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Asma Rahimyar
Asma Rahimyar

Asma Rahimyar – a senior pursuing a double baccalaureate degree in political science and philosophy at Southern – will become the first Rhodes Scholar in the university’s history.

Rahimyar, a Trumbull resident and daughter of Afghan refugees, was among 32 Americans chosen for the prestigious award from an applicant pool exceeding 2,300, according to Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust.

The award is considered one of the most prestigious academic honors in the world. Applicants are chosen based on several criteria with academic excellence being the foremost. “We seek outstanding young people of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service,” Gerson said.

Rahimyar said she is proud to represent her family, community and Southern.

“It’s exciting, overwhelming, and also very humbling,” she said. “I had no expectations of making it to this point.

“Southern has taught me how to keep my feet on the ground and reach for the stars,” Rahimyar continued. “So many of our students have life struggles outside of the classroom and it’s difficult for them to pursue their studies. They should know the sky’s the limit; there’s no limit to the extent of their aspirations.”

SCSU President Joe Bertolino said the award is a source of great pride for SCSU and all those who have supported Rahimyar throughout her “journey of great accomplishment,” noting that Rhodes Scholars are typically recipients from Yale, Harvard and other leading colleges and universities across the nation.

“Being named a Rhodes Scholar is a tribute to her outstanding qualities as a student and her passion for human rights,” he said. “And it is also testimony to the mission of empowerment and opportunity that we pursue at Southern, through a deep and enduring commitment to social justice.”

Rahimyar plans to pursue masters’ degrees in global governance and diplomacy, and in refugee and forced migration studies. She eventually hopes to obtain a doctoral degree and empower women in Afghanistan, while helping to rebuild that country through stable government.

Earlier this year, she was selected as a recipient of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship for outstanding potential for leadership, commitment to public service and academic excellence. She also has earned various other awards and serves as president of the Muslim Student Association. In addition, she has participated in a United Nations Conference on Cultural Diplomacy.

Patricia Olney, professor of political science and Rahimyar’s academic advisor who recommended her for the Rhodes Scholarship, pointed out that she also had won a competitive SCSU summer research grant of $3,000 to reconstruct the history of two Afghan villages suffering the ravages of wartime abuses during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

“It was these horrors her parents fled from to seek refuge in the United States and why she developed a passion for human rights, as well as refugee and immigrant rights,” Olney wrote in her letter of recommendation.

Olney said Rahimyar has compiled a remarkable 4.0 GPA, while also being very active in other activities.

“The flurry of extracurricular activity I see her so devoted to has always confounded me as she spends a minimum of six hours daily in the library and seems entirely devoted to her studies,” she continued. “Yet to Asma, academic and service activities are twin passions — neither of which can be compromised, including her many acts of kindness outside of her formal activities.”

Rahimyar will be among more than 100 students representing 60 countries who will attend Oxford University starting next October. The Rhodes Trust will pay for all of her college and university fees; provide a stipend for necessary expenses while at Oxford; and cover transportation costs to and from England.

Of the more than 2,300 applicants, 953 were endorsed by their college or university. Selection committees in each of 16 U.S. districts then invited the strongest applicants to appear before them virtually for an interview.

Two students were chosen in each of the 16 geographic districts, based on a student’s home address. Rahimyar joins a student from New Jersey attending the U.S. Naval Academy to represent District 2.

 

Biology Professor Sean Grace was quoted in an article, “What kelp can teach us about thriving amid uncertainty,” published on Quartz. The writer, Katherine Ellen Foley, uses kelp’s ability to survive in harsh conditions as a metaphor for how we can look at life during a pandemic. Below is the full text of the article.

“What kelp can teach us about thriving amid uncertainty”
By Katherine Ellen Foley
Health and science reporter, Quartz
November 4, 2020

On days when it feels that the uncertainty is too much to bear, we’d be wise to take notes from a humble, giant algae: kelp.

We land-dwellers rarely think about kelp, but we’ve got quite a lot in common with this ocean friend. For one thing, neither of us are plants; kelp is actually a type of algae called a heterokont. Our lives also share similar beginnings and ends: We both create offspring via sexual reproduction, and eventually, our cells age and die.

These similarities should inspire us to know that we, too, can be like kelp in perhaps its most remarkable feat: It stays firmly rooted amid tumultuous forces beyond its control, and in doing so, inadvertently creates a nurturing environment for others.

Kelp is somewhat constrained in where it can live; because it is algae, it must stick to shallow salt water where it can absorb the sun’s rays. Unfortunately, though, these shallows experience incredibly turbulent waters—too rough for most organisms to handle. These forces would rip humans apart, says Sean Grace, a marine ecologist at Southern Connecticut State University.

Although kelp might be happier in a calmer environment, it continues to thrive. It does so by being both steadfast and flexible. At the bottom of kelp stocks are appendages called holdfasts, which live up to their names, Grace says. Holdfasts fuse themselves to rocks, and become unflappably grounded.

Portrait of SCSU Professor of Biology Sean Grace
Sean Grace

Holdfasts allow the parts of kelp that stretch up to the sky, called stripes and blades, to bend to the water’s will. This flexibility is what allows them to survive, instead of getting whisked away and torn to shreds. Even while it accommodates unforeseen pushes and pulls, kelp never stops reaching for the suns’ rays.

But here’s more: As kelp sustains itself by absorbing sunlight, water, and literal tons of carbon dioxide (cleaning up much of our dirty work, I might add), its stability creates a habitat for all kinds of marine life. It does so physically, by providing a reliable hideout for fish, crustaceans, and mammals; and biologically, by providing these creatures with the nutrition they need to thrive.

“If you look all around the world to wherever there are kelp forests, you find higher biodiversity, which is a signal of health,” Grace says. The more kelp, the more other kinds of life thrive.

We didn’t ask to live through the pushes and pulls of 2020, nor did kelp ask to live through the ebbs and flows of the tides. Yet kelp survives, and help others thrive, as should we. Although we don’t have holdfasts, we do have family and loved ones to keep us grounded. We have foundational values that allow us to keep sight of our goals, even while being pulled in undesirable directions. And we can make room for others along the way, too.

Perhaps when Confucius referenced the strength of the humble green reed compared to the stiff oak, he really meant to say “kelp.”

Jennifer Hopper
Jennifer Hopper

Throughout this election season, our faculty experts in the Political Science Department have shared their insight and expertise with the public via a slew of media interviews.

Collectively, Jonathan Wharton, Tess Marchant-Shapiro and Jennifer Hopper have provided Southern with a regular presence in the news. Media representatives have expressed that they value not only their knowledge of politics, but their ability to provide objective analyses of political events — a valuable skill in today’s polarized political world.

As an example, Channel 3 interviewed Jennifer both on Election Day, and then the next morning, about the presidential election race. She also was interviewed on WNPR’s “Where We Live” show.

Jonathan also was interviewed on Channel 3 before the election, and on Channel 30 after the election.

In the days leading up to the election, the three were interviewed by various media, as well.

As an example, Tess was interviewed by Channel 3, Channel 61 and WNPR.

 

Mrs. Mildred Madison

When 94-year-old Mildred Madison’s absentee ballot was late arriving, she wanted to make sure her vote was counted. So her son, History Professor Julian Madison — drove her 350 miles each way, from Chicago to Detroit, so that she could cast her ballot. Mrs. Madison was featured in a news segment on CBS 17, a local CBS affiliate in North Carolina, as well as on CNN Politics.

Mrs. Madison is quoted in the CNN article as saying, “I’ve been voting in every election, whether it was city, state, county or national for the last 72 years.” She has a long history in activism and politics and was the first black president of the League of Women Voters in Cleveland, Ohio, where she raised her children. In that role she worked to bring the final presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter to Cleveland.

In the video, Mrs. Madison emphasizes the importance of voting, “not only for your children, but for their children.”

Professor Madison says, “While growing up, my mother insisted on two things: First, respect women. Second, vote in every election. Her explanations were simple. By voting, I take part in shaping my future as well as those who come after me. Second, it sets an example for others. Finally, by NOT voting, not only will my voice not be heard, but I will have no right to complain when things go wrong.”

From the CBS 17 video: History Professor Julian Madison waits for his mother as she casts her ballot.

Mrs. Madison’s story has caught the attention of many and has now gone viral. Professor Madison reports that news outlets in Vietnam, England, and France have picked up this story as have outlets in most states. The Daily Show covered her story on October 20, and she has been interviewed by phone by someone on the Oprah Winfrey Channel. She was also featured on the CBS Morning News on Election Day, November 3.

As Professor Madison says, “this is certainly an opportunity for my mother who has run for political office on several occasions and won, to continue to push people to vote.”

Julian Madison

Sarah Crawford

Sarah Crawford, a professor of biology who has an expertise in virology, recently had an article published regarding the latest developments with vaccines and therapeutics in the journal, “Medical Research Archives.” The piece is titled, “Defeating the COVID-19 Pandemic by Targeting the Critical Interface between SARS-CoV-2 Virus Infection and Its Destructive Immune System Effects.”

Crawford discusses why younger people are at lower risk for severe reactions to COVID-19 infections; the role of interferon — both natural and in drug form — and of hydroxychloroquine on the disease; the keys to effective therapeutics; and whether it is possible to prevent the “cytokine storm,” the cascade of reactions causing serious complications in the second week after an infection begins.

She also addresses the topic of whether previous exposure to other coronaviruses can generate immunity.

And Crawford’s article points out that previous vaccines for SARS and other coronaviruses showed serious after effects in some patients in clinical trials. “We are beginning to see that now with the new vaccines,” she said.

After having her paper published, she was interviewed on Channel 3 (WFSB) and on WTIC radio (1080 AM).

The following is a question-and-answer with Crawford that offers a summary of the highlights of the article:

*Why are younger people at lower risk for severe reactions to COVID infections?

I believe one of the reasons is that people 50 years and older tend to produce less interferon than younger folks. Interferon inhibits the reproduction of the virus in the early stages.

*Can interferon as a drug help those who don’t produce enough of it naturally?

Studies have shown that it does help. But it has a wide range of effects in drug form, and the pros and cons would have to be weighed.

*Are there other reasons for young people having much milder symptoms?

This may be related to the various vaccines given to children. There is evidence to suggest they create a broad enhancement of the immune system during a person’s youth. This seems especially linked to a type of tuberculosis vaccine.

*What are keys to effective therapeutics?

The most effective therapeutics attack the spike attachment protein, replication of the RNA genome, and assembly of virus particles in infected cells.

*Is it possible to prevent the “cytokine storm,” the chain reaction in the body that spurs inflammation and sometimes blood clots and other complications, in a person who already has been infected?

Drugs, such as Remdesivir and Favipiravir decrease the duration of the disease, and seem to have the greatest effect in limiting the cytokine storm if given early in the infection. Dexamethasone, a glucosteroid, has been shown to decrease mortality rates.

*What about hydroxychloroquine? Is this an effective treatment or not?

There is conflicting evidence. But a study in Henry Ford Hospital included 2,500 patients in which there was a significant reduction in mortality rates when used by itself or with the antibiotic azithromycin, compared with those who used neither. This contradicted an earlier Oxford study.

*Can previous exposure to other coronaviruses generate some immunity from COVID-19?

Other coronavirus may produce long-lasting cross-reactive immune system responses.

 

 

Vivian Shipley

English Professor Vivian Shipley, a Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor, has won the grand prize in The MacGuffin’s 25th Annual Poet Hunt Contest with her poem “No Rehearsal.” The MacGuffin is a national literary journal established in 1984 at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Mich. The winning three poems, selected by this year’s guest judge, poet Matthew Olzmann, will be published in a short feature appearing in Vol. 37.1 due out in early 2021.

Shipley, who earned her bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in English from the University of Kentucky and her doctorate in Victorian literature from Vanderbilt University, has taught at Southern since 1969 and has published 16 books of poetry. She teaches undergraduate and graduate poetry writing workshops in the English Department. She says that her winning poem is about the coronavirus.

Shipley’s work has received many accolades. Her book All of Your Messages Have Been Erased (Louisiana Literature Press, 2010) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and won both the 2011 Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and the Sheila Motton Book Prize for Poetry from New England Poetry Club. It was also recognized as Best Creative Work by the Connecticut Press Club and was a finalist for both the Connecticut Book Prize and the Milton Kessler Poetry Prize from SUNY-Binghamton. Shipley has received many other awards and recognitions as well, including being chosen as SCSU Faculty Scholar three times and named to the University of Kentucky Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

Hundreds of students, faculty, administrators, and staff marched on campus on September 30 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to call for racial justice. The march started at 5 p.m. at Buley Library and moved over the footbridge to the Residence Life Quad, where a speak-in with art and music on racial issues took place, followed by a vigil to commemorate the Black lives lost at the hands of police brutality and racial injustice.

Student Cameryn Arpino-Brown organized the event as a way of helping students find their voices, and several campus organizations joined in, including a group called “Athletes Fighting Social Injustice,” formed through the Athletics Department.

TV stations WTNH and NBC30 covered the march:

“Hundreds gather at SCSU for march and vigil for racial equality”

“SCSU Students Hold Black Lives Matter March On Campus”

Susan Burger
Susan Burger

The proliferation of COVID-19 has sparked a major increase in the use of telehealth appointments in an effort to reduce the chances of spreading the disease.

Some in-person medical visits are necessary even during times when the number of coronavirus infections is high. Other appointments can safely be postponed. But many of those important, non-emergency needs have been met through the use of telemedicine.

Susan Burger, associate professor of nursing who had done considerable research on telehealth before the pandemic, recently discussed the pros and cons of telehealth during an interview on Channel 30 (NBC Connecticut).

 

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.”