Monthly Archives: January 2016

January 29, 2016

As I begin my sixth semester as Dean of Arts & Sciences at Southern, I am struck by the escalating pace of change on our campus as well as the many successful initiatives and accomplishments that have helped move the School and University forward.  Witness the Buley Library expansion (and opening of the Buley Art Gallery), the new Science Building, the Student Success Task Force (and creation of the new Academic Success Center), the University’s 10-year Strategic Plan, the President’s Commission on Campus Climate and Inclusion, the first annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference—and much, much more. Arts & Sciences played an important role in all of these endeavors and will always have a significant impact on our campus.

I have also learned that because A&S is so large and diverse, it is difficult to find ways to adequately communicate the many accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff. We have a lot to be proud of in Arts & Sciences and I think it is important that the School creates a space to share the work we are doing together, the many faculty achievements, departmental initiatives, curricular advancements, and student successes that define us. This blog is dedicated to spreading this important news. Additionally, the blog will bring attention to key academic, scholarly and artistic events that may be of interest to you and to your A&S colleagues. So, if you have items that you would like to share, please email them to my office at ArtsandSciences@southernct.edu

PARTNERING WITH THE BARD

The University has entered into an exciting partnership with Elm Shakespeare Company that promises to bring new energy to our Theatre Department and the entire University community.  Southern and Elm Shakespeare recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that brings Elm Shakespeare onto our campus and integrates it into the Theatre Department’s activities and facilities. Under the MOU, the Elm Shakespeare Company officially is “in residence” at Southern and the University will provide rehearsal, production, and office space for the company. In turn, Elm Shakespeare will bring its expertise into the Theatre Department’s programming. More details can be found in the President’s January 21st Blog post.

FIRST THURSDAYS

In an effort to highlight some of the important new scholarship Southern faculty are doing in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, an interdisciplinary group of nearly 20 faculty led by Joel Dodson and Christine Dombrowski, are spearheading a “Humanities and Social Science Scholarship Forum.” This new faculty speaker series will be held the first Thursday of each month beginning in February.  These First Thursday talks, will feature a 25–30 minute scholarly talk/presentation on a new or recently completed project by a faculty member. There will be plenty of time left for questions and conversation.  The first scheduled speaker this spring is Dr. Charles Baraw (English), “It is strange how these familiar places are haunted: Posthumous Hawthorne, Literary Tourism, and Uncanny Authorship” on Thursday, February 2nd at 4:45-6:00 PM, ASC Theatre.  For more information about First Thursdays please contact Joel Dodson (dodsonj2). Also, updates and featured presentations will soon be available on the A&S Dean’s website.

CHOIR TOUR: MUSIC DEPARTMENT

Congratulations to the Department of Music and to Therese Gemme for another very successful international tour –this time to Athens, Greece!  This tour was made possible by generous donations from the Stutzman Family Foundation. Check out the many pictures and comments on the dedicated Greece Blog.

CURRICULAR INNOVATION: HONORS COLLEGE

The Honors College has just successfully undergone a dramatic curricular overhaul.  Beginning Fall of 2016, the Honors curriculum will be two-tiered.  Honors Foundations represents 16 credits from the HON curriculum taken freshman and sophomore years.  HON 150 remains a team-taught course, as will some other HON courses.

A new freshman and sophomore seminar/ plenary will use a disbursed-teaching model and involve students engaging with faculty and peer mentors.  This model will provide increased opportunities to explore a variety of team-taught and other interdisciplinary teaching methods.  Students will complete six credits of this Honors Seminar over the course of the freshman and sophomore years.  In addition, all first- and second-year students will participate in the Honors Plenary, a 1-credit course with most programming over the weekend.  Service-learning and leadership training will play a greater and more formalized role in the program as well.

Qualified students may elect to continue in the program during their junior and senior years in an Interdisciplinary Honors Minor. Finally, students now have a greater variety of capstone experiences from which to choose.  In addition to the traditional Honors Thesis, options include: Service-Learning, Study Abroad, Problem-Based Small Group Projects, or an Honors Travel Semester with faculty.

STRATEGIC PLAN UPDATE: ARTS & SCIENCES

The A&S Strategic Planning Committee has been hard at work since October working on a five-year school-wide plan.  The department chairpersons selected full-time faculty representing every department in Arts & Sciences.  There are four major goals in the current draft: one each on Scholarship, Student Success, the Development of Sustainable Physical & Academic Resources, and Making Connections.  Co-chaired by Christine Broadbridge, Terri Bennett, Craig Hlavac, and Bruce Kalk, the committee anticipates releasing its final plan by April 2016!

JOURNALISM DAY (FALL 15)

For 32 years the Journalism Department has hosted high school students and teachers across the state for a professional development conference on journalism. On October 30th Dennis House from WFSB gave the keynote address to an audience of over 350 participants. Ten workshops on a variety of topics ranging from traditional reporting to photojournalism to broadcast news were led by full-time and part-time faculty.

In an effort to support this professional development, the Journalism Department offers a monthly workshop called CTTeens where students from various public and private high schools come together in the department to work on story and photo packages and to design a web platform to display their work. This program, in its 17th year is under direction of Chair Cindy Simoneau. 

OLYMPICS WORLD LANGUAGES (OWLS)

Professors Christine Dombrowski, Luke Eilderts, Luisa Pietmontese, and Lisa Vitale have successfully proposed the reinstatement of the World Languages Olympics Day to be held here at Southern on Friday, May 6th. Over forty teams applied for the Olympics Day and twenty teams from all over the state have been accepted to participate in this unique event. This May competition will offer four languages, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, with plans to expand in future Olympics. The event will bring high school world language student teams and their coaches to campus to participate in an all-day event centered on world languages and cultures. The twenty teams will compete in various games created and proctored by the World Languages faculty along with graduate and undergraduate student volunteers.

RESEARCH TAPAS

For the second year the Research and Scholarship Advisory Committee (RSAC) hosted an afternoon Tapas event. On November 23rd twenty-six faculty presented four-minute presentations of their new or on-going research. Nearly two-thirds of the presenters were A&S faculty members including four members from the Psychology Department: Julia Irwin, Ken Walters, Kelly Stiver, and Larry BrancazioGerry Lesley and Jim Kearns from the Chemistry Department, and Troy Paddock from the History Department. This event proves to be such a great hit with all participants that Tapas is likely to be enjoyed for years to come.

FACULTY SHOUT OUTS

Sean Grace, chair of the Biology Department, was invited to become a Co-PI on the KEEN (Kelp Ecosystem Ecology Network), which is a world-wide network of researchers examining the effects of global climate change on kelp beds.

Sheila Garvey, Professor of Theatre, directed the Theatre Department’s production of Almost, Maine in early December. At the recent American College Theatre Festival (ACTF), this production won a merit award for Outstanding Ensemble Acting.

Vivian Shipley, CSU Professor in the English Department, will do a benefit poetry reading on March 3rd at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT. She will join Richard Blanco, who read at President Obama’s inauguration and used to teach at CCSU, in this benefit to help fund the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. The Festival, held every summer, “connects poetry and people,” provides workshops for budding poets and experienced poets alike, as well as the opportunity for poets and their audiences to gather and enjoy the creative process. Vivian sits on the Advisory Committee for this annual event.

President Mary Papazian’s acceptance of a job offer as president of San Jose State University received major news coverage, not only here in Connecticut, but in California.

The media coverage in Connecticut included Connecticut’s three largest newspapers – theHartford Courant, New Haven Register and Connecticut Post, which all ran pieces on Jan. 28.

Will Hochman, professor English, was a guest Jan. 26 on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show, where he was among the panelists who discussed the use of the “unreliable narrator” in literature. He talked about its use in the novel, “Catcher in the Rye.”

Julie Liefeld, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program, was interviewedJan. 25onChannel 61’s5 p.m. newscast regarding a new program for veterans and their families being offered by the SCSU Family Clinic.

A book by Armen Marsoobian, chairman of the Philosophy Department, was highlighted in the Jan. 16 edition of the English-language Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman. The book, “Dildilian Brothers: Photography and the Story of an Armenian Family in Anatolia, 1888-1923,” has recently hit the shelves in Turkey.

The Norwalk Hour ran a Jan. 6 article about a new specialization in public utility management that is being created at Southern. The program is designed to prepare public utility employees with the training and education necessary for the 21st century. A large percentage of the existing workforce in that field is retiring during the next several years.

President Mary A. Papazian

Mark Ojakian, President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, has announced that Mary A. Papazian will resign as President of Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) effective July 1, 2016, and will become the 29th president of San José State University.

In announcing her resignation, President Ojakian noted that while President Papazian has only served as SCSU president since 2011, she has nevertheless produced a distinguished record of student success and accomplishment. “From major construction projects that have changed the face of SCSU, to urban initiatives and the growth of STEM programs to meet workforce development needs, President Papazian has served the SCSU community with exceptional vision and integrity,” said President Ojakian. “We are indeed fortunate to have had the benefit of her extraordinary leadership.”

“The Board of Regents greatly appreciates President Papazian’s service and commitment to Southern Connecticut State University and its students,” said Board of Regents Chairman Nicholas Donofrio. “We wish her well in her future endeavors and we thank her for her service to the state, CSCU community and Southern Connecticut State University.”

Since 2011, President Papazian — the 11th president of SCSU — led a period of institutional advancement. During her tenure, she established a Student Success Taskforce that enhanced student services and support, and the first Presidents Commission on Campus Climate and Inclusion. Major construction projects included the new School of Business, renovation of Buley Library, and the Academic Laboratory Science Building and changed the face of the SCSU campus.

While president, she also established the Office for STEM innovation and Leadership, where SCSU’s new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs were created in alignment with the needs of a 21st century economy. In spring of 2015, President Papazian and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp announced a new bioscience partnership linking SCSU and the City of New Haven.  In addition, the university is now developing an initiative with the city of Bridgeport, focusing on education, business and environmental science.

During her time at SCSU, President Papazian also led the university through the final phase of a successful academic accreditation process, expanded SCSU’s community engagement by cultivating stronger ties to SCSU’s feeder K-12 school districts, and began the planning phase in partnership with New Haven Public Schools to place a K-4 magnet school on campus. Her efforts enabled SCSU to earn a place on the coveted President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

Before joining SCSU, President Papazian was provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at Lehman College at the City University of New York. She also served as dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and associate dean of the College of Arts and Science at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. At Oakland University where she also was an assistant, associate and tenured professor of English.  She holds a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. in English literature from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

President Papazian is active in many community organizations, and is chair of the Connecticut Campus Compact governance sub-committee, president of the Greater New Haven Heart Walk and director of New Haven Promise, a scholarship and support program to promote college education for New Haven Public school students. In 2014, she received the Athena Leadership Award from the Greater New Haven and Quinnipiac Chambers of Commerce, and a state delegation member for Complete College America.

The Board of Regents shall commence a search for President Papazian’s replacement shortly.

blogmultiplechoice
Multiple choice tests may be a better learning tool than some educators believe.

Ask students whether they prefer multiple choice or more open-ended questions on their tests and most are likely to say the former.

But teachers, particularly at the college level, may not be so quick to agree. The ability for students to simply guess their way to a higher grade than might otherwise be the case is not exactly what some educators have in mind.

But a new study — co-authored by Jeffrey Webb, assistant professor of chemistry at Southern — suggests that multiple choice tests may offer students a more effective way to learn than previously believed. The study shows that in situations where students had an opportunity for a “second guess” on multiple choice tests, they have a much higher success rate in providing the correct answer than random chance would have it.

The study included nearly 1,500 chemistry students during a three-year period taking tests in which five potential answers were given. After an incorrect answer, a second attempt at answering the questions would generate a 25-percent success rate based simply on chance (one in four remaining options). But the study showed that students actually answered the questions correctly 44.9 percent of the time.

“It suggests that second chances at questions actually involved an informed response, rather than just pure guessing, at least among many students,” Webb says.

Webb says that science faculty, in particular, tend to be skeptical of multiple choice tests. “They tend to be used sparingly,” he says.

But the results show that multiple choice tests can be a good educational tool in situations in which students are given partial credit for correct second guesses, and when immediate feedback on their answers are provided, just as they were during the study, according to Webb.

The study was published in September 2015 by the Canadian Center of Science and Education. Other authors included former Southern student Jeremy Merrel, as well as University of New Haven faculty members Pier Cirillo and Pauline Schwartz — both faculty members at the University of New Haven.

 

 

 

 

Joe Andruzzi, Walter Camp Award

Former Southern Connecticut State University All-American Joe Andruzzi has been named the 2016 Man of the Year by the Walter Camp Foundation. He was recognized at the organization’s 49th annual Awards weekend on January 14-16.

The Walter Camp Man of the Year award honors an individual who has been closely associated with the game of American football as a player, coach or close attendant to the game. He must have attained a measure of success and been a leader in his chosen profession. He must have contributed to the public service for the benefit of his community, country and his fellow man. He must have an impeccable reputation for integrity and must be dedicated to our American Heritage and the philosophy of Walter Camp.

A two-time All-American at Southern, Andruzzi won three Super Bowls while with the New England Patriots from 2000-04 and was named to the squad’s All-Decade Team. He also played with the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns during his NFL career.

Off the field, Joe and his wife Jen have worked tirelessly to support those in need. Andruzzi has been recognized with the Ed Block Courage Award in 2002 and the first Ron Burton Community Service in 2003.

In 2007, Joe himself needed help as he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma. Following his recovery, he and his family founded the Joe Andruzzi Foundation and have been committed to tackling cancer’s impact by providing financial assistance for patients and their families to help them focus on recovery.

In addition to his great work helping others, Joe’s personal life story is even more inspirational. His three brothers are all members of the New York City Fire Department, and all three responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. During the 2013 Boston Marathon, he was able to help injured people following the bombings.

Andruzzi was also previously named the 2010 Man of the Year by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

School of Business students

It was a simple suggestion that grabbed the attention of Modern Plastics President Bing Carbone: If he hired someone for just six hours a week to update social media accounts, brand recognition would rise and marketing costs would drop.

That nugget of advice – backed by solid market research – came not from a high-priced consultant, but from a group of five business-minded students at Southern Connecticut State University.

The hiring recommendation was part of a larger social media campaign to help the Shelton-based plastics distributor increase profits and boost sales of two older products, Plexiglas acrylic and COVESTRO MAKROLON® Polycarbonate. The proposal netted the students a $1,000 prize from the company.

“Wow, I’m blown away,” said Carbone after listening to the students’ pitch at the School of Business during the week of final exams. “I’ve been to other presentations and have been thoroughly disappointed. Here, I can’t say enough.”

The presentation was the culmination of a semester-long project aimed at giving students a real-life experience in the business world, says Robert Forbus, associate professor of marketing and assistant to the dean of the School of Business. The project was part of a marketing class he taught during the fall semester.

School of Business students

Forbus divided the class into six teams, asking each to research ways Modern Plastics could tap back into the Plexiglas and polycarbonate market. The company shifted its focus away from those products over the years, favoring the larger profit margins of high-end engineering and medical grade plastics, but other companies have found them profitable. Forbus then gave the teams 10 minutes each to pitch their ideas.

“Ideally, what they’ll leave this class with is a new skill that’s very much in demand in the workplace,” Forbus says. “Plus, they’ll have a deliverable – this plan – that they can actually show to a hiring manager.”

The winning team suggested numerous ways the company could increase sales by stepping up its online presence – using blogs, targeted ads, discounts and promotions and more frequent and engaging Facebook posts.

Carbone said just as he had hoped, the students approached the problem with fresh ideas and a youthful perspective.

While he intends to use some recommendations from each team’s presentation, he said the winners stood out by offering something he could implement immediately. Carbone said he’s thinking about offering the new social media position to a Southern student as an internship.

“I thought they hit it right on the nose with things I ought to be doing,” Carbone said. “I feel that I could implement their ideas tomorrow.”

School of Business student

The university-business partnership began after Carbone approached Judite Vamvakides, SCSU director of annual and leadership giving. Carbone’s two daughters attend Southern, and he said he wanted to give something back.

Vamvakides arranged for Forbus and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Durnin to tour the plastics company, and during their conversations, the contest was born.

Members of the winning group said the experience was nerve-wracking, especially since they had to start more than three weeks before the deadline after being told their first plan wouldn’t work.

“We initially wanted to do something with 3-D printing, but they didn’t have the manufacturing ability, so we had to start from scratch,” said senior Charlie Dunn.

Junior Chanelle Clarke said the presentation helped her overcome her fear of public speaking. “I was really shy and nervous about the whole process, but my teammates really encouraged me to go out there and kill it,” she said.

Senior Brielle Grestini said the most valuable lesson was learning how to work together as a team. Other winning team members were seniors Ashley Tomanio and Melanie Sivo.

Durnin said the students’ role in the project should give them an edge in job interviews, and she commended Forbus and Carbone for providing the opportunity. “This is a real focus of what we do in this school,” Durnin said. “We want students to feel as if when they leave here, they have the skill set they need to succeed.”

While the heartwarming images of soldiers happily returning home into the loving arms of their families after years of service are ingrained in the American consciousness, the transition back to civilian life is often filled with unanticipated challenges.

The integration back into society – family life, the workplace, school – can be a bit of a bumpy road, especially for those who have been away for many years. It is even more difficult for those veterans who must contend with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as those suffering from depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide.

As part of an effort to assist in this transition, the Family Clinic at Southern has created a program called, “A Soldier’s Home Project.” It involves free therapy services to active duty soldiers, veterans and their families. A range of services are available, including those focusing on healthy living after and during deployment, relationship building, PTSD, parenting during and after deployment, mindful living, emotional regulation, anxiety, suicide prevention, and grief and loss. Family members may participate in services even if their soldier is deployed or cannot attend. Group and individual sessions are available.

“Our soldiers and veterans have given so much to their country, and this is one way in which we can help them,” said Julie Liefeld, clinic director. “And we also want to assist families who are affected, as well.”

Liefeld, who also serves as director of the SCSU Marriage and Family Therapy program, said that PTSD is not unusual among those who have served in the military, especially in combat. Certain triggers – which vary from person to person – can spark a PTSD incident. She said that in some individuals, it can be the skidding sound of wheels while driving, or a truck that jackknifes and mimics a gunshot sound. In others, it might be a certain smell, or even the sight of garbage on the road.

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The limbic system, a part of the brain that regulates the fight-or-flight function, is responsible for an individual remembering certain sounds, sights or actions and translating them into danger signals, Liefeld explained.
She also said that while soldiers who are deployed are hypervigilant out of necessity, it takes time to adjust to the more laid back civilian lifestyle. “It’s not like flipping a switch in which people can just turn it off right away, especially for veterans who were deployed for a long period of time,” Liefeld said.

“We even see it in the classroom,” she said. “For example, some veterans want to make sure their backs are not to the door.”

She said that even if being hypervigilant does not create an immediate problem, it can lead to depression when sustained for too long.

Liefeld has worked on establishing this new program with Jack Mordente, SCSU’s coordinator of veterans’ and military affairs.

“Veterans are never going to forget their experience, but this program will help them come to terms with it,” said Mordente, a veteran who served during the Vietnam War era. “It will give them and/or their families another form of support.”

Mordente stressed that the lives of spouses and children of veterans also are affected by deployment and returning from combat. “The dynamics of family life change, so it’s an adjustment for them, too,” he said. “The Family Clinic here at Southern wants to reach out to the families, as well, and that’s very important.”
The Family Clinic is staffed by faculty in the SCSU Marriage and Family Therapy program, as well as many advanced graduate students.

SCSU also offers a variety of services for veterans, including a Drop-In Center, and the university Veterans’ Association.

(For further information about the “A Soldier’s Home Clinic” program, or to make an appointment, call the clinic at 203-392-6413.)

Male college students tended to predict higher scores on their impending chemistry tests than their female classmates, even though their actual performance on those tests was nearly identical, according to a study co-authored by a faculty member at Southern.

The results of the research by Jeffrey Webb, assistant professor of chemistry at SCSU, and Andrew Karatjas, associate science professor at Johnson and Wales University, were published in in a recent article in the Journal of College Science Teaching. Karatjas is a former faculty member at SCSU.

“This difference in perception could play a role in the gender gap that we see in the higher levels of the sciences,” Webb said. “There is parity in ability, but their perceptions were significantly different.”

Among students who tallied scores of higher than 90 percent, as well as those with scores of less than 50 percent, gender played little or no role in perception. “A” students tended to underestimate how they would fare with little difference based on gender. Similarly, male and female students who failed with scores of less than 50 percent overestimated their eventual score by about the same margin.

But among the mid-level students – those scoring between 50 and 90 — a statistically significant difference was found. A perception gender gap of 2.3 percent existed among “B” students, a 3.6-percent gap existed among “C” students and a 4.2-percent gap existed among “D” students. Those who scored between 50 and 59 percent had a 4.1-percent gap.

In general, “A” students underestimated their abilities; “B” students slightly underestimated their skills; while “C” “D” and “F” students overestimated their abilities, but males overestimated at a more pronounced level.

A total of 2,547 surveys were collected in the 100-level courses at SCSU during a 16-month period that included the spring 2013, summer 2013, fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters. The surveys asked students what grade they believed they would get on that particular test, and the process was repeated before each test.

Webb, a resident of Branford, said that far fewer women than men nationally are enrolled in doctoral science programs.

“There is a slight difference at the master’s degree level, but a major difference at the Ph.D. level,” he said. “Based on this study, that gender gap might be associated with how women tend to perceive their science ability. If you don’t think you are good at something, you are less likely to pursue it at the higher level. That might well be what is happening.”

Dr. Geoffrey Martin, geography professor emeritus and a prominent historian of American geography, will discuss “On the History of the Book — American Geography and Geographers: Toward Geographical Science” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 21, 2016, at the Library of Congress. This special event, which is free and open to the public, will focus on Martin’s most recent major work, and will include a display of related rare maps and atlases from the collections of the library’s Geography and Map Division. Opening remarks will be delivered by Ralph Ehrenberg, Chief of the Geography and Map Division, and Douglas Richardson, Executive Director of the Association of American Geographers (AAG). Ronald Abler, immediate past president of the International Geographical Union, cited Martin’s book as “unparalleled in the scope and depth of its research and in its meticulous exposition of the evolution of geography in the United States through the 1970s.”

The late Harm de Blij characterized Martin’s book as “a monumental and magisterial work, exhaustively researched and documented, judiciously presented and extremely important as evidence of the foundation from which the discipline arose and evolved. Like Hartshorne’s Nature of Geography many decades ago, this will become a milestone in the record of the field, and it will engender productive debate for decades to come.”

Geoffrey MartinThe official AAG archivist for nearly 30 years, Martin received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of London (London School of Economics). He is the author of The Mark Jefferson Paris Peace Conference Diary, as well as other books on Mark S. W. Jefferson, Ellsworth Huntington and Isaiah Bowman. Martin and P.E. James co-wrote All Possible Worlds: A History of Geographical Ideas . Martin and James also produced The Association of American Geographers: The First Seventy-Five Years, 1904-1979. He has been the recipient of numerous national and international honors, including East German Visiting Scientist, visiting scientist to Cambridge University, visiting scholar at Yale University and National Science Foundation grant recipient in 1984, 1989 and 2010. Professional awards include both AAG’s Honors and the J.K. Wright Award. In addition, Martin has presented at more than 30 major universities in the U.S., U.K., Denmark, the former East Germany, India, Japan, Serbia and Sweden.

Martin’s talk will be held in the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division on Floor B of the Madison Building at 101 Independence Ave. SE in Washington, D.C. The most convenient way to reach the Library of Congress is via public transportation, specifically the subway. The closest Metro station is Capitol South (Blue/Orange/Silver Line), which is located across the street from the Madison Building. Please allow adequate time to pass through the security checkpoint at the Library’s Independence Avenue entrance in time to be seated for the start of the event. The rare maps display will be available for viewing prior to and after the presentation.

Meet Nick Abraham, ’05 — musician, songwriter, and the “music mentor” of reigning “American Idol”-winner Nick Fradiani.

Musician Nick Abraham, ’05, is on the brink. While not quite ready to quit his day job at a local pharmacy, Abraham — the lead guitarist for Connecticut-based band Beach Avenue — is enjoying major success along with band-mates Nick Fradiani (guitar/vocals), Ryan Zipp (drums), Nick Fradiani Sr. (keyboards/vocals), and Jonah Ferrigno (bass).

The band has opened for everyone from STYX, Jefferson Starship, and REO Speedwagon to Third Eye Blind and Bad Rabbits. Twelve million viewers watched Beach Avenue perform on the 2014 edition of “America’s Got Talent.” Even the powers-that-be behind trendy retailer Hollister Co. are fans, featuring the band’s “Feel the Beat” on the in-store playlist, along with hits by megastars Taylor Swift, One Direction, Charlie XCX, and more.

And that’s just the beginning. In May, Beach Avenue’s lead singer Nick Fradiani won season 14 of “American Idol,” with Abraham and Zipp cheering him on every step of the way. Two days after his win, with the show’s full blessing, Fradiani invited the two to help with promotions leading up to the “American Idol Tour.”

The ensuing months were marked by one rock star moment after another. The three performed Fradiani’s hit single “Beautiful Life” in Times Square for VH1. Soon after, the guys traveled to Nashville to film the song’s official video. Later, it was off to Vancouver, Canada, to perform at the FIFA World Cup the day before the U.S. women’s team captured the trophy. A summer update on Beach Avenue’s Facebook page sums it up nicely: “We hopped on 9 flights in 11 days totaling well over 10,000 miles traveled.”

Far from an overnight sensation, Abraham has been a hard-working musician throughout most of life. His early childhood memories include listening to his mother sing and tirelessly banging on the pots and pans she gladly provided. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began playing drums at age 10 and went on to master more instruments — including the guitar, the mandolin, and the glockenspiel.

He joined his first band at 13. Others followed, and while Abraham initially planned to become a music teacher, he gradually realized that he wanted to be a professional musician.

At Southern, he majored in music, playing in numerous university ensembles. He notes that Mark Kuss, professor of music, was particularly inspirational. “He is an incredible pianist and composer. . . . He really inspired me and taught me a lot. I think he understood what I was looking to do with my music — and that really made a big difference.”

Scholarship support was helpful as well. Abraham received the Bellmore Family Scholarship, which benefits students who are majoring in music at Southern. “I was a musician myself,” says Roger Bellmore, who studied communication at Southern, and paid his way through school by playing in a rock band. “The cost of going to school has gone up significantly since I was a student,” Bellmore continues. “We wanted to make it a little easier for a musician, so he or she could focus more on music and classes.” He and wife, Sharon, have two sons, Nick and Charlie, both professional musicians. The latter majored in music at Southern.

Abraham notes that the scholarship met the Bellmore family’s objectives.

“The scholarship was huge in two ways,” he says. “First, in the financial sense, it was a big help. But it also was a big motivation. You feel like you have some support. . . . It’s an inspiration. It says ‘Okay, you are doing well, and you should continue down your path.’”

That path eventually led Abraham — then a Southern student — to successfully audition for a band that included drummer Ryan Zipp. When their lead vocalist left, Fradiani joined on and Beach Avenue was born, named after the Milford, Conn., street where the group got its start.

With only a few practice sessions under their belts, Beach Avenue went on to win Mohegan Sun’s Battle of the Bands in 2011, besting those who had been playing together for years. “Our prize winnings allowed us to put together a CD,” says Abraham.

An invitation to compete on “America’s Got Talent” in 2014 thrust the band into the national spotlight. The group played original music — typically not a winning formula for the show — and still made it through two rounds before being eliminated. “Howie Mandel wasn’t into it,” Abraham says with a smile. Fortunately, others were. “We were upset at the time. But when everything aired on TV, we had this huge response. . . . The song we played charted on ITunes. Social media exploded. So we were thrilled,” Abraham says.

Soon after, Fradiani auditioned for and was ultimately crowned the winner of “American Idol.” “We were really proud and happy for him. He’s our best friend about to win this incredible tournament,” says Abraham of watching the competition.

Fradiani, in turn, was quick to share the stage. Leading up to the show’s final weeks, the remaining competitors each had a homecoming parade and concert, and Beach Avenue was invited to play for the 10,000-plus fans gathered on the Guilford Green in Connecticut.

More surprises followed, with “American Idol” flying Abraham and Zipp out to watch the finale in person. There, Abraham was brought on stage so that Fradiani could introduce him to the world as his music mentor. Both Nicks were presented with cars from Ford. “I felt like I was on a game show. You don’t think things like that happen,” says Abraham, all smiles, shaking his head incredulously. “But they do.”

See Nick’s band page: Beachavenuemusic.com.

Southern Alumni Magazine, Winter 15
Read more in the latest issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.