Monthly Archives: June 2017

Assistant Professor James Kearns in chemstry lab with chemistry major Cody Edson

He failed an AP Chemistry class in high school. But five years later, Cody Edson has not only earned both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in chemistry as part of an accelerated program at Southern, but has co-developed a testing kit to detect even small amounts of arsenic in drinking water.

And in the fall, Edson will begin a Ph.D. in chemistry program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The kit is believed to be more sensitive than many other testing procedures, accurately measuring arsenic levels as low as 5 parts per billion, according to James Kearns, an SCSU assistant professor of chemistry who served as Edson’s faculty advisor. Kearns recently obtained a provisional patent for the testing kit.

The World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency consider arsenic levels above 10 parts per billion to be unsafe. But current tests for arsenic often are unable to accurately detect anything less than 20 parts per billion.

Although similar projects to improve the accuracy and sensitivity of arsenic testing are under way around the globe, the Kearns-Edson test could be part of a public health breakthrough as an estimated 100 million people worldwide have significant amounts of arsenic in their drinking water. While a large percentage of those individuals live in parts of Asia, such as Bangladesh, there are some locations in America that have significant levels of arsenic in the water supply, as well. Kearns said they tend to be located in mountainous regions, such as New Mexico.

Edson explained that the new test replaces the traditional mercury bromide strip with one made of silver nitrate. He said the testing procedure also uses digital analysis.

“I am happy that it might be able to save lives and protect the health of a large number of people in the future,” Edson said. “It would be great if we could market it, too. But I really want to use my skills as a scientist to help the environment and to help people.”

Arsenic is considered to be a toxic substance with carcinogenic properties. Acute symptoms of arsenic poisoning include gastrointestinal distress. Long-term effects include lung, kidney and liver problems, as well as skin discoloration.

Kearns said he is quite impressed with Edson as a student. “I have probably taught nearly 2,000 students during my career, and Cody is one of the most successful of all of them,” he said.

Edson said he began working with Kearns in his junior year. In addition to their work on arsenic detection, the two also have worked on a project pertaining to the testing of toxic metals in agave nectar, which is prevalent in Ecuador.

Edson noted that he has learned a lot from his mentor, who he now considers a friend, as well. “We’re homies,” chuckled Edson, who said the two often talk about mutual interests, such as Heavy Metal music– which might seem appropriate for scientists who actually study metals.

Edson, a guitarist, resides in Milford. He considered joining the U.S. Navy when he was in high school, as well as having pondered a possible career in firefighting. But after learning about Southern’s Honors College program from an SCSU admissions representative, he decided to apply. He doesn’t regret the decision.

As a student at SCSU, he helped start a program in which campus food leftovers were collected and sent to nearby food pantries.

Paris Diaries 2017

Dear Friends of the Southern in Paris Program,

It is almost cliché to say, but time has flown by. Today marks our eleventh day in Paris, and the students have already experienced so much. I’d like to take a moment and reflect on our activities, as well as showcase some of the students’ work so far.

We departed New York’s JFK airport on May 31st on an overnight flight to Paris. Students settled in and enjoyed the in-seat entertainment, food, and service provided by our carrier, Air France. Although airline food does not have the best reputation, some students remarked that they were surprised by the quality. Arriving in Paris at 8 o’clock in the morning, we were greeted by one of the longest immigration control lines the program has ever had to endure. Luckily, the agents were quick and efficient, and we were picking up our bags and getting into the shuttle in no time.

Our residence, the Foundation Biermans-Lapôtre, welcomed us with open arms, clean rooms, and recently installed Wi-Fi. Built to house students from Belgium and Luxembourg, the foundation allows groups hailing from other countries to stay for short visits, and we are very grateful for their continued hospitality and professionalism.

After settling into our rooms, students headed to the local grocery store to pick up essentials. Now a bit more familiar with the neighborhood, the group returned to the foundation for a well-deserved rest. Student intern Andrew “André” Janz and I took advantage of this moment to visit the nearest transportation office to purchase our Navigo cards. These magic items allow us to use every facet of Parisian public transportation, even including the regional train system! For many of the students, it is quite a change from relying solely on a personal vehicle to get around. That evening, we took a walk to a neighborhood known as “Montparnasse,” which is anchored by one of the only skyscrapers inside the city limits. There we enjoyed some refreshments at a local café while enjoying one of the most popular Parisian pastimes: people watching! Once we had had our fill, we enjoyed a dinner of galettes and crêpes at Crêperie Plougastel, an event that has become a bit of a tradition for the program on the night of arrival. Filled with cheese, chocolate, and a variety of other tasty ingredients, it was time to turn in for the night.

Friday included a few program set-up activities, lunch at a student-favorite bakery called Paul, and a walk through the courtyards of the Louvre. Students had the evening free to themselves, and many took advantage of the mild weather to explore more. On Saturday, we made our first visit to the Louvre, where we saw the three ladies: the Mona Lisa, the Venus di Milo, and the Victory Angel of Samothrace. These pieces of art alone draw an amazing number of tourists each day, and many students were surprised at how much activity buzzed around them.

On Sunday, we made our first program visit ever to the village of Provins, a UNESCO World Heritage site about eighty kilometers outside of Paris (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/873). Known for its medieval architecture and underground tunnel system, the city was one of the most important economic centers of the European world during the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. The next day, we continued our exploration of the medieval world with a visit to the Basilica of Saint-Denis, often considered one of the first examples of “French Work,” as it was known at the time, and that we have come to know as Gothic Architecture. Students marveled at the stained glass, arched ceilings, and funerary statuary since Saint-Denis is the traditional resting place of the French monarchy. Following this early example, Sainte-Chapelle did not disappoint during our visit the following day. An example of later gothic style, Sainte-Chapelle was built to house the relics that king Louis IX, later Saint-Louis, brought back from the crusades. With walls appearing to be made of only stained-glass, this favorite stop on the trip continues to marvel visitors nearly 770 years after its consecration. Finally, we ended that day’s visit with a stop at the Conciergerie, formerly part of the royal palace and often used as a prison.

On Wednesday, students met at the Musée de Cluny, a museum dedicated to medieval life and art. Built upon Roman baths, the museum houses a very impressive collection of tapestries, the most notable of which is probably the series known as “La Dame à la licorne,” or “The Lady and the Unicorn.” After leaving the museum, we took a detour and stopped in at Angelina’s, a famous tea room specializing in hot chocolate and delicious pastries. Students marveled at the consistency of the drink, remarking that it was indeed like drinking melted chocolate. They all agreed that it was like nothing they had had before! After enjoying our short rest at Angelina’s, we made our way to the Louvre to explore the medieval foundations discovered during the renovations of the 1980s, followed by a short tour through the French small-format paintings. We then walked along the rue de Rivoli and the Seine to get to our dinner reservation at the Trumilou. Offering traditional French fare, the restaurant did not disappoint. Hesitant to try them on their own, students eagerly split a plate of a dozen escargots. Savoring the buttery, garlicky, and earthy flavors, many of the students were surprised at how much they enjoyed the typically French dish.

Thursday and Friday were free days for the students, while Saturday we left the city for an all-day visit to the 17th-century castle Vaux-le-Vicomte. A highlight of the trip, the property offered up all it had to offer to the students, who explored the property for nearly six hours. As spectacular as the building itself is, the gardens are indeed the highpoint. Designed by famed landscape artist André Le Nôtre, the gardens play tricks on the visitor’s perspective and uncover surprises as s/he walks further into the grounds.

Interested in reading what the students have to say? Take a look at our program’s Tumblr page at https://scsu2017paris.tumblr.com.

Some highlights include:

“What caught my attention were the stained glass windows all around the church. The usually dark colors like the red and the blues shone exceptionally well. I enjoyed the light pouring out into the church.”

“One of my fondest memories from my first visit to France is my first visit to the chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte. I was born and raised in a small town (around 5,000 people) and find it somewhat difficult to adjust to the pace of city life. While Paris is a fantastically unique city, the Vaux has always offered me a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of metro trains and pedestrian laden streets.”

“After our brief visit [to the Louvre], we were desperately hungry […]. We went to a nice cafe called Cafe Joli and I had a fantastic Croque Monsieur. I was in heaven after eating that.”

“I can only wonder how the Mona Lisa feels. Launching into the spotlight is difficult for anyone, but she didn’t ask for this. Why, of all da Vinci’s breathtaking works, why her? Why this piece? Bulletproof glass, a wooden rail, two bodyguards, and a fabric rope barring the spectators from getting too close. She sees thousands of people a day, and I can only imagine she’s lonely on her private wall. I wonder if she feels guilty about drawing people away from the other pieces in the room, either by sucking the public in like a fly to her web, or repelling visitors completely from the room as a whole to avoid the buzz in the middle.”

Wishing you all the best from Paris,

Luke L. Eilderts, Ph.D.
Director, Southern in Paris program 2017
Assistant Professor of French
World Languages & Literatures

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

As director of the Westbrook Health Department in Connecticut, Sonia Marino, '09, M.P.H. '14, oversees public health for more than 6,900 residents.

As the first full-time health director in Westbrook, Conn., in more than a decade, Sonia Marino, ’09, M.P.H. ’14, is working to develop a community health plan that could touch on everything from opiate dependency and emergency preparedness to outdoor activities for children.

“Public health is my passion,” says Marino, who took the job in January 2015, replacing a part-time director. “It’s not just about wells and septic and food. It’s so much more.”

Marino envisions a forward-looking health department for her town, with public education and prevention programs, and social media campaigns tailored to the community’s needs.

She credits Southern, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health, for shaping her comprehensive approach and for providing the broad background she needs to deal with the numerous issues that come across her desk, from landlord-tenant conflicts to restaurant inspections.

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

“The professors are great,” says Marino. “I had a wonderful relationship with all of them.”

Marino is one of about 20 Southern alumni now serving as health directors across Connecticut’s 74 local health agencies. Many more hold jobs as deputy directors and sanitarians — the latter, a public health worker with knowledge of environmental and public health issues such as food protection, water quality, product safety, and more.

Peggy Gallup, professor of public health and coordinator of the undergraduate program, says she was contacting Connecticut health directors for a project recently and was struck by how many she recognized as former students.

Professor of Public Health William Faraclas says producing graduates who would lead local health efforts in the state was a dream of founders who launched the program in 1980.

“We dreamed big and our dream came true,” says Faraclas, who chaired the department for 33 years.

Southern’s was one of the first undergraduate public health programs in the United States when it began, Faraclas says, and it continues to serve as a national model. The Master of Public Health program — state law requires local health directors to have the degree — was added at Southern in 1990.

While many graduates work in hospitals or nongovernmental organizations, Southern graduates are particularly suited for jobs in local health departments because of the program’s strong focus on community-based aspects of public health.

Meanwhile, hands-on programs, such as the popular two-week field study trip to Guatemala, foster the resilience and “roll- up-your-sleeves” attitude needed for jobs in public service.

Students must also complete an internship that takes them to the front lines of public health practice, says Faraclas.

It was an internship during his senior year at Southern that launched Robert Rubbo’s career with the Torrington Area Health District in 1996. Two decades later, he is running the place.

After graduation, Rubbo, ’96, M.P.H. ’02, was offered a position as a sanitarian trainee and worked his way up, becoming a sanitarian, deputy director and, in 2013, the director.

Comparing notes with colleagues who attended other schools, Rubbo says he realizes how much Southern stands out in terms of quality.

“I really feel like they have one of the more challenging M.P.H. programs out there,” Rubbo says.

Gallup notes Southern’s relationship with local health departments is reciprocal. Health directors often email her if they are looking for interns or resources for projects.

One graduate student worked with a health department to survey pediatricians about their lead-screening practices for young children; another created a brochure on healthy homes and household environmental hazards. In Westbrook, Marino says Southern students have helped her conduct a community health assessment in town.

Maura Esposito, ’90, M.P.H. ’11, director of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers the towns of Cheshire, Prospect, and Wolcott, says she recently had several Southern students working for her as interns, and would love to work with more.

“I take Southern interns all the time because I know the program, and I know the quality of work that is expected,” Esposito says. In return, she gives them plenty of opportunities to work in the trenches.

“Anybody who comes through my department should be able to get a really good job,” she says. ■

Aussie Natasha Fitzpatrick has made Southern her second home — and set a university record in the process.

It takes about 30 hours for Natasha Fitzpatrick to travel the 10,403 miles between her home in Tasmania, Australia, and Southern’s New Haven campus. The senior public health major transferred to Southern after completing two years of college in her native country — and although she’s only been home once in two years, she’s found her comfort zone. A record-setting member of Southern’s Track and Field Team, Fitzpatrick has met students from around the world while living in North Campus on a floor for international students. “We help each other out,” she says. “I’ve met people from Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom . . . ”

As for the U.S., she says the country has exceeded her preconceptions, which she jokes came largely from movies, like “High School Musical” and “Mean Girls.” “That was the only idea I had of the U.S. It was a lot different than I expected it to be, which was probably for the best,” she says with a smile.

She, in turn, has corrected her classmates on a few fallacies about life Down Under, including common catch phrases like, “Throw a shrimp on the barbie.”  “We call them prawns, so it’s a little ironic,” Fitzpatrick says. Americans do, however, have some things right. “The word ‘mate’ is definitely used as much as people think it is,” she says. Following, she shares more of her Southern story.

 Tell us a bit about Tasmania.

Natasha Fitzpatrick: We’re a little island at the bottom part of Australia. It’s the typical Australian scene, with the beaches really close by and warm weather. We get a winter, but nothing as extreme as in New England.

So February in Connecticut was an adjustment.

Yes! My first winter was a bit of a disappointment. There wasn’t much snow. [laughs] I kept hearing about this thing called the snow day! But I had my snow day this year — and by the time the morning passed, I was ready for things to get back to normal.

How did you come to attend Southern?

I went through a company in Australia called NSR. They recruit Australian athletes in all sports to the U.S. They help us find the right schools, the right coaches, and universities that have our major. I got introduced to coach Stoll and really enjoyed talking to her. [Melissa Stoll is head coach of women’s cross country and track and field at Southern.]

View More: http://steadyphotography.pass.us/jpg-3

Why did you choose Southern?

Mostly for athletics purposes, but I am glad I chose this school for many more reasons, including the friendly people, the academic opportunities and the opportunities to get involved within the school community.  It helps everyone to fit in.

 What activities are you involved in?

In addition to Cross Country and the Track and Field teams, I’m an orientation ambassador during the summer. I’m also involved with the Public Health Club on campus and work at Southern’s Center for Educational and Assistive Technology.

 Let’s talk about track a bit. Are there any differences between track and field in the U.S. and Australia?

We don’t have indoor track. That was probably the most nervous I’ve been — my first race lining up indoors to run the mile, which is not an event we do at home. So that was nerve-racking. But I loved it and I hope to bring it back home. We should have indoor.

 You’ve done extremely well at Southern, making nationals in cross country and setting the university record in the steeplechase. Can you explain the event?

In college, the steeplechase is 3 kilometers. Each lap has multiple hurdles. They’re the wider hurdles — so you can step on them — and there’s a water jump. The idea is to clear the water jump. But sometimes you get wet, so it’s definitely a sport to do in the warmer weather.

SCSU_17-NatashaFitzpatrick--10What was it that like to set Southern’s record?

I didn’t realize how close I was. I kind of left that up to the coaches. . . . They just kept pushing me along. When I actually broke it, they came over and congratulated me. It was quite a good moment. It felt like I achieved something for the school.

 Had you traveled previously?

I pretty much have traveled the whole of Australia. This was actually my first time out of the country. So it was a bit of a big move. But it’s been a good choice.

 Have you had the opportunity to travel in the U.S.?

I have, luckily. With the team, we get to travel a lot in the New England area, which has been a lot of fun. And during breaks I have been able to travel both the East and the West coasts.

 What are some of the things that you’ll enjoy once you’re back home?

It’s so stereotypical but we love our barbecue. Just the whole idea of going to the beach for a barbecue. I got to go home for Christmas which is [during] our summer — and I think we had a barbecue every day.

 Speaking of food, any new favorites?

I haven’t had a proper one yet, but I really want to go to Chicago for a deep-dish pizza. I’ve been to a few states and had their main dishes. The Philly cheesesteak is definitely one of the tops on the list.

What is the most common question you get from Americans?

They definitely ask things to do with the outback and the animals we have in Australia. We kind of reassure them that there aren’t too many deadly ones. [laughs] If you stick to the cities, you’ll be fine.

Since you mentioned animals and stereotypical questions from Americans, how often do you see kangaroos and koala bears?

Kangaroos aren’t in the big cities, but if you go a bit further out, you’d find a lot. They’re common — a little like deer in the U.S. [Koalas] aren’t as common because they need a certain tree — the Eucalyptus tree.

And since you’re from Tasmania, you know where this is leading.

I’ve only ever seen one wild Tasmania devil. You find a fair few in sanctuaries.

What do you plan to do after graduating?

I’ve always thought that I’d probably end up in Australia, but in the meantime, I’d love to stay — work a bit. I definitely want to do my internship in the U.S. and if I can keep studying, do graduate school [here].

SCSU_17-NatashaFitzpatrick-6263Any advice to someone who is considering coming to Southern to study from abroad?

It gives you a hugely different perspective – even traveling between English-speaking countries. There are so many differences in the way of life, in schooling, sports. It is definitely an experience I recommend.

Last but not least, vegemite. Yeah or Nay?

I am a huge fan. My mom sends over vegemite just for me. I’ve tried to get people to like vegemite as much as I do, but I don’t think it’s something Americans enjoy. We’re working on it.