Monthly Archives: July 2017

Meeting of the School of Graduate Studies, Research, and Innovation

Southern’s School of Graduate Studies recently expanded its portfolio to include research and innovation, to form the new School of Graduate Studies, Research, and Innovation (GSRI). “There are many exciting new initiatives at Southern,” says Christine Broadbridge, dean of GSRI as well as a physics/engineering researcher with expertise in nanotechnology and the education director for a National Science Foundation Center of Research Excellence at SCSU/Yale.  “We have a new president, a new provost, and a new strategic plan. Innovation is a big part of that plan.”

But how to define “innovation”? Broadbridge, who previously established the Office for STEM Innovation and Leadership (STEM-IL), points to innovation as the common theme between GSRI and STEM-IL. One of her goals, she says, is to engage in dialog with the internal and external communities to ask the questions, “What is innovation?” and “How does Southern define innovation?”

Nanotechnology students at SCSU's Academic Science and Laboratory Building

To begin the conversation, in May GSRI hosted a panel discussion at Southern on the Green to look at innovation in business and industry. This first “Defining Innovation” event was held in partnership between GSRI, UCONN School of Engineering, and the UConn School of Business. The panelists included representatives from a few companies listed by Forbes Magazine as among the World’s Most Innovative Companies:

  • From Alexion in New Haven: Rachael Alford, Vice President, Global Product Development
  • From Medtronic: Danyel Racenet, Director of Research and Development
  • From Assa Abloy: Amy Vigneux (Vigo), Director, Sustainable Building Solutions

“We started with experts – those that are in the trenches,” Broadbridge explains. The panel’s goal was to begin defining innovation for industry, and specifically Connecticut’s industry. “People at SCSU have been innovative for a long time,” Broadbridge says, “but how do we foster and encourage it? How do we teach students to be innovative as they move forward into their careers?  How do we most effectively reward and celebrate the innovations of our faculty, students, staff, and community? ”

professor and students in lab; SCSU Academic Science and Laboratory building

Essentially, she says, innovation is about collaboration and partnership – getting people to think about things in a way that they haven’t thought of before, and encouraging communication. Broadbridge has brought in an entrepreneur-in-residence, Deborah Santy, to help facilitate events around innovation and to help create partnerships with groups in the community. Santy says innovation is “anything new and different, and Christine has always been doing that.” She points to the SCSU BioScience Academic and Career Pathway Initiative (BioPath) and Southern’s systemwide Center for Nanotechnology as examples of innovation. Santy is working closely with industry to create curriculum that addresses its needs, while also helping students form partnerships with business.

She, along with Suzanne Huminski, who leads the Sustainability Office on campus, were organizers of the Innovation Connection event, as well as Robin Ann Bienemann, entrepreneur-in-residence at the UConn School of Engineering and the UConn School of Business. Huminski says that incorporating innovation into the classroom is best when it involves a process with protocols, as it does with business and industry. Innovation is about problem solving, she says, so the university needs to think about it educationally and offer programs that meet the needs of students.

Huminski makes the point that sustainability is at the intersection of multiple disciplines, and requires  innovative solutions to succeed. Fostering successful and scalable sustainability solutions means interdisciplinary collaboration, and asking what each discipline can bring to the table to solve sustainability challenges of many different types. She adds that students can benefit by learning to be innovative and how to create partnerships in their future careers.

Rain Harvester collecting water for recycling in front of SCSU Academic Science and Laboratory building

Both Santy and Broadbridge also emphasize that innovation is all about partnerships and collaboration. Previously, Santy was executive director of Connecticut’s SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) office, which worked with all the small businesses in the state and large businesses to bring innovation to Connecticut. Santy says that based on her experience, “I believe that every innovation I’ve seen involves partnership.”

Broadbridge is looking at continuing to define innovation and what it means at Southern. She points to the new Academic and Laboratory Science Building, designed as a collaborative, innovative space, as well as a new space in Buley, adjacent to the GSRI offices, designed for student collaboration. “We’re about initiatives that foster innovation and deliver it for our institution,” Broadbridge says. “I believe that there are many different types of innovation, depending on the context, and an infinite number of applications.”

students collaborating in private study room; SCSU Hilton C. Buley Library

From innovation in education to government, from healthcare to business, the resulting impacts on our society are without limit, Broadbridge says. “Innovation is a key driver for prosperity, opportunity, and growth in all sectors, and Southern is primed to become a regional leader in educational innovation through partnerships.”

Larry DeNardis receives honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University

Lawrence DeNardis, a member of the Connecticut State Board of Regents for Higher Education (BOR), recently received the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). One of 12 Fellows chosen for 2017, DeNardis was honored for his outstanding achievement in creating transatlantic academic opportunities. He was instrumental in helping to establish the pioneering transatlantic partnership between Southern and LJMU, which provides a unique student exchange program, including opportunities for joint degrees.

DeNardis received the award during LJMU’s graduation ceremony, held at Liverpool Cathedral before an audience of over 3000 graduates and guests.

The Trans-Atlantic Alliance between SCSU and LJMU, now in its third year, has included research internships, study abroad for students from both institutions, faculty exchanges, and the approval of the first programs in a portfolio of joint master’s degrees. SCSU President Joe Bertolino and former Provost Ellen Durnin were part of a small delegation that visited Liverpool in May to meet with LJMU leadership and advance the university’s first major international partnership.

The Fellowship was presented to DeNardis by Sir Malcolm Thornton, who joined LJMU’s Board of Governors in 2001 and became chairman and pro-chancellor in 2007, a position he held until 2013. Thornton and DeNardis have known each other for 35 years and share a “passion for education as an engine of change,” said Thornton in his remarks during the presentation. A few years ago, together they began to plant the seeds for the transatlantic partnership between LJMU and SCSU.

Thornton said, “It’s not easy to establish a formal partnership between universities on different sides of the Atlantic. We have succeeded – we have succeeded because of shared values, shared beliefs and because our academic staff, here and in America, have seized the opportunity to create new ways to work together.”

DeNardis said of his award, “It is with great pleasure to have this honour bestowed on me and to my wife to be here with me. It is true that this 35-year friendship has led to a strong partnership between SCSU and LJMU – a partnership that will benefit countless students at both institutions for decades to come.”

LJMU’s highest honor, the Honorary Fellowship is bestowed each July during Graduation Week upon a select group of individuals from outside the university, in recognition of their outstanding achievement in a given field or profession, and who personify the university’s ethos and go on to inspire others.

The Fellowship of the university is an association of individuals who are closely connected with the work of LJMU, and Fellows play an active role in the life of the university by delivering guest lectures, hosting events, helping with projects and in some cases mentoring and supporting individual or groups of students.

DeNardis’ own academic career includes 16 years as an associate professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Albertus Magnus College, visiting professor of government at Connecticut College, guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution, and seminar instructor at Yale University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s and a Ph.D. in government from New York University.

He has pursued a combined political and educational career and as a public servant has worked to create opportunities to raise the aspirations of the communities he has served, Thornton said.

President Emeritus of the University of New Haven and a former United States Congressman from Connecticut, DeNardis has been a federal and state legislator and chief executive officer, in addition to his work as a political science professor. He represented Connecticut’s Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 after serving five terms in the Connecticut State Senate from 1971.

He was the Acting Assistant Secretary for Legislation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1985-86 and was appointed by President George Bush to serve as a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine.

In 2005 and 2006, DeNardis was an official election observer for national parliamentary and presidential elections in Ukraine and Tanzania and co-chaired delegations from both the Association of former members of Congress and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. He also led a delegation of former members of Congress to meet with the new president of Chile in February 2006.

DeNardis was appointed in 2012 to the BOR, which governs Connecticut’s four state universities; 12 community colleges; and Charter Oak State College.

 

Sandra Gomez, journalism student, Hartford Courant

Out of hundreds of journalists who applied from across the country, only a dozen were selected for a recent intensive 11-day program focusing on understanding and communicating data-rich and complex statistical information. Sandra Gomez-Aceves, who graduated from Southern just two months ago, was among them.

The ProPublica Data Institute is a program run by an independent investigative journalism newsroom. Attendees learned data journalism, design layout and programming concepts such a HTML/CSS, JavaScript and Python. They even built a website from scratch.

“The Data Institute opened up a new world of journalism to me that I knew existed, but not to the extent that it does,” Gomez-Aceves said.

The journalists who have been accepted are career professionals who range from students to mid-level. ProPublica chose 12 applicants out of nearly 500 applicants.

“It’s like a 2.5-percent acceptance rate,” Gomez-Aceves said. “I thought ‘Oh my God, this was just meant to happen for me.’”

After graduating from SCSU with a B.S. in journalism and a concentration in political science, she then went on to complete the program at the ProPublica Headquarters in New York City. But her selection came while she was still a student – one of only three students chosen.

Gomez-Aceves said that she learned about the program when Jodie Gil, SCSU assistant professor of journalism, sent her a link to the application. Gil said she was so proud when she heard about the acceptance and she knew that ProPublica picked the right person.

“I was blown away because it’s such a prestigious program. They (ProPublica) have been around for nine years and they’ve won four Pulitzer prizes,” Gil said.

Gomez-Aceves’s first experience with data was in the Digital Media Skills course during her freshman year at Southern. Throughout her four years at Southern she strived to learn data, but there wasn’t always sufficient interest from students for a class to be offered.

“I really love data and I wanted to learn about it when I was in school,” Gomez-Aceves said.

Gil said the ProPublica Data Institute was a way for Gomez-Aceves to connect on a national playing field and shows that Southern students can compete with anyone.

Participants conducted research, evaluated data and created data sets in classroom workshops from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and had homework assigned each day.  The most challenging aspect for Gomez-Aceves was “scrapping”, a method of using code to plug in data into an Excel document from a given website.

“Everyone wanted to be there, everyone wanted to work hard,” Gomez-Aceves said. “I think it definitely helps me just want to do better and learn from the people who have had this experience.”

Gomez-Aceves was recently hired as a breaking news reporter for the Hartford Courant. She said she is excited to incorporate her love of data journalism in her future reporting.

“I have a new love for websites and the Internet,” Gomez-Aceves said. “You kind of just take the Internet for granted. But when you start seeing how pages come together and all the work that goes into HTML, CSS and JavaScript. A web page is a lot of work.”
Sandra Gomez, journalism student, Hartford Courant

 

LJMU archeological dig with SCSU President Jo Bertolino and SCSU and LJMU students

In a bucolic, rural setting not far from the town of Chester, England, a group of Southern anthropology students worked meticulously to unearth the remains of men, women, and children buried centuries earlier in unmarked graves.

The Poulton Research Project has yielded the largest amount of medieval bones from the years 1066 to 1485 to come out of English soil. And for the eight Southern students who joined peers from partner institution Liverpool John Moores University at the site during a two-week field study this May, it provided an opportunity that can’t be replicated on this side of the Atlantic.

“We’re uncovering human remains from the Middle Ages, finding out how and why they were buried that way, and trying to figure out how these people died — it’s a great way to learn,” said Jarod McAnern, a Branford sophomore. The chance to participate in an archaeological field study abroad was one of the things that drew him to the Anthropology Department, and to Southern, he said.

McAnern and his fellow students uncovered medieval pottery and coins, along with the skeletal remains, while learning to survey, document, and photograph the burial sites and perform forensic testing in the labs at LJMU.

“Instead of these students doing simulated field work in a lab setting, they’re getting real-life experience in one of the most significant archaeological sites in England,” said Anthropology Department Chair Kathleen Skoczen, who led the SCSU group.

LJMU and SCSU students digging at archeological site in Chester, England

The field study represented another development in the blossoming Trans-Atlantic Alliance between SCSU and LJMU, which in its third year has included research internships, study abroad for students from both institutions, faculty exchanges, and the approval of the first programs in a portfolio of joint master’s degrees.

SCSU President Joe Bertolino and Provost Ellen Durnin were part of a small delegation that visited Liverpool in May to meet with LJMU leadership and advance the university’s first major international partnership

“Our institutions have much in common, both in their roots and the populations they serve,” Bertolino said. “At Southern, our top priority is to give our students as many experiences as possible while preparing them to live and work in a global economy, and this partnership furthers that goal.”

Entering the third year of the partnership, SCSU and LJMU are focused on expanding its reach. Already this summer, 20 LJMU students spent three weeks at Southern as part of a cultural immersion experience. In Iceland, 35 students and four faculty members from both institutions engaged in a field-based exploration of the interrelationships between the economy and the environment.

Projections are that more than 20 students will spend a semester abroad in Liverpool in spring 2018, while more than 30 LJMU students are expected to make the reverse crossing during the 2017/18 academic year. Research and teaching collaborations have been under way, or are planned, in more than 15 disciplines, ranging from creative writing and art, to public health and computer science.

A giant step forward will see the launch of two joint master’s programs — projected for the fall of 2018: an M.S. in coastal resilience, under the umbrella of SCSU’s Department of Environment, Geography, and Marine Sciences and its LJMU counterpart, and an International Master’s of Business Administration, offered by the respective Schools of Business.

Pending approval by the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) Board of Regents, two additional jointly delivered master’s degrees will launch in the following academic year: an M.S. in global health, and another master’s degree focusing on recreation, tourism, and sport management. Other potential shared graduate programs in creative writing and anthropology are in the pipeline.

The addition of these programs would place SCSU and LJMU in rarified territory as the only American/Anglo universities offering more than one joint master’s program. And these new offerings, built on a hybrid platform of online courses combined with time on the ground at both institutions, would be a draw for an international pool of students, senior leaders said.

“As we celebrate our 25th anniversary year, Liverpool John Moores University continues to develop its global outlook and unleash as many opportunities for our students to experience the unique international environment a university education offers,” said Professor Nigel Weatherill, vice chancellor of LJMU. “SCSU, like us, is a pioneering modern institution and this partnership will enhance our strengths across a wide range of subjects for the benefit of staff and students on both universities, for years to come.”

overview of LJMU dig at Chester, England

Professor Amy Smoyer and a photo of kitchen staff preparing food

What’s it like to be a woman in prison? Assistant Professor of Social Work Amy Smoyer’s research focuses on women’s lived experiences of incarceration, and she has found that a big part of living in prison is food: the kinds of food that are served, how they are served, how they are prepared, and how women feel about eating them. In her conversations with incarcerated women, she says, one woman told her, “food is what it’s all about in prison,” that “people who have been in prison all talk about the food.”

Before she became interested in the experiences of incarcerated women, and food in particular as part of that experience, Smoyer was an HIV social worker. For her research into the impact of incarceration on HIV risk, she would go to prisons to work with inmates, and through her work with these individuals, she became interested in prison. There’s a difference between lived experience and academic research, Smoyer says. She decided she wanted to look at women’s actual experiences living in prison, and she quickly learned about food’s importance.

It’s not about nutrition, she says. “Food is a tool we use to build identity, place, culture. It’s about a memory of being with family or friends. It’s an important part of our human experience, and we send cues to each other by what we eat.” People in prison are no different than anyone else when it comes to food, Smoyer says. “They use food in the same ways.” Questions like, “Who do you cook with?” and “Who do you eat with?” are important. Food and eating involve trust issues.

When she talks with incarcerated women about the prison cafeteria, Smoyer says, they say things like “the food is like slop”: it tastes, smells, and looks awful. The low quality of the food sends a powerful message to incarcerated people about how they are seen, she says, adding, “Food should send a message that says, ‘I see you as a human being and I’m giving you food that I would eat myself.’”

When Smoyer spent two months as a Fulbright Scholar in Denmark, teaching and conducting research about Danish prison food systems, she saw differences in the role of food in Danish prisons as opposed to American prisons. In Denmark’s prisons, she says there are no cafeterias; instead, prisons have kitchens where inmates can prepare and eat their own food. “It’s about being able to take care of your own body and regain control over your own nutrition, and your own lives.”

Talking to incarcerated women about what food means to them and how they’re taking care of themselves with food, Smoyer says, is a different way to talk about prison, allowing people to see the humanity of those in prison. “We all eat,” she says, so talking about the role of food in prisoners’ lives “humanizes people. People who live in prison are just normal people.”

Smoyer’s interest in the topic of incarceration encompasses more than food. She started off thinking about the massive incarceration of people in the United States and what might be done to reduce the prison population. There’s been a move to release nonviolent offenders, she says, or those who are in prison by mistake, or are in for small charges. “It’s important to remember,” Smoyer says, “the U.S. still has the largest population of incarcerated persons in the world. In Europe, the maximum sentence you can get is 15 years, while in this country you can get a life sentence for drug charges. We have to look at people who have committed felonies. If we want to reduce the number of people in prison, we have to be able to make modifications to our sentencing.” Thinking hard about “when is it enough time?” to serve is necessary if we’re going to have movement, she says.

Forgiveness as a part of reforming the criminal justice system is something to consider, Smoyer believes. “We have to be able to forgive others, ourselves, our country.” In April, she led a panel at Southern on “Breaking Good: The Role of Forgiveness and Atonement in Reducing the Number of Incarcerated Women in Connecticut,” part of the 64 Days of Nonviolence Program sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program. The forum started with a small step, Smoyer says: asking the question, “What does forgiveness mean to you? Can we forgive people for doing horrible things?”

For the panel, she brought in four women who have been impacted by the criminal system, “people who have really struggled with forgiveness and have thought a lot about what forgiveness means.” The forum was about creating a space for formerly incarcerated women to lead participants in a discussion, Smoyer says, adding that movements are most successful when led by people who are most impacted by them. And, she adds, intergroup dialog is how we learn.

The forum followed Smoyer’s participation in January in Temple University’s Inside-Out Training program, whose mission is “to create opportunities for people inside and outside of prison to have transformative learning experiences that emphasize collaboration and dialogue and that invite them to take leadership in addressing crime, justice, and other issues of social concern.” This summer, she launched an Inside-Out undergraduate course (SWK350: Research Methods) at the Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire. This course includes SCSU undergraduates and men at MYI in a transformative learning experience grounded in intergroup dialogue. All students earn three credits towards their bachelor’s degree.

For spring 2017, Smoyer was awarded the Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship to work on her portfolio of studies about the lived experience of incarceration. In her project, “Prison at the Margins: Understanding the Intersecting Vulnerabilities of Incarcerated Lives,” she planned to analyze existing qualitative data about the incarcerated lives of two vulnerable populations — people living with HIV and transgender individuals.

Smoyer earned her Ph.D. in social welfare from Hunter College of the City University of New York, her MSW and MPA from Florida State University, and her B.A. in women’s studies from Columbia University. She has been an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work since 2015, after serving as a post-doctoral fellow at the Yale University School of Public Health from 2013 to 2015. For more information about Smoyer and her work, visit her website.