Monthly Archives: February 2019

The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.

This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, will be awarded this academic year during the months of December, January, February, March, and April to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of February, the Top Owl Award winners are undergraduate student Dayana Lituma-Solis and Victoria Zigmont, assistant professor of public health.

Dayana Lituma-Solis is an undergraduate student majoring in communications disorders and, according to her nominator, is a “living embodiment of the SCSU values of Social Justice and Access.” A student representative to the Undocumented Students Support Team, she is an integral member of the team and provides valuable ideas that have been recognized by the faculty and staff members of team. Last year she led a group of students to travel to the Capitol Building in Hartford to testify in front of the Higher Education Committee to equalize access to financial aid funds for all students regardless of immigration status. She assisted in a College Access Program for ESL (English as a Second Language) students at Wilbur Cross High School. She worked under CT Students 4 A Dream, an organization that fights for immigrant rights and the rights of undocumented students throughout the state of Connecticut. As part of her work with them she delivered “Undocupeer” training for student leaders (RA’s and OA’s) at Southern.

Lituma-Solis has has served as panelist for several immigration related events for Social Justice Month, including sharing her experience as a first generation immigrant at last year’s TRUMP CARD discussion. She is the president of the Hermandad de Sigma Iota Incorporada chapter at Southern, and under that role led several voting registration drives last fall to increase voting engagement by all students, but particularly Latino students. Last fall she also volunteered to give a bilingual tour to a group of more than 50 high schoolers and parents from Bridgeport and New Haven.

As a communications disorders major, she is an active member and secretary of the Autism Awareness ad Advocacy Club. In her free time, she is a tutor for New Haven Reads and works as a research assistant for the SCSU R.E.A.D.S. lab.

Lituma-Solis’ nominator wrote, “I could go on and on about Dayana’s accomplishments and contributions to SCSU’s mission of social justice. But the truly remarkable quality about Dayana is her willingness to step out of her comfort zone to assist her peers and pave the way for students to achieve their higher education goals.

“Even though she is only 20 years old, she has developed a vast network of contacts at SCSU and the New Haven community. She has referred many students and parents to my office to make a personal connection to talk about coming to SCSU. Dayana does not get any financial benefit from helping these students apply to SCSU, yet she goes above and beyond to ensure that these prospective students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, are able to navigate the application process and make a personal connection with key people in the faculty and staff that look like them or speak the same language.”

Dr. Victoria Zigmont is committed to improving Southern’s students’ health and well-being through her work on campus and in the community. She recognizes the relationship between social justice and academic (and personal) success for Southern students. She has been involved in several initiatives that include her service on committees, leadership in projects and grant-funded research studies to reduce food insecurity among students on campus. Her efforts resulted in greater access to food and resources in a manner that protects and respects students’ privacy. She contributed to the relocation of the mobile food pantry, creation of satellite pantries housed across campus, and planning for a sustainable large pantry. She has been successful in building momentum, creating a sense of urgency, and engaging collaborators to remedy students’ food insecurity and related needs.

Dr. Zigmont also has demonstrated her commitment to student success through her involvement of graduate and undergraduate students in her research and practice in this area. She has led and engaged her students in campus-wide assessments and steps to address identified needs on campus and in the community.

Her nominator wrote that Dr. Zigmont “is committed to a mission of social justice, which is evident in all that she does. She is an exceptional role model who fully embraces her students and colleagues with dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility.”

Nominate a member of the Southern community for a Top Owl Social Justice Award.


Associate Professor of Communication Disorders Kelly Mabry and her daughter, Teagan Mabrysmith, with a young friend in Ecuador

With the help of her daughter and Southern Connecticut State University graduate students, Associate Professor of Communication Disorders Kelly Mabry is addressing an international epidemic and helping to bring medical attention to an underrepresented group: thousands of children — and even adults — worldwide who are unable to smile because of a facial deformity like a cleft palate.

A cleft palate happens when the roof of the mouth contains an opening into the nose. These disorders can result in frequent ear infections and feeding, speech, and hearing problems. Each year in the United States, about 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate. Worldwide, it is estimated that a child is born every three minutes with a cleft — about one in 500-750 births. Left untreated, the consequences of cleft lip or palate can be devastating.

Mabry, who has taught at Southern since 2011 and is a craniofacial speech pathologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, has been passionate about craniofacial disorders for decades. She began her education at Southern in 1982, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in communication disorders. In 1989, she took a position on the Cleft Palate Team at Newington Children’s Hospital; she’s been there ever since. In 1996, she was the director of the team when they moved to Hartford as Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and six years later, Mabry went on her first medical mission to the Congo with Operation Smile.

In her words, “My passion for international cleft care only increased.”

When Mabry started teaching at Southern, she advocated for an Operation Smile Club, which was realized in 2012 (she is still the club’s adviser). She continued her international efforts, traveling to Bolivia with Operation Smile in 2015. She joined Global Smile Foundation (GSF) that same year and traveled through the organization to Ecuador in 2016 and 2018, where she met patients and conducted speech evaluations. GSF is a non-profit organization that provides cleft care throughout the world; it helps those living where the incidence of cleft is often higher than average and the access to cleft care is very limited.

“I love traveling and getting to know the culture and communities that I visit,” Mabry said. “We are definitely not visiting tourist locations, and that is what I love. The relationships that I have developed with community providers and families are amazing.”

Last March, she was able to bring two Communication Disorders graduate students and her 13-year-old daughter, Teagan Mabrysmith, with her through GSF to Guayaquil, Ecuador, on a 10-day humanitarian outreach trip.

“Southern’s Communication Disorders department takes pride in involving both graduate and undergraduate students in research opportunities and field experiences,” Mabry said. “My students in Communication Disorders are always eager to hear about these missions, and I try to involve as many students as I feasibly can during a busy mission. I am working on developing a course where I can bring more students and piggyback off of missions so that we can do speech camps for a few weeks. The feedback I had last year was so affirming — the students loved the experience. So much so that they both joined GSF upon graduation and are coming back with me this year as veterans!”

Her daughter, also inspired by her mother’s outreach, recently launched a Save-a-Smile campaign to raise $35,000, which GSF can use to cover the expense of a Nasendoscope, a scope used to observe the closure of a patient’s palate. GSF currently does not own its own portable scope system.

On March 8, Mabry, her daughter, two current students, and two graduate students in the Communication Disorders program returned to Guayaquil, again through GSF. Mabry is conducting research during this mission, and her students are directly involved.

“I am more passionate about international medical opportunities in craniofacial disorders every time I go abroad,” Mabry said. “I am very fortunate that my experience in the field affords me the opportunity to work with some of the best surgeons in the world who volunteer vast amounts of time for this cause. I am working collaboratively with the GSF team to develop standards of care for children in underdeveloped nations so that all children with craniofacial disorders can be guaranteed quality treatment.”

Now that is something to smile about.

Xhenet Aliu

Southern’s English Department and its creative writing program, as well as the university in general, have turned out a number of successful writers over the years. One such Owl alum, whose 2018 debut novel has been enjoying critical acclaim, will bring her talents back to campus to kick off the university’s celebration of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing Program‘s 10th anniversary.

On March 7 at 7:30 p.m., alumna Xhenet Aliu, ’01, will read from her novel, Brass, followed by a Q & A and refreshments. The reading, which will take place in Engleman A120, is free and open to the public.

Aliu graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in English and went on to earn an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and an MLIS from The University of Alabama. A native of Waterbury, Conn., she was born to an Albanian father and a Lithuanian American mother. She now lives in Athens, Ga., and works as an academic librarian.

Her debut fiction collection, Domesticated Wild Things, and Other Stories, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, and Brass was published by Random House in spring 2018. Her stories and essays have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Barcelona Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere.

English Professor and Creative Writing Coordinator Tim Parrish was Aliu’s thesis director. He says, “Xhenet Aliu is a fantastic writer who perfectly exemplifies the exceptional quality of authors coming out of Southern’s undergraduate and Master of Fine Arts’ Creative Writing programs.”

The MFA program is a full-residency, terminal-degree program, preparing students for careers as publishing writers, teachers, editors, and professionals in the publishing world. While the curriculum focuses heavily on the writing workshop and the creative thesis, the MFA also requires students to study literature at the graduate level and provides opportunities for students to train for teaching collegiate-level writing, and in some cases to teach their own courses. The year 2019 marks the program’s 10th anniversary, which will be celebrated over the course of the coming year, culminating in a weekend of special activities in October.

Since its publication in early 2018, Brass has received the following honors, among others:

  • One of Entertainment Weekly‘s “10 Best Debut Novels of 2018”
  • A San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Book of 2018
  • Named a “Best Southern Novel of 2018” by Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • One of Bustle‘s “31 Debut Novels from 2018 That You Seriously Shouldn’t Miss”
  • Named a “Best Book of 2018” by Real Simple
  • A Spring 2018 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection
  • Starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal
  • New York Times’ Book Review Calendar of “Must-Know Literary Events in 2018”
  • Elle‘s “21 Best Books of 2018”
  • Southern Living‘s “Books Coming Out This Winter That We Can’t Wait to Read”
  • Huffington Post’s “60 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018”
  • Book Riot‘s “101 Books Coming out in 2018 That You Should Mark Down Now”
  • Elite Daily‘s “2018 Book Releases That’ll Make Reading More Your New Year’s Resolution”
  • Bookish‘s “Must-Read Winter Books 2018”
  • The Millions‘ “Most Anticipated: The Great 2018 Book Preview”
  • Christian Science Monitor‘s “5 New Titles to Check Out in the New Year”
  • Kirkus Review’s “11 Debuts You Should Pay Attention To”

From reviews of Brass, which is set in Waterbury, Conn.:

“Lustrous . . . a tale alive with humor and gumption, of the knotty, needy bond between a mother and daughter . . . [Brass] marks the arrival of a writer whose work will stand the test of time.” — O: The Oprah Magazine

“Aliu is witty and unsparing in her depiction of the town and its inhabitants, illustrating the granular realities of the struggle for class mobility.” — The New Yorker

Brass simmers with anger — the all too real byproduct or working hard for not enough, of being a woman in a place where women have little value, of getting knocked down one too many times. But when the simmer breaks into a boil, Aliu alchemizes that anger into love, and in doing so creates one of the most potent dramatizations of the bond between mother and daughter that I’ve ever read. . . . I left this book with the sure sense that the characters were alive beyond its pages, though I wouldn’t dare try to guess what they are up to — Elsie and Lulu are too real for that.” — The New York Times Book Review

Siobhan Carter-David, associate professor of history, and Frank Harris III, professor of journalism

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans’ arrival in the American colonies, and several Southern professors are marking the anniversary with discussion and commentary. In a recent article in the New Haven Register, Journalism Professor Frank Harris III and Associate History Professor Siobhan Carter-David shared their ideas about the beginnings of slavery in America and set the record straight on some commonly-held beliefs about this period in American history. The full article can be found here:

On campus, Carter-David, along with Brandon Hutchinson, associate professor of English, has coordinated a lecture series, The 1619 Lecture Series, which features four distinguished SCSU faculty members presenting scholarship related to African American history, culture, and politics. Harris delivered the inaugural lecture in the series in early February; upcoming speakers will be Audrey Kerr, professor of English; Jonathan Wharton, assistant professor of political science, and Marian Evans, assistant professor of public health. Sponsored by the Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee, the lectures are free and open to the public.


From award-winning undergraduate to a prestigious fellowship at the National Cancer Institute and a doctorate in microbiology. Meet Norbert K. Tavares, '06.

Norbert Tavares, '06, is one of two Science and Technology Fellows with the National Cancer Institute.

Norbert K. Tavares, ’06, first attended college in Florida where he was discouraged from planning a career as a biologist, despite his passion for the field. “I wasted a lot of time pursuing majors that were hot at the time like computer science and pharmacy, but I didn’t enjoy them,” he says.

A move to Connecticut and subsequent transfer to Southern set Tavares on a better course. Today, he holds a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Georgia and is an American Academy for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] Science and Technology Fellow at the National Cancer Institute — where he helps lead the fight against the deadly group of diseases.

Last fall, he shared thoughts on Southern, finding a mentor, and the importance of diversity in science and other areas. Here are some excerpts.

What inspired your interest in biology?
I remember taking personality and career assessments early on in college that said I would be good at science and engineering, and not being surprised. I was mostly taking math and science courses, and enjoying them.

My specific interest in microbiology stems from reading about bacteria that could eat oil. Digging further, I learned about bacteria that could “breath” metals instead of oxygen, live in hot springs, and do all the other crazy things bacteria can do. I was hooked.

I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors – climbing trees, playing in the dirt and ocean. That coupled with a strong curiosity and wild imagination, there was only one thing I could be, a scientist or a transcendentalist poet, I guess.

Give us five adjectives that describe you.
Curious, contemplative, solution-centric, humanist, inclusive.

It seems that biology was an early calling.
I was wavering on sticking with biology because at the time you really needed a Ph.D. to go anywhere in the field, and I didn’t want to stay in school forever. I was also previously discouraged from pursuing a Ph.D. by a professor in Orlando, [Florida].

Launched by the Biden Cancer Initiative, the #cancerFIERCE campaign “celebrates the FIERCE that we know is in everyone touched by cancer – patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers, researchers” — including Norbert Tavares, ’06.

What changed?
When I transferred to SCSU I decided I would pursue biology because I enjoyed it. . . . Nicholas Edgington, [associate professor of biology,] was my assigned academic adviser. I told him about my goals, my interest in microbiology, my desire for a Ph.D., and to peruse an academic career. He listened and gave me specific, practical advice. He was the first academic adviser I had at three separate institutions who actually gave me good advice specific to my desires.

I did exactly what he said, starting with applying for and doing a summer research program for undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin. I then applied for and was awarded a Sigma Xi grant-in-aid of research after Dr. Edgington nominated me for membership to this scientific society.

I think he was surprised that I followed through with all of his suggestions. He then took me on as an undergraduate researcher in his lab. Because of the training I gained in his lab and the three other summer research programs, I was more than competitive for graduate school and was accepted into the number three microbiology program in the country at the University of Wisconsin. I owe a great deal to Dr. Edgington. He put me on the academic and professional path that I’m currently on.

What was your research focus?
My previous laboratory looked at how bacteria make vitamin B12. Bacteria are the only organisms that make the vitamin, which humans get from our diet via meat. There are no plant sources. The herbivores we eat, like cows, get B12 from the bacteria in their guts. I studied the genes and enzymes that bacteria use to make B12.

Norbert Tavares, ’06, presents at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

What is your current position?
I am an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health in D.C. I work in a center that analyzes the cancer research landscape – and builds programs and collaborations to develop technology, standards, and innovative ideas to fill the gaps in cancer research and move the field forward. In my role, I analyze the cancer research field to find these gaps and opportunities — and manage and evaluate the existing programs we have built. In other words, I build and fund grants, infrastructure, and programs to help cancer researchers study, understand, treat, prevent, and eventually eliminate cancers.

Your bio with the National Cancer Institute lists your strong interest in the advancement of women and underrepresented individuals in science and other areas. Can you talk a bit about that commitment?
If you have at least two women in the room — whether that room is a meeting, a board room, or Congress — it changes the conversation in a way that is important. You’ve heard it said, “If there’d been a woman in the room at the time this idea was put forward, it never would have happened. We would not have made this mistake.” I believe that’s true. Whenever I write a policy document, I always make sure to get it in front of the eyes of a number of different women. And the things that have come back – “Hey, maybe you should change this.” – I would never have thought of without their input.

I’ve learned you need to have that diversity, and there’s data to back it up. If you have lots of diversity, you tend to have a slower start. But the group makes much greater progress and they are more creative.

We live in America during sensitive times and race has always been and will continue to be a touchy topic. I am a scientist – and, as I mentioned earlier, there is good data that shows diversity matters. If a girl has had a woman math teacher, she’s much more likely to excel in the subject and choose it as a major. I’m much more likely to pursue the sciences as a career if I’ve had a science teacher who is African American. It makes a difference . . . and I think the influence occurs as early as elementary school.

The truth is this is passive. . . . But I really believe existing in the world as an African American Ph.D. – as a scientist – and trying to do well is important and hopeful. Increasing exposure [to my educational and career path] is part of my obligation. And if I can maybe inspire another African American to study the sciences – or maybe go to Southern or another college – I am happy to do it.

C. Michelle Thompson teaching Vietnamese History class

Vietnam is often viewed by Americans as a country heavily influenced by China, its neighbor to the north. After all, the Vietnam War – etched in the collective memory of the Baby Boom Generation – is remembered as a proxy fight between the United States and China/Soviet Union. And it would be inaccurate to say that Vietnam has been devoid of considerable Chinese influence.

But the relationship between Vietnam and China is quite complex, according to Michele Thompson, professor of history and an expert on Southeast Asia. She explores that relationship through a medical lens in her book, Vietnamese Traditional Medicine: a Social History.

The book, published by the National University of Singapore Press, was so highly regarded by her peers that Thompson was selected as the recipient of the 2018 SCSU Faculty Scholar Award on the basis of the book.

“The (Faculty Scholar Award Committee) was impressed by your use of multilingual source material, the interdisciplinary range of your book, and the fact that it forces scholars to re-examine long-held assumptions about the relationship between Chinese and Vietnamese traditional medicine,” said Rex Gilliland, chairman of the Faculty Scholar Award Committee.

Thompson focuses on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the social and political context of Vietnamese medicine. “While it is very closely connected to Chinese medicine, it is not some carbon copy,” she said.

She points to Vietnam’s acceptance of early Western vaccination techniques as a key example in how it differentiated itself from China in the medical realm.

In the late 1700s, British doctor Ed Jenner discovered that people who had cowpox didn’t seem to get smallpox. The viruses that cause the two diseases are closely related, though cowpox usually has milder symptoms.

Jenner was a pioneer in the effort to begin a form of vaccination, albeit a primitive one. In other areas of the world – those without European cows — doctors began attempts to eradicate smallpox through arm-to-arm, human-to-human vaccination from those who had cowpox.

Vietnamese medicine preferred this Western approach to the Chinese alternative inoculation method. The latter involved taking a small amount of material from smallpox sores and transferring them to others. The Chinese method sought to produce a weakened form of the virus.

Thompson said it is an honor to be selected for the Faculty Scholar Award. “I was surprised,” she said. “I remember getting the envelope with the announcement in it, but it came at the end of the fall semester, when everything is pretty hectic. So, I just sort of randomly opened that particular envelope and was surprised to see what it said.

“But I am honored to follow in the footsteps of so many other excellent scholars before me.”

Thompson began teaching at SCSU in the fall 1998. Before coming to Southern, she taught at the University of Washington. She previously taught English as a Second Language in Taiwan.

She grew up in Alabama, and currently resides in New Haven. Her expertise is in Southeast Asia, with a particular focuses on Vietnam.














Students who are also veterans enjoy the services and camaraderie of the campus Veterans Center.

If you talk to veterans who use the Veterans Center at Southern about what brings them back day after day, it’s not amenities such as the large flat screen television or the comfortable sectional couches. Sure, those are nice, but what really makes the space is the people who congregate there.

“In the military it’s all about the camaraderie and the support you give each other as soldiers,” Veterans Center Director Jack Mordente, U.S. Army, says. “When vets get done with service, they either go to work or they go to school. If they go to school they maintain the camaraderie. They tell stories and joke with each other. It’s all about support.”

These days, more and more veterans are in search of support in higher education. Colleges have seen an increase in enrollment of veterans thanks to the conclusion of close to a decade of involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2013 more than a million student veterans were using their GI benefits to pursue advanced educational opportunities; that number was estimated to increase by 20 percent in just a few years. At Southern, approximately 300 veterans are enrolled (that includes veterans, National Guard, Reservists, and dependents).

Staffed by Mordente and work-study students who are also veterans, the Veterans’ Center is open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. There’s a lounge, a refrigerator, a microwave, a separate computer lab, and ample space to study, network, watch movies, or simply to develop friendships.

“We get about 35 to 40 vets using it a day,” Mordente says.

Lliam West is one of them. A junior at Southern, he is thinking that after he graduates he’d like to go on to Officer Candidate School, or OCS, the U.S. Army’s main training academy for prospective army officers. Candidates who successfully complete the intense, 12-week OCS receive commissions as U.S. Army officers and assume the ability to command soldiers.

While Southern has been a good fit for West because he had friends who had also enrolled and because it was close to his hometown of Milford, he still struggled to create friendships. He found his niche at the center; in fact, you can find him there “every day, between classes.”

“We all get along,” West says. “There’s a lot of debate and discussion, and people can feel free to be themselves. I come here every day. My friends are here.”

Each public college in Connecticut has a veterans center, though it’s commonly called an OASIS (Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service Members). Among Connecticut’s community colleges and state universities — Central, Eastern and Western — Southern’s center is the largest. Years ago, a women’s group heard about Southern’ s Veterans’ Center. Using it as a model, they provided funding, furniture, and assistance at the other state schools. All the schools had to do was provide the space. Mordente, who has been involved with veteran’s services at Southern since 1975, understands the connotation of an OASIS but states he’s a “’60’s” guy who prefers the more casual Veterans Center. Whatever name you call it, it leaves a lasting impression.

“I get feedback from students who transfer here that it’s head and shoulders above the rest,” Mordente says. “Vets see our center and say, ‘This is incredible.’ Veterans meet each other, they socialize, talk about their military experience with each other, then academic discussions happen. There’s talk about different courses and professors. It’s the kind of thing where they stop in between classes and keep coming back. Or vets are in classes with each other, and they’ll talk about the center and sometimes there will be a vet who hasn’t been using it, and they will” [based on someone’s recommendation].

Veterans Center Director Jack Mordente speaks at a campus Veterans Day event.

In addition to the Center, veterans can make use of other services offered through the Veterans Office, such as guidance, advisement, GI Bill and Connecticut War Veterans and National Guard Tuition Waiver Certifications support. The office acts as a liaison with local, state, and federal agencies. Also, in coordination with Southern’s Academic Success Center, veterans can receive tutoring help from other veterans at the center.

Mordente finds that the connections made at the center are so strong that if a veteran is deployed or graduates from Southern, his or her relationship with the center goes on.

“There’s an incredible wall outside the center with photographs of war-deployed Southern students, pictures of vets in the center, of Veterans’ Day ceremonies and other activities,” Mordente says. “It’s the first thing you see when you come to the center, and it’s pretty special.” It was enough to draw in Lily, who recently transferred to Southern. She was looking for a quiet spot away from the crowds, where she could blend in, and she found it here.

“All of us appreciate it,” she said. “It’s a place where we all come and find someone who will understand us.”

Southern nursing students and community health workers from Project Access join forces at DESK in New Haven. (Photo courtesy of Community Foundation for Greater New Haven)

At the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK), students from Southern’s Department of Nursing, along with community health workers from Project Access, participate in Know Your Numbers, a partnership that provides screenings, referrals, and patient navigation in the form of follow-ups. DESK is the first agency in New Haven to pilot the program, as a partnership with Yale New Haven Health and CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), which is based at Southern’s School of Health and Human Services (HHS). Because the people who come to DESK are often dealing with multiple problems related to living in poverty, DESK has established partnerships with other organizations to offer additional services during the mealtimes.

Learn more here: