The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our second group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.
We recognize and celebrate Maria Diamantis, David Martin, Laura McKay, Amanda Valentin, and Nicole Van Etten for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.
Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!
Maria Diamantis, professor of curriculum and learning, was nominated by a student who wrote that she “has been amazing at not only transitioning our classes to online but providing support to students in this time of need! She keeps an open line of communication and continues to make sure her students are doing well and have everything they need during this time. She emails us frequently even if it is just to check up on us! She even has offered to make her students and their families cloth protective masks and mail them to us if we need them. She has gone above and beyond and cares not only about her students but everyone around her as well!”
Graduate student David Martin ran four miles, every four hours, for 48 hours so he could feed people in the state of Connecticut who could not feed themselves. According to Martin’s nominator, a fellow student, Martin saw that the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport was having a tough time running its food kitchen. Their donations were down 80 percent and the number of people coming in for meals increased fourfold during the COVID crisis. Martin decided to take part in a charity run and spent a week working with Catholic Charities, designing a donation page, reaching out to members of his community for donations, and then started running at 6 p.m. on April 3. He ran at 6 p.m., 10 p.m., 2 a.m., 6 a.m., 10 a.m., and so forth until his final run on April 5 at 2 p.m. He raised almost $4,000, which paid for the food center to operate for four months. It’s also enough money to feed 160 people for 2 weeks. As Martin’s nominator wrote, “He used his athletic abilities to bring together the community and he inspired others to run for for the poor that same weekend. David ended up running just over 50 miles, he ran for 7 hours and 35 min over the weekend, and ran a total elevation of 2,265 feet.”
Laura McKay, secretary in University Access Programs, has been going above and beyond her schedule for the outreach to prospective SEOP students and families, according to her nominator. McKay makes “available on weekends and after her shift if we have Webex events going on,” her nominator wrote, adding, “She has also cared for our staff by giving new face masks she was able to procure in limited supply, a sign of her generosity and concern for the well-being of our team and not solely looking out for oneself.”
Senior Amanda Valentin “is a fantastic human being that has done a ton for her friends, peers, and he community! wrote her nominator. Valentin is peer mentor, works with VPAS, and helps her friends while balancing classes and an internship. Her nominator, a fellow student, wrote that “I met her during the overnight stay starting our freshman year and she has made such an impact on me and so many others. I am amazed on how much she cares and advocates for those that are pushed down and hurt in some way. She is not afraid to stand up for those that need someone in their corner. She will constantly post things on social media about staying connected with one another, letting people know they still have assistance and services available to them, and that she is there if someone needs it. She’s always laughing and smiling and is just all around a perfect example of what our university stands for and what others should strive to be.”
Nicole Van Etten
Nicole Van Etten is a senior, majoring in social work, and is the president of the student-run Social Work Organization (SWO). Her nominator, a faculty member, wrote that Van Etten has exhibited kind and generous leadership throughout the year and during this time of crisis has continued to rise to the occasion. “On and off campus, she has shown herself to be ‘SouthernStrong,'” her nominator wrote. Van Etten is currently employed at Liberty Community Services, a community-based agency in New Haven that provides housing and supportive services to our neighbors. She continues to work remotely with clients providing critical support to the most vulnerable members of our community. “In addition,” her nominator wrote, “she has rallied to keep the spirits of our graduating seniors high as they move through this final semester of college. Nicole manages the SWO Instagram account, sharing news from school and positive messages with our undergraduates. She helped to organize the SWO participation in the SCSU Walking Challenge, and thanks to her steps, we are in the top 10! In addition, Nicole has been collecting ideas and feedback about how to best commemorate the accomplishments of our graduating class, now that we are facing remote year-end ceremonies. Finally, she has also done a wonderful job sharing student feedback with Social Work faculty about the transition to on-line learning. Now more than ever, this honest and clear ommunication is critical. Clearly, she has exhibited leadership and hope on many different levels over the last month. And always with a calm smile and grace that embodies her personality. We are lucky to have her leadership in our SCSU community!”