Out and About

(Photo credit: Vern Williams) -- Students in the Multimedia Journalism class in spring 2018 included: Front row, left to right: Jonathan Gonzalez, August Pelliccio, Megan Hill, Melanie Espinal, Kaitlyn Regan. Back row, left to right: Patrick Quinn O’Neill, Michael Riccio, Ryan Conchado, Kevin Crompton, Andrew Hans and Associate Professor Jodie Gil.

A project reported by a group of 12 journalism students earned a First Place award in the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism Awards on May 23 at the state awards banquet held at The Hawthorne in Berlin.

The award was given in the Health category of the competition for the students’ group project: “Costs and access still barriers to health care, survey finds,” produced for the Connecticut Health I-Team, under the direction of Professor Jodie Gil. These students were in spring 2018 Multimedia Journalism course.

In Regional A division, the project was awarded the highest honor above all the major news outlets in the state.

The student winners are: Kaitlyn Regan, Ryan Conchado, Kevin Crompton, Jailene Cuevas, Melanie Espinal, Jonathan Gonzalez, Andrew Hans, Megan Hill, Patrick Quinn O’Neill, August Pelliccio, Michael Riccio, and Alyssa Rice. Hill, a student from Liverpool John Moores University, Southern’s partner university in Liverpool, England, was studying at Southern for the spring semester.

“This project was a collaboration between the students in the Multimedia Journalism course and the Connecticut Health Investigative Team,” says Gil. “We were fortunate to work with Lynne DeLucia, the editor of C-HIT, throughout the Spring 2018 semester.”

Gil explains that the project let the students explore new tools for journalism in a real-world setting – writing about Connecticut residents’ experiences with healthcare and insurance. Students produced videos and podcasts, and took photos of the people they interviewed. They explored data from 500 surveys, and used their interviewing skills to put those numbers into context.

Not only did students put their journalism education to work in the field, they got a chance to learn from DeLucia, a Pulitzer-Prize journalist with more than 40 years’ experience in Connecticut journalism, during classroom sessions.

“I’m really proud of the students’ work, and appreciative of Lynne’s guidance as editor on the project,” Gil says. “It was a team effort, and I’m so honored that the judges selected this as the first place winner in a competitive category.”

A selection of photos from the dozens of Connecticut residents students interviewed.

 

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi with Tony Fusco, recently named the city’s first poet laureate (Photo credit: Michael Walsh/New Haven Register)

SCSU creative writing alumnus Tony Fusco, a West Haven, Conn., resident, was recently named that city’s poet laureate. Fusco is co-president and past-president of the Connecticut Poetry Society and has a master’s degree in creative writing from Southern. He was the editor of Caduceus, the anthology of the Yale Medical Group Art Place, and past editor of The Connecticut River Review, Long River Run, the Southern News, High Tide, and Sounds and Waves of West Haven. His work has appeared in many publications including the Connecticut Review, Louisiana Literature, the Red Rock Review, The South Carolina Review, Lips, and The Paterson Review.

His most recent book is Extinction, published in 2018.

His book Java Scripture was published in 2014 by Flying Horse Press. Previous books include Droplines (Grayson Press) and Jessie’s Garden (Negative Capability Press), which feature poems about his youth in West Haven, Savin Rock, and Allingtown. His poetry has won prizes in many contests, including The Sunken Garden Poetry Prize. His poem “Harvest” was nominated for a Pushcart Award. He is a member of the New England Poetry Club, past literary chair for the West Haven Council of the Arts and the Milford Fine Arts Council. Fusco produced West Shore Poets, a television poetry series at CTV, and served on its board of directors and the Cable Advisory Council.

The New Haven Register published an article about Fusco being named West Haven’s poet laureate, which is available here.

President Joe Bertolino and Otus with Housatonic Community College students and their school's mascot

A growing partnership between Southern and two area community colleges was formally announced recently at both Gateway (GCC) and Housatonic (HCC) community colleges. The partnership — called SCSU @ GCC and SCSU @ HCC — was created to support higher levels of degree attainment by increasing support for transfer students, removing the barriers of location, and reducing the financial impact for students while continuing their associate degree program requirements.

Students at those community colleges have been engaged in a pilot program in which they can take two Southern courses on their own campus for free. President Joe Bertolino and Paul Broadie II, president of Gateway and Housatonic, announced that the program will continue this fall with the intent to expand upon it in the future. The courses will be transferable to Southern and other colleges and universities.

The partnership also includes an “A to B” (Associate to Bachelor’s degree) program, in which students who are not accepted into Southern initially can receive support to make it easier to do so after earning an associate degree at Housatonic or Gateway.

Learn more about SCSU @ GCC

Learn more about SCSU @ HCC

The Connecticut Post and New Haven Independent ran stories on the program. Channel 8 also aired a piece in advance of the announcement.

The following are links to the stories:

Southern to lay groundwork for four-year degree at Housatonic and Gateway

Higher Ed Collab Brings Free SCSU Courses To GCC

SCSU, Housatonic Community College expand partnership

 

 

 

Digital Content Editor Jeff Nowak working at computer in the New Orleans Advocate newsroom as Investigations Editor Gordon Russell walks behind. Russell was a leader in the reporting effort for the non-unanimous juries project that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Photo credit: The Advocate (Side note: Mural behind Jeff he says is one of the coolest features of our newsroom. It's a collage of front pages from New Orleans-area newspapers through the years. Picture taken in September 2017 amid the long news-gathering process for the series that debuted in April 2018).

April 2019 was a great month for journalism at Southern. Student journalists won six awards at the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), Region 1 Conference in Boston and a recent alumnus was part of a New Orleans-based newspaper team that won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.

As part of The Advocate team that won the nation’s most prestigious journalism award, Jeffrey Nowak, a 2012 journalism graduate, prepared the digital presentation, compiled a massive splash page, created an interactive timeline, and led social promotion for a series that helped change Louisiana’s controversial split-jury law.

Nowak, a native of Windham, Conn., and graduate of Windham High School, joined The Advocate digital content staff in April 2106. He leads many efforts in New Orleans while also working remotely with Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La., newsrooms. His team consists of four digital content editors and a digital general manager.

Before relocating to New Orleans, Nowak worked as a digital editor, production desk chief and sports producer at The Sun in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Previously he had been a reporter at The Daily Voice in Westborough, Mass., and a freelance sports writer for the Hartford Courant. While a student at Southern, Nowak was editor-in-chief of the Southern News. And in 2102 he received the Outstanding Journalist of the Year award from the Journalism Department.

Meanwhile, at the regional SPJ conference, journalists from Southern’s new student-published Crescent magazine won four awards, including the Finalist Award for Best Student Magazine for its fall 2018 edition, the second publication in its young start.

Alumna and journalism minor Jefferine Jean-Jacques was the winner in the Feature Photography category for her series of photos, “Through the lens,” published in Crescent’s inaugural edition in spring 2018. Jean-Jacques’ photo package was culled from various trips she took with her three children to countries including Haiti, India, Ghana and Ethiopia. Her photos will move on to the national SPJ college competition.

Other regional winners for Crescent included managing editor Jacob Waring, who won a Finalist award for the non-fiction magazine article, “A lot to juggle,” about SCSU students who are also parents in the fall 2018 edition. Photo editor Meghan Olson, a Studio Art-Photography major, won a Finalist award for Feature Photography, for “Funky hair,” the fall 2018 cover package.

Southern News Editor-in-chief Kevin Crompton won a finalist award in the Sports Writing category for a profile on Owls linebacker Jhaaron Wallace, “Wallace joins elite company in record books.” The story highlights the journey from high school to college for one of the top defensive players to come through the Owls football program.

The student newspaper’s second award went to former Managing Editor Joshua LaBella, alumnus, and former Op Ed/Features editor August Pelliccio: a finalist award for Breaking News Reporting.

Each category included one winner and one finalist. SPJ Region 1 encompasses universities from Maine through New England to New York, New Jersey to Philadelphia.

Photo credit for home page image: The Advocate (Digital Content Editor Jeff Nowak working at computer in the New Orleans Advocate newsroom as Investigations Editor Gordon Russell walks behind. Russell was a leader in the reporting effort for the non-unanimous juries project that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.)

Could research on an Amazonian plant save indigenous tribes - and help get you through that mid-afternoon slump? Assistant Professor of Chemistry James Kearns helps investigate.

On site in Ecuador are [from left] James Kearns, assistant professor of chemistry; a member of the Secoya; Luke Weiss, an American who assimilated into the Secoya and is fighting to save their way of life; and senior Brokk Tollefson.

He’s endured sweltering temperatures, swum in treacherous waters, hunted wild rodents for food, and encountered the occasional inhospitable native. And then there were the bugs — swarms of tiny sandflies eager to feast on any bit of exposed ankle or shin.

Welcome to the world of scientist James Kearns, who spends part of his professional life in the laboratory and a Southern classroom — and the other conducting research in the most remote corners of the world.

An associate professor of chemistry , Kearns travels deep inside the Amazon jungle for several weeks each summer, living with an indigenous tribe known as the Secoya. His research subject is the Paullinia yoco, a tropical vine that grows wild among the trees in the eastern Ecuadorian rainforest, near the Peruvian and Colombian borders.

As the sun sets, Tollefson cools off from the blistering heat.

Kearns has studied the plant’s chemical properties (its bark contains high concentrations of caffeine and theobromine, a stimulant found in chocolate) and is exploring its potential use in energy drinks. The Secoya make a tea from the bark and consume it early in the morning for sustained energy before a day of hunting or farming.

A member of the Secoya scrapes bark from the vine. Associate Professor Kearns helped investigate the chemical composition of various parts of the plant.

“It’s similar to taking in a couple of cups of coffee, but the effects lasts longer because materials that are in the bark result in much slower absorption into the stomach,” Kearns explains.

It’s not unusual for scientists and academics to conduct fieldwork in remote places, or even to bring adventure-seeking students along. But Kearns describes his Amazon trips as “a totally different level of incredible insanity.”

The Secoya village is only accessible by boat.

The journey alone is a test of mental stamina. Traveling to the village begins with an eight-hour plane ride to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, followed by 12 hours on a bus to Lago Agrio, an oil city that developed in the 1960s as a base camp for Texaco. From there it’s a two-hour taxi ride to the village of San Pablo, and another 40 minutes by motorized canoe to a Secoya settlement accessible only by boat.

“There are a lot of challenges and risks,” Kearns says. He first learned about the Secoya as a college student in 1996. While studying biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts, he worked for an engineering firm that was developing a water-filtration system for the tribe.

Assisting with farming is part of the experience.

The Secoya live downriver from Ecuador’s largest oil fields, and decades of drilling and exploitation by the petroleum industry has contaminated their water sources. In response, villagers have turned to harvesting rainwater, Kearns explains.

In 2012, shortly before joining the faculty at Southern, he first traveled to Ecuador for a separate research project that involved testing water samples for airborne pollutants. There, he met Luke Weiss, an American who had assimilated into the tribe and married a Secoya woman.

Kearns helps the family prep dinner while Weiss carves a paddle.

Weiss is working with Amazon Frontlines, a nonprofit organization that is helping the 500 or so Secoya and other nearby tribes reverse the devastation caused by industrialization and preserve their way of life.

The pair became fast friends (Kearns is now godfather to Weiss’ daughter), and on a canoe trip one afternoon, Weiss led Kearns to a wild yoco vine entwined around a fallen tree. He showed him how to scrape off the bark with a machete and squeeze it into a gourd to make a cold-water infusion, similar to a tea.

The dream, Weiss told him, was to harness the plant’s stimulant properties for use in an energy drink, turning the wild vine into a sustainable cash crop that could reduce the Secoya’s dependence on oil drilling as an income source. (Many younger Secoya have taken jobs with oil companies in nearby cities, threatening the dwindling tribe’s future.)

Weiss sips a beverage made from the Paullinia yoco plant.

So in 2013, just as Kearns was settling into a new teaching job at Southern, Weiss enrolled in a master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science to study the plant’s viability as an agricultural product — and he enlisted his friend the SCSU chemist to help with the research.

The pair spent the next two years analyzing samples of the woody vine in a lab at Yale, using a technique called high-performance liquid chromatography to measure caffeine and theobromine levels in the bark, seeds, and leaves. They found higher levels of the chemicals than initially thought, with the greatest concentrations in the bark. Perhaps not surprisingly, they also discovered that the most potent plants were those with the thickest stems. Their findings were published in the Yale journal Tropical Resources in 2015.

Amazon Frontlines has used the newfound knowledge to help pinpoint the yoco’s optimal growing conditions, and is now helping the Secoya and allied tribes experimentally farm some 3,000 of the formerly wild plants. In August 2018, Kearns returned to the settlement with Southern student photographer and sociology major Brokk Tollefson to document their progress.

The pair also spent part of the trip in the Andean region of Ecuador, working with a women’s cooperative that uses sap from the Agave Americana plant to make agave-based sweeteners. Kearns is leading a research project at Southern that involves testing the sap for the presence of toxic metals as well. (He received a provisional patent for a low-cost field kit that detects metal levels. It was developed based on research conducted in collaboration with then-student Cody Edson, ’16, M.S. ’17.)

Camera in hand, Brokk Tollefson travels to the next research site.

Embracing the Challenge
Because it’s so demanding, Kearns usually travels to the rainforest solo. But he was confident the 26-year-old Tollefson, who served four years active duty in the Marine Corps, including a tour in Afghanistan, could handle the trip. Staying with Weiss and his family, they spent 10 days immersed in tribal routines, which included back-breaking agricultural work in extreme heat. Tollefson took more than 1,000 photos of the yoco farming and other aspects of Secoya life for an independent study project.

Even the military-trained Tollefson, however, wasn’t fully prepared for life in the jungle. “The bugs were crazy, the weather was hardly bearable, and after waking up to a very large cockroach the size of my fist crawling on my arm, it was hard to sleep,” he says. “It was the most sobering and surreal experience of my life.”

But then he adds: “I’d love to do it again.”

Photos by Brokk Tollefson, ’19, who majored in sociology and minored in journalism.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Alumna's debut young adult novel is among the most eagerly anticipated.

Erin Jones, ’10, majored in journalism at Southern -- and has made her mark in the red-hot young adult book market with her debut novel, Tinfoil Crowns.

Barnes & Noble (B&N) stocks more than 1 million titles for immediate delivery — so it’s a particular thrill for authors to find their work among the mega-retailer’s most eagerly awaited. So it was for author Erin Jones, ’10, whose debut young-adult novel, Tinfoil Crowns, (Flux Books) was included on B&N’s “10 Most Anticipated Indie YA Books for 2019.”

“This of-the-minute narrative is accessible and authentic, layered with diverse, flawed, and immensely likable characters.” -Kirkus Reviews

Coming to readers on May 7, Tinfoil Crowns is about a 17-year-old YouTube star named Fit and her mission to become famous. But there’s one thing her fans don’t know: when Fit was 3 years old, her mother, who was suffering from postpartum psychosis, tried to kill her and her sibling. The book is also noted as a rainbow read (LGBTQ) and for including an adult point of view. It’s a portrayal Kirkus Reviews calls “an empathetic glimpse into the rise of tomorrow’s celebrity du jour.”

Jones graduated magna cum laude from Southern with a degree in journalism and went on to earn a graduate degree from Emerson College, where she’s now an affiliated faculty member. She’s also editor-in-chief of the Platform Review, a literary journal focused on publishing quality literature from emerging and established writers. The former head of marketing at Ploughshares, Jones regularly contributes to the Ploughshares Blog.

A Global Brigades service trip to Ghana provides senior Princess Bart-Addison with an opportunity to "give back" and connect with her family's heritage.

Taking a break, during Global Brigade's 2019 trip to Ghana. Princess Bart-Addison is second from left.

Senior Princess Bart-Addison was born and raised in the Bronx. But she grew up hearing stories about the Republic of Ghana — her parents’ homeland — and, while English is her first language, she also speaks Twi (Akan), one of the more than 250 languages and dialects spoken in the country. In 2018, she paid her first visit to Ghana, traveling alongside her mother who’d left the country more than two and a half decades earlier and was returning for the first time.

Bart-Addison recalls the trip as life-changing; the people electrifying. Children walked throughout the streets selling items to passersby. A young woman carried her child on her back, deftly balancing large packages on her head as she walked through the streets. “Everyone is doing something. There is so much determination,” says Bart-Addison. Inspired, she visited an elementary school in Ghana — and, upon returning to the U.S., helped her sister, a high school senior, collect much-needed supplies to send to the students.

In January 2019, Bart-Addison returned to Ghana, traveling with the university’s chapter of Global Brigades — a secular, student-led service organization. Global Brigades has university chapters throughout the world with an overarching goal: to empower volunteers to help resolve global health and economic disparities in communities around the globe.

Founded in 2016, Southern’s chapter has quickly attracted members. Bart-Addison was one of 21 Southern students to join the brigade along with a faculty member. “I was so excited to be going back to Ghana. The first time was a vacation. This time was for service. It was a different feeling,” she says.

Southern participated in a “public health brigade,” traveling to the community of Ekumpoano in Ghana to help local masons build biodigester tanks for use with pour-flush toilets. The work is critically needed. Nationally, 22.9 percent of people in Ghana do not have access to any sanitation facilities (open defecation is the norm) and only 15 percent use improved, unshared sanitation facilities, according to UNICEF.

Global Brigades launched its first public health initiative in Ghana in January 2019, so the Southern students joined the effort on the ground floor. For Bart-Addison, the prospect was simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating. “There was a group before us, so we saw what they had built [a completed biodigester tank]. I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to do this?” she says.

Members of Southern’s Global Brigade team hard at work on the biodigester.

The group began by meeting with families in the community. “We went to their homes to introduce ourselves . . . to ask them about their problems, and learn about their families and their needs,” says Bart-Addison. The next day, the students divided into groups of four or five, and were paired with a local mason. The construction techniques were vastly different than in the U.S. “We have machines to mix the cement. Over there, they pour the cement on the floor, add the water, and then turn it with a shovel,” says Bart-Addison, who was able to assist her group as a translator.

The students stayed in a modernized hotel, traveling by bus each day to the community. With temperatures rising through the 90s, they worked from early morning through the late afternoon, using cement, cinder blocks, bricks, and sand to help construct the biodigester tanks. “There was so much sand and dirt in our shoes and on our clothes. And we were so tired immediately after, but on the bus ride back we always had enough energy to sing and talk,” she says.

Southern’s team built five biodigesters. After completing the project, they provided lessons on how to correctly use the systems. They also taught a children’s class on hygiene, demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques with a song. “One of my friends wrote it in their language. It was really nice. The children sat in a circle and sang it to us,” says Bart-Addison.

Students received an invitation to meet with the local chief.

This connection with the community was a high point for Bart-Addison. The group enjoyed trips to several historical and cultural sites — and was invited to meet with the chief at his palace. He thanked the students profusely, invited them back, and even exchanged cellphone numbers.

Completing the project brought an amazing sense of accomplishment and gratitude. “It definitely gives you a great sense of appreciation. I have a toilet that flushes — and I don’t think anything of it. But to them, this is probably the best thing that has happened in a very long time. . . . It will make a difference in their lives.They will remember it,” says Bart-Addison, with a smile.

As will she. An interdisciplinary studies major with concentrations in forensic science, sociology, and social science and medicine, Bart-Addison plans to work with at-risk youth. She’s spent the past three summers as a counselor at Epworth United Methodist Church Day Camp in the Bronx — and also volunteers with KHAIR (pronounced “care”), which serves at-risk youth from New Haven through mentoring and workshops on topics like financial literacy and dressing for success. On campus, she’s a vital member of the True Blue Owls team, working within the Division of Institutional Advancement to highlight the importance of giving.

“I loved how our group was so open to new experiences like trying new foods and listening to new music. The people from Global Brigades would play African music on our bus. By the end of the trip, our group was singing along.” — senior Princess Bart-Addison

Bart-Addison graduates in May and is looking into service work opportunities. Meanwhile, her Global Brigades teammates have stayed in touch — in person and through social media. “We’ll put pictures up. If someone is listening to a song we heard in Ghana, they’ll share it with everyone — and it always brings me right back,” she says.

Photos by Southern student Brokk Tollefson, a sociology major and journalism minor, who will graduate in May 24, 2019.

See an album of photos from Ghana.

A lively welcoming committee met the Southern students each day.

Southern nursing students and community health workers from Project Access join forces at DESK in New Haven. (Photo courtesy of Community Foundation for Greater New Haven)

At the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK), students from Southern’s Department of Nursing, along with community health workers from Project Access, participate in Know Your Numbers, a partnership that provides screenings, referrals, and patient navigation in the form of follow-ups. DESK is the first agency in New Haven to pilot the program, as a partnership with Yale New Haven Health and CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), which is based at Southern’s School of Health and Human Services (HHS). Because the people who come to DESK are often dealing with multiple problems related to living in poverty, DESK has established partnerships with other organizations to offer additional services during the mealtimes.

Learn more here:
https://www.cfgnh.org/About/NewsEvents/ViewArticle/tabid/96/ArticleId/1793/More-than-a-meal.aspx

Dr. Bill Lunn (Image courtesy of WTNH-News 8)

It’s that time of year again, when many folks make New Year’s resolutions about losing weight, eating more healthily, and getting into better shape.

Dr. Bill Lunn, associate director of exercise science and director of Southern’s Human Performance Laboratory, recently discussed several popular diets in an interview with WTNH-News 8. He offered pros and cons to four of the most popular diets in America today.

Watch the interview here.

 

Southern sculpture students have collaborated on “Silence the Violence,” a three-dimensional work referencing the national debate about 3D printed guns. Their socially engaged work is being presented in the #Unload: Pick Up the Pieces exhibition at The Ely Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven.

The work encompasses a human-shaped target with circular vignettes representing the different viewpoints of each of the artists. Each vignette becomes a point on the target that can be interpreted as either a bullet hole or as a lens detailing the student’s personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions about guns.

The individual vignettes are constructed as 3D prints to serve as a formal reference to the 3D printed gun debate. Guided by Professor Art Rachael Vaters-Carr, Southern’s student collaborators include: Karen Daye, Evan DiGiovanni, Danielle Fleuriot, Tyãnna Garner, Sammi Huang, Tyler Kopeck, Isabelle Louime, Duke Pierre, Amber Pindulic, and Jenna Reeser.

#Unload: Pick Up the Pieces, which runs through November 11, is an unjuried, inclusive, community-driven exhibition that explores issues surrounding gun control laws and the impact of guns on society. The exhibition aims to raise questions regarding violence, safety, gender, equality, and the influence of media on violence and mental health stigmas.

Artists from diverse backgrounds and working across media have created material-driven and conceptually-charged works either from decommissioned gun parts from a Hartford buy-back program or works inspired by the theme. The artworks reflect society’s divided attitudes towards gun control, gun safety, gun reform, the Constitutional right to bear arms, as well as recent events relating to gun use, ownership, safety, and violence.

The exhibition is a highlight of Artspace New Haven’s 21st annual City-Wide Open Studios festival  complemented by artist talks, panel discussions, presentations by political candidates and other community notables, and a voters’ registration table leading up to November 6 mid-term elections.