Monthly Archives: November 2019

When disaster strikes, Katherine Bequary, ’93, and David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, travel the country and the world — saving lives and providing solace.

David Denino, '75, M.S. '76, worked with many survivors in McComb, Miss., a post-Hurricane Katrina evacuation zone. [below] In Mosul, Iraq, Katherine Bequary, '93, works behind the front lines at a crisis-care clinic run by the organization.

Think of the worst human tragedies of the last 15 years — earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings. Chances are Katherine Bequary, ’93, or David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, were there to help.

Bequary has traveled the globe as executive director of NYC Medics, coordinating emergency care in places few are willing to go — from earthquake-torn Haiti and Japan to the remote mountains of Nepal. In summer 2018, she returned from one of her most challenging assignments yet: running a crisis-care clinic in Mosul, Iraq, just behind the front lines in the fight against ISIS. Bequary says more than 10 percent of the trauma casualties reported in the city were children, many of whom died before they could reach a hospital.

The clinic, which moved with the fighting, did whatever was needed — starting IVs, applying tourniquets, inserting chest tubes — to stabilize victims and help them survive the journey. Staffed 24/7, it provided life-saving care to more than 2,600 patients in the span of a year, many of whom were civilians shot by ISIS snipers while trying to flee the city.

“Every mission always has a powerful message or takeaway, but I have to say Iraq, by far, has been the most important work I’ve ever done,” says Bequary, 49.

“Not only for the medical intervention our team provided,” she adds, “but for the hope that comes with seeing so many people putting themselves in a conflict zone to help a stranger.”

Psychological first aid
Closer to home, as the mental health lead for the Connecticut/Rhode Island American Red Cross, Denino, 66, manages teams of mental health volunteers dispatched to disaster scenes around Connecticut and the country. He administers what he calls psychological first aid, setting up mental health triage based on patients’ levels of distress. If someone needs medication or a hospital, Denino works to connect them with services in the community.

A licensed professional counselor and director emeritus of counseling services at Southern, he trained as a Red Cross crisis responder following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“When I watched the towers go down, I felt paralyzed,” recalls Denino. “The call for help went out far and wide, and I couldn’t do anything because I hadn’t been vetted.”

Too late for 9/11, he was sent to New Orleans a few years later, assigned to the shelters housing residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Subsequent missions included hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Harvey as well as the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, Denino worked in the family assistance center, offering counseling and comfort to people who survived the shooting or lost loved ones. Staged in a conference hall “three times the size of Costco,” he remembers the center being eerily quiet despite being filled with concertgoers and workers, mostly in their teens, 20s, and early 30s.

David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, finds a moment of comfort in the midst of helping others.

“A lot of them were struggling a couple of days out with sleeplessness and anxiety,” he says.

In addition to counseling the victims, Denino also kept an eye on the mental health of his fellow volunteers, helping them process their emotions and cope with stress. He earned the 2017 Meritorious Service Award from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA) for his work in Las Vegas and in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, he served as the organization’s president, leading efforts to prevent suicide and violence on college campuses and K-12 schools. In July 2018, the U.S. Secret Service issued a report concluding that the most effective way for schools to prevent targeted violence is with a behavioral intervention team — heightening the focus on NaBITA significantly.

Southern roots
Now living in Wallingford, Conn., with his wife, Vanessa [Pomarico] Denino, ’92, M.S.N. ’98, Ed.D. ’18, and two dogs, Denino traces his interest in counseling to his days as a resident adviser at Southern’s Neff Hall. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure, he stayed on for a master’s in counseling and landed his first job at Southern right out of grad school.

He spent 37 years at the university, retiring as director emeritus of counseling services in 2009, and he still teaches in the clinical mental health program. In 2007, he received the J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching, one of Southern’s top faculty honors. He credits his mentor, James Brine, professor emeritus of counseling and school psychology, with steering him toward higher education.

As the executive director of NYC Medics, Katherine Bequary, ’93, has organized aid efforts around the world, including Nepal.

Bequary, who lives in New York City, came to Southern as a physical education/athletic training major intending to be a physical therapist, but says the university prepared her well for her eventual, if unexpected, disaster-relief career. She credits Gary Morin, professor and chairman of the Department of Health and Movement Sciences, for teaching her that physical and emotional healing go hand-in-hand.

“It’s a big part of what we do [at NYC Medics],” she says. “We’re there to provide the physical care, but it’s so much more than that.”

After graduating from Southern, she held several jobs in the healthcare field before earning a master’s in public health from the University of Connecticut in 2010. She had just finished her thesis when the Haiti earthquake struck, and she learned through a friend that NYC Medics was mobilizing to help.

“I deployed with them and have been involved ever since,” says Bequary. In December 2019, she traveled to Yemen, which has been ravaged by civil war. NYC Medics is working to legally implement a program there and Bequary hopes to return soon.

‘Humbling and inspiring’
Asked why they do what they do, Bequary and Denino offer slightly different takes on the same answer.

“If I could just have people stand in my shoes for one day, they wouldn’t even need to ask the question,” Bequary says. “When people embrace us and open their arms to us . . . it’s the most humbling and inspiring experience in the world.”

She offers a story about a 3-year-old Iraqi boy she found wandering alone at the clinic. Through some detective work, Bequary eventually learned his mother had been a patient, shot in the stomach during a mass casualty incident, one of 60 civilians with serious injuries brought to the clinic in a single day. In the chaos, mother and son had been separated. Although critically injured, the mother survived, and Bequary was there for the joyful reunion: “He hadn’t spoken for three days, but as soon as he saw his mother, he just started crying out to her. He ran over and embraced her. It was incredible,” she says.

Like Bequary, Denino cites the people he helps as his inspiration. “With Katrina, I was talking to people who lost everything — everything — including members of their family or extended family, and the first thing they would do is hug you and say, ‘Thank you for coming here,’” Denino recalls.

He remembers the relief on one woman’s face when he was able to locate her elderly mother in a shelter, and recounts how some neighborhood families brought a home-cooked, fried chicken and biscuits dinner to the volunteers — a welcome change from the military-style MREs [meals ready to eat] they’d been dining on for days.

“You come home and it takes a little while to recover emotionally,” he says. “But when I’m out there, I feel good about it.”

Students Timothy Epps, Zari Williams, and Wendy Ann Santillan talk with business etiquette expert Karen Hinds.

Dean Ellen Durnin and the SCSU School of Business recently hosted the annual Business Etiquette Dinner in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom. Nearly 150 business students, faculty, and staff attended this popular event.

Sponsored by Marcum, LLC, the event featured keynote speaker, Karen Hinds, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Workplace Success Group. Hinds has an impressive list of corporate clients as well as being a regular contributor on television and radio. She is also the author of five books, the most recent being Get Along, Get Ahead: 101 Courtesies for the New Workplace; Networking for a Better Position & More Profit; and A Young Adult’s Guide to the Global Workplace.

Hinds presented an interactive experience, first talking students through a mocktail networking portion of the evening, and later an immersive professional dinner.

During mocktail hour, Hinds covered a number of topics including where to position nametags, which hand to hold a drink in, how to properly shake hands, how to enter and exit a conversation, and how to deny a drink graciously. The latter she stressed heavily saying that, in interview situations, drinking while out with future employers is never a good look.

With the networking portion of the evening out of the way, the dinner — which featured proper etiquette for both Continental and American dining — delved into the proper way to drink soup, butter bits of bread, and signal to wait staff the enjoyment of a meal.

Outside of the proper ways to eat, the dinner also went over proper use of utensils and napkins, how to pass the salt and pepper shakers (always together), and how to properly excuse oneself from a table.

Although proper etiquette is important, perhaps the most important piece of advice given to students by Hinds was to focus more on the interview and networking opportunity than the meal. This includes ordering foods that are easy to eat with utensils, never taking a to-go bag, and possibly even eating before the actual dinner itself. In professional situations, the food isn’t the main focus, business is.

From “Where do I put my bag or purse?” to “What do I do if I spill something on my host?”, students had a chance to ask Hinds all of their questions to ensure a smooth dinner when the opportunity arises.

Employers frequently mention soft skills as an area where recent graduates fall short. The School of Business is committed to supporting students’ growth in these critical areas with programming and resources. By practicing networking and professional dining in a real-life situation, SCSU students can become more comfortable in the situations they’ll encounter in the workforce as well as in their personal lives.

 

Story by Goldy Previlus

Chaz Guest, ’85, takes artistic expression to new heights, re-examining the history of slavery and launching a superhero in the process.

SCSU alumnus Chaz Guest, '85, standing in front of painted canvas.
Brian Bowen Smith Photo

Chaz Guest, ’85, may not be a household name, but his work has been embraced by many big ones. Herbie Hancock and Vanessa Williams collect his paintings. Former President Barack Obama hung his portrait of Thurgood Marshall in the Oval Office. Oprah Winfrey praised a portrait of Maya Angelou as a little girl that she had commissioned from Guest: “Saying the painting is beautiful is too mild of a word.”

Chaz Guest shaking hands with President Barak Obama
The artist shakes hands
with former President Barack Obama, who hung Guest’s portrait of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, in the Oval Office.

Guest arrived at Southern as a gymnast on scholarship, not knowing what direction he wanted his life to take. He left after studying graphic design with an inkling he had become an artist. He credits David Levine, his art history professor, and the late Howard Fussiner [professor emeritus of art], the only painting teacher he ever had. “Those two put me on the path of the life I have now as a painter,” Guest says from his studio in Los Angeles, brush in hand, working on a portrait of the abolitionist John Brown while we speak. One of Fussiner’s landscapes hangs on the wall.

Levine introduced Guest to the history of art. Fussiner encouraged him to become part of it. The painter — who reminded Guest of Salvador Dali with his wild white hair, quirkiness, and energy — encouraged Guest by praising his work in front of the class. He also passed along commissions to paint watercolors of people’s homes. “He opened my eyes to the idea that I could paint something and actually earn some money,” Guest says.

Painting by Chaz Guest
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a brief stint illustrating fashion magazines in Paris, Guest devoted himself to his own painting. He sold his first work on the sidewalk outside his apartment in New York City. With that money, he bought a larger easel and more supplies and was on his way. Today, the artist is represented by the Los Angeles-based Patrick Painter Gallery. His work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris.

A devotee of Kyokushin karate, which his older brother taught him upon returning from the service in Okinawa, Japan, Guest has used the martial arts to open his mind and dedicate himself to his art. An aging hip prevents the 58-year-old from regularly practicing karate, but he still applies the mental principles. “Martial arts is a way of life,” he says. “I certainly have it in mind.”

His influences range from Fussiner to Balthus, from Dali to Picasso. Inspiration also comes from musicians — Pavarotti to Mahalia Jackson, but especially his beloved jazz. Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane. He has painted them and frequently plays their music in his studio while working. He’s also created paintings on stage inspired by live jazz performances. He starts without preconceived notions of what he is going to paint and improvises along with the musicians. “It’s best to have a blank mind, and flow to the vibrations and spirit of the music,” he says.

Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest
Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest. • ICONN MANN Photo

Guest works in a variety of mediums. His Geisha Series, created on Japanese zori sandals, was inspired by a trip to Japan, and his Cotton Series, portraits of enslaved men, women, and children, is done on cotton picked from Southern fields, where the subjects might have toiled.

After admiring Guest’s Cotton Series, Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Republic of Gambia, invited him to visit in 2010. Guest painted an oil portrait of Jammeh as a gift, which he presented upon his arrival. “It was a life-changing trip,” Guest says.

A stop at James Island in the Gambia River to see the remains of a fort used by British slave traders was particularly profound. Guest spent time alone in a holding cell. “I felt all of my nightmares as an African-American started in this one place,” he says. He wept. Anger and sadness washed through him. He emerged transformed. “Afterward, I felt new,” he says.

Guest suggested that the island be renamed Kunta Kinteh Island to honor the slaves who passed through. Jammeh agreed and the name was officially changed in 2011. For the occasion, Guest sculpted a Mandinka warrior rising out of one of the island’s many baobab trees and escaping the shackles of slavery. He called it Freedom. It was not installed as a 30-foot statue on the island as originally intended, as it lacked the support of the president who succeeded Jammeh.

But the bronze sculpture was chosen for the statuette of the ICON MANN Legacy Award, most recently presented to Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ruth E. Carter, winner of the 2019 Academy Award for costume design on the film, Black Panther. The Legacy Award honors those whose body of work has positively transformed the narrative and trajectory of black culture.

For all of his success as an artist, Guest is proudest of his role as a father. He has two sons, Xian, 16, and Zuhri, 25. He wears a bracelet made from a mold of their umbilical cords. “I enjoy being a father of two great boys,” he says.

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photos

Guest’s latest project is Buffalo Warrior, a graphic novel he wrote about a boy born into slavery in the 1800s who becomes a modern-day superhero. Guest illustrated the book in Japanese sumi ink on handmade paper — and also painted a series of the hero in oil and another related series entitled Buffalo Soldiers. He’s in discussions with movie studios to turn the story into a feature film.

He sums up his aesthetic, which is particularly apparent in the Cotton Series and Buffalo Warrior: “I wanted to start from the root of our American experience, which happens to be slavery. So I wanted to go back there in that time and paint with everything I have to convey dignity and love and [that] they’re people, not only slaves. If you want to make a good painting, you’ve got to paint what you love — and I love those people.”

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

A first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ‘06, is paying it forward by mentoring some of tomorrow's most promising engineers.

Never underestimate the power of a great mentor. As a first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ’06, came to Southern to major in physics — and, within that first year, was conducting research in the physics lab. “The catalyst that really set me on my path was meeting and working with Professor [of Physics Christine] Broadbridge. She was instrumental in igniting my love of materials research and guiding me in the pursuit of a doctoral degree,” says Garofano.

Today, Garofano has come full circle, mentoring the next generation of engineers as the program manager of the Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at United Technologies, a new entry-level program for top engineering students. Participants rotate through four six-month assignments across the United Technologies business units, such as Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace.

This focus on education echoes Garofano’s early career. Under Professor Broadbridge’s leadership, she held several positions with the Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena (CRISP), a National Science Foundation-funded partnership between Southern and Yale University. Its goal: to share the wonders of science with K-12 students, college students, and educators. Garofano’s commitment to Southern remains strong — and this fall, she joined the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors.

“The two pillars that my career stands on are mentorship and networking,” says Garofano. “Over all this time, a simple but powerful mantra has struck with me: ‘I want to be for someone what Christine was for me,’ and it has materialized in a profound why.”

She’s a STEMinist: Garofano advocates for increasing the presence of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “Representation matters (#SeeHerBeHer). As a first-generation college student, I was fortunate to have a strong female role model and mentor at Southern: Christine Broadbridge, [professor of physics and executive director of research and innovation]. Now that I’m a professional woman in the tech industry, I make every effort to share my journey and empower young students — but young girls and women, in particular.

A few accomplishments: Garofano earned a doctorate from the University of Connecticut and was named a “Woman of Innovation” by the Connecticut Technology Council in 2011; was spotlighted on the “40 under 40” lists of outstanding young professionals compiled by Connecticut Magazine (2013) and Hartford Business Journal (2015); and was honored by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund for advancing women and girls in the STEM field.

On the job: “As program manager of the Ingels program, I have the privilege of cultivating and leading the next generation of engineers who will shape our future. Frankly, this is what attracted me to this role,” says Garofano, who has complete oversight of the program. Her responsibilities include: leading recruiting activities, managing associate rotation schedules, and planning training curriculum for both technical and leadership development.

On board: “I’m thrilled to have been asked to serve on the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors and look forward to the opportunity to support Southern’s mission of providing exceptional, accessible, and affordable educational opportunities to students through the work of the foundation.

A mighty mentor: Last fall, Garofano was approached by a young woman, Edwina Lorient, a native of Haiti, who was studying mechanical engineering. “Edwina was interested in learning more about the different aspects of engineering and hearing about my experience as an engineer,” says Garofano. “She shared with me her desire to use her engineering skills to support her family and community in Haiti with innovative solutions to provide pure water and clean energy,” she says. Garofano encouraged her to apply for summer research experiences, directed her to the Leadership Summer Research-Early Identification Program through The Leadership Alliance, and guided her through the application process. “I was elated when she told me that she was accepted into Brown University’s program for the summer! The return on my seemingly effortless investment has been massively rewarding, not just for Edwina in securing a research fellowship, but, for me also, because I’ve been able to be ‘that person’ for an aspiring young woman engineer,” she says.

Words of wisdom: “I encourage our program associates to build a strong professional network (as they have a unique opportunity to have four different roles across our enterprise), but most importantly, enjoy the journey and have fun!” she says.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Peter Marra, ’85, says a love of nature saved his life. Today, the longtime Smithsonian scientist and newly named director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative is returning the favor.

Peter Marra, '85, on shoreline releasing bird with tracking device back to the wild.
Smithsonian Institute Photo

Scientist Peter Marra, ’85, views the world through the eyes of a naturalist — and that includes his childhood. “I was a feral kid,” says Marra, of growing up largely unsupervised in a wooded neighborhood in Norwalk, Conn. The youngest of four siblings, he was raised in a broken home. His father, an Army veteran turned baker, left when Marra was only 1 and his mother was left seriously struggling.

By middle school, Marra was struggling as well, smoking and experimenting with alcohol. He also spent time wandering, often ending up at the neighboring Westport Nature Center. One day, the center’s staff set up a mist net: made of very fine threads, it blends with the surroundings and is used to catch birds without harming them. “I was able to experience a chickadee up close and personal. I’m pretty sure I even held it,” says Marra. “I don’t remember a lot, but I remember there being this moment that was pretty magical.”

The experience was an epiphany and a saving grace. “I could have continued down this really bad road. Some of my friends from that time did, and it didn’t end well,” says Marra, who, instead, opted to pursue his passion. Today, he’s an internationally recognized naturalist and ornithologist (expert on birds), an emeritus senior scientist with the Smithsonian Institute, and an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014).

“You could live without art. You could live without music. But would you want to? Would we want to live in a world without warblers, shorebirds, and hawks?”
— Peter Marra, ’85

In August 2019, Marra left the Smithsonian after a 20-year tenure, where he most recently served as director of the Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C. For the next chapter of his career, he’ll direct the Georgetown Environment Initiative, which integrates Georgetown University’s scholarship and outreach efforts related to the earth’s stewardship. Marra also was named the Laudato Si’ Professor of Biology and the Environment, and a professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy.

The significance isn’t lost on Marra, who notes he was first in his family “to even think about going to college.” He’d applied only to Southern for his undergraduate degree. The draw: the late Noble Proctor, ’70, M.S. ’72, professor emeritus of biology — a nationally recognized naturalist and author who, during his lifetime, traveled to some 90 countries conducting avian research. Marra, like many students, called him Nobe.

Southern proved a great match for Marra. “I think it cost me $350 a semester. Having a really quality education available to me at an affordable price made all the difference in the world,” says Marra, who studied — and often simultaneously worked — full time. As a senior, he received the university’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Biology, and more than 30 years after graduating, he easily recalls his professors’ names. He credits Proctor with helping him secure an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — he researched the interaction between gypsy moths and birds — and says the professor also helped him get into graduate school. Marra earned a master’s from Louisiana State University and a doctorate from Dartmouth College, before joining the Smithsonian in 1998.

SCSU alumnus Peter Marra, '85, with students observing bird, writing in journal
Scientist Peter Marra, ’85, has co-authored more than 225 papers in journals such as Science and Nature.

 

Through it all, curiosity was a driving force. He’s jointly published more than 215 peer-reviewed papers in journals such as Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has three broad themes: the ecology of migratory birds, urban ecosystems, and disease. Basically, if an issue relates to birds, Marra has probably investigated it. He’s studied migratory birds wintering on military bases; what happens to birds and otters when a dam is removed; and the role migratory birds play in the spread of West Nile virus.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Marra, who’s received top research awards from organizations such as the Smithsonian (Secretary’s Distinguished Research Prizes in 2008 and 2010) and the American Ornithological Society (the Elliott Coues Award in 2018). In sum, Marra is an experts’ expert — the one the White House and members of Congress call for briefs on the highly contagious bird flu.

Of course, in most cases, the birds are the ones in danger, and Marra has spent his career studying direct anthropogenic stress: the many ways humans harm birds. “The number one killer is cats,” says Marra, who discusses the issue in-depth in his book, Cat Wars, the Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, co-authored with Chris Santella.

Marra estimates that cats kill 1.3 – 4 billion birds annually in the U.S. — and three to four times that many native mammals. (There’s limited data on feral cats, hence the wide-ranging statistics.) But the end results, Marra says, are devastating for bird populations. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species around the world, he explains. “DDT, in comparison, has never caused the extinction of a species,” he says, stressing the importance of keeping pet cats inside and on leashes when outdoors. The book also advocates management of feral cat populations, including euthanasia in some cases.

Bluethroat
The Bluethroat • Smithsonian Institute Photo

Another decidedly less controversial research project is centered just outside of Nome, Alaska, and focuses on a small bird called the bluethroat. It’s primarily an Old World species — meaning it breeds and spends most of its life in Europe and Asia, says Marra. But long ago, one population of bluethroats started traveling to Alaska. The birds annually arrive in May and remain through June to breed. These bluethroats then migrate to another location. “Probably to someplace in Southeast Asia, but we don’t know where,” says Marra.

In summer 2018, Marra and other researchers began catching the birds and tagging their backs with light-level geolocators that use daylight to estimate location. It’s an intense process. In Alaska, Marra jump-started the day with a cup of coffee, followed by trudging through deep snowbanks to reach small patches of vegetation. The goal: stay clear of musk ox and grizzlies while searching for the newly arrived bluethroats, which must be caught and tagged.

The scientists then wait. “If we catch the birds again when they come back next year, we can download the data off their backs,” says Marra. The project was a dream assignment for the naturalist, who is working on The Atlas of Migratory Connectivity for the Birds of North America. Still, recapturing a bird is a challenging task. Only about one in every five birds that scientists tag is captured again the next year, according to the Smithsonian. But Marra remains undaunted, inspired by how much remains to be learned.

“The last 10 years, we’ve made some real advances because of the miniaturization of tracking devices and other technology. It’s been a remarkable time to be in migratory animal ecology,” he says.

Marra’s new post as head of the Georgetown Environment Initiative will capitalize on his commitment. Ask Marra why we should care about the conservation of various bird species, and he turns thoughtful. There are practicalities: removing insects and rodents, spreading seeds, pollinating plants. Birds fulfill critical ecosystem services, he explains: when populations decline or worse, become extinct, it’s a sign that something is deeply unhealthy with the environment.

Other motivations are more difficult to articulate, says the conservationist. “You could live without art. You could live without music. But would you want to?” asks Marra. “Would we want to live in a world without warblers, shorebirds, and hawks? I don’t think so. . . .When I wake up in the morning and hear birdsong outside — that fulfills me.” 

Bird Calls

Want to attract more birds to your yard? Get planting — and be sure to include as many native species as possible, according to a study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The magic ratio of native plants? Seventy percent.

“If more than 30 percent of the [plant] species in your yard are non-native, your yard will not produce enough insects to successfully support bird populations,” says Peter Marra, ’85, outlining the results of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The research looked specifically at chickadees, but has widespread implications. More than 90 percent of herbivorous insects target only one or a select few plants for food. “Everybody, even those in an urban or suburban environment, should be thinking about their yard as a natural park, a place that wildlife depends on — including insects and birds,” says Marra.

The Smithsonian suggests these online sites for information on bird-friendly plants: the Audubon’s Native Plants Database, the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness map. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted in conjunction with the University of Delaware.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

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 November, December, January, February, and March to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of November, the Top Owl Award winners are Marian Evans, assistant professor of public health and the department’s graduate program coordinator, and Jane DeLuca, secretary in the Department of Management.

Marian Evans incorporates social justice into her classroom curriculum and inspires her students to take initiative for their own social justice journey while guiding them with reading, support, and events. She has led the public health service trip to Bermuda and beforehand held a “how to pack” session for students who had never traveled or who may not own traditional luggage. 

Evans’ nominator wrote, “Dr. Evans continuously involves herself in making the university better and more equitable for her students. She is always willing to listen to students and over the month already has met with various students who were struggling with employment or class, and helped them navigate the systems to best meet their needs. Overall Dr. Evans does a lot for this SCSU campus and for her students who are struggling.”

Evans’ teaching and research interests include public health, women’s health, environmental health, health disparities, academic and public partnerships, and scholarship of teaching and learning.

Jane DeLuca‘s nominator wrote that as the department secretary, “she ‘intercepts’ a lot of calls and/or visits from students and faculty. She treats everyone with respect and dignity even when they do not treat her with respect back. Oftentimes, they are upset, mad, crying, yelling or frustrated. She is compassionate and a great listener. She also knows who to refer each student or faculty to in order to solve their problem. There is no one like her throughout the entire campus.”

Congratulations to November’s Top Owl Award winners!

To nominate someone for a Top Owl award, visit the university’s Social Justice website.

At a time when the U.S. is deeply divided politically and ideologically, Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, is committed to students — democrats and republicans.

The office of Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, houses numerous mementos.

Americans are divided on everything — except division. That’s the not-so-stunning conclusion of an NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll in which 80 percent of respondents described the U.S. as divided.

Helping to bridge this political and ideological rift, Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, is a unifying force on campus — serving as adviser to the College Republicans and the College Democrats.

“I never thought I had to be partisan,” says Wharton of his students-first approach. Wharton is a member of the Republican Party, but was raised with an acceptance of opposing viewpoints by parents, who are members of different political parties. “They actually agree on 80 to 90 percent of things. But they are sticking [with their parties], and it was never problematic or disrespectful,” says Wharton.

The College Democrats and College Republicans work well together. The two student organizations held on-campus viewing parties during the 2016 presidential election. (Inspired, in part, by Wharton’s dual advisory roles, the vibrant gatherings received significant attention from the media.) In 2018, 20-plus students — members of both parties — joined faculty at the gubernatorial debates at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. More joint events are promised for the 2020 election.

When it comes to political action, Wharton describes himself as “a behind the scenes kind of guy,” drawn to planning fund raisers and networking. “My students would rather do the door knocking, the phone banking, the social media. They’d rather follow the research, get the data,” he says.

Adept at wearing multiple hats, Wharton is also the internship adviser for the department. Many students complete multiple internships, up to 15 credits, working in federal and state congressional offices, law firms, nonprofit organizations, city offices, think tanks, and more.

“Most are much better students because of it,” says Wharton, who finds their commitment inspiring and heartening. “Do you know how many students love to do campaign work? It boggles my mind,” he says.

Wharton was raised in West Hartford but was born in New York City — and his parents came from Boston and Chicago. “As a child, I grew attached to these cities we visited. I think that’s why I studied local politics,” says Wharton, shown participating in Southern’s 2019 undergraduate commencement exercises.

Following, Wharton shares more on his commitment to urban planning, politics, and students.

A born educator: “One could argue it’s in the DNA. Both sides of the family have been educators,” says Wharton. His parents met in the doctoral program at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. His grandmothers were teachers. Both grandfathers were lawyers; his paternal grandfather an ambassador as well. “There was always this interest in politics, law, and education,” he says.

A career change: Wharton left a position working with the New Jersey State Legislature to pursue a career in education. “The classroom drew me back in every time,” he says.

In the class: “I like to spark debate and discussion. . . . I want students to be intrigued, curious, and provoked.”

Always civic minded: Wharton serves on the City Planning Commission of New Haven.

Thinking local: “What I try to convey to [students] is that you can make a difference in your community at the local or state level. It takes them a while to get their heads around that. But when they recognize it, the potential is there,” says Wharton.

Why he choose Southern: “I was struck by the fact that it was a teaching university. . . . I liked the small classroom sizes at Southern. And I like the regional universities dynamic. They take teaching so seriously, which I think is critical. They do faculty development workshops, analyze teaching methods, and focus on pedagogy concerns.”

Four treasured office mementos:
1) campaign signs — “A great opener with students when discussing the ins and outs of campaign work,” he says.
2) a first-place banner from a National Collegiate Club Golf Association tournament (2017), signed by the participating students. Wharton also is adviser of Southern’s golf team, which competes in the Metro region.
3) several awards for exceptional work as an adviser
4) a “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity (March 2019)

Research focus: Wharton and Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, associate professor of political science, are working with university librarians to accession the archival papers of several former New Haven mayors. The collection was established through the generosity of attorney Neil Thomas Proto, ’67, and is housed in Buley Library.

In the News: Wharton is a monthly state/local politics analyst on WNPR’s Where We Live and The Wheelhouse.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Madhouse, funny farm, psychiatric hospital, loony bin, nuthouse, mental institution: no matter what you call it, the asylum has a powerful hold on the American imagination. Stark and foreboding, these institutions symbolize mistreatment, fear, and imprisonment, standing as castles of despair and tyranny across the countryside. In the “asylum” of American fiction and film, treatments are torture, attendants are thugs, and psychiatrists are despots.

In Nightmare FactoriesThe Asylum in the American Imagination, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Troy Rondinone, professor of history, offers the first history of mental hospitals in American popular culture.

The book focuses on how the asylum has been portrayed though movies, novels and other media, exploring the effect that these portrayals have had on American culture and the stigma of mental illness.

Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” Rondinone surveys how American novelists, poets, memoirists, reporters, and filmmakers have portrayed the asylum and how those representations reflect larger social trends in the United States. Asylums, he argues, darkly reflect cultural anxieties and the shortcomings of democracy, as well as the ongoing mistreatment of people suffering from mental illness.

Nightmare Factories traces the story of the asylum as the masses have witnessed it – often as dark, scary places, where patients are tortured with their “treatment.” This scenario is partly true and partly exaggerated, according to Rondinone, who shows how works ranging from Moby-Dick and Dracula to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestHalloween, and American Horror Story have all conversed with the asylum.

Drawing from fictional and real accounts, movies, personal interviews, and tours of mental hospitals both active and defunct, he has uncovered a story at once familiar and bizarre, where reality meets fantasy in the foggy landscape of celluloid and pulp.

Rondinone also points out that today’s mental health institutions are not like the scary places associated with the American imagination. But he said that unfortunate mantle has fallen to some of America’s contemporary prisons, particularly those where inmates are forced to stay in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Rondinone has discussed this topic with the media, including a recent conversation on WSHU radio.

He also has been writing a series of blog posts for Psychology Today magazine – exploring the history of mental institutions in America, their portrayal in pop culture and the impact that they have had on the American psyche and culture.

And most recently he wrote a perspective piece for The Washington Post: “Scary asylums are a Halloween classic, but it’s time to retire the trope: It’s hurting those suffering from mental illness.” 

 

Southern Connecticut State University’s nursing program hit the half century mark this year, and the future looks exceptionally bright. The program has maintained its commitment to nurse education and excellence – its pass rates are near perfect – and can now add expansion to its roster, as the university will soon break ground on a building that will serve the Nursing Department and other health-related programs.

Nursing alumni, faculty, students, and university officials will have the chance to come together to celebrate this week at “50 Years of Nursing Excellence – Looking Back as We Look Forward.” Dr. Leslie Mancuso, ’78, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and chief executive officer of Jhpiego, an international nonprofit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, is the keynote speaker.

“It is a true milestone,” said Lisa Rebeschi, BS ‘84, and MS ‘91, former associate professor and chair of the Nursing Department.* “[In 1969] we started with just 13 students. The difference we are making to state healthcare field and in nurse education is drastically different than it was 50 years ago. Certainly, we’ve come a long way.”

One of the staples of the program, since inception, has been its quality of excellence.

“The Nursing Department takes great pride in the quality of education that they provide,” said Dr. Sandra Bulmer, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Southern. “Students are both going to be prepared to practice nursing on day one and be able to pass the NCLEX-RN, the National Council Licensure Examination, on the first try. Consistent accreditation is another marker of the high quality.”

Growth and evolution have played key roles in the program’s success as well. When the nursing program was established in 1969, it consisted of a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program. The program now includes a bachelor’s degree program with two admission pathways, an accelerated career entry (ACE) program for those with a BS or BA in another discipline, and an RN-to-BS completion program.

In 1985, Southern added graduate MSN programs that allow students to choose from one of three tracks: Nursing Education, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Clinical Nurse Leader; students who already have an MSN can enter certificate programs in any of these three areas. And in fall 2012, Southern added an EdD in nursing education in collaboration with Western Connecticut State University. It’s one of the few doctoral programs in nursing education in the United States.

Across the board, pass rates for programs are stellar: The NCLEX-RN first-time pass rate for the 2018 graduates from the traditional program was 100 percent. The NCLEX-RN first-time pass rate of 2018 graduates from the ACE program was 97 percent. Ninety-two percent of MSN graduates passed their FNP (family nurse practitioner) certification exam on their first attempt.

“The range of degrees is across the spectrum,” Bulmer said. “Our interdisciplinary curriculum is developed to be the core in innovation in the way we educate; we train our own nurse educators to go out and train.” Added Rebeschi, “We literally train from bedside to practitioner.”

More growth looms on the horizon: Southern is about to break ground on a new building that will serve the Nursing Department. The building will feature increased, dedicated space for practice-based learning, lab rooms for hands-on instruction, and a simulation center.

“There will be one high-fidelity lab with computerized high-tech mannequins, known as Sim Man, and video capture,” Bulmer said. “It mimics the floor of a hospital with a medical station and nursing station, and different patient rooms. Students will encounter real-life situations. Students will be debriefed, which gives them the opportunity to see what they’re doing right and wrong. It’s a highly effective way to train.”

In addition to the high-tech Sim Man — some of these mannequins talk and can even give birth — the program will use patient actors, guided by scripts, in realistic “doctor’s rooms” and a home simulation room that will mimic home visits.

Of course, growth comes with a price tag. Technology is expensive, as is the manpower to manage it. Opportunities for clinical sites, which are heavily supervised and monitored, are taxed as well. But the program’s 50-year evolution always has been guided by keeping a close ear to the needs of the local healthcare system, so the program will keep doing what it’s been doing all along: innovate.

“Southern is a leader in preparing the next generation of academic nurse educators,” said Cheryl Resha, chairperson and professor, Nursing Department. “We have accomplished and talented faculty who have authored books, chapters, articles in peer-reviewed journals, and practice guidelines. SCSU’s faculty is dedicated to evidence-based practice and is committed to ensuring students are educated on the most up-to-date evidence.”

Bulmer added, “Everyone does a great job training nurses in Connecticut, but we provide access and opportunity and produce a workforce that’s diverse. There’s a need for nurses of color and doctors and nurses of diverse income to serve their counterparts. We want to help healthcare diversify its workforce and to grow our capacity to serve students and Connecticut.”

“The future,” Bulmer said, “is incredible.”

*Rebeschi is currently Associate Dean, School of Nursing, Quinnipiac University.