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Monroe College celebrates 75th anniversary

Three quarters of a century ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States, New York State repealed prohibition and Monroe College opened its doors to students.

The college, named for U.S. President James Monroe, celebrated its 75th anniversary the week of Monday, October 20 with a job fair, casino night, and alumni gala. Nearly 300 people attended a red-carpet event Saturday, October 25 at Monroe’s King Hall in the Bronx.

“Monroe started with seven students from the Bronx and four little classrooms,” Donald E. Simon, the school’s assistant vice-president for governmental affairs, said. “Today we enroll over 7,000.”

A young teacher, Mildred King, founded Monroe College in 1933 – during the depths of America’s Great Depression.

“In those days there were a lot of highly educated people out of work,” Simon said. “But the people getting jobs were the ones with specific skills: stenographers, typists and people able to operate comptometers. That’s always been Monroe’s attraction – we help students pursue meaningful careers.”

In 1977, Monroe College moved to the Bronx’s Fordham neighborhood from West Farms. The school added a New Rochelle, New York campus in 1983 and a distance-learning program in 1998.

Olga Ayala of the Bronx took her first class at Monroe College more than 20 years ago. In 1984, she received an accounting certificate. Ayala ran into hard times, but emerged a substance abuse counselor. She recently chose to pursue a career in criminal justice.

“I switched from the bad side to the good side of the law,” Ayala said. “Now I want to go into the courts. I want to help others do the same thing.”

Next spring, the second-year criminal justice major will graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

“I chose to come back to Monroe because the faculty here are very respectful,” she said. “You come back to where you feel comfortable.”

Monroe offers two-year, four-year and graduate programs in disciplines including accounting, nursing, business administration, business technology, criminal justice, culinary arts, hospitality, information technology and allied health. The school added a pharmacy technician program this year. Criminal justice remains Monroe’s most popular major.

Don Genio, a Monroe professor who teaches a raft of courses in Allied Health, called the college a wonderful place to work.

“Teaching was a lifelong position of mine,” said the former Cornell Medical Center administrator and software executive.

Genio manages a website dedicated to his students. It includes a job board for allied health majors.

“Monroe is very student-centered,” Genio said. “It’s a fantastic resource for the Bronx.”

Monroe expanded after World War II as veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill, and grew following the war in Vietnam.

The college “went global” in 2007, opening a Caribbean campus on St. Lucia. The tiny island first approached Monroe for law enforcement training prior to a world-class cricket match.

This January, Monroe cut the ribbon on Ustin Hall, a “green” building that boasts solar panels. The Monroe Mustangs won a NJCAA Division Three women’s basketball title last year. In 2005, Monroe’s national champion Students in Free Enterprise club appeared on special edition boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Monroe’s biggest challenge entering its 76th year will be to maintain the “concern for individuals” that has been its hallmark, Simon said.

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