Monthly Archives: June 2020

Self-quarantining and social distancing measures this spring because of COVID-19 led to widespread disruptions in people’s schedules. Adjusting to those changes took a toll on everyone — young and old — and particularly children on the autism spectrum, who can experience enormous anxiety when deviating from routine. To help parents navigate the new terrain, Southern’s Center of Excellence on Autism Spectrum Disorders created Friday Friendly Forums, a series of five conversations with center staff on a variety of autism spectrum disorder topics. The forums are free and can be viewed online at any time.

“The idea was to support caregivers,” said Kari Sassu, a research scientist with the center.

That support is critical: It can mean the difference between optimism and despair, and between healthy growth and discouraging setbacks. It has everything to do with how the center serves and supports the region, from top to bottom — so that thousands of children and young adults with autism in the state get the chance they deserve to live happy, productive lives. And during the pandemic, the center didn’t stop its outreach efforts.

“For people with autism, the loss of routine has affected them so much,” Sassu said. “That causes anxiety and behavioral changes. The center may be physically closed right now, but its support isn’t.”

The first Friendly Forum, “Structure and Flexibility,” provides support for families and caregivers of children with ASD as they navigate the homeschooling experience. It was born of Sassu’s own experience as a full-time working parent of children on the spectrum who recognized “the importance of structure and predictability.”

“There are competing demands,” Sassu said, “for parents who have work and there may be other children, too. A lot of our kids on the spectrum need a schedule and guidance to execute extra tasks. That can be daunting, to spin all of those plates simultaneously.”

The second, “Virtual PPT Meetings,” is led by Sassu and Kimberly Bean, another research scientist with the center. Much like it sounds, it discusses considerations for planning and placement teams (PPT) to meet virtually, which Sassu said can be overwhelming.

“We heard parents were really struggling with that,” Sassu said.

Forum three, “Transitioning to Homeschooling,” is a discussion of the ups and downs associated with transitioning to homeschooling. Four is “Supporting Communication,” guidance offered by Barbara Cook, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at Southern, and five is “Self-Care for the Caregiver,” led by Sassu, who talks about the concept of self-care and its importance, especially as it relates to those caring for children with special needs right now.

In addition to the forums, the center has organized a free virtual program, SCSU CCD PEERS, a young adult social skills program based on the UCLA PEERS program, which is an evidence-based, caregiver-assisted social skills intervention for youth 18 – 21 years old with ASD. The program covers conversational skills, dating skills, peer pressure, electronic communication, and more. Sessions are held via Zoom on Mondays, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The final session is July 27.

The center also created a First Responders Autism Training program, an online course that began in January 2020 that’s especially relevant given the increased reliance on medical professionals during the pandemic.

“If an ENT shows up if someone is injured and there’s no training already, it’s important for them to have the background so they better know how to care for someone who is on the spectrum,” said Meaghan Reilly, a student worker at the center. The course includes a video presentation and a live discussion board via Zoom with one of the team members from the center.

Sassu said the center’s online offerings will continue to expand throughout the summer with webinars about Title IX and the International Disability Alliance, which improves awareness and rights for individuals with disabilities.

“We’re also in the process of putting together a series of talks for students with autism spectrum disorders on college campuses,” Sassu said. “There are some for students and some for faculty, and then some for peers. Also, a training series for school-based professionals. If students on the spectrum are going to transition back to school or continue online, they’re going to need help to address transitioning.”

Response to the online forums and offerings has been encouraging as the center continues its commitment to providing much-needed services.

“This is an unpredictable time,” Sassu said. “We all are going day-to-day, but for people with autism, it’s unsettling. The question is, how can we make it work so everyone — parents, teachers, providers, and students — are their best?”

The impact COVID-19 has had on the economy is undeniable, a fact that can be particularly troublesome to recent college graduates. Because of the unique challenges facing those entering the workforce, the School of Business created a Graduate Virtual Toolkit to address the needs of their newest alums.

The idea for this special offer for graduates came from a conversation in late May with the Business Advisory Council, a group of dedicated industry leaders who advise Dr. Ellen Durnin, Dean of the School of Business, offering their expertise, resources, and ideas to benefit Southern Business students.

BAC members said students needed opportunities to expand and strengthen their networks and connections, and many offered to have one-on-one conversations with graduates themselves. They suggested offering special trainings to make students more marketable and giving graduates the chance to use this unexpected time of transition to add new skills to their resumes.

The Business Success Center at the School of Business took these ideas and offers of support and quickly pulled together a comprehensive toolkit to send to graduates that included professional job search support, one-on-one conversations with BAC members, special courses from faculty members, a two-part training course on personal marketing through virtual calls and video, curated content from various online sources, a free one year membership to PULSE, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce young professional group, and access to a School of Business class of 2020 LinkedIn group.

In addition to all these offerings, the Business Success Center is still working with students and graduates on resume and cover letter writing, internships and job search support, and mock interviews. Students and graduates have access to Handshake and Big Interview, two online platforms that provide additional resources in these areas.

Durnin says, “In the School of Business, our focus is on preparing the next generation of leaders in the business community.  Our BAC encouraged us to create this virtual toolkit, which will allow students to succeed in the job market.  I thank our BAC for their vision, and I look forward to hearing from our graduates about how the Toolkit helped them and how we can continue to refine it.”

Recent management graduate Jenna Zakala, ’20, says, “The School of Business Virtual Toolkit has truly been a hidden gem for me, opening up many doors and opportunities during these uncertain times.”

If you are a recent School of Business graduate or a rising senior and would like to hear more about the Graduate Virtual Toolkit, please contact Amy Grotzke at or Patty Conte at


The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our tenth 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 Ashley Burkell, Alyssa Maddern, Jay Moran, Sal Rizza, and Meredith Sinclair 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!

Ashley Burkell

Nominated by a faculty member, Ashley Burkell is a public health major, and her nominator wrote that “each year she strives to do more to promote equity.” Burkell recently emailed her nominator, who is also her advisor, to tell her that learning about privilege freshman year had led her to understand how she needs to help others with less privilege. While educating herself on social media and attending recent protests, she still didn’t feel it was enough. On a recent weekend, Burkell decided to use her week’s grocery money to make vegan pasta and garlic bread and sell it in her neighborhood (with contact-free pickup) to support Black Lives Matter Global Network. In fewer than three days, she had already raised $1100. Her nominator reports that Burkell intends to repeat this drive in July with a local social justice/equity group as the recipient. Burkell, her nominator wrote, even included instructions for safely warming the food, to avoid food-borne illness. Burkell, she wrote, “is using all she has learned in her public health and nutrition classes to help promote health equity.”

Ashley Burkell

Alyssa Maddern
Nominated by a faculty member, Alyssa Maddern is a full-time student who completed her undergraduate degree in recreation & leisure (concentration: therapeutic recreation) and is continuing her education for her master’s at Southern in recreation therapy. She was hired in February as a part time activities assistant at Maplewood Senior Living at Orange (MAO); however, amidst the pandemic, she has been working more and has been given more responsibilities and challenges to overcome. Due to this pandemic, her nominator wrote, Maddern “has been able to prove herself and her expansive abilities through creating innovative activities for her residents. Those activities include developing and distributing a daily BINGO newsletter to play together, but apart from others, a Workout From Your Apartment packet that shows her residents how many repetitions of an exercise they should do, a detailed explanation of how to do the specific exercise, and a hand drawn cartoon figure, properly doing the exercise, a Fun Brain Fitness Packet she creates for each and every Friday that includes themed sudoku, word searches, crosswords, anagrams, hidden pictures, etc. She has also provided Happiest of Hours to her residents’ apartments, facilitates 1:1 Hallway Exercises, developed and distributes a TV Guide for her residents to follow and tune in to entertaining movies and shows Thursday through Sunday, rolls around a cooler as the ice cream woman and distributes a variety of ice cream to her residents, developed and collaborated with her residents to create a ‘We Are All In This Together’ banner, and the list continues on.”

For all of her efforts, Maddern was recently awarded the H.E.A.R.T Award for the month of May at MAO; H.E.A.R.T. is the philosophy MAO associates embody in their work performance, going above and beyond with all their heart. H.E.A.R.T stands for Humor, Empathy, Anatomy, Respect and Reaching Out to Others, and Trust and Triumph. Her nominator wrote that “Each and everyday Alyssa brightens the lives of older adults who have been separated from family and friends during this epidemic! She is truly a hero!!”

Alyssa Maddern

Jay Moran

Nominated by a colleague, Southern’s Director of Athletics Jay Moran has led his staff, coaches, and teams — comprised of approximately 500 student-athletes — through, at his own admittance, his most challenging year as an athletic director. The department was faced with the EEE scare in the fall, which Moran addressed, and through coordination with his staff managed to avoid canceling any athletic competition or practice. Shortly thereafter, Moran’s nominator wrote, “the athletic department and gymnastics program, to say nothing of the entire SCSU community, was struck with the tragic loss of [student gymnast] Melanie Coleman. Jay has dealt with personal tragedy of his own, and never backed away from lending a helping hand and the needed patience to anyone that needed to talk.”

Moran then oversaw a midseason coaching change and was later confronted with the coronavirus pandemic. His nominator wrote that “he has been at the forefront of coordinating efforts for the entire Athletic Department in lending support to its student-athletes, and has worked tirelessly with the message being the same along the way: we have to get our student-athletes safely back on campus and get our fall student-athletes a season. Jay’s style of leadership ensures inspiration to his staff and coaches and presents himself as personable and approachable to student-athletes, as they are always first in line for his attention.”

Jay Moran

Sal Rizza

Nominated by a student, Sal Rizza, director of Orientation, Transition and Family Engagement, was described as having “contributed numerous outreaches and important knowledge to Southern students and people in general during this hard time for people fighting for a change in systemic racism. He has been a shoulder to cry on, person to reach out to, and an educator to fight for this change and make it possible for others to fight too.”

His nominator added that he recommended Rizza because students look up to him. Rizza has been on Instagram lives with students “to send positivity and distractions from being in quarantine,” wrote his nominator. “He has tried to give students a positive place to go, in order to feel like they are at home on Southern’s campus. There were many Instagram lives and event schedules that he and his orientation crew put together that truly helped me and other students during this time.” Rizza is also a part of the Orientation Ambassador Alumni group on Facebook, and his nominator wrote that he is “always available to reach out to and support those who are suffering through the tragedies in the black and brown communities.” Rizza, his nominator wrote, has always supported students and lifted them up through hard times, but “he has just truly shined through during this time. He was an amazing boss when I worked as an orientation ambassador during my time at Southern and he is an even more amazing person inside and out. Students are very lucky to have him on Southern’s campus.”

Sal Rizza

Meredith Sinclair

Nominated by a student, Meredith Sinclair, associate professor of English education, is described as having always been a supportive professor: “As soon as we went online” when the pandemic caused campus to close in the spring semester, her nominator wrote, “she assured us that our mental health was the first priority, and she adjusted our class to meet the needs of the students. Her biweekly TEAMS chats provided a place not only to discuss class content, but to express how we are feeling during these times.”

Sinclair taught an engaging class not just on the methods of teaching, but on unlearning racist biases in order to become better teachers, her nominator wrote. Sinclair is a member of the Educational Justice Collective at Southern as well and has reached out to the group to arrange discussions on teacher activism. Since the semester has ended, Professor Sinclair has continued to show her support for the Southern community by voicing her support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the end to racial injustice, especially within education, and attending protests.

Meredith Sinclair

Principal Susan DeNicola, '86, M.S. '90, 6th Yr. '99, with some of her charges. Student uniforms will be Owl blue next year. The school's mascot is an owlet.

Designed with the latest educational advances in mind, the Barack H. Obama Magnet University School opened on Southern’s campus on Jan. 7. By March 13, both the Obama School and the university had temporarily shuttered their buildings and were moving to remote/online learning in response to New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s call for citywide closures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. (Campus is opening for the fall 2020 semester.) But while students — both elementary age and Southern education majors — had worked in the new building for only a few months, the potential had already been demonstrated, and it’s a win-win for all involved.

For Southern students, the Obama School provides an opportunity for all-important experiential learning. The elementary school’s students and their teachers, in turn, benefit through additional support in the classroom from student-teachers and field workers — as well as the experience of Southern’s staff and faculty. An over-arching goal: to serve as a national model, highlighting best practices and promoting educational innovation.

The new elementary school is a collaboration between Southern, the New Haven Board of Education, and the city of New Haven. As such, it is a rarity — uniting a public university with a public school system.

Charles Warner Jr. meets the children in the school’s welcoming entryway.

“A lot of times, the schools found on college campuses are private enterprises, so they are selective. You pay tuition to go. The faculty’s kids attend,” says Stephen Hegedus, dean of the College of Education. In contrast, the Obama School is part of New Haven Public Schools, a magnet program that accepts students from regional school districts but primarily serves New Haven. The Obama School is designed to educate close to 500 students. It opened with classrooms for kindergarten through fourth grade. Looking forward, three preschool classrooms will be added, bringing 60 three- and four-year-old children into the fold.

“Part of our social justice mission is to create access for all kids. It just makes sense to me for the Obama School to have this connection with Southern, a public university in New Haven that has had a 100-plus-year mission dedicated to teacher and educator preparation of the highest-quality,” says Hegedus.

The Obama School — formerly known as the Strong 21st Century Communications Magnet — has evolved dramatically over many years. About six years ago, aided by grant funding, it became a magnet school with an educational focus on communications, technology, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Students receive instruction in Chinese and American Sign Language — and the elementary school was named a “School of Distinction” by for 2018-19, the most recently available data.

“With our technology, we’ve been able to open up the world to the kids,” says Susan DeNicola, ’86, M.S. ’90, 6th Yr. ’99, principal of the school for the past nine years.

But while the curriculum changed, the school, which had moved numerous times, was still located in an old building on Grand Avenue. It was welcoming and homey, teachers say. But there were serious issues. The building, situated on four streets, had a roof plagued with leaks. The playground was dilapidated, too dangerous for the children to use. Most-often mentioned: a lack of natural light. “In the other building we had very few windows — and what windows we did have were clouded up, so the kids could not see out. We had no ideas if it was pouring,” says DeNicola. “We had no idea if there was a hurricane.”

Now located on campus at 69 Farnham Ave., the Obama School is designed so sunlight streams into all interior spaces. A multistory, outside STEM room is lined with windows to stream light into the interior, including the cafeteria. Most classrooms are situated to provide views of West Rock and the surrounding forest of 200-plus-year-old trees. Cozy, built-in seating is located outside of classrooms, providing an ideal spot for tutors to work with students who might need additional support. There are dedicated music and art rooms as well as a STEM resource laboratory.

A multistory, outside STEM room is lined with windows to stream light into the interior, including the cafeteria.

A sensory room houses a ball pit, trampoline, and other activities, for students who need a physical outlet or support. There is a gym with basketball hoops — and an age-appropriate playground is adjacent to an outside STEM classroom with space for growing plants.

The building also is designed with Southern students and faculty in mind. A centrally located Faculty Innovation Lab visually demonstrates the school’s focus on teacher preparation. “I think of the school as a course textbook in a lot of ways,” says Laura Bower-Phipps, professor of curriculum and learning at Southern. In addition to inviting her students to tour the building, Bower- Phipps teaches a course — “Responsive Curriculum and Assessment” — in the Faculty Innovation Lab space. In the spring 2020 semester prior to the shift to online learning, 16 Southern students were placed at the Obama School: six were student-teachers and 10 were completing field experiences, the final step before taking a student-teacher assignment.

The partnership extends to Southern’s Center of Excellence on Autism Spectrum Disorders. “They have helped us out quite a bit. Training our teachers and bringing support to the school,” says DeNicola. The Obama School has two self-contained classrooms for students who are on the autism spectrum, serving up to 24 students. The collaboration between Southern’s Center of Excellence and New Haven Public Schools was established years ago by the center’s cofounder and former director, Ruth Eren. Services include professional- development opportunities for teachers, support-service providers, and paraprofessional as well as training and information sessions for parents and caregivers. “Our center team and the larger college community are eager to continue this collaboration, and excited about the myriad possibilities that exist for ongoing, bidirectional learning,” notes Kari Sassu, 6th Yr. ’15, associate professor of counseling and school psychology, and director of strategic initiatives at the center.

Hegedus concurs: “Having a presence there is important not only to help the teachers and the families but also to try to advance our overall knowledge of helping students who are on the spectrum.”

On World Read Aloud Day, the elementary school students had numerous visitors from the university, including Southern President Joe Bertolino (left) and Roland Regos.

These and similar goals have the educators at Southern and the Obama School eagerly looking to the future and students’ return to campus. Like their peers, fourth grade teacher Kayla Seeley, ’12, M.S. ’17, and second grade teacher Karissa L. O’Keefe, ’04, M.S. ’13, have thoughts about potential initiatives. Among their vision: Mentoring visits from Southern athletics teams. Collaborations with the Department of Communications Disorders. Halloween trick-or-treating on campus. Visits to Buley Library, the new science building, and the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts. Both stress the importance of showcasing college as the future to their young charges.

Principal DeNicola looks to the future as well: “We hope to really utilize campus, so our students get the most benefits . . . and we want to involve our student-teachers to the point that they feel like this [points around the school] is home. We want to be the teaching school. The school that teaches teachers.” ■

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Lewis DeLuca works with students on improving their financial literacy.

LendEDU, a website that helps consumers learn about and compare financial products, including student loans, has released its fourth annual report that recognizes the top 50 financial literacy programs in the country, and the program at Southern was featured in the top 50 for 2020. This the fourth consecutive year Southern’s program is nationally ranked.

See the full report here

The institutions were not ranked, but are listed in alphabetical order.

Southern has made financial literacy a priority by helping students pay for college. Students learn payment plan options as well as financial aid and scholarship opportunities through one-on-one advising, presentations, and resources.

A goal is to embed responsibility by providing strategies for short- and long-term financial obligations. Over 100 annual workshops such as Paying for College, $mart Money Management, Financial Aid 101, Credit Talk$, Budget Talk$, Scholarship Talk$, Life After College, and Loan Repayment Talk$ provide students with tools for successful personal finance. More than 4010 individual financial plans have been created and aligned with academic goals for timely degree completion.

Lew DeLuca, coordinator of Student Financial Literacy & Advising at Southern, says, “Financial literacy has always been an email or phone call away for a timely and comprehensive response in addition to in person and walk-in appointments. During the COVID challenges, those appointments have obviously been virtual but still extremely effective.  No matter the circumstances, Financial Literacy’s commitment to excellence and support will always be there for any current, prospective, and alumni students and their families to support paying for college and all other financial literacy needs.”

Financial literacy, especially as it relates to college financing decisions, is more important now than ever before because of the economic impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on so many American households, according to the LendEDU website.

To compile the fourth annual rankings, hundreds of financial literacy programs were rated on three things: (1) the number of workshops and resources available; (2) access to one-on-one financial consultation; (3) incentivizing programs available.


#SouthernStrong graphic with photo collage of SCSU students, faculty, staff, and alumni
As the university prepares to reopen, here’s a look at how the Southern community responded to the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic — and upheld its commitment to education.

First, the good news. Southern’s physical campus is slated to reopen for fall 2020, with classes beginning on Aug. 26, following a staggered move-in for residence hall students. Courses will be offered in a HyFlex model, a combination of on-ground and online courses. Public health guidelines will be followed (face coverings, class size, etc.) and, if the need arises, the university is prepared to pivot to an all online schedule. The goal is to complete the entire fall semester as scheduled, with one caveat – on-ground classes will end at the Thanksgiving break. After Thanksgiving, all remaining classes and final exams will be held online and all student services will be offered remotely.

The plan is a promising return to normalcy for the campus community.

The first campus-wide warning came in January: an email with tips for fighting seasonal influenza included a sentence about the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan, China. The news became increasingly dire in the following weeks, and, on Feb. 26, U.S. officials reported the first non-travel-related case of the illness now officially known as COVID-19.

On campus, the disease’s rapid-fire spread came to light on March 10, after a Southern student attended an event where another participant later tested positive for the virus. Southern’s physical campus was closed (initially for five days) for a deep cleaning, a process that included licensed professionals in HAZMAT suits.Southern’s campus has remained shuttered through spring and summer to date, following the Office of the Governor’s directives for statewide closures and the decision of the Connecticut State Universities and Colleges system.

At the macro-level, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented: in early June when the university magazine in which this article first appeared went to press, there were more than 1,800,000 cases and 106,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — figures that have been tragically surpassed today. Like the nation and, indeed, much of the world, Southern is mourning profound losses. Students, university employees, and alumni have become ill from the virus, some seriously. While impossible to track all cases, Southern graduates have died from COVID-19.  No student has died from the virus as of June 24. The university is also navigating a new world order, driven by an overarching directive: ensuring the health and welfare of the Southern community and the community-at-large.

To be clear, the university was never closed. Instead, over a 10-day period that corresponded with students’ spring break, faculty prepared to adopt remote/online learning for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. On March 23, all Southern courses began being offered remotely /online, with summer sessions soon following suit. With fall’s campus opening in sight, here’s a look at some of Southern’s initial responses to the early phases of the pandemic.

More at:

Demographic of SCSU students, Grad assistants/interns/faculty/staff, with collage images
The People:

Piloting Southern through the COVID-19 pandemic is complex. The university is a home-away-from-home for 11,072 people — more residents than 44 percent of cities/towns in Connecticut. In spring 2020, the Southern community included 9,212 students (1), a figure that comprises 7,456 undergraduates and 1,756 graduate students, both full- and part-time. There are also 2,050 faculty and staff, including some 190 students working as graduate assistants/interns.

FEMA setting up cots in response to Covid-19 at SCSU Moore Fieldhouse
Changing Places:

On March 31, 2020, the National Guard began assembling a 300-bed “Connecticut Medical Station” inside Southern’s Moore Fieldhouse [above]. (2) Designed as “overflow” space for Yale New Haven-Hospital in anticipation of a surge of COVID-10 patients, the facility fortunately had not been needed as of early June. The university also made available 2,500 rooms in nine residence halls, which were used minimally to house some National Guard staff.

A New Way of Working:

Following the governor’s mandate for statewide closures, about 1,662 faculty and staff began working remotely. They are responsible for most university operations — from admissions and teaching to information technology and health services. Those designated essential employees — 34 unsung heroes as of press time — continue to regularly report to campus. Among them: the police chief and officers, and the facilities team, including grounds crew, custodians, receiving staff, mailroom workers, supervisors, dispatchers, and building tradesmen.  An additional 116 employees are on-campus on an interim basis.

Chart showing pre- and post-Covid remote learning accounts, participants, and sessions

Teaching Remotely:

Between mid-March and the end of the month, the Office of Online Learning held more than 70 webinars — including individual and group support sessions. The focus was on teaching/learning through the use of several platforms: WebEx (web conferencing), Teams (an online communication and collaboration platform), Kaltura (video), and Blackboard (educational technology). In April, the office also held a three-day online Teaching Academy, with all sessions filled to capacity. In addition to the staff from the Office of Online Learning, faculty volunteers have helped with training.

SCSU Academic Success Center has Coach Team Meeting online

Academic Support:

The Academic Success Center is working virtually to help students succeed. The center’s hours have stayed the same and its tutors, 100 PALS (Peer Academic Leaders who focus on gateway and foundational courses), Academic Success Coaches, and more than 200 student workers all mobilized online through Microsoft Teams. “The short answer is we’re here,” says Kathleen De Oliveira, director of the ASC. “We want them to succeed. Just like before, all they have to do is come and ask.”

Buley Library:

The building is closed, but the library is open for business, with 100 percent of staff working remotely. They’re a busy group. Between the shutdown and mid-May, they redesigned their web page to promote online resources and services (100,000 visitors), answered 180 questions from students, hosted numerous online events (including an online exhibit for National Poetry Month), and even used 3D printing to create mask components for health care workers at UConn Health. Since the shutdown, they’ve also activated 3,500-plus online resources, including thousands of ebooks and streaming videos.

A Global Issue:

The pandemic has been particularly challenging for students who were far from home. There were 13 Southern students studying abroad during the spring 2020 semester: 10 returned home in mid-March and three signed waivers after deciding to remain in their host countries. International students studying at Southern — both exchange students and those who are matriculated at SCSU — were helped by the Office of International Studies (OIS) and, when needed, Residence Life. (They coordinated flights and airport shuttles, ensured access to food and housing, and much more.) The 26 international exchange students studying at Southern this spring returned home by early April. But many of the 65 matriculated international students remained in the U.S., staying with extended family or in campus-sponsored accommodations at an extended stay hotel with other students.
Looking forward, Southern is holding strong to its long-term commitment to international education. Intercultural engagement and global diversity in the classroom “are the antidote to the isolationism and nationalism that the pandemic has fueled in some parts of the world,” says Erin Heidkamp, director of the Office of International Education.

SCSU student and Army National Guard member Renee Villarreal with baby
Renee Villarreal — parent, student, Army National Guard member
The Ties that Bind:

“The current situation is hard for students,” says Sal Rizza, director of New and Sophomore Programs, reflecting on the spring 2020 semester. “We’re trying to bring a little life and enjoyment. There are a ton of activities happening.” Among them: SCSU Music Trivia, The Dan Baronski Hour (peer mentor and orientation ambassador Baronski talks fashion and music), Cooking with Kyra, Coffee Chat with Student Involvement, and more.

Campus Recreation and Fitness held programs to get students moving, including a live-stream workout with President Joe Bertolino and his trainer, Hunter Fluegel, that drew about 300 viewers. Similarly, more than 200 students and 100 faculty and staff signed up for A Southern Strong Step Challenge. Many student clubs also met online, with Daphney Alston assistant director of Student Involvement, noting that the university is “really proud of how clubs and organizations have tried to figure out this new normal.”

SCSU President Joe Bertolino and volunteers deliver lawn signs to 2020 future graduates


With large gatherings prohibited, Southern is holding a virtual commencement ceremony for undergraduate and graduate students on Aug. 15 — and also found ways to immediately honor students safely. More than 1,000 celebratory yard signs were delivered to graduates; an emotional virtual pinning ceremony was held for graduating nursing majors; and seniors submitted photos and memories for a virtual yearbook and social media spotlights.

Helping Hands:

When the Southern campus closed suddenly in mid-March, Chartwells was left with an abundance of food. That’s when an existing food recovery program run by Southern’s Office of Sustainability and Chartwells sprang into action. Several students and Chartwells staff packaged more than 300 pounds of food for delivery to St. Anne’s Soup Kitchen in Hamden, Park Ridge Tower Affordable Senior Living in New Haven, and Monterey Place Senior Living in New Haven.
There were countless other outreach efforts. Southern police collected equipment from university labs/clinics to assist in relieving the PPE shortage, numerous community members made and donated face coverings, Buley Library staff 3D printed components for face masks, and more.

You helped, too:

Responding to students’ heightened need, more than 1,000 donors contributed over $500,000 during Southern’s Day of Caring, held on April 22.

SCSU Alumni collage during Covid-19 pandemic

Alumni Pride:

Thoughts are also with our alumni, many of whom are in the frontlines of fighting the pandemic. Among them are more than 11,000 graduates of the College of Health and Human Services. Similarly, as the largest educator of teachers and educational administrators in the state, Southern salutes its graduates of the College of Education — who have turned to technology to educate their young charges.

Through it all, our 93,500-plus alumni have remained a source of pride, strength, and optimism. Consider Fairfield, Conn., couple Maureen and Dan Rosa (3), both graduates of the Class of 2010, who met as Southern students in 2006. Tragically, Maureen’s father Gary Mazzone was among those killed in the crash of a World War II-era B-17 bomber plane on Oct. 2, 2019, at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. A year later, the couple faced the fear of welcoming their first child during the epicenter of the pandemic. And, yet, they persevered and triumphed — and the media heralded their joy on April 2 when they welcomed their new daughter: Cecilia Hope Rosa.

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Kwadir Delgado-McIntyre

As he heads into his senior year, rising football star Kwadir Delgado-McIntyre, ’21, was recently profiled on NFL Draft Diamonds. Not only is Delgado-McIntyre tackling opponents on the field, he’s a star in the classroom as well, boasting a 3.6 GPA, and he received five scholarships this past academic year.

In addition to playing football, Delgado-McIntyre work for the University in Card Services as well as Procurement Services. He is majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing.

Read about Delgado-McIntyre and his professional prospects (by Jimmy Williams, May 18, 2020)


Kwadir Delgado-McIntyre

In a time when many organizations are cancelling summer internships due to COVID-19, Cetera Investors has hired seven School of Business students for their summer internship program: Japheth Allen, Esosa Enagbare, Naseem Foster, Troy Gallipoli, Daniel Noce, Mariam Noorzad, and Eddie Schwartz.

Internships are an important indicator of future success, and Patty Conte, Internship Coordinator for the Business Success Center, continues to be committed to helping students find quality internships and businesses find bright, hard-working interns.

Conte says, “According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers reported converting an average of 51.7 percent of their eligible interns into full-time hires. Knowing that statistic, we are proud of the partnership the School of Business has had with Cetera Investors and are excited that these seven students are able to take advantage of this critical experiential learning opportunity. Cetera and Jason Phillips, VP and North Haven Branch Manager, have consistently provided excellent internships for our School of Business students. Jason and his team focus not only on the day-to-day experience of what a financial advisor might do, but they also focus on student self-growth.”

The Cetera Investors Internship program allows students to build practical knowledge of financial services concepts including financial planning strategies, client engagement skills, and presentation skills. It also allows students to experience the culture and mission of Cetera Investors in a very practical manner.

Jason Phillips says, “I am very excited to have a number of students from Southern participate in our Virtual Summer Internship Program! Circumstances dictated a shift from our normal shoulder to shoulder experiential learning program and the students from Southern have adapted quickly! Southern Connecticut State University is an important strategic partner to Cetera Investors for sourcing both entry level candidates for our internship and adviser training program as well as more experienced people from its extensive alumni network.”

Business students who would like support in their job or internship searches or would like resume, cover letter, or mock interview help, contact Patty Conte at



Sarah Hammond

Before her junior year in high school, Sarah Hammond, M.S. ‘20, had never heard of a speech-language pathologist (SLP), nor did she envision herself becoming one. But two things happened that changed her mind.

“My mom mentioned the idea of being a speech pathologist because I enjoyed my Spanish classes and really enjoyed language,” Hammond said. “She also said that since I always liked working with kids, this would just be a more specific way of teaching them.”

Then, Hammond’s high school teacher encouraged students to explore health professions-themed career options for a special project.

“I remember reading the description of what an SLP does and deciding that I was interested,” Hammond said.

Alongside her passion for working with kids, Hammond found that as an SLP — professionals who work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, and cognitive-communication disorders — she would have the chance to help others in a profound way.

“I think communication is a basic human right, and I wanted to help those with communication disorders to get their messages across effectively,” she said.

Hammond enrolled in Southern’s Master of Science in Communication Disorders degree program with a major in speech-language pathology after receiving a B.S. in communication disorders and a B.A. in linguistics with a minor in psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. During her first year at Southern, she was a member of SCSU’s grad chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA).

She served as the President of the Graduate Student Affairs Committee, a role in which Rosalyn Amenta, Assistant to the Dean of Student Affairs and member of the women’s and gender studies faculty, said Hammond really shone.

“Sarah quickly demonstrated her outstanding leadership style,” Amenta said. “She led with grace and intelligence and was always committed to new initiatives, inclusion, team-building, and operating by consensus. As the faculty advisor to GSAC, I am grateful for the professionalism that she brought to the role.”

Hammond also participated in an advanced clinical placement, interning part-time at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London in an outpatient rehab setting, in addition to the inpatient acute setting. Her internship took place January through March 2020, just as cases of COVID-19 were surfacing.

“The placement was incredibly rewarding, as I got to treat both kids and adults in all nine different domains of this field,” she said. “But COVID-19 really had an impact. I started to notice lots of restrictions being placed,” including the protocols for cleaning and disinfecting.

In the interest of safety, Lawrence and Memorial made the decision to have students in positions similar to Hammond’s leave internships in order to conserve personal protective equipment. She will complete her second school-based practicum June 22, which she has been conducting from her home on Zoom.

Despite the interruption in hands-on experience, Hammond said that experiencing COVID’s effect on the educational system put her at an advantage.

“I am learning how teletherapy (online speech therapy) works,” she said. “I will have this skill set of giving services online forever after this, which is incredibly helpful when applying for jobs, especially considering how COVID-19 has impacted work life. There are many conversations about how the future of education will look while following social distancing rules.”

Looking back on her educational experience, Hammond said her decision to pursue SLP — which was influenced by her mother and that fateful high school assignment —  is confirmed every time someone is able to communicate what they want to because of speech therapy, especially now, during the protests inspired by George Floyd’s death.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with other SLPs about how we can continue to amplify the voices of those that have been silenced for years, both in our field and in our own personal lives,” Hammond said. “I think the opportunity to help someone express their thoughts in a way that they never had before is the greatest privilege.”

After graduation, Hammond plans to work in a school as a school-based SLP for her clinical fellowship year in order to get her SLP license. Eventually she would like to come back to Southern for her Ph.D. in communication disorders.

“I had many clinical instructors [at Southern] that helped me to understand both the clinical and professional aspects of this field,” she said. “All of the professors in the Communication Disorders Department are incredibly intelligent and have tons of clinical experience to share. I believe I will be a better SLP because of SCSU’s program and professors.”



The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly presents our ninth 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 Rondell Butler, Adam Cohen, Chelsea Harry, Debra Risisky, and Barbara Tinney 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!

Rondell Butler
Nominated by three staff colleagues, Rondell Butler is recognized as an exceptional member of the Registrar’s Office staff who goes above and beyond in demonstrating commitment to students and the community on a daily basis. His supervisor has many examples of Rondell responding to calls to speak to area high schools and student groups to share information about Southern, personally delivering transcripts to scholarship organizations on behalf of students, calming upset students and more. These activities are not part of Butler’s regular job description, but he does them because, in the words of his supervisor, “that’s just who he is.” Among his fellow administrative support employees, he is a leader they seek out for guidance and assistance with challenging student service situations because they trust him to bring grace, compassion, and respect to every interaction. “We’re grateful to have someone with Rondell’s integrity and service orientation on the Enrollment Management team,” wrote one nominator.

Another colleague noted in his nomination of Butler, “Rondell without question is an ambassador for the university. He does not hesitate to contribute above and beyond that which is required. His investment in the community on behalf of the university is remarkable. He not only volunteers as a presenter to youth and other community based groups, but also shares opportunities with other colleagues and coworkers encouraging their involvement. I recommend him without reservation.”

A third colleague wrote of Butler, “Mr. Butler is a major asset to SCSU. Knowledgeable, Hard working, fair, honest, loyal for starters. He solves problems, reviews all matters, Fantastic Human Being teammate.”

Rondell Butler

Adam Cohen
Adam Cohen, head women’s soccer coach, has been an outstanding source of leadership, guidance, and inspiration for the women’s soccer team and others during this pandemic, wrote his nominator, a fellow staff member. Cohen is in communication with the the student-athletes everyday on a variety of topics, including monitoring their academic involvement, checking on their families, sending motivational messages and COVID information, and keeping tabs on their overall well-being. Cohen’s nominator wrote that “He is providing the resources that show the student-athletes that they are cared for in a complete manner at SCSU. He has been accessible at all times for players to call or have video chats with so that they may discuss whatever is on their minds during this unprecedented time….and many have come to him and will continue to. Individually during this time he has continued to better himself by taking part in many webinars so that he may better serve the student-athletes of SCSU. The group is in a good place collectively as a result of Adam Cohen’s guidance.”

Adam Cohen

Chelsea Harry
Chelsea Harry, associate professor of philosophy, “has gone above and beyond in volunteering relative to food insecurity in the New Haven area during the pandemic,” wrote her nominator, a student. Her nominator explains that Harry has been on many food runs (picking up food from certain places and delivering them to people’s houses) and has worked with local soup kitchens many times to provide food for those in need. Most importantly, Harry’s nominator wrote, she “has extensively educated her students in her Honors 300 Service Learning course about what food insecurity is and how they can help in making a difference during this time of need by giving them the resources necessary to participate in food runs and volunteerism themselves, as well as discussions of the real effects that a lack of food has on society in such an unprecedented time.”

Chelsea Harry

Debra Risisky
Nominated by a student, Associate Professor of Public Health Debra Risisky is, the student wrote, “the person who opened my eyes to my white privilege as a white woman in America. Dr. Risisky taught me about equity, health disparities and social justice issues and how it is our responsibility to make change. Before I crossed paths with Dr. Risisky at Southern, I was blind to my privilege and had not put much thought into the struggles that BIPOC face every single day. Dr. Risisky encourages us to vote, march and demand justice. She’s an honorable woman and she has an incredible impact on students like me. During the outpour of Black Lives Matters and demanding justice for the lives lost due to racism and a broken system I decided to take direct action. This week I have sold vegan comfort meals out of my home to raise money for Black Lives Matter Global Network. As of today, I have raised $1,100 for the cause. I say this with my whole heart, if I did not cross paths with Dr. Risisky and open my eyes to the racial inequality and inequities, this money would not have been raised. Social justice is something I am very passionate about and will continue to speak out on for the rest my life and this is because of what Dr.Risisky taught me. Dr. Risisky has an incredible impact on her students and she is creating serious change for our generation.”

Debra Risisky

Barbara Tinney
Nominated by a student, Barbara Tinney, assistant professor of social work, was lauded for helping her students to stay on track after classes were moved online due to the pandemic. Her nominator wrote that Tinney “checked in with her each and every student at the beginning of each WebEx meeting. She also relaxed due dates at the beginning of the online transition, allowing us to plan ahead and lower the stress and anxiety that surfaced through this transition. She communicated consistently! For me, this was imperative to my academic success because I have an anxiety disorder and I felt my mind and body shutting down through this tough time. She made me feel that my learning was just as important to her as it was to myself! Thank you for providing a platform to recognize her efforts!”

Barbara Tinney