School of Arts and Sciences

Biotech student Amelia Hoyt and Nicholas Edgington, associate professor of biology and biotech program coordinator

Students enrolled in biotechnology — applied molecular and cellular biology — at Southern Connecticut State University get their hands dirty. No, really. Part of the required learning for the B.S. in biotechnology is to dig in the dirt.

“We’re looking for phages,” explains Nicholas Edgington, associate professor and biotech program coordinator. “In the ground.”

A “phage” is short for bacteriophage, and a bacteriophage is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria. In simple terms, finding phages is important because it enables students to discover new bacteria-killing viruses.

Southern’s phage hunting course, SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science), starts with simple digging in the soil to find new viruses and progresses through a variety of microbiology techniques to complex genome annotation and bioinformatic analyses. The two-semester course is embedded into Genomics I and II and is one of two innovative national educational programs that are part of the degree and give students hands-on access to real world health threats. The other program, Small World Initiative, or SWI, requires students to roll up their sleeves and get digging again — this time for antibiotic-producing bacteria. SWI seeks to address the problem of antibiotic resistant “superbugs” or bacteria, by having students isolate soil microorganisms that may produce new antimicrobial products.

Southern student Amelia Hoyt’s eyes light up when she talks about the courses.

“Small World and SEA-PHAGES are actual research projects that had a huge impact on my education,” she says. “SEA-PHAGES is a really interesting class. You get to work with viral particles — viruses that affect bacteria.”

A self-described science enthusiastic — “I always enjoyed learning about science, especially the scientific discovery process and scientific research” — Hoyt quickly launches into the how-to process: “You take a soil sample and you grow it in media for a while and you inoculate the soil with host bacteria. Then you filter out the dirt and bacteria and what you’re left with is liquid full of virus particles, and you can take a sample of the liquid and you mix it in with cells from the host and then plate a lawn of that bacteria, and if a virus attaches it creates a plaque. It’s real lab work.”

So real, in fact, that the students’ findings are presented at regional symposiums and national conferences and are published in peer-reviewed research journals like Microbiology Resource Announcements and Nature Microbiology, as well as scientific databases like PhagesDB.org and the NCBI’s GenBank. Southern has 15 genomes published in GenBank with students as authors.

In addition to the dirt extracting courses, biotech students also participate in a required internship at a local company such as Alexion, Isoplexis, Quantum BioPower, Synovel Laboratory, Archillion, and more. Hoyt interned at The Jackson Laboratory. Her research, conducted under the guidance of Dr. Julia Oh, focused on the microbiome, specifically the differences in the interaction between the microbiome and the immune system in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

“We took gut samples, isolated the bacteria from them in different conditions, making sure we got a wide range of samples,” she says. “Once we have certain bacteria sorted out, we can do experiments on them. And once we have results, we’ll write a paper about the methods and the results, trying to create a systemic way to characterize microbiomes of patients. We can take a population and identify the characteristics, so we can say, ‘This bacteria causes chronic fatigue syndrome.’”

With her internship ending in May, it’s too soon for Hoyt to draw any scientific conclusions, but she’s not disappointed: “I got a job offer at The Jackson Laboratory, so I’ll be able to see it all the way through.”

Internships can often evolve into employment, and while Southern does maintain strong relationships with businesses in the biotech field, Edgington is quick to point out that the strength of the program and the student are ultimately what get them in the door.

“Southern has a close relationship with BioCT [an organization dedicated to growing the bioscience ecosystem in Connecticut],” Edgington says. “But these companies aren’t holding positions open for our students. We have relationships, but students still get employed on their own merits.”

Employment prospects in the field are good. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) occupations out-earn non-STEM fields by 12 to 30 percent across all education levels, and STEM jobs have doubled as a proportion of all jobs.

“Biotech is just applying molecular biology to programs,” Edgington says. “It’s coming up with new drugs, new pathways for interactions, new disease states, genome sequencing and risk predictions for fetuses. It’s pretty rare to have two genomics courses in an undergraduate program, like Southern does, and genomics is exploding.”

Southern’s biotech program also offers bioinformatics, which is the science of collecting and analyzing complex biological data such as genetic codes. Much like genomics, the field is ripe with opportunity.

“Biotech students get experience with programming and biologic data sets,” Edgington says. “Companies can’t hire enough students in bioinformatics.”

Then, there’s the research. Antibiotic resistance and diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome are just two examples of the endless applications of research in the biotech field. To a science-loving student like Hoyt, the thought is a cheery one.

“There’s so much work to be done on human biome,” she says, “we’ll never run out of research projects.”

Southern Connecticut State University’s biotech program is currently applying for accreditation from The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, for its genomics courses.

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.

Celebration of Excellence: Undergraduate Research Assistants – Faculty Award Grant

2019 Recipient: Cheryl Durwin, Professor of Psychology

About the award

This initiative, Undergraduate Research Assistants, is funded by the SCSU Office of the Provost. One grant of up to $3,000 is awarded to a faculty member to support one or more undergraduate research assistants to assist with said faculty member’s research in any academic discipline represented on the SCSU campus. The purpose of this program is to support a research experience for undergraduates and also to support faculty research.

About the recipient

Southern’s Reading Evaluation And Development of Skills (R.E.A.D.S.) Lab, of which Dr. Durwin is a co-director, focuses on improving the reading skills of school-age children. As such, the lab has conducted ongoing research in two elementary schools that serve large populations of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

The lab’s goal is two-fold: to validate research-based assessments that help schools better identify at-risk students and to investigate the efficacy of research-based interventions for improving the reading outcomes of these at-risk children. The stipend provided by this award allowed the R.E.A.D.S. Lab to support three undergraduate research assistants whose work was vital to maintaining progress on this project.

According to Dr. Durwin’s notes, the success of the collaboration with schools was recognized by the Hamden Public Schools Superintendent’s Office, and they requested that the lab add another school to the project. In light of the additional work, coupled with the sabbatical leave of one of the co-directors, the provision of paid research assistants by the award was critical for maintaining the project’s progress.

Armed with adequate pilot data, the R.E.A.D.S. Lab aims to apply for an IES Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Grant or similar competition. It will also continue to develop an Interdisciplinary Language & Literacy Research Consortium with colleagues in Communication Disorders and Education. In short, it will continue to advance its important mission and overarching reach.

Dr. Durwin received a Ph.D. and an M.S. in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Connecticut.

 

Celebration of Excellence: Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship

2019 Recipient: Meghan Barboza, Assistant Professor Histology, Physiology, Marine Mammalogy

About the award

SCSU recognizes the importance of faculty scholarship and creative activity in furthering its mission. The Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowships aim to support this goal by providing recipients with a significant amount of reassigned time at an early stage in their careers at Southern.

About the recipient

There has been a significant increase in the number of sick and dead seals along the Northeast coast. Phocine distemper virus, a respiratory tract infection, appears to be the cause. To further understand how the immune system of seals responds to infection, Dr. Meghan Barboza will conduct research that examines the seals’ respiratory epithelium — in particular its anatomy — as well as identifies particular cells, solitary chemosensory cells, or SCCs, a part of the immune system in this tissue.

According to Dr. Barboza’s notes, seals are especially vulnerable to respiratory infection because they breathe at the air/water interface and are exposed to both air and waterborne pathogens. Within Connecticut and Rhode Island, the stranding response group that assists with sick marine life is coordinated through Mystic Aquarium. If the animals die, the cause of death is determined through an animal autopsy, or necropsy. Following the necropsy, Dr. Barboza has a permit through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a research agreement with Mystic Aquarium to collect tissue samples from the dead seals. By comparing seals with respiratory illness to those without, additional information about the function of SCCs can be determined.

According to Dr. Barboza, the results will be shared with Mystic Aquarium to further their efforts to improve seal treatment and successful release back into the wild. The research data may also be included in an application to federal grants and will be presented within the Southern community and at a regional and/or international conferences.

Dr. Barboza holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Medical Sciences from the University of Florida; a Master of Science in Marine Biology from Nova Southeastern University; and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Delaware.

Celebration of Excellence: Board of Regents Adjunct Teaching Award

2019 Recipient: Patricia Mottola, Adjunct Faculty, Creative Writing

About the award

The Board of Regents Adjunct Faculty Teaching Awards are given to recognize part-time faculty who have distinguished themselves as outstanding teachers with a track record of increasing student learning and promoting instructional improvements for their programs or departments.

About the recipient

Patricia Mottola was hired to teach Introduction to Creative Writing immediately after receiving her MFA in Creative Writing from Southern because, as one colleague noted, “She was an exceptional student in our department’s MFA program,” and she has been an extraordinary instructor ever since. Professor Mottola’s advisor and now colleague Vivian Shipley awarded Distinction to Professor Mottola’s MFA thesis, “If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit: Poems About Relationships,” something rarely done, and Dr. Shipley remarked that since 1969, she has “never had a better student or known a more dedicated and inspiring teacher.”

Professor Mottola has the words “respect,” “personal responsibility,” and “attention to detail” written on her classroom board. It is her goal to turn these values into lifelong habits and to help students thrive long after they graduate. Her instruction is one of collaboration, both inside and outside of the classroom. Students are encouraged to participate, discover, and share. Her fellow adjuncts refer new adjuncts to Professor Mottola for advice, and she is a mentor to full-time faculty as well, offering her colleagues advice on textbooks, syllabi, and assignment sheets.

Professor Mottola is a gifted instructor and an involved citizen, and her impact has a broad and significant reach. She is co-president of the Connecticut Poetry Society; works online with Afghan women and girls through the Afghan Voices project, encouraging them to write poetry in order to empower themselves; and she works with senior citizens, encouraging them to have a rebirth at a time when they are nearing the end of life.

Professor Mottola earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Southern in 2011; an MS in Art Education from Southern in 1990; study in the Art Psychotherapy Institute, SCSU Department of School Psychology, in 1988; and a BS in Art Education from Southern in 1987.

Celebration of Excellence: Board of Regents Research Award

2019 Recipient: Dr. Darcy Kern, Assistant Professor of Medieval Mediterranean History

About the award

The Board of Regents Research Awards are given to recognize faculty from the four state universities who are doing exceptional research/creative work.

About the recipient

Darcy Kern is an accomplished and prolific scholar whose work impacts a variety of fields in late medieval and early modern history.

The main argument of Dr. Kern’s research, which spans continents and timelines, is that language shapes culture. She specifically focuses on translated texts that move between cultures; in her own words, her research “adheres to the humanist tradition, emphasizing language as a key component of understanding history, culture, and power.”

Students have sought out study with Dr. Kern, understanding that her specialties are important frameworks through which we can trace chronology and methodological trends. As one colleague noted, “Dr. Kern’s work in translation studies is playing an important role in redefining how scholars understand the transmission of knowledge and the application of power in the late medieval and early modem world.”

Dr. Kern’s work has appeared in a number of highly selective publications, specifically “The Journal of Medieval History,” “English,” and “Philological Quarterly.” Her article “Platonic Words: Paolo Sarpi and Roberto Bellarmino as Translators in the Venetian Interdict Crisis” was so significant that she was invited to Cambridge University to present follow-up research on the topic. She is currently at work on a manuscript, “Texts, Translation, and Political Thought in Late Medieval Spain.”

Dr. Kern earned a Ph.D. and an M.A. in History from Georgetown University, and a B.A. in History and Spanish from Kansas State University. Since arriving at Southern in 2015, she has participated in several programs to enhance her scholarship, most recently at the Beinecke Center for Preservation and Conservation.

Celebration of Excellence: Senior-Level Faculty Research Fellowship

2019 Recipient: Kalu Ogbaa, Professor of English

About the award

In recognition of the increased responsibilities placed on senior-level faculty members, the Senior-Level Faculty Research Fellowship supports and encourages research, creative activity, and scholarship among senior faculty members. Awardees receive a significant amount of reassigned time for these purposes.

About the recipient

In 2013, Chinua Achebe, founder of the Modern African Novel and author of the acclaimed novel Things Fall Apart, requested that Dr. Kalu Ogbaa, professor of English, write his biography. Dr. Ogbaa had met Professor Achebe while enrolled in a Master’s program at The Ohio State University and subsequently wrote a dissertation on Achebe’s fiction. Dr. Ogbaa went on to publish two books, some book chapters, and solicited interviews on Achebe’s works. He teaches Achebe’s novels at Southern at the graduate and undergraduate levels and has established himself as an authority on Achebe studies, nationally and internationally.

Dr. Ogbaa began work on the biography in 2015; a fellowship enables him to complete it. According to Dr. Ogbaa’s notes, the biography — entitled The Life and Times of Chinua Achebe – “will weave together the stories of [Achebe’s] upbringing, Christian and Western education, the lgbo storytelling techniques he learned from his sister, and the creative writing skills he learned from his British college professors, the combination of which made him the master storyteller who influenced other writers to make African literature a viable corpus in World Literature today.”

Dr. Ogbaa has completed two of the four stages of his work plan. The fellowship will allow him to complete stages three and four: to review and analyze collected data, and write research findings chapter by chapter; and to complete the final crafting, collating, and coediting of all segments of the book manuscript for publication.

Dr. Ogbaa received a Ph.D. in English from The University of Texas;
an M.A. in Black Studies from The Ohio State University; and a B.A. in English from The University of Nigeria.

Celebration of Excellence: Board of Regents Teaching Award

2019 Recipient: Dr. Charles Baraw, Associate Professor of English

About the award

The Board of Regents Teaching Award is given to recognize faculty who have distinguished themselves as outstanding teachers for at least five years and have a minimum of two years’ track record of promoting instructional improvements for their programs/departments.

About the recipient

Professor Charles Baraw has taught in the English Department at Southern for nine years; during that time, his instructional practices — which have been called “brilliant,” “engaged” and “transformational” — have garnered accolades university-wide.

Just last spring Dr. Baraw was awarded the J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award. According to colleagues, his teaching “has made a dramatic and positive difference for our English majors and for students across the university,” and “one of his strengths is his willingness to guide students on their academic and personal paths in and out of the classroom.”

Dr. Baraw has given his inspired teaching method a light-hearted appellation: the “jazz method,” meaning that lessons are pre-planned loosely, with room to adapt and improvise according to in-class assessment of student engagement and skill. He also relies upon a core principle in his teaching: the mutual imperative to trust, wonder, and reflect. To learn of how his teaching has enhanced and guided the instruction and development of each student is to appreciate how effective and outstanding his influence truly is. He has mentored numerous student research and teaching assistants and pushed them to develop independent research projects. As a result, this past summer five English majors won prestigious research fellowships.

It has been noted that when Dr. Baraw is on campus, he is rarely alone and that “one or two students are speaking with him in his office, and one or two more are in the hallway waiting.” This desire to engage, and to cultivate, illustrates succinctly what yet another colleague noted of Dr. Baraw: that he creates a culture of English that invites students into the joys of the field through multiple doors — his office door being one of them.

Dr. Baraw holds a Ph.D. in English from Yale University; an MA in English from Middlebury College, Bread Loaf School of English; and a B.A. in English Literature and American History from the University of Vermont.

Celebration of Excellence: Mid-Level Faculty Research Fellowship

2019 Recipient: Md Shafaeat Hossain, Associate Professor of Computer Science

About the award

SCSU recognizes the importance of faculty scholarship and creative activity in furthering its mission. The Mid-Level Faculty Research Fellowship aims to support this goal by providing mid-level faculty members with a significant amount of reassigned time at this crucial stage in their careers at Southern.

About the recipient

Dr. Hossain is researching multi-biometric systems (both parallel fusion-based and serial fusion-based) in hopes of developing a new serial fusion-based verification scheme. Its application is significant, as the core of all information security — computer security, cyber security, and network security — is the concept of user authentication, which ensures that only legitimate users can access the resources they need and that unauthorized users are blocked.

Dr. Hossain’s development of a new serial fusion-based biometric verification scheme, he wrote, “would provide a scheme that performs better than or at least as good as a parallel fusion based-scheme, and at the same time, provide a significant amount of convenience to the genuine users.”

Professor Hossain’s Ph.D. work is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and has been published in “Applied Intelligence” as well as in prestigious peer-reviewed IEEE conference proceedings. His multi-faceted research plan entails literature review; verification scheme development; data collection; data cleansing and processing; coding and experiments; analysis; and finally, publication and reporting and the possible procurement of additional research funds from DARPA.

Professor Hossain received a Ph.D. in Computational Analysis and Modeling, an MS in Computer Science, and an MS in Mathematics from Louisiana Tech University. He also received an MS in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Dhaka.

Celebration of Excellence: Faculty Scholar Award 

2019 Recipient: Dr. C. Michele Thompson, Professor of History 

About the award

Conferred jointly by the Faculty Scholar Award Committee and the University President, the Faculty Scholar Award recognizes scholarly and creative work of exceptional merit by a full-time SCSU faculty member.

The BOR-approved SCSU campus winner for this award is Dr. Michele Thompson, Professor of History.

About the recipient

Dr. C. Michele Thompson has been a member of Southern’s faculty since 1998. Alongside her distinguished academic career, her book, Vietnamese Traditional Medicine: a Social History, is the distillation of more than 20 years of research in Vietnam, Taiwan, The Peoples’ Republic of China, France, and Portugal.

Vietnamese Traditional Medicine is the first book-length publication on the history of Vietnamese traditional medicine in any Western language. According to Dr. Thompson’s notes, her book is “an examination of the relationship between China and Vietnam, a key issue in Vietnamese studies, through a medical lens.” Using as a case study the story of the first introduction, from Macau, of vaccination for smallpox to the royal court of the Nguyễn dynasty, she examines Vietnamese attitudes towards foreign medical theories and techniques.

Since its publication in 2015, the book has been reviewed in nine peer-reviewed international journals, and Dr. Thompson has been sought out as a source in numerous publications, including Scientific American. This interdisciplinary interest, from anthropology to medical history to the general field of Southeast Asian Studies, speaks to its broad importance. Even more, her research has overarching implications: it is pertinent to current environmental issues in Mainland Southeast Asia, where a false understanding of Chinese and Vietnamese medicine is driving a devastating trade in wild animals.

For her research, Dr. Thompson referenced documents in modern Mandarin; Classical Chinese; modern Vietnamese; archaic Vietnamese written in Norn, French, Portuguese; and Spanish. She also conducted oral interviews in Mandarin and Vietnamese, noting that “perhaps the most innovative aspect of my book is the cross-disciplinary nature of my sources and my methodology.”

Dr. Thompson received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington; her Master of Arts in History from the University of Alabama; and her Bachelor of Arts in History and Anthropology from the University of Alabama.