The SCSU President’s Commission on Social Justice Recognition Committee proudly presents our fourteenth group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who have been 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 Melisa Beecher, Mikayla Bruton, Phil Bryant, Dee Dee Dahlman, Shermaine Edmonds, Adam Gerstein, Erin Heidkamp, Lisa Kortfelt, Cassi Meyerhoffer, Chelsea Ortiz, Barbara Paris, Robin Peters, Angela Ruggiero, Stanley Seligas, Cynthia Shea-Luzik, Cindy Simoneau, Alisa St.Georges, Jacqueline Toce, and Vu Trieu for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness have been making a positive impact during this difficult time.
Student Melisa Beecher has not missed a beat when it comes to updating the True Blue Owls social media platforms, her nominator wrote, adding that “She has demonstrated that even when times get tough, you persevere and push through. Some of her posts on Instagram during the beginning of the pandemic and campus closing received the most traction on their page. This is because she tried to use uplifting stories and pictures of her baby Otus to bring the morale of the Southern Community back to campus. She continued to update the Southern community and keep everyone happy while staying safe as well as Southern Strong, throughout the entire campus closing. Even today she continues to post and use baby Otus as a tool to bring happiness and joy to all of her fellow Owls. After all, we are all connected to our ONE Southern, Owl Nation of Owls Helping Owls.”
Mikayla Bruton was nominated by a fellow student, who wrote that Bruton is SouthernStrong because she has been taking two summer classes while still battling COVID-19 at her job as a PCA. Her nominator wrote that Bruton “radiates the utmost positivity and loves to ensure her patients are receiving the best care possible. She always makes sure to check in with you even though her schedule is always packed with things to do. Being such a busy person, Mikayla still continues to care for those around her and is genuinely such a kind person to all.”
Coordinator of High-Tech Classrooms Phil Bryant was nominated by a campus administrator, who wrote that Bryant “has been instrumental in getting 20 Hy-Flex (Hybrid-Flexible) classrooms configured with new technology needs while under critical time constraints and with minimal resources. The rooms are designed to enable simultaneous teaching of students in the room as well as online.”
The first 12 classrooms were completed last week and the last eight will be done by August 14, according to Bryant’s nominator. Bryant, he wrote, was “very responsive and did a tremendous job coordinating efforts with Facilities, other IT Staff and multiple vendors including HB Communications (AudioVisual), Mercury Communications (network wiring), Purchasing, and Receiving” and did all this within an eight-week window, while still handling normal operations.
Dee Dee Dahlman
Nominated by a colleague, Dee Dee Dahlman, IT Coordinator for Residence Life, has been working tirelessly to support the housing assignment needs for Southern students. Dahlman’s nominator wrote that she “has operationalized all housing adjustments in billing, configured rooms to meet current occupancy guidelines, and is now working diligently to get students assigned to housing and fill residence hall beds. Dee is remarkably dedicated to our students and our program!”
Nominated by a member of the university administration, Shermaine Edmonds, administrative assistant in the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, “has shown an exemplary dedication to students’ academic success and personal wellbeing.” Her nominator wrote that Edmonds’ “work ethic and effectiveness to complete projects and tasks support the School of Graduate and Professional Studies in achieving new successes in terms of building enrollments and moving convincingly in new strategic directions. She is knowledgeable and the go-to person for all of us. Her professionalism, positive personality, and great sense of humor helps the SGPS team feel like a family working together to make positive change in the lives of our students. During Covid times she was at the forefront of our campus office transition to virtual office and led the multidimensional coordination from IT to Budget to student services, and to outreach activities very successfully. She has very deservingly earned respect and affection of everyone in our team. She is an inspiration and defines our strength!”
Adam Gerstein, Technical Support Engineer in IT, was nominated by a faculty member, who wrote that, “During the COVID-19, Adam has offered the WLL department for various technological consultations. When the department decided to distribute the Ipad pro to the full-time faculty members for teaching preparation. Adam helps the lab director to check in the supervision account and try out the devices and prepare to provide the solutions for us. Adam is very proactive and responsible. He always explains how he is going to solve the problems, which gives us a whole picture to understand problem-solving progress. We appreciate Adam and his effort should be recognized.”
Erin Heidkamp, the director of the Office of International Education, was nominated by a colleague, who wrote, “The pandemic has disrupted our campus community in dramatic and difficult ways including the loss of our sense of international community. Our international students have suffered a great deal as a result of the pandemic and the Presidential proclamation in recent weeks, they have faced great uncertainty about their futures and Erin has been a fierce advocate and compassionate source of stability as we navigated this situation. Additionally, our Southern students have lost the opportunity to study abroad but through Erin’s vision for a virtual ‘Owls in Flight’ international exchange, students have had the opportunity to connect with students at our partner institutions all over the world from the safety of their homes. In the face of uncertainty, disappointment, and disruption, Erin has remained committed to fostering international community and connection. At a time when International Education as a sector is being challenged like never before, Erin has found innovative ways to continue to provide our international and domestic students not only with the support they need, but with new and exciting opportunities to develop global connections and cultural exchange. It is through her guidance and leadership that the Office of International Education has remained a steadfast resource for our international and domestic students.”
Nominated by a university administrator, Lisa Kortfelt, the director of environmental health and safety for the University, has played the lead role in developing all safety measures in compliance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC). According to her nominator, she has worked tirelessly with faculty, staff and facilities personnel to prepare the campus for opening and has gone so far as to meet with vendors at 4 a.m. to review facilities and necessary campus installations.
Nominated by a faculty colleague, Cassi Meyerhoffer, associate professor of sociology, has “completely immersed herself in racial justice work over the past few months.” Her nominator wrote that Meyerhoffer has worked to support antiracist organizing in Hamden and New Haven, particularly around ending police brutality, and has also “helped organize white accountability and learning spaces to further help challenge fellow white people to deeply understand and then undo racism.” Meyerhoffer’s research and teaching interests are in the areas of systemic racism, racial residential segregation, and the role of race in American policing.
Chelsea Ortiz, the Department of Nursing‘s information and admissions coordinator, was nominated by a faculty colleague. However, wrote Ortiz’s nominator, “she is more than her title. Chelsea is one of the most invaluable members of our department. Chelsea takes on projects, and streamlines processes without being asked. She is helpful to all of us in whatever role we hold in the department. She has an open door policy with the students. Always ready to help them. They know they can contact her and she will be there. During the pandemic she has continued to not only do her job but continued to look for new ways to support the students during these very uncertain times. She’s not only supportive of our current students, but also all the incoming students who have a multitude of concerns as they start their education in nursing and reach out to her to get answers.”
Nominated by a student, Rabbi Barbara Paris is the advisor to Southern’s Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus. Throughout COVID-19, her nominator wrote, “Rabbi Barbara has continued to be a mentor, educator, and ally. She has not let this global pandemic dim her spirit or her passion for connecting with students. She adapted without hesitation to our new online format and not only continued to be involved in campus life but spread her impact even further.”
As the Hillel advisor, Paris has been offering opportunities for students to learn about Judaism and take part in Jewish customs virtually. Beginning in April, and still occurring every Friday afternoon, Paris hosts Hebrew classes over Zoom, and later in the evening, she hosts a Shabbat candle lighting service. “Because of her,” Paris’ nominator wrote, “I (and several other students) can now read Hebrew and am learning about my culture.”
Every week for Shabbat, her nominator wrote, Paris has one student take the weekly Parsha (a weekly portion of the Torah) and deliver a commentary. “I have found this to be tremendously interesting and also inspiring,” her nominator wrote. “She is challenging me to delve into the Torah, offer my own interpretations, and engage in conversation with others. She has been such a light in the exceptionally trying times and has given me an outlet to not only learn but to express myself.”
Paris also hosted a virtual Passover Seder in April. Hillel club members joined her and her family as they learned about and celebrated Passover. Paris also assembled and delivered Passover baskets filled with traditional foods for senior citizens and those in need in her community.
Paris’ nominator wrote that “Rabbi Barbara has responded to this pandemic with such kindness, compassion, and perseverance. I am so grateful that I have had her throughout all of this. She has truly been an ally and I know I can reach out to her whenever I need to. She is not letting this pandemic deter her from helping others, whether that be through Zoom calls or by delivering a challah from 6 feet away. She truly epitomizes ‘SouthernStrong’ and is keeping her spirit high while raising the spirits of those around her.”
Nominated by a staff member, Purchasing Assistant Robin Peters “has helped to keep purchasing moving smoothly during this chaotic time in our lives. She has been patient in explaining what docs are needed for each specific process while at the same time getting everything handled in a timely manner,” her nominator wrote, adding, “Things would be a mess if [Peters] wasn’t there to help keep things organized and moving along with all the vendors and contracts that come across her desk.”
Angela Ruggiero was nominated by a university administrator, who called her “one of the most dedicated and enthusiastic academic advisors on our campus.” In her new role as associate director of Healthcare Studies, her nominator wrote, Ruggiero “works tirelessly to guide new and continuing students through this degree program or prepare to submit applications to our nursing program. She provides outstanding training and mentoring to her staff. She does her job quietly and with great humility. She encourages, inspires, and celebrates our students’ successes.”
A member of the Facilities Operations staff, Stanley Seligas was nominated by a campus administrator, who wrote that Seligas has helped to lead the preparation for classrooms for the return to campus. His nominator wrote that Seligas “has met with faculty and staff to determine location of plexiglass and other necessary preparations for the safety of students, faculty and staff. He has ordered PPE and supervised the installation of all safety measures related to the virus and a safe return to campus.”
Manager of Procurement Services Cynthia Shea-Luzik was nominated by a colleague, who wrote, “I am strongly recommending Cynthia Shea-Luzik because since COVID19 hit she has been working tirelessly with facilities, residence life and other areas to secure PPE products to protect our students, faculty and staff. She has done extensive research to find quality products while paying close attention to the University’s bottom line all while continuing to do her job as the Manager of Procurement Services. During COVID she has become one of the ‘go to’ persons for all things related to dealing with preparations for COVID, answering phone calls and emails at all hours of the day and night.”
Cindy Simoneau, chair of the Journalism Department, was nominated by a faculty member, who wrote that Simoneau “always goes above and beyond — but especially so in response to COVID-19. In her many roles as a campus leader, she has worked tirelessly since campus transitioned to remote learning.”
As Journalism Department chair, Simoneau has been in constant communication with full-time faculty and adjuncts, keeping all up-to-date on the return to campus in the fall. Her nominator wrote that Simoneau has held countless meetings, both one-on-one and as groups, to help answer questions and hear faculty concerns. She helped organize a virtual retirement party for Journalism Professor Jerry Dunklee, incorporating more than 50 people, including Journalism alumni, faculty, and his family members. She also planned and led a graduation celebration for the department’s seniors.
As chair of UCF, Simoneau helped the large committee finish out the semester without complication, completing important university business while faculty were still navigating the new normal. She continues to work behind the scenes to get UCF ready for business in the fall.
As adviser to two campus media outlets (The Southern News and Crescent magazine), Simoneau guided students through coverage of important campus issues, and pushed them to think of new ways to complete their work.
Nominated by a colleague, Alisa St.Georges is an administrative assistant in the Office of the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Her nominator wrote that “as soon as the university shut down, Alisa swung into action…coordinating with the Health & Human Services department secretaries to make sure we had access to everything we needed to successfully work from home. She has organized weekly meetings so that the secretaries feel connected to each other and to the university, giving us a ‘safe place’ to air our concerns and anxieties as well as share successes and workarounds. Alisa is constantly sharing updates regarding policies and procedures, the fall reopening, and everything else that may be relevant. She is always available to answer questions and never hesitates to lend a helping hand. As a new SCSU employee, it would have been very easy for me to feel completely overwhelmed when the university suddenly switched to remote operations – but knowing Alisa was there to help really lowered my stress level and enabled me to focus on learning and performing my duties. In addition, she has provided unlimited training and insight, all while remaining upbeat and positive about everything. Alisa has so many of her own responsibilities, but she has unselfishly taken on so much more in order to ensure the continued success of HHS and every single person who works with her!!”
Nominated by a colleague, Jackie Toce is the Head of Technical Services in Buley Library. While a lot of the work done in the Technical Services division is “behind the scenes,” her nominator wrote, its impact is not — the library added over 70,000 electronic resources to its collection since March. As the division head, Toce has worked with library faculty and staff colleagues to ensure that everyone in the Technical Services division had what they needed to get that work done while telecommuting.
Toce coordinated with the other supervisor in the division to make sure that staff had what they needed to complete their projects and to provide opportunities for staff professional development, especially as staff shifted toward more electronic resources and online services. Toce also personally cataloged thousands of those newly added resources to make them accessible in Southern Search. Her nominator wrote that Toce “has also repeatedly considered the good of the the division and the library in making decisions about her own schedule, professional development opportunities, and work.”
At the system level, Toce participated in the CSCU libraries’ response to the pandemic as the Expert Team leader for Resource Management for which, among other things, she quickly reviewed records for hundreds of temporarily added resources to facilitate their prompt inclusion in the libraries’ catalogs.
Vu Trieu, director of User Services in IT, was nominated by a campus administrator, who wrote that Trieu “has been instrumental in getting 20 Hy-Flex (Hybrid-Flexible) classrooms configured with new technology needs while under critical time constraints and with minimal resources. The rooms are designed to enable simultaneous teaching of students in the room as well as online.”
The first 12 classrooms were completed last week and the last eight will be done by August 14, according to Trieu’s nominator. Trieu, he wrote, was “very responsive and did a tremendous job coordinating efforts with Facilities, other IT Staff and multiple vendors including HB Communications (AudioVisual), Mercury Communications (network wiring), Purchasing, and Receiving” and did all this within an eight-week window, while still handling normal operations.