Leaving footprints for the future: Sands of Time defines the global college experience

Sands of Time co-founders Eli Amdur and Craig Mourton (above) show off photos of the group's trips while recruiting new members at the 2012 Student Organization/Business Fair on the Metropolitan Campus. (Photo by Dan Landau) The 2012-13 season of Sands of Time is dedicated in memory of the late University President J. Michael Adams. A supporter from the get-go, he spoke at 'Time to Talk' and brought FDU hats for all (below). (All other photos courtesy of Eli Amdur)

By Kenna Caprio

The docent directed the group to an Italian Renaissance altarpiece first. Next, they admired Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer.” Then they found themselves in front of a Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait. Finally, the guide led the tour to a Damien Hirst installation of a shark submerged in formaldehyde.

Before the Sands of Time members departed from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus to tour the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Eli Amdur and Craig Mourton posed a question: “What is art?”

“We answer questions together, but we also question answers together,” says Amdur, a Rutherford alumnus (BA ’68), adjunct professor, career coach and Sands of Time co-founder in an interview.

And the formaldehyde shark helped the group do just that. “The docent’s choice was perfect,” says Amdur. “Is that art? We make them contemplate big questions.”

Amdur and Mourton, the Metropolitan Campus assistant provost, launched Sands of Time: Exposure to Greatness in the fall of 2008. Inspired by his personal out-of-the-classroom education, Amdur wanted to offer students a social, intellectual and cultural experience beyond the classroom walls. 

“At the Rutherford Campus in the years of (University founder and president) Peter Sammartino, there was an atmosphere here that was indescribably nurturing,” says Amdur. It wasn’t uncommon for students and professors to gather often and mingle outside of class, discussing almost anything, he adds.

 Both Amdur and Mourton, who served as the director of Student Life during the program’s inception, wanted to continue that tradition of informal student-faculty relationships.

Prior to establishing Sands of Time, “we did a lot of great programming, but I didn’t think we had truly defined the complete co-curricular experience,” says Mourton. Sands of Time melds fun activities with intellectual pursuits.

“The whole idea is exposure to greatness, but in the sense that it makes us more aware of whose footsteps we’re following in. And, more importantly, the footsteps that we can leave for those behind us,” says Amdur.

Sands of Time derives its name from lines in a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” that read “Lives of great men all remind us/We can make our lives sublime/And, departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time.” “You couldn’t sum up the group’s mission any better than if you tried,” Amdur continues.

Alumna and Educational Opportunity Fund Assistant Director Christina Philbert (BA ’04, MBA ’10) understood the footsteps during a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sophomore and electrical engineering major Kushan Costa felt it on the weekend trip to Washington D.C., experiencing the national monuments and memorials.

Graduate student and self-proclaimed “music-head” J.J. Vanacore got it when the New York Philharmonic and pianist Andre Watts took to the stage.

“Education is not only about the knowledge you learn in class, but also about the way you develop yourself and think deeply. Sands of Time is a platform to share your thoughts. I get to know myself and become a better person through it,” says Chinese student Adele Li, who is working on a graduate degree in accounting.

Sands-of-Timers cluster outside the Massachusetts home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who phrase '...footprints on the sands of time...' inspired the name of the program (above). The group gathers on the bridge in Concord, MA where the American Revolution began (below).

Sands-of-Timers, as Amdur and Mourton affectionately refer to members, have visited New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. on weekend trips. They’ve heard Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell play. They’ve seen Lang-Lang and “Aida.” They frequent the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Metropolitan Opera. They’ve listened to the N.J. Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. They’ve toured the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian, the Rodin Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Tolerance and the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art.

“As a faculty member, alumna and student, it is a privilege to participate in Sands of Time events at FDU. It is a learning experience that builds a sense of community and provides exposure to cultural, creative and artistic dimensions that are unprecedented outside the classroom,” says communication lecturer Tina LoPonte.

On campus, Sands-of-Timers — ages 18 to 87 — participate in Time to Talk and Time to Listen. On Sunday mornings, sometimes still dressed in pajamas, students, staff, faculty and alumni gather to discuss a specific topic or sometimes, a broad one. Professors including Khyati Joshi (education) and Chris Rasmussen (history, political and international studies) have given presentations and led discussions. Late University President J. Michael Adams, an avid believer in Sands of Time, also served as a guest speaker.

In the spring semester, Sands-of-Timers can visit and tour The New York Times, The Grounds for Sculpture and Edison Labs; hear the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and Restoration Hall Jazz Band; and engage in two Time to Talk events.

“The University culture is one that is so eclectic, but Sands of Time is a crossroads for everybody,” says Philbert. “People come and go as they please, but there’s a waiting list to go to events, which says to me that the University community appreciates and needs these events.”

The fall 2012 semester of Sands of Time kicked off with a trip to the New York Botanical Gardens. So did the initial slate of Sands of Time events in 2008 — fitting as the group celebrates its fifth anniversary.

Referencing her own experience at the gardens and within Sands of Time in an email to Amdur, original member Zoe Ogivlie writes, “Four years ago, I was sitting exactly where you are now. In the midst of a global education, surrounded by the beauty and splendor of the New York Botanical Garden. Time changes, but the message found here remains the same: Nurture it, and it will grow.”

Sands of Time events are free for University attendees and funded through the Student Affairs budget. Donations and support also come from the Alumni Association’s Board of Governors and other sources.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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