Deans' Blogs
Learn about what it's like to be a Southern student from the Deans!

Before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted our lives and introduced us to distant learning, students looked forward to the learning experiences they found on campus. Interviews with a few students and professors from the College of Health & Human Services suggests that they are adjusting well to remote learning. Although it is nice not to have a commute to campus for classes or struggle to find a parking spot, to walk across campus in the rain, or wait in long lines for coffee, students do miss many of the in-person experiences of university life. Some students feel that it’s not the same and really miss the in-person learning experience. Being completely online can be a bit difficult and some students fear that they are not absorbing the information as much, compared to previous courses that they took in person. However, students find themselves adjusting to the situation and find that Southern is doing a phenomenal job in assisting students to get the most out of distance learning. Professors are even becoming more comfortable with the technology to help create a supportive environment for their students.

Students miss participating in on-campus events and enjoying the beautiful sights of the campus and nature that is around us. Those little walks from one building to another when the weather was nice was something that many appreciated. Students would run into familiar faces around campus and interact with people in between their classes or on their way home. Now students are finding new creative ways to stay connected with each other, enjoying new activities, and discovering new talents about themselves. It really helps to remain positive and to find a routine that works for you. Students have found that going on walks and setting up weekly FaceTime or Zoom calls helps them from socially distancing themselves completely and losing hope in our current situation.

Despite the new changes, students are working smarter this semester and finding new ways to manage their workload. Public Health senior Annie Ricupero shared, “I have found that making short to-do lists for myself for each week helps me to stay organized and on top of my school-work without feeling too overwhelmed.” By planning ahead and keeping track of due dates on assignments, and setting up a quiet designated work area, students are able to stay focused without being too hard on themselves.

Though many students miss being able to utilize Buley Library and all the in-person resources it has to offer, they are creating new routines at home and taking advantage of the library’s online resources, the Academic Success Center, and the other facilities. It’s also a good idea to take advantage of the virtual office hours for your professors. They are easy to access, and students finding the accessibility to be helpful, as they can still receive the one-on-one help they seek on assignments. Professors are doing their best to accommodate their students and helping students feel adjusted to their classes. Communication Disorders senior Annie Prusak said, “I always like to introduce myself to professors when I first meet them, and while I was able to do it this semester over Zoom, it isn’t quite the same as shaking someone’s hand.” You build a stronger connection with not just the professor but with classmates as well, as the first couple of minutes coming into the classroom enables students to create conversations with their peers.

Many students are finding it easy to follow the safety protocols – wearing a face mask, washing their hands, and using hand sanitizer – both on and off campus. Students mainly find themselves at home unless they need to go to work, classes, or grocery shopping. Though many students do not have access to campus, they find that Southern is doing a great job announcing what services are available to students and when and what events are being held, whether on campus or virtually. Professor Joseph Milone of the Recreation, Tourism, & Sports Management Department said, “staying connected can be as simple as reaching out to classmates to set up a study session or just talk. Reach out, get involved, and stay connected in some capacity.”

Though it is easy to feel isolated when classes are online, it’s important to think about your mental health. Students find that talking to a therapist every week has helped them work through their thoughts and feelings. You should also continue to strengthen your physical connections with your family members and peers as they are a great support system to have. Milone commented, “one tip to manage stress, which applies to everyone, is to step away from the computer when needed. Take a walk, get some fresh air, set up a chair outside to watch the birds, and get away from it all for a few minutes. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink how we engage with outdoor spaces”. Overall, students are feeling lucky to be able to continue their learning from a safe environment where they can still get the help that they need and require, making this transition a better experience.

Andrew Toce, ’14, LPC, ADS, works in his own private counseling practice, with a focus on sports psychology. Read our interview with him and learn how he is continuing his work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

SCSU: Can you briefly describe your current employment?

AT: I am the owner and operator of my own private practice named Deep Breaths Counseling, LLC which is based out of South Windsor, Conn. Here I focus my work on sport psychology and co-occurring disorders. I have had the privilege of working with athletes of all ages and levels, from professional to youth athletes pursuing their dreams of playing at the next level.

SCSU: How has your job changed in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 outbreak?

AT: My job has changed drastically in the past few weeks. I normally am open 3 days a week and see all clients face-to-face. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, things have changed from shaking hands to keeping 6 feet from my clients at all times and spraying everything down with disinfectant in between clients.

SCSU: Have you had to move any services or parts of your job online to support social distancing? How has this been?

AT: In the last week, I have had to move my entire practice to an online platform. This has been a challenge and very new. In our field, you need to be very particular as HIPAA rights for clients need to be followed at all times. I had to create special consent forms and documents that could be electronically filled out. I needed to find ways to send secure HIPAA-compliant emails. I also needed to find a platform that was HIPAA-compliant to do video and audio sessions, as everyday software like Facetime, Skype and Zoom do not have the correct level of security to qualify. On top of that, getting insurance companies to cover online services, named telehealth in my field, was a challenge and barrier up until the second week of March. Thankfully, as I write this, most major insurance companies have enacted special circumstances to meet the needs of their customers and the providers that give these services.

SCSU: From your professional perspective, what is the local impact COVID-19, so far?

AT: From my perspective, the impact has been vast and unwavering. Companies are closing, there are more layoffs happening every day, families are struggling, and small businesses are desperate for anything to keep them afloat. It is a reminder to me of how fast everyday life can change and how we take things for granted without even realizing it. People are scared of COVID-19, as am I, but I truly believe in the phrase, “Educate to Regulate.” I started using this phrase when giving talks on substance use to local high schools, but it works in this context as well. We need to educate ourselves on COVID-19 and the facts about it. Only then will we regulate the way we do things and make it possible to flatten the curve. I have the utmost respect for doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technicians, paramedics, and so many others who don’t have the option to work from home and are daily putting their own well-being on the line to help those struggling from COVID-19 and all other situations.

SCSU: What are your suggestions, personally/professionally, for getting through this pandemic?

AT: I think we are unprepared for the vast amount of ICU beds and ventilators that we will need, and I believe the answer is that companies who supply these need to recognize this is bigger than economics. In order to save lives, we need to come together as a human species and forget about any future profits and focus on the here and now. I think we need to listen to those that are on the front lines, we need to follow the advice given and recognize that if we all think, “This won’t affect me,” then it will affect all of us. Social distancing and self-isolation are the answer. We need to learn from China’s experience and also Italy’s struggles. Their government asked that everyone self-isolate and many didn’t. They now find themselves ill-prepared to handle the vast amount of cases.

SCSU: What is the impact of moving to telehealth for patients and your practice?

AT: My goal is to make this transition as low impact as possible on my clients. We are all scared and the unknown is anxiety-provoking. The last thing I want to do is add to that and create more barriers for them. I did a lot of research and found a system that is user-friendly and compatible with any device. My client simply has to go to a specific URL and enter their name at the time of their session; once that happens I see them in my virtual waiting room and I initiate the session. All copays are collected through an online processing format and the rest is normal.

One by one, members of the men’s basketball team ran towards the Vertec vertical jump tester trying to see how high they could go. With teammates cheering on, each athlete jumped as high as they could. After recording all of the scores, Lonnie Blackwell began explaining how he would incorporate strength and conditioning to see these values rise during the off-season. Blackwell is a graduate student obtaining his Master of Science degree in Exercise Science with a concentration in Human Performance. Blackwell also works for Jim Ronai’s Competitive Edge Sports Performance, a company based out of Orange, Conn., as a strength and conditioning coach. He also has certifications such as the NASM CPT and NSCA CSCS. Blackwell acts as the graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach for men’s basketball, men’s soccer, and women’s field hockey, with head strength and conditioning coach, Dave Hashemi.

The Department of Health and Movement Science’s Human Performance Laboratory, offers numerous fitness, performance, and functionality assessments to members of the SCSU community. Men’s basketball started the preseason by utilizing the lab with Blackwell to test their physical performance. These tests included: vertical jump, change of direction using the 5-10-5 test, and acceleration with the 10-yard dash. Blackwell used the lab’s zybek lasers in order to precisely measure the 10-yard dash. The team tested strength with a 1-repetition maximum weight for the squat and bench press.

Men’s soccer testing included the yo-yo intermittent beep test to evaluate aerobic fitness levels and to predict VO2max, and performed 1-repetition maximum for the squat and bench press to measure strength.

During the regular season, the girls’ field hockey team comes into the weight room two times a week. The strength and conditioning system in place utilized six different lift options. Depending on each athlete’s fatigue level and general fitness, they can choose a lift option that compliments them.

The soccer team and field hockey team is also utilizing GPS. The GPS technology operated by the human performance laboratory gives a researcher data such as distance covered, top-end speed, and work rate. The field hockey team uses this technology every Friday for practice, in order to estimate the training load. Men’s soccer utilizes the GPS to grab data from their games, such as training load. It also allows them to monitor their performance throughout the season.

Blackwell is well versed in GPS technology, as he is using GPS for his master’s thesis. His research will be utilizing data from various sports teams, to gain further understanding of how to prescribe programming to teams during the year and summer months.

As of August 2019, Public Health Professor Michele Vancour has accepted a two-year position as interim associate dean for the School of Health and Human Services.

Vancour earned her B.A. in English from CCSU, an MPH from Southern, and her Ph.D. in health education from NYU. In 1998 she began her career at Southern as an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Founding Director of the SCSU Wellness Center. During her tenure at Southern, Vancour has established herself as an outstanding teacher, scholar, mentor, and leader. She has served in several major leadership roles, including 8 years as the undergraduate program coordinator for Public Health and most recently as the director of Faculty Development. Her list of service activities is extensive, and includes founder of the Childcare committee, Work-Life Advisory Committee, Southern’s Chapter of the CT ACE Women’s Network, and membership or chair positions with more than 30 different groups on our campus.

Headshot Photo of Michele VancourVancour earned tenure and promotion to professor in the Department of Public Health, received the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award, Robert E. Jirsa Award for Service, and the Distinguished Academic Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award from the CT ACE Women’s Network.

She has an extensive list of professional presentations and publications in her areas of expertise, which include: motherhood, maternal health, breastfeeding support, women’s health, and work-life balance. She is highly respected in her profession having served as president and board member for the College and University Work/Family/Life Association, chair and board member for the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition, and board member and committee chair for the CT ACE Women’s Network.

Adding Vancour’s talents to the HHS Dean’s office will allow the School to expand its support for students, department chairs, and coordinators. Vancour will take the lead to support chairs with course schedules and administrative processes related to student enrollment. She will also design and facilitate professional development for HHS faculty and staff, coordinate furniture decisions for offices and collaboration spaces in the new building, monitor implementation of marketing and recruitment efforts for HHS programs, and serve as a resource for program accreditation and new program development.

 

West Haven High's Liam Leapley is an incredibly inspiring teacher, says recent college grad Alice Obas -- which is why she successfully nominated him for a highly prestigious teaching award.

West Haven High School teacher Liam Leapley, '00, was nominated for the award by Alice Obas. "Mr. Leapley has not only upheld the values of equity and inclusion during his teaching career but has also instilled those values in his hundreds of students, and in me," says Obas, who recently graduated from Williams College.

With graduation fast approaching, Alice Obas, then a senior at Williams College, was considering an important question in addition to planning her next phase of life: who, among her former teachers at West Haven High School, had the most influence on her education?

Such contemplation is a rite of passage for seniors at Williams, who, each year, are invited to nominate their former teachers for the George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary Education.

For Obas, the choice was obvious: Southern alumnus Liam Leapley, ’00, a special education teacher at West Haven High who also leads the Program for Accelerated Credit Recovery in Education (PACE) at the school. Leapley designed and implemented PACE and, years ago, worked closely with Obas when she was a talented high school student serving as a teaching assistant with the program.

“While the Olmsted Prize is for nominating former teachers, and I was not a part of the PACE program, I feel that I learned and was taught more from Mr. Leapley than my AP [advanced placement] and Honors classes taught me out of a book,” says Obas. The judging committee was inspired as well, selecting Leapley as one of only four recipients of the Olmsted Award. In recognition, he received $3,000, and an additional $5,000 was presented to West Haven High. The award is particularly prestigious in light of the college’s standing: it’s been cited repeatedly as the top liberal arts college in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Forbes, including this year.

PACE — an intervention program for at-risk youth in grades 8 through 12 — incorporates outside the box approaches to education, including a community-based work experience component, to reignite students’ interest in learning, “Every child can move forward, but you must be willing to work with them no matter where they begin and at which pace they move,” says Leapley, who’s been a special education teacher since 2000 and led the PACE program since 2009.

Award recipient Liam Leapley, ’00, receives an award for exceptional teaching at the high school level at Williams College’s Ivy Exercises.

His influence, notes Obas, has been profound and far-reaching. “Mr. Leapley has not only upheld the values of equity and inclusion during his teaching career but has also instilled those values in his hundreds of students, and in me,” she says.

Southern has historically been a leader in the field of education, with graduates of the School of Education earning many top awards at the state level and beyond. Among the honorees is Jahana Hayes,’05, who was named the National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and went on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The American Council on Education (ACE) has selected Stephen Hegedus, dean of the School of Education at Southern Connecticut State University, as one of 45 emerging college and university leaders for the 2018-19 class of the ACE Fellows Program, the longest-running leadership development program in the United States.

Established in 1965, the ACE Fellows Program is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership in American higher education by identifying and preparing faculty and staff for senior administration positions through an intensive nominator-driven, cohort-based mentorship model.

Stephen Hegedus

“Southern was proud to nominate Dean Hegedus for this prestigious fellowship,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “During nearly four years leading our School of Education, Stephen has demonstrated leadership and vision and a true commitment to providing expanded educational opportunities to historically disadvantaged populations.”

Among recent initiatives, Hegedus has led a scholarship-based collaborative effort with the region’s school districts to increase the number of minority teachers in elementary and secondary education. He has also been one of the prime movers in the construction of the new Strong Communications Magnet and K-4 Lab School on Southern’s campus – a signature academic partnership with the city of New Haven and its school system.

More than 2,000 higher education leaders have participated in the ACE Fellows Program over the past five decades, with more than 80 percent of Fellows having gone on to serve as senior leaders of colleges and universities.

“For more than a half-century, the ACE Fellows Program has been a powerful engine fueling the expansion of a talented and diverse higher education leadership pipeline,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “We are excited to welcome this new class of Fellows and look forward to each enjoying a transformative experience that will help advance individual leadership readiness while also enriching the capacity of institutions to innovate and thrive.”

Celebrating its centennial in 2018, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, representing nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and related associations. It provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy.

Hegedus’ ACE fellowship will begin in August and he will be on leave from Southern during the fall semester, returning mid-January. During the placement, he will observe and work with the president and other senior officers at his host institution, attend decision-making meetings, and focus on issues of interest.

“When he returns, Dean Hegedus will bring back valuable experiences in innovative programming and institutional advancement that will help further our mission both in the School of Education and campus-wide,” President Bertolino said.

Before joining Southern, Hegedus was a professor of mathematics and mathematics education at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Dartmouth, where he was the founding director of the Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education. Named the UMass Dartmouth Scholar of the Year in 2009, he previously held appointments as a research fellow, educational consultant, and lecturer at the University of Oxford in England.

Southern has been training teachers since its origins in 1893, and it consistently produces the largest numbers of teachers, principals, and school administrators in Connecticut through its School of Education.

In the picture, from left to right: Dean Hegedus, Christina Esposito (English), Tai Olasanoye (Special Education), Mirka Dominguez (Curriculum and Learning), Marisol Rivera (Curriculum and Learning), Thomas Mitchell (Educational Leadership), Lori Donovan (Curriculum and Learning), Laura Obringer (English), Olivia Loughlin (Special Education), Malcolm Welfare (Information and Library Science), Meghan Weller (Educational Leadership), Justin Hitchcock (English), Andres Reyes (History), Hannah O’Hazo (Curriculum and Learning), Alex Audet (Math), and Dr. Angela Lopez-Velasquez. Missing from photo: Rebecca Harmon.

The School of Education is proud to have a new Dean’s Student Leadership Group (SLG) cohort this year. Faculty across the university involved in educator preparation nominated a large pool of students for their strong leadership potential in all aspects of PreK-12 education. After an interview process, the current SLG was selected for their outstanding personal and academic qualities, as well as for demonstrating their leadership in school and community contexts. In addition to undergraduate students, the Dean’s SLG includes master’s and doctoral students. Under the guidance of Dr. Stephen Hegedus, Dean of the School of Education and Dr. Angela Lopez-Velasquez, faculty liaison from the Department of Special Education and Reading, the SLG are involved in activities at the School of Education, the university, and the larger community including advocacy efforts with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) both nationally and at the state level, to further develop their leadership skills.