Monthly Archives: May 2019

SCSU Commencement speakers 2019: Milana Vayntrub, Michael R. Taylor, Lynn M. Gangone

Milana Vayntrub, actor, activist and humanitarian, will be the keynote speaker at the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 24, 2019, at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The ceremony begins with an academic procession at 10:15 a.m.

Michael R. Taylor, Chief Executive Officer for the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, will be the speaker at the 2 p.m. Graduate Commencement for the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Health & Human Services on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Lynn M. Gangone, an education leader, association executive, lobbyist, and policy analyst, will speak at the 7 p.m. ceremony for the Schools of Business and Education, including Library Science. Both graduate commencements will be held at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts.

Many know Milana Vayntrub (above left), as saleswoman Lily Adams in AT&T’s popular series of commercials, or as Sloan from This Is Us on NBC. But she also has a compelling story as an ex-refugee and advocate for combatting the global refugee crisis.

At the age of two, Vayntrub fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan with her parents to make a home in America. Twenty-five years later, she co-founded the grassroots #CantDoNothing organization, created to encourage others to give their time, money, and voice to assist refugees worldwide.

An Upright Citizens Brigade-trained comedian, Vayntrub has appeared on TV and the big screen, including on Showtime’s House of Lies and HBO’s Californication, as well as in Ghostbusters and Life Happens. She was also cast in the role of Squirrel Girl in Marvel’s 2018 series, New Warriors, on Free Form.

In 2016, Ms. Vayntrub was named among the top 100 thinkers, makers, and doers in marketing and media by Adweek, which described her as a “creative force for good.”

Michael R. Taylor (above, center) has been employed by the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center (CS-HHC) since 2010 and served as its chief executive officer since 2012.

Prior to that, he was founder and president of a health care consulting firm that served more than 200 community health centers nationally and also held leadership positions with several national accounting and health care consulting firms, including The Lewin Group.

Taylor is a creative entrepreneur who is deeply passionate about community health’s capacity to improve the quality of people’s lives. Under his guidance, CS-HHC’s leadership team fortified the health center’s financial position; blazed a trail of care integration, quality, and patient centeredness; renovated and expanded or replaced existing care sites; added new care sites and services; and bolstered internal systems and infrastructure.

Due in large part to these efforts, CS-HHC is projected in the next two years to direct more than 700 staff members who annually serve over fifty thousand Greater New Haven residents.

Dr. Lynn M. Gangone (above, right) is a seasoned education leader with association, agency, and campus-based leadership experience.

She began her career in education working on Carl Perkins Vocational Equity grants, working through the New York State Education Department, and went on to develop and deliver PK-12 professional development to teachers and guidance counselors in New Jersey.

Later, as vice president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association, she led the association’s academic policy and related lobbying work, with specific oversight of teacher education and education accreditation.

She has held faculty appointments at two colleges of education: visiting professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development in Washington, D.C., and full professor (clinical) at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education.

Prior to her appointment as president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), she served as vice president at the American Council on Education (ACE), where she and her team guided ACE’s suite of programs, products, and services for current and future leaders.

Several major faculty awards were presented at this year’s Celebration of Excellence, an annual ceremony to honor awardees for outstanding achievements in teaching, scholarship, research and innovation.

This year’s honorees included:

Million Dollar Club
Ms. Alycia Santilli, Director of CARE

Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship
Dr. Meghan Barboza, Assistant Professor Histology, Physiology, Marine Mammalogy
Dr. Victoria Zigmont, Assistant Professor of Public Health

Mid-Level Faculty Research Fellowship
Dr. Md Shafaeat Hossain, Associate Professor of Computer Science

Senior-Level Faculty Research Fellowship
Dr. Kalu Ogbaa, Professor of English

Faculty Scholar Award
Dr. C. Michele Thompson, Professor of History 

Robert Jirsa Service Award
Dr. Michele Vancour, Professor of Public Health

Outstanding Academic Adviser Award
Dr. Gayle Bogel, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the School Library Media Program

Board of Regents Teaching Awards for SCSU
Dr. Charles Baraw, Associate Professor of English
Ms. Patricia Mottola, MFA Adjunct Faculty, Creative Writing

Board of Regents Research Award for SCSU
Dr. Darcy Kern, Assistant Professor of Medieval Mediterranean History

J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teacher Award
Dr. Kyle O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Social Work

Social Justice Community Award
Dr. MaryJo Archambault, Assistant Professor of Recreation, Tourism, & Sport Management

Celebration of Excellence: Undergraduate Research Assistants – Faculty Award Grant

2019 Recipient: Todd Ryder, Assistant Professor of Chemistry

About the award

This initiative, Undergraduate Research Assistants, is funded by the SCSU Office of the Provost. One grant of up to $3,000 is awarded to a faculty member to support one or more undergraduate research assistants to assist with said faculty member’s research in any academic discipline represented on the SCSU campus. The purpose of this program is to support a research experience for undergraduates and also to support faculty research.

About the recipient

Todd Ryder, assistant professor of chemistry, is researching ways to identify novel compounds with antibacterial activity as potential drug candidates. As he writes, “most antibiotics have been found through screening of microbes found in the environment, for example, an approved drug called fidaxomicin is produced by Dactylosporangium aurantiacum subspecies hamdenesis that was originally extracted from a soil sample collected in Hamden.” He also is interested in developing a new synthetic methodology with applications to the synthesis of these compounds.

Dr. Ryder anticipates publishing a paper on incorporating the antibiotic extraction experiments in the undergraduate organic chemistry teaching lab sequence, as well as a paper on the antibacterial compound isolated from the Lysobacter strain if the upcoming mass spectrometry results suggest it is novel.

All of the results of the research will be included as preliminary data in a grant application to the National Institutes of Health R15 AREA program in the spring.

Professor Ryder received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Rochester; his M.S. in Chemistry from the University of Michigan; and his B.A. in Chemistry and Biology from Cornell University.

Biotech student Amelia Hoyt and Nicholas Edgington, associate professor of biology and biotech program coordinator

Students enrolled in biotechnology — applied molecular and cellular biology — at Southern Connecticut State University get their hands dirty. No, really. Part of the required learning for the B.S. in biotechnology is to dig in the dirt.

“We’re looking for phages,” explains Nicholas Edgington, associate professor and biotech program coordinator. “In the ground.”

A “phage” is short for bacteriophage, and a bacteriophage is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria. In simple terms, finding phages is important because it enables students to discover new bacteria-killing viruses.

Southern’s phage hunting course, SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science), starts with simple digging in the soil to find new viruses and progresses through a variety of microbiology techniques to complex genome annotation and bioinformatic analyses. The two-semester course is embedded into Genomics I and II and is one of two innovative national educational programs that are part of the degree and give students hands-on access to real world health threats. The other program, Small World Initiative, or SWI, requires students to roll up their sleeves and get digging again — this time for antibiotic-producing bacteria. SWI seeks to address the problem of antibiotic resistant “superbugs” or bacteria, by having students isolate soil microorganisms that may produce new antimicrobial products.

Southern student Amelia Hoyt’s eyes light up when she talks about the courses.

“Small World and SEA-PHAGES are actual research projects that had a huge impact on my education,” she says. “SEA-PHAGES is a really interesting class. You get to work with viral particles — viruses that affect bacteria.”

A self-described science enthusiastic — “I always enjoyed learning about science, especially the scientific discovery process and scientific research” — Hoyt quickly launches into the how-to process: “You take a soil sample and you grow it in media for a while and you inoculate the soil with host bacteria. Then you filter out the dirt and bacteria and what you’re left with is liquid full of virus particles, and you can take a sample of the liquid and you mix it in with cells from the host and then plate a lawn of that bacteria, and if a virus attaches it creates a plaque. It’s real lab work.”

So real, in fact, that the students’ findings are presented at regional symposiums and national conferences and are published in peer-reviewed research journals like Microbiology Resource Announcements and Nature Microbiology, as well as scientific databases like PhagesDB.org and the NCBI’s GenBank. Southern has 15 genomes published in GenBank with students as authors.

In addition to the dirt extracting courses, biotech students also participate in a required internship at a local company such as Alexion, Isoplexis, Quantum BioPower, Synovel Laboratory, Archillion, and more. Hoyt interned at The Jackson Laboratory. Her research, conducted under the guidance of Dr. Julia Oh, focused on the microbiome, specifically the differences in the interaction between the microbiome and the immune system in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

“We took gut samples, isolated the bacteria from them in different conditions, making sure we got a wide range of samples,” she says. “Once we have certain bacteria sorted out, we can do experiments on them. And once we have results, we’ll write a paper about the methods and the results, trying to create a systemic way to characterize microbiomes of patients. We can take a population and identify the characteristics, so we can say, ‘This bacteria causes chronic fatigue syndrome.’”

With her internship ending in May, it’s too soon for Hoyt to draw any scientific conclusions, but she’s not disappointed: “I got a job offer at The Jackson Laboratory, so I’ll be able to see it all the way through.”

Internships can often evolve into employment, and while Southern does maintain strong relationships with businesses in the biotech field, Edgington is quick to point out that the strength of the program and the student are ultimately what get them in the door.

“Southern has a close relationship with BioCT [an organization dedicated to growing the bioscience ecosystem in Connecticut],” Edgington says. “But these companies aren’t holding positions open for our students. We have relationships, but students still get employed on their own merits.”

Employment prospects in the field are good. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupations out-earn non-STEM fields by 12 to 30 percent across all education levels, and STEM jobs have doubled as a proportion of all jobs.

“Biotech is just applying molecular biology to programs,” Edgington says. “It’s coming up with new drugs, new pathways for interactions, new disease states, genome sequencing and risk predictions for fetuses. It’s pretty rare to have two genomics courses in an undergraduate program, like Southern does, and genomics is exploding.”

Southern’s biotech program also offers bioinformatics, which is the science of collecting and analyzing complex biological data such as genetic codes. Much like genomics, the field is ripe with opportunity.

“Biotech students get experience with programming and biologic data sets,” Edgington says. “Companies can’t hire enough students in bioinformatics.”

Then, there’s the research. Antibiotic resistance and diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome are just two examples of the endless applications of research in the biotech field. To a science-loving student like Hoyt, the thought is a cheery one.

“There’s so much work to be done on human biome,” she says, “we’ll never run out of research projects.”

Southern Connecticut State University’s biotech program is currently applying for accreditation from The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, for its genomics courses.

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi with Tony Fusco, recently named the city’s first poet laureate (Photo credit: Michael Walsh/New Haven Register)

SCSU creative writing alumnus Tony Fusco, a West Haven, Conn., resident, was recently named that city’s poet laureate. Fusco is co-president and past-president of the Connecticut Poetry Society and has a master’s degree in creative writing from Southern. He was the editor of Caduceus, the anthology of the Yale Medical Group Art Place, and past editor of The Connecticut River Review, Long River Run, the Southern News, High Tide, and Sounds and Waves of West Haven. His work has appeared in many publications including the Connecticut Review, Louisiana Literature, the Red Rock Review, The South Carolina Review, Lips, and The Paterson Review.

His most recent book is Extinction, published in 2018.

His book Java Scripture was published in 2014 by Flying Horse Press. Previous books include Droplines (Grayson Press) and Jessie’s Garden (Negative Capability Press), which feature poems about his youth in West Haven, Savin Rock, and Allingtown. His poetry has won prizes in many contests, including The Sunken Garden Poetry Prize. His poem “Harvest” was nominated for a Pushcart Award. He is a member of the New England Poetry Club, past literary chair for the West Haven Council of the Arts and the Milford Fine Arts Council. Fusco produced West Shore Poets, a television poetry series at CTV, and served on its board of directors and the Cable Advisory Council.

The New Haven Register published an article about Fusco being named West Haven’s poet laureate, which is available here.

Celebration of Excellence: Social Justice Community Award – Outstanding Faculty

2019 Recipient: Dr. MaryJo Archambault, Assistant Professor of Recreation, Tourism, & Sport Management

About the award

The Social Justice Community Award for Outstanding Faculty recognizes a faculty member who incorporates diverse values in the classroom, curriculum and/ or research; displays a commitment to diverse cultures, religions, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and other areas of inclusion and perspective; makes the classroom accessible for and supportive of diverse learning styles; engages in equity, diversity and inclusion efforts in the campus community; uses innovative teaching methods to support students with special learning needs; and/or mentors underrepresented students or diverse populations of students, faculty and/or staff. The awardee receives $500 towards professional development funds or to go to their department.

About the recipient

Dr. Archambault was described by her nominator as going “above and beyond in all she does in and out of the classroom, with the utmost fairness, compassion, and integrity.”

She has been active in applying for research and program-related grants and has been awarded over $45,000 in grant dollars over the course of the past four-plus years. Most noteworthy, she along with a colleague serve as the co-project directors for a $38,000 grant awarded to Southern by the Office of Veteran’s Affairs in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of providing or facilitating the provision of adaptive sports opportunities for disabled veterans.

Recognizing a gap in service delivery for persons with disabilities, Dr. Archambault has been instrumental in the development of the Institute for Adapted Sports and Inclusive Recreation. Reflective of her research and areas of interest, the institute provides programming opportunities, education experiences, and advocacy services for individuals with disabilities, and conducts research and evaluation relating to adaptive sports and inclusive recreation.

Dr. Archambault also provides exemplary service to the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management; the School of Health and Human Services; and to the University through her active and varied involvement in numerous committees and board memberships. In addition, she engages in numerous student recruitment activities.

Dr. Archambault earned an Ed.D. at the University of Hartford and an M.S. at Southern Connecticut State University.

 

Celebration of Excellence: J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching

2019 Recipient: Dr. Kyle O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Social Work

About the award

The J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching is presented to one full-time faculty and one part-time faculty member for exemplary teaching. This is one of SCSU’s highest honors, as faculty are recognized at the undergraduate commencement and receive an honorarium of $2500. Full-time and part-time faculty at all ranks who are currently employed at SCSU are eligible.

About the recipient

Dr. Kyle O’Brien’s teaching style of participation, discovery and discussion has brought classroom exercises to life for a multitude of students. According to one student, “his passion for social work shows through in each and every one of his lessons.”

Called “skillful and engaging” by a colleague, Dr. O’Brien brings a wealth of expertise to the classroom thanks to his education, his multidisciplinary background as an occupational therapist, his extensive knowledge of the health field, and his collaborative endeavors. He took a lead role in recruiting students to participate in the palliative care workshop collaboration with Yale University School of Medicine, and as a result, it has become an annual event. He contributed to a number of curriculum initiatives that benefit students. He also initiated the submission of a Faculty Development grant aimed at resolving conflictual conversations in the classroom; the grant brought a panel of social work faculty experts to campus to provide training.

Dr. O’Brien’s purposeful encouragement has impacted students both in the classroom and beyond. As one student noted, “This was the first time a professor impacted my view of life outside of the classroom, by teaching me the value and power of providing empathy toward others.” In short, he truly embodies the core values of social work.

Dr. O’Brien received a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work, a Certificate of Integrated Primary and Behavioral Health Care, and a Master of Social Work from New York University; a Doctor of Health Science from Nova Southeastern University; a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Sacred Heart University; a Connecticut Certificate of Gerontology and Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling from Gateway Community College; and a Bachelor of Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University.

 

Celebration of Excellence: Robert E. Jirsa Service Award

2019 Recipient: Dr. Michele Vancour, Professor of Public Health

About the award

Named in honor of the late Robert E. Jirsa, former Faculty Senate President and P & T Committee Chairman, the Robert E. Jirsa Service Award is given annually to a full-time faculty member who has made extraordinary contributions and demonstrated outstanding leadership in his or her service to the university.

About the recipient

Dr. Michele Vancour, professor of Public Health, has been with Southern since 1998. In those 21 years, her exceptional leadership and service to the university — and community — has not gone unrecognized. In 2012 Dr. Vancour received the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award and was nominated again in subsequent years. In 2015, she received the CT American Council on Education (ACE) Women’s Network, Distinguished Academic Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award. She has been nominated — multiple times — for the J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award and nominated for the New England College Health Association President’s Award.

Over the years Dr. Vancour has been either elected to, appointed to, invited to, or has participated in, at least 28 different committees, including the Food Pantry committee, the CT ACE Women’s Network Chapter at Southern, the Barnard Scholarship committee, the Undergraduate Public Health Program committee, and many, many more.

Her credo, that “service is (and has been) the foundation of my professional and personal work,” is evident in her life’s choices, and her focus on the needs of Southern’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors bespeaks to her high regard for the Southern community as a whole.

Dr. Vancour recalls Robert E. Jirsa for “his authenticity, deep care and concern for Southern, its students, and employees, and his commitment to and work for positive and impactful change on campus.” Her dossier, which displays evidence of this philosophy of service, heartily exemplifies the tenets of the award she is now receiving.

Dr. Vancour received a Ph.D. in Health Education from New York University; an M.P.H. in Community Health Education from Southern; and a B.A. in English from Central Connecticut State University.


 

Celebration of Excellence: Undergraduate Research Assistants – Faculty Award Grant

2019 Recipient: Cheryl Durwin, Professor of Psychology

About the award

This initiative, Undergraduate Research Assistants, is funded by the SCSU Office of the Provost. One grant of up to $3,000 is awarded to a faculty member to support one or more undergraduate research assistants to assist with said faculty member’s research in any academic discipline represented on the SCSU campus. The purpose of this program is to support a research experience for undergraduates and also to support faculty research.

About the recipient

Southern’s Reading Evaluation And Development of Skills (R.E.A.D.S.) Lab, of which Dr. Durwin is a co-director, focuses on improving the reading skills of school-age children. As such, the lab has conducted ongoing research in two elementary schools that serve large populations of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

The lab’s goal is two-fold: to validate research-based assessments that help schools better identify at-risk students and to investigate the efficacy of research-based interventions for improving the reading outcomes of these at-risk children. The stipend provided by this award allowed the R.E.A.D.S. Lab to support three undergraduate research assistants whose work was vital to maintaining progress on this project.

According to Dr. Durwin’s notes, the success of the collaboration with schools was recognized by the Hamden Public Schools Superintendent’s Office, and they requested that the lab add another school to the project. In light of the additional work, coupled with the sabbatical leave of one of the co-directors, the provision of paid research assistants by the award was critical for maintaining the project’s progress.

Armed with adequate pilot data, the R.E.A.D.S. Lab aims to apply for an IES Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Grant or similar competition. It will also continue to develop an Interdisciplinary Language & Literacy Research Consortium with colleagues in Communication Disorders and Education. In short, it will continue to advance its important mission and overarching reach.

Dr. Durwin received a Ph.D. and an M.S. in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Connecticut.

 

Celebration of Excellence: Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship

2019 Recipient: Meghan Barboza, Assistant Professor Histology, Physiology, Marine Mammalogy

About the award

SCSU recognizes the importance of faculty scholarship and creative activity in furthering its mission. The Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowships aim to support this goal by providing recipients with a significant amount of reassigned time at an early stage in their careers at Southern.

About the recipient

There has been a significant increase in the number of sick and dead seals along the Northeast coast. Phocine distemper virus, a respiratory tract infection, appears to be the cause. To further understand how the immune system of seals responds to infection, Dr. Meghan Barboza will conduct research that examines the seals’ respiratory epithelium — in particular its anatomy — as well as identifies particular cells, solitary chemosensory cells, or SCCs, a part of the immune system in this tissue.

According to Dr. Barboza’s notes, seals are especially vulnerable to respiratory infection because they breathe at the air/water interface and are exposed to both air and waterborne pathogens. Within Connecticut and Rhode Island, the stranding response group that assists with sick marine life is coordinated through Mystic Aquarium. If the animals die, the cause of death is determined through an animal autopsy, or necropsy. Following the necropsy, Dr. Barboza has a permit through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a research agreement with Mystic Aquarium to collect tissue samples from the dead seals. By comparing seals with respiratory illness to those without, additional information about the function of SCCs can be determined.

According to Dr. Barboza, the results will be shared with Mystic Aquarium to further their efforts to improve seal treatment and successful release back into the wild. The research data may also be included in an application to federal grants and will be presented within the Southern community and at a regional and/or international conferences.

Dr. Barboza holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Medical Sciences from the University of Florida; a Master of Science in Marine Biology from Nova Southeastern University; and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Delaware.