Graduation

When Southern student Cameron Hotchkiss, a graduate student in social work, interned with Cheshire’s Human Services Department — whose targeted clients are elementary, middle school, and high school students — this past year, it was exactly what he was looking for: clinical experience in a school setting. As someone who likes helping people, Hotchkiss’ internship enabled him to work directly with children who were struggling with emotional issues, in particular those students who had missed enough school to be labeled truant. Now an MSW graduate, Hotchkiss’ unique perspective on those students may help shape school policy.

Until recently, truancy had been handled by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Due to an influx in cases, the cases were delegated to the Department of Human Services for each individual school district, therefore eliminating the need for a DCF referral. A high number of those cases ended up with Hotchkiss.

“DCF let cases filter through us before they had to get involved,” Hotchkiss says. “At my internship, it was the first year they were doing that.”

Since it was the first time the Department of Human Services was in charge of overseeing all of the school truancy cases, there wasn’t a protocol to follow. Hotchkiss’ professor, Lorrie Gardella, associate professor and MSW program coordinator, thought that if Hotchkiss focused his capstone project on the reasons behind the truancy and was able to recommend policy, it would be a win-win.

“The goal of MSW capstone special projects is to assess and respond to a community need,” Gardella says.

Hotchkiss agreed. After conducting months of research, his capstone project, “School Refusal Protocol,” identified the main contributing factors for school avoidance: bullying, separation anxiety, and social anxiety and recommended finding an assessment tool that would allow a professional to identify the contributing factor to their client’s school avoidance issues.

“Once that factor was established,” his capstone states, “the worker will then follow the created protocol on how to help the client, whether it be helping them use specific therapeutic interventions, or getting outside support from an intensive in-home care provider.”

As Hotchkiss moved along with the project, his internship supervisor Ann-Marie Bishop, youth and family counselor for Cheshire’s Department of Human Services, helped with need assessment: how to move forward with treatment and a time frame for treatments.

“As an agency, we typically work with issues like substance abuse, but more and more we see anxiety-related issues, and oftentimes with anxiety comes truancy,” Bishop says. “Cameron’s proposal was a nice marriage of Southern’s social work program and help to us as an agency. It really filled a gap on our end.”

According to Bishop, Hotchkiss’ proposal could be piloted as early as next year.

“We have a set protocol for how we handle school issues related to substance abuse, and we wanted to have one for chronic truancy, too, so we deliver consistent guidelines,” Bishop says. “They [Cheshire schools] want assistance, and we need assistance, so it meets many needs at once.”

Ultimately, the experience met Hotchkiss’ needs as well.

“I got to work with school avoidance kids,” Hotchkiss says. “The capstone actually focuses on the research, but the kids themselves helped point me in the direction to work for. I would love to try to implement [this protocol] in other school systems. My experience at Southern was great— I wanted a combination of clinical work and school work. Southern covered all aspects of social work and reaffirmed that it’s exactly what I want to do.”

As a high schooler, Haroon Chaudhry saw college like this: You go to class, you graduate, and you are done.

“That’s all I expected,” he says, “to just do it.”

Four years ago, Chaudhry was accepted to the track team at Southern Connecticut State University and enrolled on a full academic scholarship. Before starting his freshman year, he attended the Southern Educational Opportunity Program (SEOP) Summer Academy, which helps students ease their transition to Southern. The program helped — he got to know several people and the campus — but the first day of classes he didn’t see any of those people.

“I was nervous,” he says. “I was shy.”

Fate stepped in when Chaudhry bumped into Dian Brown-Albert, coordinator of Multicultural Affairs.

“She told me about the Muslim Students Association, and I thought that would be a great way for me to get to know other Muslims on campus,” he says. (The Muslim Students Association, or MSA, is an organization for Muslims and non-Muslim students at Southern and provides a welcoming atmosphere for students of different cultures and backgrounds.)

Chaudhry always had been passionate about his Muslim heritage. Born in Pakistan, he was 13 when he and his family moved to America in 2009. He steadily had been conducting research on what it means to be Muslim in America and had even won a scholarship in high school for his research.

“That’s [joining MSA] where the transition happened for me,” he says. “I went from shy to most extroverted.”

At first, Chaudhry was just a member, but then, in his sophomore year he became president.

“Jumping in was completely unfamiliar,” he says. “I had to learn how to run an organization that at the time was a group of 30 to 40 people. I was just a sophomore and some of the members were juniors and seniors. I was nervous. But I had to learn.”

This is the point when Chaudhry amended his original philosophy of college, of thinking that it meant just going to class, graduating, and being done. This is when he realized that what he put into the experience greatly mattered — and that the experience could alter his destiny.

“I started doing speeches on campus about who Muslims are, what we do,” Chaudhry said. “People started seeing me, recognizing me, and I started becoming more extroverted, and speaking more in public. I was educating people of other faiths about what it means to be Muslim, and I started inviting other groups to collaborate.”

The momentum Chaudhry gained further spurred him on.

“Southern provided me everything,” he says. “My passion increased for the college, and I wanted to give something back, so I started to attend everything. I utilized everything that was available, and slowly, slowly, I started to get more recognition. It felt like, ‘Muslim people are stepping up.’ I started getting invitations to go to various classes and teach about Islam and how we celebrate various events.”

Chaudhry indeed was getting recognition. He was invited to become an orientation ambassador, welcoming incoming students to campus just as he himself had been welcomed. He was awarded the Social Justice Top Owl Award, recognized at National Student Athlete Day for cross country and track, and for the first time in history, the SCSU Muslim Student Association took part in the 12th annual IRIS 5k run for refugees.

Even with all his on-campus success, Chaudhry knew he had to challenge himself academically as well. As a major in Business Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in International Business, Communication, and Leadership Development, Chaudhry decided to test his newfound determination and to study abroad, choosing the EDHEC Business School in France.

“I felt it would put me apart from other students,” he says. “Everything changed when I studied abroad. I met so many people, and I went there with an open mind. I wanted to represent Southern to the best of my ability.” He did: While in France, Chaudhry ran a half-marathon in Marseilles, proudly wearing his Southern jersey.

When he came back to campus, he decided to “really” put himself out there, in a business sense. He created a LinkedIn profile and started touting his accomplishments.

“People started noticing me,” he says. “Someone from Amazon contacted me through LinkedIn. They’d seen all the articles written about me at Southern. They asked if I wanted to be a Brand Ambassador. I had to interview for it, and it was intense.”

Again, Chaudhry would need his Southern gear.

“Amazon wanted me to go to Seattle for training, and they asked me to put a Southern t-shirt on. I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to.’”

Now an Amazon Brand Ambassador, Chaudhry’s popularity knows no limits. He receives free products from Amazon to give away throughout the campus, plus coupons for 20 percent off on books. He’s also a Student Ambassador for the School of Business, and a Brand Ambassador for GMR Marketing and Dyson companies.

This May, Chaudhry graduated with a 3.7 GPA — earned while working six jobs, simultaneously. He is the first in his family to receive dual degrees, both a bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts within four years. He is the 2018-19 recipient for the Student Affairs University Leadership Award. He was recognized by the University Access Program for his excellent GPA and was honored by Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society, for excellence in leadership and academics. Under his presidency, the Muslim Students Association received the 2018-19 Impact Award.

When Chaudhry speaks about Southern, it’s easy to see how much his outlook has changed from his arrival four years ago, when college seemed like nothing more than a simple checklist.

“I fell in love with Southern, and my goal was to make connections. All over campus.”

And, it seems, the world.

Read about 2019 Commencement.

 

Watch Graduate and Undergraduate Commencement LIVE on Facebook and YouTube.

Graduate Commencement — Thursday, May 23, 2 p.m. (School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Health & Human Services) and 7 p.m. (School of Business and the School of Education, including Library Science)

Undergraduate Commencement — Friday, May 24, 10 a.m.

We asked graduating seniors — “What will you miss most about Southern?” See what they had to say.

More information about Commencement

Congratulations, graduates! #SCSU19

On May 9, 2019, the senior class held the first annual “Senior Send-Off” event in Lyman Center, a program designed to be a journey of reflection, nostalgia, and celebration. Graduating seniors engaged in a spirited 45-minute program that featured videos, performances, skits, and a few special “send-off” speakers. Following the program, seniors marched through Founders Gate as a class one more time, as many of them did as first-year students to begin their Southern journeys.

Following the ceremony, the senior class hosted a barbecue in the Academic Quad for all in attendance. Enjoy these photos of our seniors celebrating their accomplishments, as they look ahead to their commencement on May 24.

SCSU Commencement speakers 2019: Milana Vayntrub, Michael R. Taylor, Lynn M. Gangone

Milana Vayntrub, actor, activist and humanitarian, will be the keynote speaker at the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 24, 2019, at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The ceremony begins with an academic procession at 10:15 a.m.

Michael R. Taylor, Chief Executive Officer for the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, will be the speaker at the 2 p.m. Graduate Commencement for the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Health & Human Services on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Lynn M. Gangone, an education leader, association executive, lobbyist, and policy analyst, will speak at the 7 p.m. ceremony for the Schools of Business and Education, including Library Science. Both graduate commencements will be held at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts.

Many know Milana Vayntrub (above left), as saleswoman Lily Adams in AT&T’s popular series of commercials, or as Sloan from This Is Us on NBC. But she also has a compelling story as an ex-refugee and advocate for combatting the global refugee crisis.

At the age of two, Vayntrub fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan with her parents to make a home in America. Twenty-five years later, she co-founded the grassroots #CantDoNothing organization, created to encourage others to give their time, money, and voice to assist refugees worldwide.

An Upright Citizens Brigade-trained comedian, Vayntrub has appeared on TV and the big screen, including on Showtime’s House of Lies and HBO’s Californication, as well as in Ghostbusters and Life Happens. She was also cast in the role of Squirrel Girl in Marvel’s 2018 series, New Warriors, on Free Form.

In 2016, Ms. Vayntrub was named among the top 100 thinkers, makers, and doers in marketing and media by Adweek, which described her as a “creative force for good.”

Michael R. Taylor (above, center) has been employed by the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center (CS-HHC) since 2010 and served as its chief executive officer since 2012.

Prior to that, he was founder and president of a health care consulting firm that served more than 200 community health centers nationally and also held leadership positions with several national accounting and health care consulting firms, including The Lewin Group.

Taylor is a creative entrepreneur who is deeply passionate about community health’s capacity to improve the quality of people’s lives. Under his guidance, CS-HHC’s leadership team fortified the health center’s financial position; blazed a trail of care integration, quality, and patient centeredness; renovated and expanded or replaced existing care sites; added new care sites and services; and bolstered internal systems and infrastructure.

Due in large part to these efforts, CS-HHC is projected in the next two years to direct more than 700 staff members who annually serve over fifty thousand Greater New Haven residents.

Dr. Lynn M. Gangone (above, right) is a seasoned education leader with association, agency, and campus-based leadership experience.

She began her career in education working on Carl Perkins Vocational Equity grants, working through the New York State Education Department, and went on to develop and deliver PK-12 professional development to teachers and guidance counselors in New Jersey.

Later, as vice president of the Maryland Independent College and University Association, she led the association’s academic policy and related lobbying work, with specific oversight of teacher education and education accreditation.

She has held faculty appointments at two colleges of education: visiting professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development in Washington, D.C., and full professor (clinical) at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education.

Prior to her appointment as president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), she served as vice president at the American Council on Education (ACE), where she and her team guided ACE’s suite of programs, products, and services for current and future leaders.

Jesse Manning, '18, and Heidi Reinprecht, '17

Recent graduate Jesse Manning, ’18, and his girlfriend, Heidi Reinprecht, class of ’17, are already using their communications expertise to change lives 7,000 miles away in Uganda.

Manning, 22, and Reinprecht, 25, who have started their own film production company, will fly to Uganda July 12-25 to film a documentary on a primary school built from donations that has positively changed life outcomes for more than 550 children from nursery school to 7th grade.

Their hope is that by telling the poignant stories about the value of education through the eyes of the children, parents, and educators, more people will want to donate money and/or time to the cause.

“Making the film will make them grow in ways you can’t imagine,” Reinprecht said of the documentary. “It’s a small, grassroots organization and I don’t know how they do it.”

The school was established through HELP International Uganda, a partnership between HELP International and the Ugandan people in Eastern Africa. The mission focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and hunger in the small, poverty-stricken Ugandan village of Masese.

Manning, who hails from Trumbull, majored in communication and became enthralled with the cause after a friend, Christopher Martin, who attends Molloy College in New York, returned from an internship in Uganda.

Martin couldn’t stop raving about the beauty of the school’s impact through educating, feeding, and delivering medical care to 550 impoverished children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend school. Primary school in the village normally is not free and so many don’t automatically receive an education. When Martin shared his experiences, Manning felt an instant connection.

“$1 there can help feed a family for a week, $30 can change someone’s life,” Manning said. “I felt I wanted to do my part.”

The couple already has a film company — Little Tree Farm Productions — and the farm in the name is intended to convey that people can “grow their ideas,” Reinprecht said.

Promoting the school through film “felt natural,” said Reinprecht, who noted, “I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said.

The couple has raised $5,000 toward the trip — enough to get them there — but are fundraising about $10,000 more to pay the rest, including insurance, medical expenses such as vaccinations, and production costs.

They are donating their time to make the film.

The pair met in their first film class at Southern and were always paired after that in class.

Reinprecht, originally from Watertown, graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in communication with a concentration in film and television.

Reinprecht says she has sensitive ears and is an audio production specialist, while Manning is a natural with the camera.

“He’s my extra set of eyes and I’m his ears,” she said.

Their approximately 40-minute documentary will highlight the climate of the village before the school was built, what it has become, and an expansion planned for the future.

“We want people to take away from it that they can really help,” Manning said.

Reinprecht added, “The children love this school.”

Martin became involved during his sophomore year of college when he interned with a global justice NGO aligned with the United Nations. Martin’s area of expertise was micro-finance, which included giving small business loans to people in developing nations.

His professor was involved in the school in Uganda.

“We decided to team up to give small business loans to people in the village,” Martin said.

But he fell in love with the school as well, and this summer Martin will make his fourth trip to Uganda in three years, volunteering in the school, tutoring the children, and helping in any other way needed.

“The people there are just so amazing,” Martin said. “They are extremely poor – they live on about $1 per day, but they’re so friendly and excited we’re there.”

Martin is excited about the impact of his friends’ documentary.

“The biggest thing for people who have not seen the project – film might make them want to help,” he said.

Sterling White speaks at the Graduate Student Research and Creative Activity Conference

“It’s all for Lotus,” says Sterling White, referring to his young daughter. White graduates this month with his M.S. in sociology and says his daughter has been his main motivator behind his academic success. Of Lotus, he says, “she is going to have a better life due to my time in grad school.”

White has made the most of his time in graduate school. In addition to his scholarship, he has been an active member of the Southern community, as well as a driving force for students on campus. He wants to help undergraduate students not make the same mistakes he says he made during his college years, and his passion for guiding students to make good decisions is what has informed his work in student affairs. White served as a graduate intern in New Student & Sophomore Programs (NSSP) this year and prevously had worked as a graduate writing tutor in the Academic Success Center. “It was an awesome experience, helping students,” White says, adding that he has increased the scope of his interactions with students over his three years at Southern, and “it’s been a great progression of experience.”

As a NSSP graduate intern, White managed enrollment for orientation and transfer orientation. He also served as adviser to the sophomore class and did some success coaching with students. Cassi Meyerhoffer, assistant professor of sociology, who worked closely with White when he was her graduate assistant, says he made a real contribution to students’ success. “I think Sterling benefited from working closely with students as he clearly has a passion for teaching,” she says. “His work in the student success center was incredibly beneficial for our students—I consistently had students from my classes comment on his help with their writing.”

As a sociologist, White’s research interests include sociology of education; sociological theory; race and ethnicity; urban sociology; gender; and race and class. Yet his involvement in the Southern community characterized his graduate school experience as much as his academic work. Among his significant activities on campus were his roles as president of the Graduate Student Affairs Committee (GSAC), co-chair of the Graduate Student Research and Creative Activity Conference Organizing Committee; chair of the Social Functions Sub-Committee of GSAC, and a member of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, the Newtown Screening Planning Committee, the Provost Search Committee, and the President Inauguration Celebration Committee.

“It’s been phenomenal here,” White says. “I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had at Southern. GSAC opened a lot of doors to me.” One significant legacy White leaves at the university is the Graduate Student Research and Creative Activity Conference. He and Graduate School Dean Christine Broadbridge came up with the idea of letting students showcase their work, and thus was born the conference, which was held for the second time this spring.

Sterling White with members of the conference organizing committee at the Graduate Student Research and Creative Activity Conference

White gave a number of campus and conference presentations, both on student success and on his research interests. His work with Meyerhoffer resulted in a presentation he gave with her at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in 2016: “Colorblind Racism, Social Desirability and Neighborhood Preferences.”

Color-blind racism, he explains, is when people say they don’t see color in others of different races. “They’re ignoring systemic racism,” he says. Meyerhoffer’s and White’s research looks at the idea that people want to live around people who look like them and are like them. That’s not always true, White says. Their research seeks to understand why people live in certain areas.

White’s undergraduate research also explored race: during his senior year at CCSU, his thesis was “African-American Masculinity – A Health Crisis,” which looked at food behaviors within African American men’s households. As an undergraduate at CCSU, White majored in sociology with a minor in psychology. But, he says, he wasn’t always the kind of student he has been at Southern. He played soccer and “came into the university as a student athlete, so I only knew other athletes. I didn’t have a friendship network to support me academically. It’s why I wanted to work with sophomores – I want to help students not make the same mistakes I’ve made.”

In addition to working in NSSP at Southern, White gave a talk entitled “A Tale of Perseverence – Creating Support Systems and Self-Efficacy” at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society, at a session geared to undergraduates. “I wrote a paper on how I created my own support systems,” White says. “But it also has helped me to believe in myself and believe that I’m able to do graduate work.” He wants to go on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology.

White grew up in Middletown and still lives there with his wife and daughter. “My wife has been awesome in helping support me during my school,” he says. He counts himself lucky to have an amazing family to support him in his academic achievements and goals. “I never thought I’d be doing the things I’ve been doing,” he says.

Jonathan Gonzalez-Cruz is beating the odds. “Graduating college as an undocumented student is the exception — not the norm,” he says.

Statistics verify his words. About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year — and just 5 to 10 percent go on to college, according to the College Board’s 2009 report, Young Lives on Hold. But on May 18, Gonzalez-Cruz will cross the stage of the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Conn., to accept a degree in mathematics and economics from Southern Connecticut State University — with departmental honors in the latter.

Gonzalez-Cruz was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. with his family when he was 4 years old. Today, the 22-year old is in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It’s an increasingly precarious position, and as a result, he’s spent his college years juggling — balancing the demands of intensive Honors College courses, two challenging majors, and political activism at the local, state, and federal levels.

He says the undeniable pull toward political activism began the day after Donald Trump was elected president. “I remember that night — realizing that not only my future as an undocumented immigrant was threatened, but also the futures of my brother, my mother, and many of the kids I worked with as a catechism teacher and during summer camps,” he says.

Gonzalez-Cruz [second row, second from right] joins others in support of undocumented students.
Gonzalez-Cruz has felt the anguish of family separation personally. He was only a sophomore in high school when his father was deported to Mexico after a minor traffic stop led to his arrest. He clearly recalls being unable to say goodbye, watching the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) van drive away, and realizing that his father wouldn’t return home.

Despite the heartbreak and turmoil, Gonzalez-Cruz excelled at school, even tackling challenging advanced-placement courses. In 2014, he enrolled at Southern where he was accepted into the competitive Honors College and was awarded a prestigious Presidential Merit Scholarship, which covered full tuition and fees. He immersed himself in the Southern community, mentoring high-achieving, low-income students from New Haven Public Schools through the Gear Up program and serving as an undergraduate teaching assistant.

Then, as threats to DACA became widespread, he made a decision. “I knew there were two pathways in front of me: remain silent and let whatever happens happen, or take an active role fighting for the fate of undocumented immigrants and their families,” he says.

Jonathan Gonzalez-Cruz, ’18, appearing on Fox 61.

Gonzalez-Cruz chose the latter. He joined Connecticut Students for a Dream, an undocumented-youth-led organization. With the group’s help, he led events for undocumented immigrants in the community and also held presentations for educators who worked with this population. Eventually, Gonzalez-Cruz decided to take a more public role, sharing his story with the media to draw attention to the plight of immigrant families. “My involvement centers on immigration because I understand the pain of coming home every night to an empty plate at the dinner table,” he says.

He’s seen numerous triumphs. Lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., secured the support of U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both of Connecticut. In December, he was elected vice president of the Greater New Haven Young Democrats. More recently, the Southern senior helped lobby successfully for passage of a Connecticut bill that allows undocumented students to apply for institutional aid.

“I am so proud that we were able to help get this legislation passed,” says Gonzalez-Cruz, who received the university’s Economics Honors Award in 2017 and 2018. He continues: “As citizens, we should work to make it possible for all students — regardless of their immigration status — to achieve their goals and realize their dreams. When they do, we all win. These students are our future. They are going to change the world.”

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs legislation that allows immigrant students without legal status to be eligible for institutional financial aid at state-run colleges and universities. “I am so proud that we were able to help get this legislation passed,” says Gonzalez-Cruz witnessing the signing, seventh from right.

Gonzalez-Cruz will be among them. He was an immigration law intern with the firm, Krasnogor & Krasnogor, and plans to attend law school — with a goal of working toward immigration reform. In the meantime, he is a top applicant for the highly competitive Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Fellowship Program. The final selections will be announced later this spring.

For now, graduation is on the horizon. “It’s not just for me,” he says. “It’s a way to honor my parents and all of the sacrifices they made when they decided to come to the U.S. They gave up their families. They knew they wouldn’t see their mothers, their fathers, their siblings. . . . I can never repay them, but I know this is what they wanted. And I know that none of this would be possible without them.”

Mick Powell is a poet who, she says, “likes revolutionary acts of resistance.” Resistance and revolution can take many forms, and Powell weaves both into her writing through poetic form, language, subject matter, and imagery. “I like that poetry can challenge what we typically think of as poetry,” she says, and indeed her own poems – often provocative and experimental – can push the reader out of familiar territory.

Powell, who graduates this spring with her MFA in creative writing, has just won two major prizes for her work, so her powerful writing is garnering significant attention. Her chapbook, chronicle the body, won the 2017 Chapbook Contest held by Yemassee, the official journal of the University of South Carolina, and her poem “last night I dreamed KJ undead” was a winner in the Winter Writing Contest sponsored by Columbia Journal, based in the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia University School of the Arts. The chapbook is based on the thesis she wrote for the MFA, and the poem she wrote for her friend KJ, who was murdered in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

Powell says of her work, “My tendency is to write about bodies and how we use them. Sometimes when we experience violence or hear about it, we forget that both parties are human beings. My call to remember the body is to show that we’re all human.” She shares the stories of people whose stories don’t usually get shared, she says, “sometimes my own stories and sometimes other people’s stories.”

English Professor Vivian Shipley, who was Powell’s thesis adviser, says Powell’s poems are “memorable because they are physical and remind us to think of people who might otherwise be forgotten. What unites her intense and compelling poetry is her knowledge that in spite of the complexity of being human, we cannot allow a world that threatens to drown out song to swallow passion and laughter. Mick Powell’s poems contain a deep understanding of what it is to be human because she has cored them from the heart.”

Like many writers, Powell began writing when she was a child. She grew up in Bridgeport and attended an art high school in Trumbull, where she focused on creative writing, writing mostly fiction while also “dabbling in poetry.” She started a literary magazine at her high school and was the fiction editor. “I definitely thought of myself as a fiction writer then,” she says, but when she went off to college at the University of Connecticut, a poetry survey course she took in her first semester intrigued her. “I became interested in how poets tell stories as opposed to how fiction writers tell stories, “ she says. “Poetry allowed me to explore different forms of narrative.”

With the rise of spoken word and slam poetry, and their accessibility through such online platforms as YouTube, Powell says she became more familiar with these forms. She shifted from writing fiction to writing poetry as an undergrad, but “always knew I wanted to go to grad school. I was especially interested in women’s studies and poetry and found myself wanting to talk about poetry through a women’s studies lens.” She was attracted to Southern because of both the Women’s Studies Program and the MFA program and started at the university in 2016.

Of her prize-winning work, Powell says that the chapbook is a collection of experiences, “a lot dealing with my family, but also asking, how do we navigate in the world, how does the Internet facilitate our interactions with each other? Relationships are very important to me – familial relationships, relationships with ourselves and with the community, as well as love relationships.”

Chapbook judge Aaron Coleman, a poet whose work Powell admires, said of Powell’s collection: “Urgent music and breathtaking self-reflection spill from chronicle the body. …I’m also reminded of all the ways we must work to remember the simple miracle of our bodies, their wounds and healing, in a world that so often refuses to see the body’s – in particular: black women’s bodies’ – trials and complexities. But chronicle the body lives and sings in the midst of our American mess, crafting its own rituals and music. . . Especially in our current moment of unmasking dangerous facades of masculinity, I’m grateful for the brilliant courage we witness here. chronicle the body is a collage of the sacred, mundane, familial, and existential; together, these images, emotions, and stories thrive as one ecstatic whole….chronicle the body’s time has come — as both testament and challenge, this is a book we need.”

As the winner of the chapbook contest, Powell will receive $1000 and 25 copies of her published chapbook. For the Columbia contest, her poem will be published in the journal and she will receive $500.

Currently the dean of students at a social justice high school in New Haven, Powell says that after she graduates she’d like to teach. “I like to talk about poetry, and I like to support people on their journey.”

Read a sampling of Powell’s writing:

“i am thinking of fire forgiveness my mother (and fire)” – published in Apogee, 31 May 2017

Four poems by Mick Powell – published in Crabfat Magazine, April 2018

 

 

Jerry Angelica Photography

Graduating senior Terri Lane is ready to sing, to raise her voice — a soulful, mighty four-octaves — to the rafters for the latest in a lifelong series of standout performances.

Lane has opened for Foreigner and the late Johnny Winter; won WPLR’s Battle of the Bands; and sung backup for Michael and Orrin Bolton, Harry Connick Jr., Eddie Money, and a host of others. But May 18 marks a special milestone for the self-described “bluesy rocker chick,” who will sing the alma mater at Southern’s undergraduate commencement exercises — minutes after crossing the stage to receive a bachelor’s degree in music.

Commencement is a celebration of beginnings, but this will be a culmination of sorts for Lane, the final of three performances packed into an emotional two days. Southern also will hold two graduate commencement ceremonies on May 17, and Lane will sing several songs at both, including a personal selection, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon and Garfunkel. She’ll preface each with a short recollection. “About my journey and how there is always hope — and a helping hand to get us through,” she says.

After completing several classes during Southern’s summer session, Lane moves on to Columbia University, Teachers College to begin its prestigious graduate program in music and music education. Making her achievement all the more inspiring, she’s overcome years of horrendous childhood abuse at the hands of her mother, who suffered from severe alcohol and drug addiction.

“We lived in an upper-middle class part of Trumbull, and no one knew what was happening inside of our house,” says Lane, who recalls wearing pants and long sleeves to hide bruises — and missing school when her injuries were too severe to cover. “I was bullied because I was so thin and withdrawn,” says Lane, who still managed to earn top grades.

She suffered through years of abuse before a guidance counselor stepped in. “The types of stories I was telling . . . they just couldn’t believe it at first. It sounded preposterous. What mother would starve her own child,” says Lane. She was placed with a loving foster family for a time. But her mother refused to relinquish custody. Eventually, after being forced to return to her original home, Lane was emancipated as a minor at the age of 15.

She eventually found peace with her mother — and, says that today, she holds love and forgiveness in her heart. Later, when both her mother and a half-brother died in separate drug overdoses, she says the sense of loss “put her into a tailspin.”

Music major Terri Lane, ’18, performing at a sold-out concert at Toad’s Place in 2007. Photo: Andrew Wallach Photography

Through it all music was a saving grace. At the age of three, Lane sat at her grandmother’s piano, “pinging” out melodies heard on the radio. When she was 11, she began classical voice training — and received her first standing ovation at the age of 14 at a school concert. “School and music were my only outlets. They kept my alive,” she says.

Plans to attend college on scholarship to major in music were put on hold. But music remained a touchstone — a source of income and solace. “I never said no to a gig,” says Lane, with a smile. “I was in the studio and performing musical theater at a professional level. . . . I studied acting and got into my first band. I wrote songs.”

She also began working in the energy sector, taking classes at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford and moving up the corporate ladder. She was working in management, when she had an epiphany and finally resigned. “It was time to change my lot — to go after my dreams completely, ” she says. In 2010, drawing exclusively on her extensive industry experience, Lane became an instructor of voice at the University of New Haven. The work united her love of music and teaching — and ultimately confirmed the importance of earning an undergraduate degree to further her career.

Lane’s path led to Southern, where she started undergraduate classes in spring 2014. “When I researched the schools, Southern was it,” she says. “I’d researched the professors, the degree plan, and everything offered. I was so amazed by the experience of some of the professors — especially their musicianship. . . . It was very important to me that they be actively involved in music.”

Terri Lane, ’18, [third from left] was one of the first recipients of the Stutzman Family Foundation Music Scholarship, funded by the Stutzman Family Foundation. Highly accomplished as a Southern student,
Walter Stutzman, ’09, is an award-winning adjunct faculty member. From left: Stutzman and Stutzman Scholars Kristen Casale, ’17; Lane; Jaromy Green; Mary Rose Garych, ’17; and Brendan Donovan, ’18.

After successfully auditioning, Lane was named one of several recipients of the first Stutzman Family Music Scholarship, funded by the Stutzman Family Foundation. Like other music majors and minors, she also benefited from the Southern Applied Music Program, which provides free weekly voice or instrument lessons. The program is funded by the Stutzman Family Foundation as well.

“When I started, I could sing about 3¾ octaves. They have taken me a little over four octaves since I have been here. I am actually stronger than I have ever been as a singer,” says Lane, who worked with applied lesson instructor Rebecca Barko.

The faculty, in turn, are effusive in their praise of Lane. Craig Hlavac, interim associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, comments on her acceptance into Columbia University’s graduate program: “This is a testament not only to her perseverance and talents, but also [to] how Southern can prepare students from all backgrounds to thrive in both employment and at the graduate level.”

Lane, meanwhile, can’t wait to begin the next phase of her education. She plans to start performing again once settled into graduate work — and says she’ll keep sharing her story to help others hurt by abuse. She hopes her words of survival bring courage and solace.

“I know what it is like to play in front of thousands of screaming fans — to feel that extraordinary rush of love,” she says. “ I don’t hold anything back when I sing. I give everything — even the pain. It’s the only way I know. That’s how I healed myself over the years.”