You are currently viewing St. Joseph’s University male graduates make history in first full-time co-ed class – Hartford Courant

St. Joseph’s University male graduates make history in first full-time co-ed class – Hartford Courant

Bridgeport’s Noreaga Davis entered Saint Joseph’s University in West Hartford as a freshman in 2018. Davis was a biology major and a member of the basketball team.

He quit the basketball team in his sophomore year and changed his major to English, emphasizing education. On Saturday, Davis graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He will begin a teaching job at the end of May and begin his graduate studies in the fall.

“At first, basketball was all I knew. As I got older and started experiencing more things, I decided to walk away,” Davis said. “I was so used to doing a thing. It was hard to walk away from it. I feel that what I have experienced here has matured me as a person and as a man to make these decisions.

Davis was one of 38 men to graduate from USJ undergraduate degrees at Saturday’s ceremony at the XL Center in Hartford. The men are making history, as the first full-time four-year undergraduates in the 90-year history of the school, which was founded in 1932 as a women’s college.

“It’s not real to me yet. It won’t be real until I cross the stage. Then it will be part of school history forever,” Davis said last week.

Alongside the men, 129 women earned undergraduate degrees. In addition, 34 men and 257 women obtained a master’s degree and 17 men and 33 women obtained a doctorate in pharmaceutical studies.

In 2018, to increase enrollment and provide more opportunities for its students, USJ decided to admit men into the undergraduate class as full-time students. This came after decades of allowing men to take part-time undergraduate courses and graduate degrees at USJ.

Noah Fitzgerald is another of the pioneering men. Fitzgerald was a student at Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury in 2018 when he visited USJ for a campus tour.

“I liked the campus environment. I walked around and everyone was very welcoming,” he said. “It was a small school, and that’s what interested me.”

An added bonus was being in a historic class: “It was definitely another attraction, being part of something that’s growing and expanding.”

Fitzgerald earned a degree in mathematics, with a concentration in actuarial science. He will soon be joining Aetna’s Actuarial Leadership Development Program.

Rhona Free, president of USJ since 2015, said the decision to become a student was driven by a desire to add degree programs and majors. It couldn’t be done with such a small number of students.

“We couldn’t support the full range of majors that we can support with more students. Since 2018, we have been able to add a number of majors to enroll both male and female students. We wouldn’t have had this without an increase in registrations,” Free said.

In the fall of 2017 last year, all full-time undergraduate students were women, the student body was 654 full-time students and 156 part-time students, Free said. In the fall of 2021, when this academic year began, the student body was 852 full-time and 54 part-time. Free said many part-time men go full-time when allowed. Full-time enrollment is still 78% female, she said.

The student body entering this fall is “a bit larger” than in 2021, but Free didn’t have strong stats as admissions keep coming in.

In the four years since USJ became a student, several new majors have been introduced: health sciences, computational data science, bioinformatics (the practice of using data to understand aspects of biology), sport management, exercise science and digital media. Actuarial science, Fitzgerald’s discipline, is a new division of the mathematics department.

“Health Sciences is now the second most sought-after major among incoming students. Sports management is there too, at number four,” Free said.

Additionally, over the past four years, women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams have been added, increasing the number of female student athletes from 86 to 149, she said.

Men’s sports teams now include basketball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, diving and cross country, with baseball coming next year.

“Athletics has made a name for itself and continues to grow and excel,” Fitzgerald said. “The academic part already spoke for itself.”

The recruitment of legendary UConn coach Jim Calhoun to be the first coach of the men’s basketball team – he started as a consultant in 2017 and as a coach in 2018 – was done in part to help the school’s coeducational plans to succeed, said Free.

“We thought it would attract basketball players, and also public interest. Someone with Coach Calhoun’s reputation would bring a positive perspective to St. Joe’s and let more people know about us,” she said. Calhoun retired in 2021.

The men have been part-time students at USJ since 1965 and graduate students since 1974, Free said.

Fitzgerald said he thinks the school, while welcoming men full-time, has stayed true to its history as a place of female empowerment.

“I took a women’s history course. I loved. It was the only class I took where I was the only male in the class. It definitely opened up my perspective on the disparity between men and women, especially when it comes to art history,” he said. “So many female artists are not recognized because of their gender. It was a great class, and it opened my eyes to things I may not have realized before.

Free said “the basic campus culture hasn’t changed all that much.”

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“The female students have done a really good job of making it clear that on this campus we have a culture of respect for leadership among women, and that’s not going to change with the men on campus,” Free said. “At the same time, we found that men were quickly integrating into campus activities. It was a smooth transition.

Fitzgerald said his freshman year was the year he most strongly felt he was going to a school in transition. Over the years, that feeling faded.

“Now I feel like he was always a student,” he said. “Now you are not able to say that before it was a women’s college.”

Susan Dunne can be contacted at

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