Alumni National Awards

All-University Award Recipients


Dr. Ricardo R. Fernández, Arts '62, Grad '65
Washington, D.C.

In 2016 Ricardo retired after 26 years as president of The City University of New York’s Herbert H. Lehman College. Though he took the reins during a challenging time for the college’s Bronx neighborhood, his leadership significantly transformed the school into a centerpiece of the community.

The many milestones Lehman College achieved under Ricardo included new degree programs in business, nursing, social work and public health, as well as expanded online offerings and on-site continuing education. He oversaw significant expansion of the school’s information technology and multimedia facilities, as well as the completion of Science Hall, a campus centerpiece for research and STEM career preparation. In 2002 he partnered with city government to establish on campus the High School of American Studies, ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2015 as the top high school in New York state and No. 11 nationwide.

As a student at a bilingual Jesuit prep school in his native Puerto Rico, Ricardo knew he wanted to attend college in the United States. A teacher steered him toward the Midwest, and he admits that the Milwaukee Braves being a “hot ticket” in Major League Baseball at the time was the main reason he applied to only one school: Marquette. Although he entered college with the intention of becoming a physician, he changed course and graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy, and went on to earn a master’s in Spanish literature.

After completing course work for his doctorate in romance languages at Princeton, Ricardo returned to teach Spanish at Marquette and complete his dissertation. During this time, he became involved in efforts to advance educational opportunities for Milwaukee’s Latino students, both at the primary and secondary levels. He eventually moved to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he rose to assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs and professor of educational policy and community studies. For his outreach and engagement in the greater Milwaukee community, he received the UWM Faculty Distinguished Service Award in 1984. He also obtained the funding and established a federally funded desegregation assistance center serving public school districts in 10 Midwestern states, which he directed for a decade before being recruited as Lehman College’s second president.

At Lehman, Ricardo displayed compassion in dealing with student protests and creativity in managing budget shortfalls. He ushered in research institutes that reflect the school’s diversity and values, and is credited with Lehman’s standing today as a major resource for the economic, cultural and educational development of the Bronx.

Ricardo says he has drawn on the Jesuit maxim mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body) in dedicating his career to opening doors of educational opportunity for underserved populations. “To me, it is unquestionably obvious that an educated population is vital to the nation’s economic and civil well-being,” he says.