, ‘This is for the students.’”

Tossing a baseball around on a warm, fall day, it’s easy to see why first-baseman Jim Pasquale ’23, ’24MBA loves the new facilities. Iona Bronxville gives the team a home all their own, he said. A place to develop their skills, hit the weight room, study tapes with coaches and deepen the bonds that unite them as a team and as brothers.

“I think there is unlimited potential for what we can do for the baseball program here,”

said Pasquale, of Galloway, N.J., who studied criminal justice and plans to attend law school after completing his MBA. “In terms of maximizing our time and opportunity, we have never had something like this, ever. It’s been especially good for building camaraderie. If we have down time, not all of us go home right away. We stay around and talk, which is really a great opportunity for team building. This team has come together quicker than any other team has.”

Living Patterns

If it almost sounds too good to be true, then you need to understand the ethos that inspires Iona’s president. A visionary, Carey took the helm of Iona in July 2019 and immediately set out on a path of innovation—pushing ahead even through the pandemic.

Performing Arts at Iona Bronxville.

When it comes to his approach to design, Carey, himself a philosopher, often turns to the late architect and theorist Christopher Alexander for inspiration.

A fierce anti-modernist, Alexander championed the importance of natural landscapes, encouraging planners to think in human terms about the life that spaces have the power to create. In his book “The Timeless Way of Building,” Alexander explains how places have the power to set people free—or conversely, to imprison them.

“The specific patterns out of which a building or a town is made may be alive or dead,” he writes. “To the extent they are alive, they set us free; but when they are dead, they keep us locked in inner conflict.”

“The more living patterns there are in a place,” he continues, “the more it comes to life as an entity, the more it glows, the more it has that fire which is the quality without a name.”

For Carey, the takeaway is clear.

“We are looking to build a community that is driven by a spirit that is fully alive—that is on fire,” he said. “We are trying to create the conditions for learning and life to happen at its fullest. We want people who enter our spaces to feel free and fully alive.”

Iona’s director of performing arts, Kelly Beyrer ’16MA, summed it up poignantly. Sitting in the heart of the Sommer Center, pausing for a moment in front of a giant church organ in the performance space, she searched for the right words.

“I would say from an expansion and success standpoint, the growth is endless. I know that may sound cliché, but everything that someone has come to us and said, ‘Can we do this? Is this possible?’ It’s been really fun to say yes. From a theatre perspective, it’s always, ‘yes, and.’ Yes, and what else can we do?” she said. “We’ve been challenged to think outside of the box and to create more opportunities for our students to thrive and explore things that I don’t think any of us would have imagined two years ago when we started on this journey.”

Students, too, say Iona Bronxville is exceeding all expectations. And it’s hard to blame them, but there’s also a sense they’d be happy to keep this perfect little oasis as a secret amongst themselves, at least for a little while longer.

“This must be the place,” as The Talking Heads song title goes.

At Iona, we know it is.

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