Monthly Archives: September 2020

If you think you know Southern Connecticut State University just because it’s located in the state where you live, think again. The university offers incredible faculty-student support; award-winning academic programs; a diverse and socially minded student body; established relationships with Connecticut-based industry; a modern, “green” campus; and more. Faculty and graduates include Olympic athletes, top-rated educators, esteemed authors, prize-winning artists and musicians, Fulbright scholars, successful entrepreneurs…you get the idea.

“You might think of Southern as the school that’s in your backyard, but Southern dares you to dream big,” Admissions Director Alick Letang said. “And you don’t have to go far away from home to dream big.”

Whether you’re certain about your area of study or still deciding, Southern offers more than 225 majors, programs and concentrations, as well as academic advising and support along the way. There’s marine studies and social work, nursing, and sport and entertainment management — programs truly run the gamut from seaside to sport arena, and everything in between.

“Students can find their exact interest or explore quite a bit as they find themselves and build on their goals,” Letang said. “From academic services to career development to university access, you will always have guidance should you desire help as you navigate this important chapter of your life.”

Admission Director Alick Letang

While the university may be large — the campus is 171 acres and roughly 10,000 students enroll annually — its architectural design lends a secure, small-scale feel.

“The intentional design and landscaping, and the closeness of the faculty, staff, and students, that creates the feel of a small campus,” Letang said. “You don’t feel like you’re lost in the crowd. You feel like you’re part of a community, but there’s space to grow. You’ll meet someone new every day should you desire, but you can still find your close-knit family.”

The Office of New Student and Sophomore Programs is a great on-campus resource that helps students navigate life at Southern and it is how, according to Letang, students become part of the community before they even enroll. First-year students and transfer students attend orientation, where they learn about campus resources and receive academic advising. Transfer students also learn how to identify ways to find connections on campus.

“Plenty of students transfer. In fact, about one-third of students will change schools before earning a degree,” Letang said. “We have a wide range of opportunities, and we strive to make the process of transferring easy. We care about the whole student, not classroom size. When you become a Southern Owl, you should be engaged and energized, whether you started here on day one or day 101.”

The blend of students, from undergraduate to doctorate, from international to transfer, helps build a unique, global community on campus.

“Southern is an institution committed to diversity, and it reflects our community,” Letang said. “It’s our mission to be a global platform. Students come, learn, participate, and foster growth for themselves and others. We pursue excellence and empower our students. A true Owl always expects more and strives for more.”

Strong faculty-student connections support that pursuit, virtually and in person. The student-faculty ratio at Southern is 13:1, which means your professor not only knows your name, he or she knows how to support you along the way. And forget about being taught to. Education at Southern is collaborative.

“Whether they are undergraduate or graduate, faculty interact with students in a give-and-share way,” Letang said. Some examples, depending on major, are research and mentoring opportunities that put students in a hands-on role alongside faculty. Internships bring that learn-by-doing approach into the workplace, complementing course work and taking career skills to the next level.

Still unsure if Southern is a good fit for you? Letang has a few parting words of advice: “Start here! Start somewhere you’re comfortable, safe and secure. It will allow you to expand your global thinking and your life. Southern is the footprint for so many pre-professional programs and graduate schools and doctorate schools. You can start here, and soon it will be your home away from home.”

David Pettigrew with Bakira Hasečić outside of the Pionirska Street House in Višegrad, where nearly 60 civilians (women, children, and elderly) were burned alive in 1992.

In an article in the Fall 2020 issue of VQR (The Virginia Quarterly Review), journalist Jack Hitt recounts a trip to Bosnia he took in August 2019, accompanied by Philosophy Professor David Pettigrew, upon whose research Hitt’s article is generally based. As Hitt explains the purpose of his trip, “Theoretically, I traveled to the Balkans to look at statues, memorials, even plaques on buildings because I’d heard how new sculpture and construction were rewriting a violent history right on top of the land where it happened.” The violent history he refers to is the genocide that began in the Balkans in 1992 when Serb nationalists in Bosnia attacked the country’s Muslims, the Bosniaks. Pettigrew has extensively researched, written, and spoken about this period in Balkans’ history and its aftermath.

In the article, “More Lasting than Bronze: Touring the Architecture of Revisionism,” Hitt writes of Pettigrew, “For the last several years, Pettigrew has campaigned inside Bosnia and from his desk in New Haven for the implementation of a law forbidding the authorities to engage in genocide denial, which has been met with delays and postponements and promises of further study. But Pettigrew pushes on. I have a file folder of letters he’s sent, op-eds he’s written, videos of appearances on Bosnian television.”

David Pettigrew and Bakira Hasečić at the memorial to Bosnian Muslims who were victims of genocide in Višegrad. In his article, Hitt refers to this moment when Pettigrew and Hasečić hold up the word “genocide” on the memorial. A stonecutter had scratched out the word from the memorial after the Višegrad municipality deemed the use of the word to be offensive.

As the 2020 Mensa Foundation Distinguished Teacher of the Year, Kenneth Walters, associate professor of psychology, shares a commitment to education, research, and mentorship.

Since its inception, the Mensa Foundation Distinguished Teacher Award has been presented to only three college professors, including Southern's Ken Walters (left). He was nominated by senior and Mensa member Paul McKee (right), who one day plans to work as a college professor.

Having served with the United States Marine Corps Infantry from 2013 – 2018, senior psychology major Paul McKee brought extensive life experience to Southern. But as a first-generation college student starting college classes mere weeks after completing active duty, McKee was also a higher education novice. A common thread of advice — “Get involved in faculty-directed research!” — led him to the office of Kenneth S. Walters, associate professor of psychology.

It was a wise move. Walters, a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, joined Southern in 2009, relaunching his higher education career after focusing on his clinical practice for about 10 years. His research focuses include psychopathology as well as substance use and abuse among college students. In recent years, he and his students have studied depression, traumatic stress, suicidality (thoughts about taking one’s life,  suicide plans and attempts), and the non-medical use of stimulants and opioids among college students.

At Southern, Walters has mentored 45 students on his research team with impressive results. They’ve published nine papers in scientific and professional journals, delivered 12 oral presentations, and presented 76 posters at scientific conferences. Thirty-nine of Walters’ former student researchers have graduated to date — and all have been admitted to competitive graduate training programs.

The professor recruits six to nine research assistants a year, typically academically strong upperclassmen. So, it was unexpected when McKee, then a first-year Southern student, asked to join Walters’ research team. McKee’s nontraditional student background complicated matters. He did not have SAT scores or a college transcript showcasing past grades. “He did present me with a Mensa [high IQ society] membership card and an excellent writing sample. . . . I found him to be intelligent, personable, and highly determined to succeed,” says Walters.

About 300 Southern students with connections to the military are attending Southern during the fall 2020 semester, including 245 veterans, 35 National Guard/Reservists, and 20 dependents.  As a fellow veteran, Walters understands some of the challenges these students might face.

From 1987 to 1991, Walters served with the U.S. Armed Forces as an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division, and was part of the initial Operation Desert Shield campaign to liberate Kuwait. He started college in 1991 — like McKee, just weeks after his active duty ended. “To make that transition in such a short time can be challenging,” says Walters.

Kenneth Walters

Walters also knew what it was like to be a first-generation college student. “I came from a background in which higher education was neither expected nor the norm. . . . Overcoming disadvantage and humble beginnings is a commonly shared theme between me and my students,” says the professor.

Walters gave McKee a chance — and has never looked back. “He is now the lab manager for my research team, putting to good use his notable leadership skills,” he says of McKee, who is on track to graduate this spring and is applying to doctoral programs in behavioral neuroscience. “He is an extraordinarily talented young man. I have only the highest hopes for his future,” says his professor.

McKee has equally high regard for Walters — and nominated him for the Mensa Foundation 2020 Distinguished Teacher Award. The award recognizes a teacher, professor, or instructor at any educational level who has had an especially positive influence on the education or life of a Mensa member. Walters won the national honor — and is one of only three higher education faculty members to receive the award since its inception.

Membership in Mensa is highly selective. To join, you must score in the top two percent of the general population on an accepted standardized intelligence test. In the U.S., members range in age from 2 to 106 years, and include engineers, homemakers, chief executive officers, students, and more  — an almost infinite array of people all sharing one trait: high intelligence.

“The Mensa Foundation is honored to recognize Dr. Walters, whose research and instructional approach exemplifies the foundation’s mission to use intelligence to benefit humanity,” says Marie Mayer, president of the Mensa Foundation.

The organization’s commitment to the community is not lost on McKee.  Looking forward, he plans to follow in his mentor’s footsteps and become a university faculty member, inspired, he says, by Walters and others in the Department of Psychology.  “Although this list is not exhaustive, Dr. Michael Nizhnikov, Dr. Christopher Budnick, and Dr. W. Jerome Hauselt are among the most committed, stimulating, and integrous people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,” says McKee.

He continues: “Of course, the nomination was for Dr. Walters, who embodies all that is desired in a mentor, educator, and friend. There is none more deserving of this recognition than him. He has spent his life in service of others, first in the United States Army, then as clinical psychologist, and now as a professor. It was fantastic news to hear about his winning. Dr. Walters deserves every second of this.”

Robert McEachern

In this strange era through which we are all navigating new territories every day, it’s easy to feel a little lost at times. In an essay he published recently on Inside Higher Ed, entitled “Directionless,” English Professor Robert McEachern “contemplates the first time in many years that he didn’t spend the first day of classes roaming the halls of his university helping students who couldn’t find their way.”

Read “Directionless”

Inside Higher Ed is a leading source of news, analysis, and services for the entire higher education community.


Barbara Aronson

A grant award recently secured by Nursing Professor Barbara Aronson will support nursing students by authorizing cancellation of a percentage of educational loans in exchange for full-time post-graduation employment as nurse faculty.

The federal funds, totaling almost $1 million, are welcome assistance, given the critical nursing educator needs in Connecticut and nationwide.

“There’s a huge nursing faculty shortage nationally,” Aronson said. “First, nurses can make more money in a clinical area. Second, faculty are aging.”

Aronson, the director of the Ed.D. program in the Department of Nursing at Southern Connecticut State University, has secured substantial grant funding over the years from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). The most recent award, $891,374 from the Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP), is the largest the department has ever received and brings Aronson’s total to more than $3 million.

“The first grant I wrote was in 2012,” Aronson said. “That first year, we only got a minimal amount, but we didn’t have as many students as we do today.” (The program has since grown to about 50 students.)

The Ed.D. in Nursing Education is a collaborative program between Southern and Western Connecticut State University (WCSU). Designed for individuals with clinical expertise and a master’s degree in nursing, it is an innovative doctoral program that prepares nurses for faculty roles by focusing on the content and skills required to be effective faculty members, advance the science of nursing education, and transform the education of future nurses. Current students in the program are family, pediatric, geriatric nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and faculty who plan to teach in undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral-level programs. Students at Western will receive a share of the funds.

According to HRSA, “Aging and population growth are projected to account for the 81% of the change in demand for primary care services between 2010 and 2020.” And a Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions released by American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) reported that in 2018, a total of 1,715 faculty vacancies were identified in a survey of 872 nursing schools with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs across the country. Most of the vacancies (90.7 percent) were faculty positions preferring a doctoral degree.

“It is hoped that our program will have a lasting impact on the faculty shortage by preparing the next generation of nurse educators,” Aronson said. “They will fill faculty positions in Connecticut, the northeast and nationwide and will also contribute to the advancement of the science of nursing education.”

Aronson was a staff nurse for many years before she decided she wanted to teach. After earning advanced degrees in nursing education, she began working at Southern; she has worked in the Nursing Department for 20 years, has run the undergraduate program for seven years and directed the Ed.D. program since 2012.

“I have a lot of experience in nursing and nursing education,” she said. “Technology, the push for student-centered learning strategies, and COVID-19 have changed the way we teach, and we are preparing our students to meet these challenges. At Southern, nurses love the program because they interact with other students who share the same interests.”

Aronson earned her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, her MSN from the University of Hartford, her BSN from Saint Joseph College, and her diploma from Hartford Hospital School of Nursing. She has more than 30 years of experience in nursing education in the acute care and academic settings.




Donald Yacovone, '74 (Photo by Photo by Mary E. Yacovone)

Historian Donald Yacovone, an associate at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research and a 2013 winner of the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, was recently interviewed by the Harvard Gazette about a book he is writing, ““Teaching White Supremacy: The Textbook Battle Over Race in American History.” Yacovone is a Southern alumnus, having graduated in 1974 with a B.S. in history.

Yacovone, who co-authored “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” with noted historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 2013, spoke at the History Department‘s honor society induction ceremony last fall about his research on textbooks and white supremacy.

Owl pride is running sky high with a growing list of accomplishments showcasing Southern's position among the best in higher education. #Expect More. Be More.

Owl Pride graphic with Otis and banner
  1. Southern’s student-faculty ratio is 12:1.
  2. About 125 student clubs/organizations continue to connect students while maintaining social distancing: 1,100 students participated in the Virtual Involvement Fair held in Sept. 2020.
  3. The retention rate in Southern’s Honors College is well above 90 percent – in step with many of the most-selective private institutions of higher education.
  4. All first-year students accepted into the Honors College receive a merit-based scholarship covering one-half to full in-state tuition, beginning with the Class of 2020.
  5. There were 52,000 visits to the Academic Success Center in 2019-20 for free services, including academic success coaching, tutoring, and the Peer Academic Leadership (PAL) program. In the latter, weekly review sessions are held for historically difficult courses.
  6. The Academic Success Center works! 87 percent of students who completed academic success coaching requirements increased their GPA; 100 percent who attended five or more PALs sessions earned a higher grade than those who did not.
  7. Southern has one  of “The 50 Best College Financial Literacy Programs for 2020,” the fourth year in a row for the honor. — Yale University is the only other college in Connecticut included on the list.
  8. The nationally recognized Elm Shakespeare Company is Southern’s theatre-in-residence.
  9. The Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree program earned full accreditation this spring by the American Library Association (ALA). It’s the only accredited program of its kind in Connecticut and one of just three in New England.
  10. Southern has 30 partnerships with distinguished universities worldwide. Fall 2020 study abroad programming is canceled due to COVID-19. Helping to broaden horizons, the Office of International Education is presenting “Owls In (Virtual) Flight,” a series of recorded conversations connecting Southern students with their peers at university partner institutions in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and more.
  11. An innovative trans-Atlantic partnership unites Southern and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). The partnership offers research internships, study abroad opportunities, and faculty exchanges when not influenced by COVID-19.
  12. Southern typically provides 2,700+ experiential learning and workforce-prep opportunities for students each year. In response to COVID-19, Career Services is providing 10 virtual career fairs for the 2020-21 academic year, implementing a new practice interview platform, and integrating digital resources for networking and connecting virtually.
  13. Graduates of the Class of 2019 nursing programs did exceptionally well on the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NYCLEX). The pass rate was 100 percent for the Accelerated Career Entry (ACE) Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) program and 95 percent for the traditional BSN program.
  14. Graduates of the M.S.N. program had a 100 percent pass rate on the Family Nurse Practitioner Certification Examination in 2019.
  15. Southern’s Department of Music earned accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) — becoming one of just six universities and colleges in Connecticut to hold the prestigious distinction.
  16. Southern is home to the CSCU** Center for Nanotechnology, the only system-wide center for the field in the state.
  17. Also housed at Southern, the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies is the only CSCU** center dedicated to faculty-mentored student research that addresses environmental issues along the Connecticut shoreline and Long Island Sound.
  18. Southern is an NCAA Division II athletics powerhouse, holding 80 individual titles and 10 team championships.
  19. Southern is one of only 24 colleges/universities in the United States — and one of only two in Connecticut — accredited by the International Dyslexia Association for providing exceptional teacher training.
  20. In 2017, Southern was honored by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) as an Excellence Award Designee, which recognizes colleges/universities that best proactively use assessment data to strengthen undergraduate education.
  21. The Barack H. Obama Magnet University School opened on campus in January 2020. The elementary school is a collaboration between Southern, the city of New Haven and its school system. As such, it is a rarity — uniting a public university with a public school system.
  22. Southern received a federal grant of $3.68 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help improve the health of vulnerable populations in New Haven. The project is coordinated by the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), which is co-housed at Southern’s College of Health and Human Services and the Yale School of Public Health. It is the largest grant ever received by Southern.
  23. Approximately 300 members of the military community are attending Southern in fall 2020, including 245 veterans, 35 National Guard/Reservists, and 20 dependents.
  24. About 650 first-year students typically volunteer at the annual Day of Service – just one example of Southern’s commitment to the community.
  25.  Southern historically holds Social Justice Month, presenting about 100 events designed to further social justice education and awareness on campus.
  26. Southern was designated the first breast-feeding friendly campus in the state and the nation. — Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition
  27. Southern has lowered its carbon footprint for buildings by more than 50 percent since 2008 through energy efficiency, automated sensors and controls, and green energy purchasing.
  28. Solar power provides approximately 8 percent of the electricity used at Southern — thanks to two multifaceted solar installations on opposite sides of campus. Combined they produce almost 2 megawatts of energy.
  29. 100 percent of the electricity used on campus is eco-friendly — a combination of solar and Green-e-certified electricity.
  30. Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was awarded to two campus buildings: the Academic Science and Laboratory Building and the home for the School of Business. The certification recognizes construction and design meeting exceptional ecological standards.
  31. The university composts about 45 tons of food scraps annually.
  32.  Students and recent alumni were awarded the most prestigious national and international honors in recent years, including a Rhodes Scholarship (2020); four Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants since 2012; the Harry S. Truman Scholarship for “outstanding potential for leadership, commitment to public service, and academic excellence” (2020); the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship (2020); and an American Academy for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] Science and Technology Fellowship (2019).
  33. Kenneth Walters, associate professor of psychology,  is the 2020 Mensa Foundation Distinguished Teacher of the Year. He is one of only three college professors to ever receive the honor.
  34. Three 1st place finishes were awarded to Southern student teams at the Connecticut Venture Capital Investment Competition in recent years.
  35. Jacob Santos, ’19, is one of only 14 in the country named a 2019-20 Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow, a program designed to provide young leaders with experience in the nonprofit sector.
  36. Rigoberto Escalera, ’19, received one of two 2019 Legacy Awards from New Haven Promise. The award recognizes recent graduates who have demonstrated a deep commitment to their studies, fellow scholars, and the city of New Haven.
  37. The College of Education is lauded for its exceptional teacher preparation programs and graduates — including Jahana Hayes, ’05, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. Hayes went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and is the first African American woman to represent the state of Connecticut in Congress.
  38. Alumni teachers and education administrators received many accolades in 2019 and 2020, including the Milken Educator Award (which carries with it a $25,000 prize), the Connecticut History Teacher of the Year Award, three Connecticut PTA Outstanding Administrators Awards, and the George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary Education from Williams College.
  39. In both 2018 and 2019, Southern student photographers were one of only two national finalists in the “feature photography” category of the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards, recognizing the best of student journalism in the U.S.
  40. Southern students won numerous awards at the annual conference of the Society of Professional Journalists for Region 1, which represents universities throughout New England, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. They were honored for their work on Crescent Magazine and the Southern News student newspaper.
  41. December 2019 graduate Karen Reyes-Benzi was the Yale New Haven Hospital’s 2019 Magnet Nurse of the Year.
  42. In 2019, a group of 12 journalism students earned first place in the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism Awards in the “health” category for a group project. The project was awarded the highest honor above all the major news outlets in the state in the Regional A division.
  43. Astrophysicist Elliott Horch, who was recently named  a Connecticut State University System Professor, and Carolyn Thompson, who teaches geography as an adjunct faculty member, are this year’s J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award recipients. In addition, Carrie Michalski, professor of nursing, has been chosen as the Academic Advisor Award winner.
  44. In 2019, just seven years after graduation, Jeffrey Nowak, ’12, realized one of the pinnacles of journalism success — membership on a news team honored with a Pulitzer Prize, the nation’s most prestigious journalism award.
  45. Sandra Gomez-Aceves, ’17, beat out nearly 500 applicants to win one of twelve coveted spots at the 2017 ProPublica Data Institute, a seminar for journalist and journalism students. Gomez-Aceves was one of only three students chosen by the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization to participate.
  46. Computer science majors Michael Solati and Robert Crowdis, ’19, won first place at the 2017 College Tech Challenge — standing out among many of the state’s top engineering and programming students. The duo won a $5,000 prize.
  47. A Southern team was a semi-finalist in the 2017 American Marketing Association’s Collegiate Case Competition. Southern was the only institution of higher learning in Connecticut to score among the semi-finalists and finalists — and joined Providence College as the only two in New England.
  48. There are 11,000 student members in the American Marketing Association (AMA), and recent graduate Julia Rotella, ’17, was one of the best, finishing second in the organization’s “Student Marketer of the Year” competition.
  49. A Southern student team was one of only three from Connecticut to medal at the 2016 IGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition. Southern, the University of Connecticut, and Yale University each won bronze at the competition.
  50.  Two Southern graduates were chosen among a total of 10 librarians from throughout the U.S. to receive the 2015 “I Love My Librarian Award,” sponsored by the American Library Association.

** Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Georgette Nixon during her track and field days at Southern

Former SCSU women’s track & field All-American and current assistant coach Georgette Nixon, ’17, was featured in an article sponsored by Under Armour on, “How This First-Generation College Athlete’s Track & Field Career Jump-Started Her Life Off the Turf.”

Nixon was a member of the first relay team in SCSU history to win a National Championship, and in the article discusses her journey as a walk-on onto the Owls as a freshman to becoming one of the most decorated student-athletes in program history. She graduated in 2017 with a major in business administration with a concentration in marketing. She minored in communications.

Georgette Nixon


Elementary and secondary schools are kicking off the new academic year — one that looks profoundly different due to COVID-19. Southern recognizes all of our alumni educators who have responded with Herculean efforts — including these award recipients who were recognized this year for excellence by the Connecticut PTA.

The 2020 Connecticut PTA Outstanding Administrators award winners include three Southern alumni: [from left] Sequella Coleman, 6th Yr. '98; Jennifer Cecarelli, M.S. '96, 6th Yr. '00; and Gail Krois, 6th Yr. '02.

You’d be hard pressed to find an organization more dedicated to educational excellence than the PTA. That’s why Southern is so proud to recognize three graduates of the College of Education who are among those honored by the Connecticut PTA in 2020 for being leaders in their field.

Their recognition is a mark of distinction as well as an inspiration to students, parents, and educators during these challenging times.

“Now more than ever, teachers need to come back to why we got into this profession in the first place: to create relationships with students and families,” says Jennifer Cecarelli, M.S. ’96, 6th Yr. ’00, who was named the “Outstanding Elementary School Teacher” by the Connecticut PTA. “It has always been about relationships. Nurture them, and the rest will fall into place.”

Ericka C. Barnes, associate professor of chemistry, says that Cecarelli was her daughter’s teacher for second grade in the 2019-2020 academic year, which ended in June, in the midst of the pandemic. Barnes wrote that, “Mrs. Cecarelli was an innovative, patient, and extremely thoughtful teacher to my 2nd grader and all the children in her class. When the pandemic hit, she continued to give individualized attention to each child, above and beyond the call of duty. A group of parents rallied to nominate her for this award and we were so thrilled (but not surprised) when we found out she received it.”

Southern has been long recognized for its exceptional teacher preparation programs and education graduates. These include alumnus Jahana Hayes, ’05, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. Hayes went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives — and is the first African American woman to represent the state of Connecticut in Congress. These alumni teachers also are among those recently honored: North Haven High School teacher Federico Fiondella, M.S. ’03, 6th Yr. ’18 (Connecticut History Teacher of the Year in 2020); Lauren Sepulveda, ’10 (2019-20 Milken Educator Award recipient); and Liam Leapley, ’00 (the George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary Education from Williams College in 2019).

Congratulations to the award winners!

2020 Connecticut PTA Outstanding Elementary School Teacher
Jennifer Cecarelli, M.S. ’96, 6th Yr. ’00
Wesley Elementary School, Middletown

During spring 2020, Outstanding Elementary School Teacher Jennifer Cecarelli shows her love for her students with a sign.

2020 Connecticut PTA Outstanding Magnet School Principal
Sequella Coleman, 6th Yr. ’98
Davis Academy for Arts & Design Innovation, New Haven

Outstanding Magnet School Principal Sequella Coleman stands ready to support teachers and students.

2020 Connecticut PTA “Dawn Hochsprung” Outstanding Elementary School Principal
Gail Krois, 6th Yr. ‘02
Meadowside School, Milford

“Dawn Hochsprung” Outstanding Elementary School Principal Gail Krois reads to a class.

*The award is named in honor of the late Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, M.S. ’97, 6th Yr. ’98, who was killed while serving as principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Erin Duff
Erin Duff

Erin Duff was relaxing at the beach on a day off in July when she received a phone call from her supervisor.

When she realized it was Director of Residence Life Rob DeMezzo, Duff — then the residence hall director at Chase Hall — was concerned at first that something might be wrong.

“I thought maybe something happened on campus,” Duff said.

But instead, DeMezzo wanted to gauge her interest in a new position that had just been approved — university COVID-19 coordinator. As the hall director at Chase, one of Duff’s duties had been to oversee the “learning, living community” for students seeking a career in the health professions.

“Her educational background, coupled with her experience in student affairs, made her an ideal candidate for the position,” he said.

Duff said she is happy that DeMezzo made that call.

“This is a great opportunity, and I really think I can make a difference in helping the campus cope with the ‘new normal,” she said.

Duff has a Bachelor of Science degree in public health from Southern, and is nearing completion of a Master of Public Health degree, also at SCSU.

Among her responsibilities are to educate the campus community on COVID-19 and to coordinate the university’s contact tracing program, as well as organize campus quarantine and isolation efforts.

She works closely with a variety of university officials, including Dr. Diane Morgenthaler, director of health services; Emily Rosenthal, Wellness Center coordinator; Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs; DeMezzo; and Jules Tetreault, dean of student affairs.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of the campus community,” Duff said. “Part of my role is to help people understand the efforts we are taking on campus.”

She tells students that the more consistently they adhere to the university’s safety measures – such as social distancing, wearing marks, washing/sanitizing hands – the better the chances the campus can remain open.

Duff said she is happy to answer questions from students, faculty and staff about the virus and measures taken by the campus. “I realize the pandemic can cause considerable anxiety and raise lots of questions,” she said. “If I can help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

She can be reached at (203) 392-8626 or at