Monthly Archives: June 2019

Public utilities management is a field with an abundance of well-paying jobs and a soon-to-be-crucial deficit of managerial and technological staff. Utilities are major employers in Connecticut and nationwide; they provide approximately 10 percent of all job opportunities in the state, or about 5,000 workers, according to the Department of Labor. Of that percentage, nearly one-third of the workforce are eligible to retire within five years. The departments facing the most pressing hiring needs in the public utility field include field operations, employee relations, information technology, purchasing, customer service, and finance and quality assurance. The average salaries range between $55,600 and $75,833.

Southern is one of just a few colleges in the United States equipped to prepare the next generation of industry leadership. The university has created a pathway for students to receive the education necessary to fill these projected openings: a specialization in public utilities management within the Bachelor of Science degree program in business administration. A substantial amount of scholarship money is available to students who enroll in Southern’s new program: annually renewable scholarships of $4,000 per year will be available for full-time students and $2,000 for part-time students, thanks to support from the Regional Water Authority (RWA) and Avangrid, a leading sustainable energy company. Students may also transfer to Southern’s program after earning a certificate or associate degree in public utilities management at nearby Gateway Community College.

The pathway was developed in close consultation with many of the state’s utilities including the RWA, The Metropolitan District, United Illuminating, and Eversource. A public utility management leadership advisory group comprised of top officials in the field — such as Lori Mathieu from the Connecticut Department of Health, Betsy Gara of Connecticut Water Works Association, and David Benoit from the Connecticut Water Service — has provided the vision, advocacy, and support for the program.

“Public utilities face a potential watershed in the shortage of young people applying to take the place of our aging and retiring workforce,” said Larry Bingaman, the RWA’s president and CEO, who said the new program is a plus for all participants. “The utilities gain a pool of qualified candidates to assume management and technical positions; SCSU has a new curriculum that meets the needs of local utilities; and the students gain new career opportunities.”

The new program at Southern will include 30 credits that focus on management of public utilities, such as water, gas, electric, and wastewater. New courses in asset and infrastructure management, green energy and environmental sustainability, crisis/risk management, and workforce safety and industry regulatory codes will be part of the program.

“I know of no other bachelor’s degree program in the United States that focuses specifically on public utilities management,” said Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, an association of the largest publicly-owned drinking water utilities in the United States. “This unique program should fill a void in the development of future water utility leaders.”

The program will also include existing courses – such as business communications, business law, public utility/governmental accounting, and business continuity planning – which will have sections tailored to focus on elements of utilities management.

“The utilities demonstrated a serious need for this type of training because of the demographic trends and anticipated retirements,” said Ellen Durnin, dean of the SCSU School of Business. “At Southern, one of our commitments is to meet the needs of the state workforce – this is exactly the type of program that will accomplish that goal.”

Read more about Southern’s public utilities management program.

For further information, contact the program coordinator:
Dr. Gregory Robbins
Associate Professor of Management
Southern Connecticut State University
School of Business
(203) 392-5865
robbinsg2@southernct.edu

Following a national search, Dr. Craig Hlavac has been appointed as the associate dean for the liberal arts in the School of Arts & Sciences. Dr. Wesley O’Brien led a search committee in conducting and completing the search.

Hlavac joined Southern in 2007 as a full-time instructor in the Music Department. After serving for three years in this position and after a national search, he was appointed as an assistant professor of music. In 2013 he was promoted to associate professor and elected by his colleagues as department chairperson, a position he held until his appointment by President Bertolino in 2017 as the interim associate dean for Arts & Sciences.

Hlavac received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music and a Bachelor of Science degree in music education from the University of Connecticut; a Master of Music degree from Yale University; and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Hartford. An active orchestral trumpeter and freelance musician, Hlavac has performed with the New Haven Symphony, the Bridgeport Symphony, the Hartford Pops Band, the Hartford Brass Ensemble, the New Haven Brass Ensemble, and alongside the Yale Glee Club, the Yale Camerata, the Connecticut Chamber Choir, the Cape Cod Chamber Music Society, and many others.

A frequent clinician and presenter, Hlavac has delivered presentations throughout the Northeastern United States and across the country. His research interests include the impact of the organizational mission on the decision-making of educational leaders, the use of organizational and departmental missions to prioritize decision-making, and the utility of mission-based management in the administration of the contemporary university.

Hlavac brings a wealth of institutional knowledge to the associate deanship position and will work closely with Dr. Bruce Kalk, interim dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, and the associate dean for STEM to advance the mission of the School and the University.

Hlavac’s official first day was June 21, 2019.

Photographs chosen among the best student work in the nation by the Society of Professional Journalists

Award-winning photographer Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18

Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18, has a way with a viewfinder — a gift that’s led the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) to recognize her photographs among the best student work in the nation. In spring 2019, she was named one of only two finalists in the “feature photography” category of the SPJ’s national Mark of Excellence Awards, which honor the best of student journalism.

Jean-Jacques’ award-winning photos — taken during trips to Haiti, India, Ghana, Ethiopia, and more — were included in the inaugural issue of Crescent Magazine, a lifestyle publication produced by Southern students. Jean-Jacques advanced to the national competition after winning first place at the SPJ, Region 1 conference, which represents universities throughout New England, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. (It was a great day for Southern students, who won five additional regional awards for their work on the Southern News student newspaper and Crescent Magazine.)

For Jean-Jacques, the national recognition came at an opportune time, validating her dream of becoming a photojournalist. She came to Southern after earning an associate degree at Housatonic Community College. At Southern, she majored in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in studio art and journalism. In addition to working as a photographer, she’s currently a finance billing specialist with a company in West Palm Beach, Fl.

Following, she talks about her approach to photography — and the unique challenges and rewards of earning a degree while raising three boys.

What was it like to be one of only two finalist in the national SPJ competition?
I was overjoyed and in total disbelief, especially since I was unaware I had been entered in the SPJ competition. [Jean-Jacques graduated in May 2018, before the national competition took place. But as a regional winner, she automatically moved on to the national competition.]

A portrait of several generations photographed by Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18, in Ghana.

This recognition has come at quite a pivotal point in my journey. I have been seriously contemplating leaving the field of photography and focusing my energy toward philanthropy. I have wrestled fretfully — doubting my skills, talents, and abilities. When Dr. [Cindy] Simoneau, [department chair and professor of journalism,] shared this most unexpected and welcomed news, I received concrete affirmation of my aspirations. Dr. Simoneau and Southern believed in me from the start, and I am truly thankful for their continuous and unwavering support.

How did you first become interested in photography?
I was always one of those kids who watched television incessantly. I loved how cinematography made me feel. Often times, I would think a particular scene would make a great photograph. I also loved flipping through magazines and being pulled into that moment in time. I think, ultimately, I loved photography because it made me feel like I was momentarily transported to a different place. I always had a desire to leave my Brooklyn home and see the world beyond.

Women photographed in Varanasi, India.

Do you remember the first photograph you approached artistically?
The first photograph I remember taking was in my first year of college for a black and white photography class. I went to the train tracks and took pictures of old buildings and alleyways — and wondered what kind of things took place in these spaces. I was responsible for developing the film, and found the entire process creative and rewarding.

What’s your favorite image among the photos you’ve taken?
My absolute favorite photograph is one I took in Ethiopian of a woman making coffee with her son wrapped in beautiful garb on her back. . . . This humble and proud woman welcomed me — a foreigner — into her home, and allowed me to document her daily routines and activities with her child. I felt blessed and grateful. Visually, her life appeared so different from mine. I was ecstatic to have captured this wonderfully beautiful difference. But I realized at that [same] moment that we were much more similar than different.

Asked to select a favorite among the photographs she’s taken, Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18, selected this image of a mother and child in Lalebela, Ethiopia.

The Crescent Magazine article explained that you were raising your children while attending Southern. What was most challenging about that time and were there advantages to attending college as an adult?
The two most challenging aspects of attending college as a seasoned adult were arriving home late — and having minimum energy upon that arrival. It was difficult carving out time to assist with my three sons’ homework assignments. I had my own homework to do.

In essence, I worked full time, attended school full time, and managed a family of three young boys, all as a single mother. Yes, challenging, to say the least! There were certainly not enough hours in the day to get it all done. However, with a great deal of planning and a tremendous amount of support from my sons, everything worked out. My sons were true troopers through it all!

Attending college as an adult was much more fulfilling than my earlier collegiate career. Real-life experiences were of great value when interacting with fellow students and professors. I was able to process a great deal of information quickly and make connections to the material being covered.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, is among the 30 some countries Jean-Jacques has traveled to in recent years, often bringing along her children.

Share five things that inspire your work.

Culture and tradition greatly influence my work. I am enthralled by the different cultures of our world — and by the traditions embedded in those cultures. I also am empowered by photographing people in their element. That being said, it stands to reason, my work is inspired by their personal and unique experiences. It is my passion to tell the intimate details of their lives through the lens of my camera.

Lighting is a motivating factor, as well. It’s critical and crucial to any composition. How lighting is used. How it hits the subject. How it ‘playfully plays’ and changes the mood. The affects are infinite.

Lastly, my work is inspired by authenticity. I strive to capture the true nature of a subject while bringing different life experiences to the forefront for all of us to see.

A playful moment in Ghana, captured by Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18.

What role does travel play in your work?
I traveled to approximately 30 countries in the past six years — and yet, that number is far, far below my wishes and aspirations. The cultures, the people, the smells, the colors, the mystique — all of it drives my work. I possess a strong desire to see more of the world and capture the interesting, the beautiful, the ugly, the unique. In the meantime, I will continue to try to see my surroundings with a new set of eyes so I can recognize the interesting, the beautiful, the ugly and the unique right where I am.

A moment in Kenya photographed by Jean-Jacques.

SCSU assistant professor of public health. Victoria Zigmont

Individuals who use statins for more than two years have an increased risk of developing diabetes compared with those who do not use the cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to a study by a Southern assistant professor of public health.

Victoria Zigmont had her results published online last month in the journal, “Diabetes/ Metabolism, Research and Reviews.” The print version is expected to appear shortly. Most of her research was conducted in 2015, when she was a doctoral student at The Ohio State University.

The study retrospectively looked at a group of employees and their spouses enrolled in a private insurance plan in the Midwest. Individuals were classified as statin users if they had at least two prescriptions for a statin and they obtained more than 30 pills during the study. The individuals in the study were evaluated for a four-year period.

“Those who used statins for two years or less did not have a statistically significant increase in their risk for diabetes,” Zigmont said. “But those who used the drugs for more than two years had a greater risk.”

She said the study showed a three-fold risk for those who took statins for longer than two years compared with those who did not take statins, but in reality, the increased risk might be slightly less. She said the population sample for those taking the drugs for more than two years were slightly older (average age of 50) and included more women than the rest of the cohort. Older people and women tend to be at higher risk for diabetes, in general, than the population as a whole.

Zigmont said the intensity of dosage did not affect risk in a significant way. In other words, it didn’t make a notable difference whether a person was taking a low or high dose of statins each day.

“Overall, the study showed what I expected it to show – a greater risk for diabetes among those who used statin drugs for a significant period of time,” she said. She noted that a complex series of biological changes occurs in the body when statin drugs are taken over time, leading to that increase of risk.

But she cautioned that the increased risk for diabetes needs to be weighed against the potential benefits of the drugs.

“The decision to take a statin and in what dosage is a discussion for patients to discuss with their doctors,” Zigmont said. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and research has shown that statins help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

“At the same time, there are side effects to any pharmaceutical. And certainly, people should strongly consider lifestyle modifications, whether they take statins or not. After all, obesity is the number one risk factor for diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking are among the things people can do to reduce their risk for both heart disease and diabetes.”

Nearly 5,000 people – none of whom were using statins before the research period — were included in the study. The average age in the cohort was 46, while nearly two-thirds were women. A total of 88 percent of the population sampled were white, and the average BMI was 30 at the start of the research period, which is classified as obese based on the CDC’s cutoff.

 

 

 

SCSU graduate Megan Baker at Honors Convocation, 2019

Until recently, the subject of the Electoral College only caught the attention of American citizens every four years – a time when people are reminded that it is the number of electoral votes, and not the popular vote, which determines who will be the next president.

Political pundits would often note that the candidate who received the most votes might not be the candidate winning the electoral vote. But while many voters understood that it could happen in theory, it hadn’t actually occurred since the 19th century.

That changed after the 2000 and 2016 elections. In both years, the winner of the electoral vote was not the winner of the popular vote. Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election, while Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. The results frustrated many Democratic activists and even some rank-and-file voters.

As a result, some “blue” states, including Connecticut, have agreed to swing their states’ electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of who wins their state’s popular vote. The agreement – technically known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) — would take effect upon enough states agreeing to the compact to equal at least 270 electoral votes, the minimum needed to win a presidential election outright.

For the last year, the history of the Electoral College and attempts to reform it have been studied by Megan Baker, a senior who graduated last week from Southern. She wrote about this subject for her Honors College thesis.

“It really is an interesting subject, and there are many things about the Electoral College that would surprise people,” she said.

She points out several examples:

  • Many people know the Electoral College was created as a compromise between large and small states. But the Founding Fathers didn’t expect that presidential candidates would regularly attain the number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency, said Baker, who added that they believed it was more likely that the decision would often fall to the House of Representatives, which would decide among the top three vote-getters. She noted that in those days, politics was less nationally cohesive, and there was a greater opportunity for regional candidates to emerge. The Founding Fathers also didn’t expect to see a strong two party system.

 

  • The Constitution outlines the Electoral College, but says little about how those electors are chosen. Baker says she believes there is enough latitude that would allow for the NPVIC to pass Constitutional muster if the issue were raised in the future.

 

  • While Democrats point to 2000 and 2016 with frustration that their candidate won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote, the opposite almost came true in 2004. Democrat John Kerry narrowly lost Ohio to George W. Bush, and a swing of less than 60,000 votes from Bush to Kerry would have resulted in an election in which Bush would have carried the national popular vote, but Kerry would have won the electoral vote.

Baker plans to pursue a master’s degree in political science at Southern this fall.

 

Students Brooke Mercaldi and Lauren Brideau perform research with fellow student David Bakies at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn.

Summer is finally here, and that means heading to Connecticut’s coast to splash in the waves and sunbathe on the beach. But you may want to go right now. According to analysis conducted by Brooke Mercaldi and Lauren Brideau, juniors at Southern and paid researchers for Southern’s Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies (WCCMS), those miles of beach are quickly shrinking, and unless the state changes the way it handles coastline management, they won’t be back any time soon.

It’s a long-held belief that there is a seasonal rhythm to beaches in Connecticut: they erode during winter storms and are rebuilt during calmer summer months, thanks to fair-weather wave fields. However, Mercaldi and Brideau’s research on wave energy asymmetry is proving otherwise — that the state’s beaches don’t work this way and that our neighbor, Long Island, is the reason why.

Using laser surveying technology, Mercaldi has been studying the dynamics of Connecticut’s coasts since 2015. “We take three profiles at five beaches across the Connecticut coast: Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Bayview Beach in Milford, Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic, and Ocean Beach in New London,” she says.

Mercaldi’s research has shown that Long Island actually intercepts the fair-weather waves, the waves that originate in the Atlantic and have sufficient energy to rebuild our beaches after a storm. Mercaldi has found that Connecticut’s locally generated fair-weather wave field lacks the requisite energy to move the sand from the bars back onto the beach.

“Brooke has discovered some things about how Connecticut beaches work that go against the textbook train of thought,” says James Tait, professor of marine and environmental sciences and co-coordinator of WCCMS. “Along Connecticut shorelines, swell waves from distant storms, they run into the South shore of Long Island before they reach Connecticut,” he says. “So, the shoreline of Connecticut erodes and nothing happens. If we could get rid of Long Island, we’d be all set.”

Since moving Long Island isn’t an option, alternatives that combat erosion are needed, and that’s where fellow researcher Brideau is lending her expertise. She has focused exclusively on Hammonasset, which draws more than one million annual visitors and has had beach and dune erosion problems along its western half. As part of her beach sand transport and deposition study, Brideau is evaluating the fate of a 2017 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that involved transporting about 300,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from the Housatonic River on barges to Hammonasset — for an estimated $9 million.

“If you showed up at Hammonasset you wouldn’t notice right away, but pictures show what’s happened,” says Mark Sulik, Environmental Protection, Parks and Recreation supervisor at Hammonasset. “We know we lose sand, and you’ll see after a storm that the drop-off is really noticeable. Then two weeks later it’ll be back, but we have noticed that over the past 30, 40, 50 years consistently, most of it disappears for good.”

Brideau, who has become the “go to” beach scientist for the park, has set up a network of approximately 30 beach profiles that she measures every three months using a total station and reflector. She has been working with park management and with the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as well as supplying additional data to the Corps such as depth of closure measurements and measurements of the dunes.

“Right now I’m still monitoring sediment and taking beach profiles,” says Brideau. “I survey the beach, the beach volume and width, and see where sediment is moving from and where it’s accumulating. We graph everything and compare all of the graphs on top of each other. It’s a visual way to see where sediment is going.”

The next phase, according to Brideau, is moving into designing sediment management — that’s where her expertise and Mercaldi’s have saved, and can continue to save, the state a significant amount of money.

“The towns don’t have the money to hire independent researchers to do this kind of investigation,” says Tait. “We’re doing it for free. It would probably cost them $100,000 to do this study if they hired a private company. We are saving the state millions in the long run, hundreds of thousands in the short term.”

What’s more, says Tait, importing sediment at the cost of $9 million per trip isn’t practical or sustainable. The idea, essentially, is to use Brideau and Mercaldi’s research to change the state’s mindset about coastal sustainability.

“What Lauren is doing — and Brooke as well — is to help them understand what’s happening to their eroded beach materials, and they use our data to move forward,” says Tait. “Nature isn’t going to put the sand back. We have to do the work that nature does. We always run into the erosion issues. We’re trying to push this idea that we do it once, then try to keep track of where it’s eroding and accumulating. So the idea is to reclaim and not re-nourish. It makes a huge amount of economic sense.”

Brideau hopes that by bringing her findings to General Assembly, the research will help spur better coastal management and policy.

“Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is aware of these projects and has been helpful in guiding our initiatives,” Brideau says. “But a better approach is to bring it to the legislature to implement policy change. Connecticut state beaches need to be manually replenished. People don’t know this or recognize it, and there’s no money for it. The next step is to bring it to the legislature and find someone who understands the urgency of it.”

Sulik, of Hammonasset, understands. “In the long-term, we don’t really have a plan to protect the beach,” he says. “Any information we get is beneficial. For future generations we need to look at better management plans.”

WTNH did a story recently on the students’ research at Hammonasset. Watch the video to learn more about Brideau’s and Mercaldi’s research, along with fellow student David Bakies.

 

The university's electric-powered van

SCSU President Joe Bertolino today signed a climate emergency declaration by college and university presidents in advance of the the U.N. Climate Action Summit on September 23 in New York City. Southern is a very early signatory.

Networks and institutions have been invited to add their support to this letter, which aims to raise concern for the climate emergency. The letter will be shared with key government officials and the media in advance of this summit. Ideally, presidents or chancellors of invited institutions will sign on to this letter on behalf of the institution. However, if an institution has already committed to the outlined actions, any faculty or staff member of the institution can sign on to reiterate its pre-existing commitment. The deadline for signing on to this letter is August 1, 2019.

The text of the letter is as follows:

As institutions and networks of higher and further education from across the world, we collectively declare a Climate Emergency in recognition of the need for a drastic societal shift to combat the growing threat of climate change.

The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change. We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a greener and cleaner future for all.

We are today committing to collectively step up to the challenge by supporting a three-point plan which includes:

  1. Mobilizing more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation;
  2. Committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest;
  3. Increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curriculum, campus and community outreach programmes.

We call on governments and other education institutions to join us in declaring a Climate Emergency and back this up with actions that will help create a better future for both people and our planet.

Read more and see the list of institutions that have signed the letter.

On June 19, 2019, SCSU’s Facilities Department drilled a 500-foot test well on the site of the New School of Business, on the corner of Farnham Ave. and Wintergreen Ave. This well will determine whether heating and cooling with geothermal power for the new School of Business is feasible. This new building will be Connecticut’s first state-owned building designed for net-zero carbon emissions.

A geothermal system harnesses the steady underground temperature for heating and cooling year round, and generates NO carbon emissions that would contribute to climate change. SCSU’s Facilities Department has reduced carbon emissions for on-campus buildings 57 percent in the last decade as part of its Climate Leadership Commitment.

Morocco

During the spring semester, 13 Southern students spent a week in Marrakech, Morocco, learning about sustainable development and how they could apply the concept in their home communities and Greater New Haven.

The program was hosted by World Merit Morocco, part of a worldwide, apolitical organization that seeks to empower young adults to create a better future  “by building confidence, raising aspiration and connecting diverse people of merit.”

World Merit, founded in 2012 by Liverpool, England-based entrepreneur Chris Arnold, has engaged 120,000+ youth worldwide in more than 1,000 projects advancing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The U.N. goals address global challenges including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice, with a view to resolving them by 2030.

The 13 Southern participants, led by Erin Heidkamp and Michael Schindel from SCSU’s Office of International Education, were nominated and selected by department chairs from the various schools and included five from the School of Business, six from Arts and Sciences, and two from Health and Human Services.  Airfare, airport transportation, and required student/staff international insurance policy were paid for using funds from the SCSU Alumni Foundation LJMU/Better Futures Network initiative along with a contribution from the SCSU School of Business Alumni Foundation account. In-country expenses (accommodation and meals) were provided by World Merit Morocco. Students were responsible for paying in country transportation, excursion costs, and individual meals/snacks.

The itinerary prepared by World Merit Morocco was designed to provide the students with an overview of the World Merit organization and a cultural introduction to Marrakech.

Morocco

Following an unfortunate flight cancellation, the group departed a day late and arrived in Marrakech on March 25. The students were met at Marrakech Menara Airport and transferred to the lodging at Cadi Ayyad University Club before being invited to the Marrakech Medina for a traditional Moroccan mint tea on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Medina.

The following day, attended sessions that provided an introduction to the mission of World Merit and an overview of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Morocco

Discussion focused on how  World Merit Morocco has focused on shaping its mission and ethos around SDGs that are particularly important within the context and culture of Morocco, and the group was shown videos of projects engaged in by student participants from all over the world during the 2018 World Merit Council Summit. In the afternoon, small focus groups were formed to develop  models for projects and programs that could help participants’ own communities achieve SDGs on a local scale. The students then presented these models to their peers, sparking conversations about how World Merit could contribute to the Greater New Haven area.

The next day,  students were invited to take in the rich and variegated history and culture of Marrakech. Students participated in a tour of the Jardin Marjorelle, the El Basi Palace, the Medina, and the historic Souks. This unforgettable day was capped off with a field trip to a local female-owned Argan oil collective, where students had the opportunity to watch how Argan oil and other Argan products are processed, and to learn how collectives such as this are critically important economic pillars, particularly in the country’s rural regions.

On the second-to-last day, the group visited Mohammed VI Polytechnic University. There they were treated to a campus tour, led by Monia Fdail, Research Officer in the Office of the President General Manager for OCP Group. With its headquarters in Morocco, OCP group is one of the leading exporters of phosphate in the region and provides substantial funding for the university and its innovation lab.  This Leed-Certified campus is part of a national initiative, championed by the King of Morocco, to create a fully sustainable community.

Throughout the university’s expansive campus, solar panels provide all electricity and the water for irrigation is recycled and reused. The campus is 100 percent paperless and its labs are industry standard.

The university’s innovation lab is part of a collaborative partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to create new cluster degree programs preparing students for a modern workforce that requires hard and soft transdisciplinary skill sets.

On the final day of the World Merit Morocco program, March 29, the students attended English class at the Centre Mohammed VI des Handicapés. The Centre, staffed entirely by volunteers (many of whom belong to the Marrakech World Merit council), offers English training to children with intellectual disabilities. Southern students had the opportunity to work with these youngsters one-on-one, as well as dance and play. In the late afternoon, as a final treat, they traveled to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains where they sampled traditional Berber cuisine and went on a ropes course and zip line.

On March 31, the group said its goodbyes and returned to the U.S. The students returned with a clear desire to bring the message of World Merit and the U.N. SDGs to SCSU, hoping to start a chapter or a World Merit council on campus.

Ryan Leigh Dostie, BA, '11, MFA, '16

A 21-year-old soldier is raped in her barracks by a fellow soldier, and she reports the assault right away. But Army commanders don’t trust her story, and instead of trying to bring the rapist to justice, they look for ways to delegitimize the woman. It’s a familiar narrative in today’s #MeToo environment, and in alumna Ryan Leigh Dostie’s memoir, Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line, published on June 4, the reader accompanies Dostie – who was raped at 21 while serving in the U.S. Army – on her journey of pain, outrage, trauma, and survival, as she navigates the military and life beyond its hierarchy as a rape survivor.

Dostie, who holds an MFA in fiction writing and a bachelor’s degree in history from Southern, has been receiving a lot of attention for her book, even well before its publication. Last November, Formation was selected as Shelf Awareness’ “Gallery Love of the Week,” in an industry newsletter that reviews books not yet published. More recently, Formation was chosen by Amazon editors as June’s top debut, and it is listed as #2 in Esquire’s “Best Books of Summer 2019.” BookRiot named Formation one of its “50 of the Best Books to Read This Summer”; Patch named Formation one of “The 10 Best Books To Read In June”; and PureWow listed it as one of “9 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in June.” The book has also been reviewed on Publishers Weekly, Amazon, and Goodreads.

When Dostie joined the Army in 2000, she did so as a linguist. By now, she has studied six languages, and she had spent a year of high school studying in Japan. When she joined the Army, she intended to become a Japanese interrogator. However, the Army had other plans for her and sent her to the prestigious Defense Language Institute of Monterey for an intensive program in Persian Farsi, the language spoken in Iran.

In 2001, an enlisted man in her unit raped her, and she immediately reported the assault to her superiors, who were at best skeptical and unsympathetic. Even after reporting, Dostie was forced to continue working with her rapist. The commanders who questioned her about what happened pressed her on whether or not she had told her rapist “no,” and they tried to paint her as promiscuous, or to portray her as trying to protect her reputation by accusing her attacker of rape. In the end, the Army dropped the case, and Dostie was left with PTSD, which would eventually take a toll on her mental health and ability to function.

“The book is about rape and how the Army handles it,” Dostie says. But it also is a devastating account of what happens to a rape victim when she reports and is not believed. Dostie stayed in the Army after her attack, and in April 2003, when the Iraq War was well under way, she was sent to Iraq. She had been told that her PTSD “could be a problem if she was deployed,” and it was: she says of that time, “I was not mentally sound.” She did spend 15 months there, however, and her presence in a war zone, compounded by her PTSD, essentially added one trauma to another.

In April 2004, when the uprising in Sadr City occurred, after Saddam Hussein was caught, Dostie says, “We were all packed to go home, and then they said we had to stay.” She did return to the United States eventually, and says at first she felt fine but then started showing signs of PTSD. She got out of active duty in 2005 and eventually returned home to Connecticut, which helped her PTSD. She began to attend Southern and date the man who would become her husband.

An Honors College student and history major at Southern, Dostie wrote two honors theses: one was in history and one, a creative writing thesis, was the beginnings of Formation. She says the manuscript that would eventually become Formation had actually started in an introductory fiction writing class as a “sci-fi futuristic Civil War-type story about a woman in the infantry – a woman working with all men in this masculine military environment.” When she told English Professor Tim Parrish, who taught that course, that she had been in the military, he advised that the story should be about her own experience. She rewrote it into a story about a woman in the military in Iraq, and it became her honors thesis.

She graduated with her B.A. in 2011, and when she joined the MFA program in creative writing a few years later, she rewrote the honors thesis into her MFA thesis. Parrish says, “Having worked with Ryan on this material from the time she took her first Intro to Fiction class through her MFA thesis, I’ve seen how she earned this book, not only in terms of her incredible work ethic and steadfast growth as a writer, but maybe moreso as a person with the courage and steadfastness to confront and process so much awful history, to survive, and to make great art from her experience. This book is not only outstanding, it’s important.”

Dostie sold the book several days before the #MeToo movement broke, and she says now #MeTooMilitary is gaining traction. There has been a spike in the number of reporting sexual assaults in the military, she says, adding, “They’ve changed how you report it, but if you report, it can still affect your career.”

The Army is now doing SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) briefings to teach soldiers about sexual assault and harassment. The briefings can be effective, Dostie says, “but people have to take it seriously. They are learning about consent and what is sexual harassment. It’s about trying to change the culture.”

Learn more about Ryan Leigh Dostie

Dostie will be a featured reader at the SCSU MFA Program’s 10 anniversary celebration in fall 2019. Find out more about her upcoming local events (readings, book signings, etc.).