Monthly Archives: May 2017

Sara Beland

Bridgeport and New London are on course for the sea level of their coastlines to rise 7 to 24 inches by the year 2100, according to a mathematical model developed by a Southern biology student.

Sara Beland, a Woodbridge resident, developed the model and conducted a poster presentation at the recent SCSU Undergraduate Research Conference. Beland graduated May 19 during undergraduate commencement exercises at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Unlike other models, which predict and use factors such as carbon dioxide levels and temperature changes in the coming decades, Beland performed straight mathematical projections based on trend lines dating back to 1938 for New London and 1964 for Bridgeport. The projected rise in sea levels based on Beland’s models fall on the more modest end of the spectrum. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a sea level rise of between 8 inches and 6.6 feet, depending on which variables are used in the calculations.

Beland examined a variety of mathematical trend lines – some using data that starts in the mid- 20th century, while others begin as late as 2000. Those that begin in 2000 show greater increases by 2100 because of the faster rate of sea level rises in recent years. Those that start further back show more gradual increases.

Using a starting point of 1965, Beland’s model projects New London will encounter a sea level rise of 13.8 by 2100, while Bridgeport would see a 16.1-inch increase.

“I’m a mathematics major with a concentration in applied math, and wanted to come up with a research project that potentially could help people,” Beland said. “Scientists have different views on how much carbon dioxide levels will rise by the end of the century and what effect it will have on the oceans. So, rather than trying to predict that factor, I used a math model that is based on what actually has been happening in terms of sea level chances.”

“We believe that Sara’s model is plausible,” said Therese Bennett, SCSU professor of mathematics and Beland’s thesis advisor. Bennett noted that it falls close to the “best-case scenario” among climatology predictions, as some scientists believe a rise of 4 to 6 feet is more likely. But Beland’s projections are based on historical trends.

Jim Tait, SCSU professor of the environment, geography and marine studies, agreed.

“Even if the sea level rise is 1 foot, it would have a significant effect during a storm surge for a major event like Hurricane Sandy,” Tait said. “The flooding and damage would be that much greater. But if there were a 4-foot rise, the daily high tide would be roughly equivalent to a major storm surge. The impact would be much greater.”

He said the sea level rise would be similar along the Connecticut coastline, so that a 13 to 16 inch rise in Bridgeport and New London would likely translate to a similar rise in New Haven.

Beland said a 1-foot rise in New Haven would require about 240 people to relocate, according to Climate Control data. She said parts of Tweed Airport would be flooded unless the 9-foot tide gate was extended higher, and some houses in the Morris Cove section of New Haven would be flooded. But a 4-foot rise would translate to about 1,200 people needing to move.

Beland, an Amity High School graduate, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics this month. She is an Honors College student and an economics minor. She recently passed two actuarial exams and is looking to pursue a career in actuarial science.

“She was self-motivated in conducting this project, which typifies our Honors College students,” Bennett said. “The fact that she already passed two actuarial exams – and that passing five is usually needed to become a fellow, considered to be equivalent to a terminal degree – is quite an accomplishment for Sara.”

Lynn Houston

After a near-death experience, you really figure out what’s important, says Lynn Houston, a poet who graduated this May from Southern’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Houston’s collection of poems, “Unguarded,” recently won the inaugural Heartland Review Press prize, and will be published this fall by the press. The collection is Houston’s first book, but she also now has two other books of poetry under contract.

Writing poetry wasn’t always part of Houston’s life plan. But a few years ago, after Houston had begun keeping bees as a hobby, one day she was stung and went into anaphylactic shock. “I woke up in the hospital afterwards and thought about my bucket list,” Houston says. Although she was a literary scholar, with a Ph.D. in English and a job as a college professor, “my heart is in poetry,” she says, and she began to make some life changes.

She started a small literary press – Five Oaks Press — with her graduate students. “I started it to have a small community feeling,” she says, “but we’ve grown and we have many submissions.”

Wanting to improve her poetry, Houston applied to several MFA programs and chose Southern’s. “I wasn’t winning contests with my poems before I came to Southern, and now I am,” she says. “I like my work better now than I did two years ago, before starting this MFA program. I’m now able to write the kind of poems I enjoy reading.” Houston points to the sense of community within the MFA program as being a key component of her success.

English Professor Vivian Shipley, one of Houston’s professors and her thesis adviser, says, “As a student, Lynn was brave enough to share very personal and difficult emotions with the other poets and she invited them to come along with her as she experimented with her poems. In order to pay tribute to all those who have served our country and those who sustained them while they were deployed, the moving and memorable poems in ‘Unguarded’ are dedicated to ‘all the women who have waited for soldiers to come home.’”

Houston explains that the poems in “Unguarded” are letters she wrote to her boyfriend when he was deployed with the National Guard last year. Some of the poems appear in the book just as they were, and some Houston edited to make into poems. “This book is my heart on pages,” Houston says.

She and her boyfriend met when she was at a writing residency program. They knew he was going to be deployed, but they didn’t know when. They were together only three weeks before he deployed, serving in the Middle East.

While he was away, Houston sent him many letters. She says that as she waited for him to come back, she was strongly aware of the passage of time. “I also felt I was part of a long tradition of women waiting for men to come back from war,” she says.

Houston explains that he had been wounded previously, having been deployed six of the past 12 years and adds that “he suffers these deployments. When he came back he was not the same man as when we met.”

When he returned to the United States after several months, she flew to Florida to meet him. He told Houston her letters had stabilized him, keeping him connected to home. They spent four days together, but soon after, he broke up with her. “He was not the same person,” she says. “I was heartbroken.”

She began collecting the letters she had written to him, working on them as poems, and sending the collection out to contests. “It’s very raw,” she says of the emotion expressed in the poems. “But now I can say it was worth it – I have the book – it lives on.”

One of the judges of the Heartland Review contest, Matt Brennan of Indiana State University, wrote of “Unguarded” that it is “a coherent whole, its arc tracing the emotional plot of a woman waiting for her lover to return from a military deployment. It effectively links the changing seasons to the speaker’s fluctuating psychic experience.”

Houston says she found it difficult to be the support system for someone who’s deployed, but she adds, “My poetry has been a huge part of my healing process.”

“For other people to see the poems means so much – no other prize will ever mean so much to me,” Houston says. “It’s the record of the beautiful person I am when I’m in love with someone.”

 

A selection from “Unguarded”:

 

I Miss the Fullness of Summer Light

I’ve been up since five, and I’ve had too much

of that cold, blue glow from the computer.

What happened to the golden light of summer?

Mellifluous and wild, like well-gathered honey

with a tangy, feral taste. I’m not just talking

seasons. I’m talking about light that loves us:

second story light with its full horizon, the wide

angle of light over dunes or rolling hills, the kind

we had during afternoons in the holler.

It’s the kind of light one has to wait for,

and like anything, waiting makes it worth more.

 

She did what she loved and success followed. Julia Rotella, ’17, graduated summa cum laude after being spotlighted as one of the country’s top student marketers.

Among the 11,000 students who are members of the American Marketing Association (AMA), graduating business administration major Julia Rotella is a standout, finishing second in the organization’s 2017 Student Marketer of the Year competition. “It was really amazing to see my name up on the screen,” says Rotella of the honor, which was sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and announced at the AMA’s International Collegiate Conference in New Orleans in March.

The Monroe, Conn., native has always been drawn to the world of business. “I knew I wanted to be a marketing major since I was very young. As a kid, I actually had an eBay account and would sell things,” says Rotella. She also assisted her mother at craft fairs — learning about trade shows and how to best display products. “I enjoyed the satisfaction of selling things — being able to see the results of marketing. . . . Of course, I didn’t know that it was called marketing at the time,” she says with a smile.

That changed in Rotella’s sophomore year at Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn., when she enrolled in a marketing class. “I remember thinking, ‘Yes! This is what I want to do,’” she says. A gifted high school student, she took Honors level and Advanced Placement courses — and was an ideal candidate for very selective colleges and universities. After considering tuition costs, she chose Southern where she was accepted in the Honors College and received a Presidential Scholarship, a merit-based award that covered her full in-state tuition and fees for four years.

Choosing to commute to campus, Rotella made the most of her Southern experience, joining Southern’s collegiate chapter of the AMA, now known as SUMA — SCSU Undergraduate Marketing Association. As a sophomore she became president of the organization, a post she held until graduation. “SUMA has really helped me to become rooted here, to feel like I am part of a community,” she says.

It’s a community marked by achievement. In 2017, SUMA was a semifinalist in the AMA’s prestigious Collegiate Case Competition, finishing among the top 17 colleges and universities. (Semifinalists and finalists were listed in alphabetical order within each category without a specific ranking.) Southern was the only institution of higher learning in Connecticut to reach this level — and joined Providence College as one of only two in all of New England.

The competition — open to AMA’s 370 collegiate chapters — challenged teams to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for e-commerce giant eBay. Southern’s chapter tackled the assignment admirably. “The students were thrilled. They deserve a lot of credit for finishing in a group that included representatives from some very prestigious schools,” says Randye Spina, assistant professor of marketing and SUMA’s faculty adviser. SUMA also received the AMA’s award for outstanding chapter planning.

Looking forward, the group hopes to build on its success under the leadership of Jennifer Bucci, incoming SUMA president. Among the organization’s greatest challenges — obtaining funding to attend the AMA’s international conference. “They are going to make finals,” says Rotella, who is seeking a position with a marketing agency. “I am not going to be a part of it. But I will be watching from the outside. It’s going to be amazing.”

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SCSU_17_Julia-1292f-1

Passing the Torch
More from recent graduate Julia Rotella, ’17, including a few of her tips for current and future Owls.

Self-Motivated: As a sophomore, Rotella launched her own company, JR Marketing. She’s created websites, logos, brochures, social media posts, and more for numerous clients, including the Monroe Youth Commission, the Monroe Economic Development Commission, Alcohol and Drug Awareness of Monroe (ADAM), and others.

Scholarship support: In addition to the Presidential Scholarship, Rotella received the Eleanor Jensen Endowed Scholarship and the Anthony Verlezza Endowed Scholarship.

Advice to Honors College students: “Push through it. At times, the work load is very strenuous. But if you are in the Honors College, it’s because you can handle it.”

One recent honor: Southern’s Scholastic Achievement and Leadership Award in Marketing in May 2017

Real-world experience: Rotella had marketing internships with TeamDigital Promotions; GoECart, a provider of on-demand ecommerce solutions; Talking Finger, a social media marketing agency; and ASSA Abloy, an international company offering a complete range of door-opening products, solutions, and services.

On building relationships: “Talk to your professors. If I had a question about a paper or an assignment, I’d meet during their office hours. . . . Having those conversations helped me a lot.”

Get involved: “College is what you make it. If you are motivated . . . a go-getter who is going to make things happen, then you are going to enjoy your experience. I enjoyed my years at Southern because of SUMA Marketing.”

Celebration of Excellence, faculty awards

At the annual Celebration of Faculty Excellence on May 1, several major faculty awards were presented at a ceremony to honor the awardees, with President Joe Bertolino and Provost Ellen Durnin welcoming those in attendance. Bertolino said, “I want the members of Southern’s faculty to know that your hard work is visible, and it is appreciated. Today is our chance to applaud our colleagues for careers characterized by excellence.” Durnin agreed, adding, “it is important to recognize the work of our faculty, for all the kinds of work that they do. The awards to be given today reflect the university’s regard for not only research, but also for teaching, advising, and service.”

This year’s honorees included:

Million Dollar Club
Inductees:
Dr. Barbara Aronson, Nursing
Dr. Elliott Horch, Physics

Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship
Awardees:
Dr. Matthew Miller, Environment, Geography, and Marine Sciences
Dr. Michael Knell, Earth Science

Mid-Level Faculty Research Fellowship
Awardee:
Dr. Corinne Blackmer, English

Senior-Level Faculty Research Fellowship
Awardee:
Dr. Elliott Horch, Physics

Faculty Scholar Award
Awardee:
Dr. Giuseppina Palma, World Languages and Literatures

Robert Jirsa Service Award
Awardee:
Dr. Troy Paddock, History

Outstanding Academic Adviser Award
Awardee:
Dr. Natalie Starling, Counseling and School Psychology

Board of Regents Teaching Awards for SCSU
Awardees:
Dr. Melissa Talhelm, English
Dr. Lisa Nakamura, History

Board of Regents Research Award for SCSU
Awardee:
Dr. Corinne Blackmer, English

J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teacher Award
Awardees:
Dr. Sarah Roe, Philosophy
Dr. Margaret Sargent, Communication
Professor Jennifer Lee Magas, English

Lisa Tedesco, film student

For anyone in the film industry – or anyone interested in film, for that matter — the renowned Cannes Film Festival in France is considered one of the most prestigious festivals in the world. Each year in May, producers, directors, screenwriters, actors, and many others involved in the process of filmmaking, from all over the world, flock to Cannes to see others’ films, show their own films, and network.

This year, Southern student and screenwriter Lisa Tedesco will be among the crowds at Cannes, but not as one of the paparazzi or a mere film fan. Tedesco will be screening her short film, August in The City, one of about 200 short films chosen from among about 10 thousand submissions for the festival’s “Short Film Corner.”

Tedesco wrote the screenplay for the film and is executive producer. She teamed up with Los Angeles-based director Christie Conochalla (Once Upon a Zipper, Forever Not Maybe) to produce August in the City. Shot in Brooklyn and Oceanside, N.Y., last November, the production team has now begun its run on the film festival circuit.

August in the City has already screened at the ClexaCon Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nev. Local audiences can see August in the City on Friday, May 5, at 6:15 p.m., when it is shown in the New Haven International Film Festival.

A visionary project in lesbian filmmaking, August in the City deals with the theme of love, loss, and attempting to persevere throughout life without feeling quite whole. August (Daniela Mastropietro) is a woman who has always seen the world through her parents’ eye. They had stability and a loving relationship that August grew from and wanted. August’s husband Salvatore (John Solo) is an old-school Italian man who loves family values and the simple life. Together they have raised two daughters, Ana and Marie (Stacey Raymond and Amanda Tudor). Upon hearing of Ana’s impending return home from college with Nick (Raquel Powell), a new love, August prepares to meet him. When August sees that Nick is a young woman, not the young man she had expected, the film flashes back to 1978, the night when August let her true happiness slip away from her.

Tedesco attributes her vision for the screenplay to a story her mother wrote about her when she was off at film school, about 12 years ago. Her mother, Southern alumna Nancy Guthrie Manzi, ’76, had been an English major with a concentration in journalism while at Southern and says she has always loved to write.

“My mom had called me one night and said that she has written a little something about me,” said Tedesco. “It was about my very first love that I had in college – her name was Nick – and she was expecting to see a young man when I brought her home.” Her mother had been surprised when Nick turned out to be female. Manzi’s story sparked Tedesco’s imagination, and she began thinking about the perspective of the mother in the story.
Lisa Tedesco, film student

Tedesco asked her mom for permission to use the story. “I wanted to do more with it,” she says. She decided to do a “time hop” about the mother’s side of the story — which she adds doesn’t reflect Manzi’s experience — and delve into the fictional mother’s past. Tedesco’s screenplay for August In the City took that element from her mother’s original short story and combined it with her own dramatic touches to make something new.

Tedesco explains that her film is 16 minutes long, and within the short film genre, films can range from one minute to 30 minutes in length. “Starting out, you don’t have access to a lot of the resources you’d have with a Hollywood budget,” she explains. “Short films are good when you have a low budget. “

At film festivals, short films can help filmmakers network and sell their work. At Cannes, for instance, Tesdesco says, “the hope is that you’ll get noticed and get more money to build upon the short” and possibly produce it as a feature film. She explains that distributors from all over the world come to the Cannes Short Film Corner to see the films, and “high production value increases your chance of getting someone’s attention.”

In addition to attending Southern part time and working on her film career, Tedesco works the second shift at Sikorsky as an electrical aerospace technician. A native of West Haven, Tedesco now lives in New Haven and worked on August in the City mostly within the New York City film community.

A media studies major, Tedesco credits her professors in that department with motivating her to “go for it” and make the movie. She says that Associate Professor Charlene Dellinger-Pate “gave me a sense of stability in knowing I could overcome the stigma of women being underrepresented in the film industry.” Associate Professor Rosemarie Conforti, Tedesco says, is supportive and “just wants you to succeed at everything.” Chairperson and Professor Wesley O’Brien says he and the entire department are proud of Tedesco, adding that she is “a self-directed young woman who knows what she wants and is wise enough to pursue it.”

For more information about August in the City, visit:

Teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2Pb7P_Izj8

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6388694/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

https://www.facebook.com/AugustintheCity/

https://twitter.com/AugustCity_Film

 

President Joe Bertolino shares thoughts on Southern, how he came to the university, and the life-changing power of Camp Ockanickon.

It was the ultimate college acceptance — albeit with a bit of a twist.

The message came by phone and the recipient, Joe Bertolino, had been invited to become Southern’s new president. Roughly eight months later, Bertolino is no longer the new kid in town. Since officially taking the helm at the university on August 22, he’s quickly become “Top Owl” in name and deed, crisscrossing campus, New Haven, and beyond in an ongoing quest to connect with students, alumni, and business and community members.

In recent months, Bertolino — or President Joe as students call him — has met with scores of legislators and industry leaders, joined the board of directors at the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA and New Haven Promise, rolled up his sleeves at the university’s day of service, jointly led an on-campus social justice forum with his partner and fellow higher education leader Bil Leipold, and connected with neighborhood schools. Among the Owls most vocal fans, he’s even tackled the t-shirt cannon, gamely shooting Southern swag to the cheering crowd at Jess Dow Field.

“Since his first days on campus, he’s been incredibly involved,” says Corey Evans, a senior political science major and president of Southern’s Service Commission, which runs student-led community outreach programs. “He’s very committed to social justice. It’s one thing to talk about it, but he puts himself out there, helping with planning and going to events. . . . When I look back at Social Justice Week and the other programs that were held on campus during his first semester, I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Such commitment is a given says Bertolino, who has 25-plus years of leadership experience at private and public universities, the latter in Vermont, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

“I come from a social work background. I firmly believe it’s all about relationships — and students always come first.”

Before Southern, he was president of Lyndon State College in Vermont for four years, spearheading the development of new master and strategic plans, the launch of nine academic programs, and an almost 200 percent increase in annual giving in three years.

He joins Southern at a pivotal time, highlighted by the dramatic transformation of campus, including the construction of a state-of- the-art science building, a new home for the School of Business, and the expanded Hilton C. Buley Library, now twice its original size. The obstacles facing the university are dramatic as well, including a statewide budget deficit and a shrinking population of high school graduates. But Bertolino remains upbeat.

“In terms of our financial position, yes, we are facing challenges,” he says. “But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we have a lot to be proud of. When I look out over this campus, I see great facilities. Great research opportunities. Great faculty. A strategic plan that I am very excited about and will be particularly aggressive about implementing.”

A longtime social justice educator, Bertolino has pledged to continue championing the cause. In November, he became one of an initial 110 college and university presidents to issue a joint letter to then President-elect Donald Trump urging a forceful stance against “harassment, hate, and acts of violence.”

“I want people in this city, state, and beyond to know Southern as the university dedicated to social justice.”

It’s a message he’ll be sharing throughout Southern and the community-at-large. “At the moment, I am going to be out and about a lot. It’s kind of nonstop,” says Bertolino. Following, he pauses briefly to share some personal stories and his thoughts on the university’s future.

What role did education play in your family?

I’m the product of a traditional lower-middle class family, born and raised in the suburbs of South Jersey. Faith, family, and education were the priorities in our home — in that order. I had 16 years of private school education. My younger sister and I attended a catholic grammar school and high school. I went on to the university of Scranton, a catholic college in the Jesuit tradition. It was always assumed that my sister and I would go to college. It was just something you never questioned.

How about your parents?

Neither of my parents initially had a college degree when i was growing up. My father had a high school education and took some community college classes. He worked for the shipyard in Philadelphia and, later, for what was then bell Telephone. He was a switch operator before going into management. My mother went to nursing school after she graduated from high school. At the time, people typically didn’t think about getting a college degree to become a nurse. But when I was in about seventh grade, my mother went back to school to get a BSN [bachelor of science in nursing].

Did that make an impression on you?

Absolutely. She worked very hard. I consider myself to be a first-generation college student in the traditional sense. But my mother was the first in the family to get a college education, which she did as an adult while simultaneously raising a family.

What was your college experience like?

When I look back at grammar school and high school, it’s all a blur. I don’t have negative memories, but they’re not particularly fond either. But college was amazing. That’s one of the great benefits of higher education. It gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself a bit . . . to explore. You find your cohorts . . . your people. I was in a group that included the band and singers. Last year, I went back to my alma mater to celebrate our former director’s 35th anniversary. Here it was 30 years later, and I was so excited to see everyone.

Your parents have many fans on campus. They made great comments about being proud of you on Facebook.

It’s very, very sweet. [laughs] My mother always emphasized education, but it was important to my father, too. He started his professional life as a blue-collar worker and worked very hard. The summer after I graduated from high school, he found a job for me at a cable TV factory. Later, when I was packing to leave for college, he came to my room and asked how I had liked working there.

‘I hated that job,’ I told him. ‘It was horrible. horrible.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘And that is why we are sending you to college. Don’t forget it.’ I never did.

Now, both my sister and I work in education. She works in pre-K and here I am in higher education.

You recently were named to the board of directors at the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA. You’ve had a long association with the YMCA. How did it start?

It was the summer after my freshman year of college. The local newspaper — the Courier-Post — had a job listing: ‘Counselors Wanted.’ I remember thinking, ‘I’m majoring in psychology. I can be a counselor.’ I didn’t have a clue. . . . So I went to the interview. Drove up and there’s a big sign: YMCA Camp Ockanickon [in Medford, N.J.] I went to the director’s office, and he proceeded to ask me a series of questions. Have you ever been to camp? Nope. Do you swim? Nope. Play any sports? No. Boat? Nope. Practice archery? No. Arts and crafts? Maybe. Umm, no.

How about working with children? I’d like to, I told him — and he thanked me and I left. Soon after my mother called to tell me they’d offered me the job . . . which I thought was just crazy.

So was that director right? Was it a good fit?

I worked at camp every summer — both when I was in college and, after, while working as a high school teacher. I went on to serve on the camp’s board of directors for 13 years and was the president of the board from 2006 to 2010.

It’s the relationships that stand out. I met Stephan, one of my first campers, when he was 9. His parents were getting divorced that first year. From then on, he came back and stayed in my cabin every summer. Eighteen years later, I was the best man at his wedding. His oldest son, Matthew, is my godson. Last summer we sent Matthew off to Camp Ockanickon, where he stayed in the cabin where his dad and I met.

Camp has been the single most important influence in my life. I credit the fact that I am sitting in this chair — that I’m the president of Southern — to that camp.

An article in Vermont Business magazine mentioned that you contemplated becoming a priest?

I was in the seminary in Scranton for a year and a half. In hindsight, it was far more conservative than I would have liked. But I didn’t leave for religious reasons or a lack of faith; I left because I wanted to forge my own path — and that presented an unexpected opportunity. I took a leave of absence and was assigned to teach religion at a Catholic school in South Jersey. I never went back to the seminary. Teaching led to graduate school, which led to my starting a career in Student Affairs in higher education — and I’ve never left higher education.

What led you to pursue the presidency at Southern?

Southern is a highly diverse community located in a great, culturally rich, urban environment. The university educates many first-generation college students and is positioned to be a strong community partner — the traits that I really love in a university setting. New Haven is also a great city, and it’s a lot closer to my family than Vermont. My partner Bil and I talked about it — and I thought I had nothing to lose by throwing my hat into the ring. It’s a great opportunity. So here I am. Bil and I recently closed on a home in Morris Cove in New Haven. We are excited.

You’ve been described in the press as one of the country’s first openly gay university presidents. Does that carry an added responsibility?

When I started at Lyndon [State College] there were about 20 to 25 openly gay presidents in the U.S. There are now about 70 to 75. I do think that for the LGBTQ community — and also for the Student Affairs community — I feel an added responsibility to “represent” . . . to go above and beyond. But I also remind folks that I am not the gay president. I am the president who, by the way, just happens to be in a committed relationship with a man. Period. It’s not really a focus for me and the work that I do. That said, I am certainly honored if my role at Southern inspires others — lets them see the possibility of holding a public leadership position.

Describe your leadership style in five words.

Compassionate. Kind. Collaborative. Relationship focused.

What are your immediate goals for Southern?

Topping the list, I would like Southern as a community to become even more focused on social justice — in every possible way. I have been a social justice educator for more than 25 years, and my administration will be committed to social justice, not just in word, but in action and deed. Secondly, raising the profile of the institution is key. As I said during my interview [for Southern’s presidency], ‘I’m a PR man!’ I welcome the opportunity to share Southern’s accomplishments and all the benefits it offers to our students, our community, and the state. Third, we will be having solid discussions to address our financial challenges through the promotion of entrepreneurship, the development of new and innovative community partnerships, and a greater emphasis on private fundraising. And this is extremely important to me — we are focusing on student success, furthering efforts to enhance academic excellence, remove obstacles to graduation, and improve retention.

Last summer, prior to officially becoming president, you attended an on-campus dialogue, “A Campus Conversation on Race, Policing, Advocacy, and Action.” You briefly shared your concerns for Joel (pronounced Jo-el), a young man from Jamaica.

My family is very nontraditional. I refer to Joel as my son, though he’s not in a legal sense. But I believe family is defined by love, not by blood or paperwork. When Joel’s first baby was arriving, he told me, ‘You are going to be a grandfather.’ His son Roman calls me Grandpa Joe.

It’s important for people to know how we define family . . . who in our lives are important to us — especially if this helps me to better understand the young men and women at Southern.

[Bertolino first met Joel Welsh Jr. at Queens college. Then a student, Joel worked as his exercise trainer. Today, he is the head strength and conditioning coach at Delaware State University.]

You’ve invited the students to call you President Joe. Why is this important?

I want members of the community to think of me as a person . . . a member of the community. I also want to be somewhat informal. But that doesn’t take away from the seriousness of my role. I tell people not to confuse my smile and my informality with a lack of seriousness. But too many times, people get stuck in their own hype. I think ‘President Joe’ invites people to engage in a conversation and build a relationship.

Speaking of conversations, you’ve been talking to many constituencies — from students and alumni to faculty to legislators. Have you learned anything that surprised you?

One thing I am really excited about is the quality and the caliber of our student population. The academic excellence and rigor at Southern is far beyond what many realize. Our students are sometimes underestimated. In the sciences, a team of Southern students recently won a bronze medal at an international synthetic biology competition. Southern’s Society of Professional Journalists was named the Outstanding Campus Chapter in our region [Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island]. Our freshman class includes many top students, including three high school valedictorians. We are a community of scholars, artists, and community activists. I’m looking forward to seeing all that we accomplish.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 5.17.55 PM

— This article was featured in Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring 2017

Working as a therapist near a Seattle-area military base, Sebastian Perumbilly saw many post-9/11 veterans struggling to readjust to civilian life. Traumatized by their combat experiences, they often complained of nightmares, insomnia and depression. Some self-medicated with alcohol or illegal drugs.

At the time, Perumbilly treated them for post-traumatic stress disorder, like most clinicians would have back in 2010. But today he believes some may have been suffering from a different post-combat condition: “moral injury.”

Recognized by clinicians only recently, “moral injury” occurs when soldiers do or witness something in combat that violates their own values or society’s moral code. While many symptoms overlap with PTSD, veterans suffering from “moral injury” also experience deep feelings of shame, guilt and remorse.

“A part of you dies. That’s what these veterans tell us,” said Perumbilly, now assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at Southern. “They don’t want to do certain things, but they are forced to,” causing a crisis of conscience. He said traditional mental health tools, such as psychotherapy and medication, do not heal these deeper wounds.

Perumbilly recalls one post-9/11 veteran he met in Seattle who complained of devastating nightmares. The veteran was haunted by memories of running over three Iraqi children who formed a human barricade in front of his military vehicle, blocking its path.

“He killed all three of them, but at the same time he had three kids back home almost the same age – 11, 9 and 7,” Perumbilly recalled. “He said each time he went to sleep, these kids were screaming in his head.”

He now cites the veteran as a textbook example of moral injury. Even though he was trained to act the way he did based on the military’s rules of engagement, Perumbilly said, he felt enormous guilt as a father and human being.

“While you are in combat, the rules of engagement are different (from the rules of society).When you are out in the field, you don’t know what’s waiting for you. You have to kill or be killed,” Perumbilly said. “But still it affects you when you come back.”

Perumbilly first learned about moral injury while looking into the high rate of suicide among post-9/11 veterans. An estimated 20 veterans per day die by suicide in the U.S., according to a 2014 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Working under a grant with Valerie Dripchak, professor of social work at Southern, he set out to learn more about the phenomenon. His research led him to Edward Tick, Ph.D., one of the nation’s leading experts on moral injury and founder of Soldier’s Heart, a program that promotes “spiritual and holistic” healing.

Last November and December, Perumbilly spent two weeks in Vietnam with Tick and a group of Vietnam veterans on a “reconciliation journey.” The idea was to return to the place where the injury occurred so the soldiers, now in their 60s and 70s, could make peace with their past. Two post-9/11 veterans also made the trip.

One veteran wanted to go back to the Mekong Delta, where he recalled killing “anything that moved” in a firefight. Another, a Mennonite gardener, told how he was ordered to drive a truck through a rice paddy in an act of destruction, over the cries of Vietnamese women and children.

“We went back to the same exact spot. He removed his shoes and walked through the rice paddy,” said Perumbilly, who was there as an observer and researcher. “It was a very powerful, deeply spiritual, moving experience.”

The vets also met with former Viet Cong soldiers, and were surprised – and relieved– at the welcome they received and to learn the country has moved on.  Perumbilly has kept in touch with the veterans, who told him the trip did more for them than decades of treatment for PTSD. He hopes to share the lessons he learned with the future therapists he teaches at Southern.

“The conventional wisdom we have in psychology and mental health is not sufficient to treat this population,” he said. “They’re in a different world.”