School of Health & Human Services

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.”

BSW students at the Social Work Department's annual pinning ceremony

With its award-winning faculty, diverse range of specialized internships, and innovative curriculum, Southern Connecticut State University has a long history of providing excellence in social work. In 2018, the university strengthened its commitment to training leaders in the field by adding a Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) degree, making it the only campus in the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) System, and the only institution in New England, to offer a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, and DSW.

Social work can be a fulfilling field for those who enjoy helping others. It offers practitioners the opportunity to pursue different fields of interest, from mental health to rehabilitation, and to serve a broad base of society, whether it’s in a private or public capacity. There’s a real need for social work professionals: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of community and social service occupations is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.”

“Social work often appeals to someone who has the desire to help others because they themselves have been helped,” says Diane Michaelsen, director of field education and MSW admissions, Department of Social Work, at Southern. “In the program it’s about teaching students how to look at people in their own environments and to ask, ‘What’s getting in the way of their successful functioning?’”

The BSW prepares students for entry-level work in agencies such as child welfare, elementary/secondary schools, hospice, and community action agencies. Students in the MSW program choose from one of four fields of practice: children and families, elders and families, mental health and substance use, and social work in school setting. MSW graduates are prepared for clinical social work in a specialized field and for applying for the State of Connecticut LMSW Licensure Examination.

Both BSW and MSW students gain important experience in a field practicum, the cornerstone of a social work education. For BSW students, the practicum consists of a year-long, 400-hour on-site internship; for MSW, the practicum requires 1,100 hours. The internship is with an agency-based field instructor.

Field practice opportunities exist in more than 200 agencies throughout Connecticut, including Cornell Scott, a community healthcare agency; New Haven schools; Adelbrook, a residential, educational, and community-based treatment program for children and young adults; and Klingburg Family Centers, an agency providing group care, special education, and more.

Social work students meet with potential employers at the Social Work Open House.

“The field placement helps immensely with job placement,” Michaelsen says. “Thirty to 35 percent of graduates will be employed prior to graduation. Eighty to 90 percent will be employed before the summer is over. This has held true for several years in a row.”

The DSW, new in 2018, prepares experienced social workers for leadership in agency or academic settings. Strictly online and in a three-year, part-time format, the degree caters to the needs of working professionals. Students visit campus just once annually, for a five-day residency. Students also take part in an externship based on their main focus.

“We’re the only DSW program that offers externships,” says Michaelsen.

The 180-hour externship is self-designed and conducted with a mentor. Students in the DSW program can select from three externship areas: teaching, leadership and management, and clinical.

“Students whose main interest is education will be mentored by a master teacher and learn how to develop syllabi and deliver lesson plans through co-teaching and supervised adjunct teaching,” says Mary Acri, associate professor, Department of Social Work. “Leadership and management students will be mentored by a senior agency administrator like a CEO, CFO, clinical director or project director of state agency or a private non-profit. Those whose main interest is advancing a particular clinical method will be mentored by a master clinician in their chosen area.”

Regardless of which social work degree students choose, they oftentimes will find that their mentor is a Southern alum or an adjunct faculty member.

“Southern’s graduates are really loyal,” says Michaelsen. “Because of their own positive experiences, a lot of our students feel compelled to give back to Southern and to mentor.”

Celebration of Excellence: Social Justice Community Award – Outstanding Faculty

2019 Recipient: Dr. MaryJo Archambault, Assistant Professor of Recreation, Tourism, & Sport Management

About the award

The Social Justice Community Award for Outstanding Faculty recognizes a faculty member who incorporates diverse values in the classroom, curriculum and/ or research; displays a commitment to diverse cultures, religions, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and other areas of inclusion and perspective; makes the classroom accessible for and supportive of diverse learning styles; engages in equity, diversity and inclusion efforts in the campus community; uses innovative teaching methods to support students with special learning needs; and/or mentors underrepresented students or diverse populations of students, faculty and/or staff. The awardee receives $500 towards professional development funds or to go to their department.

About the recipient

Dr. Archambault was described by her nominator as going “above and beyond in all she does in and out of the classroom, with the utmost fairness, compassion, and integrity.”

She has been active in applying for research and program-related grants and has been awarded over $45,000 in grant dollars over the course of the past four-plus years. Most noteworthy, she along with a colleague serve as the co-project directors for a $38,000 grant awarded to Southern by the Office of Veteran’s Affairs in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of providing or facilitating the provision of adaptive sports opportunities for disabled veterans.

Recognizing a gap in service delivery for persons with disabilities, Dr. Archambault has been instrumental in the development of the Institute for Adapted Sports and Inclusive Recreation. Reflective of her research and areas of interest, the institute provides programming opportunities, education experiences, and advocacy services for individuals with disabilities, and conducts research and evaluation relating to adaptive sports and inclusive recreation.

Dr. Archambault also provides exemplary service to the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management; the School of Health and Human Services; and to the University through her active and varied involvement in numerous committees and board memberships. In addition, she engages in numerous student recruitment activities.

Dr. Archambault earned an Ed.D. at the University of Hartford and an M.S. at Southern Connecticut State University.

 

Celebration of Excellence: J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching

2019 Recipient: Dr. Kyle O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Social Work

About the award

The J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching is presented to one full-time faculty and one part-time faculty member for exemplary teaching. This is one of SCSU’s highest honors, as faculty are recognized at the undergraduate commencement and receive an honorarium of $2500. Full-time and part-time faculty at all ranks who are currently employed at SCSU are eligible.

About the recipient

Dr. Kyle O’Brien’s teaching style of participation, discovery and discussion has brought classroom exercises to life for a multitude of students. According to one student, “his passion for social work shows through in each and every one of his lessons.”

Called “skillful and engaging” by a colleague, Dr. O’Brien brings a wealth of expertise to the classroom thanks to his education, his multidisciplinary background as an occupational therapist, his extensive knowledge of the health field, and his collaborative endeavors. He took a lead role in recruiting students to participate in the palliative care workshop collaboration with Yale University School of Medicine, and as a result, it has become an annual event. He contributed to a number of curriculum initiatives that benefit students. He also initiated the submission of a Faculty Development grant aimed at resolving conflictual conversations in the classroom; the grant brought a panel of social work faculty experts to campus to provide training.

Dr. O’Brien’s purposeful encouragement has impacted students both in the classroom and beyond. As one student noted, “This was the first time a professor impacted my view of life outside of the classroom, by teaching me the value and power of providing empathy toward others.” In short, he truly embodies the core values of social work.

Dr. O’Brien received a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work, a Certificate of Integrated Primary and Behavioral Health Care, and a Master of Social Work from New York University; a Doctor of Health Science from Nova Southeastern University; a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Sacred Heart University; a Connecticut Certificate of Gerontology and Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling from Gateway Community College; and a Bachelor of Social Work from Southern Connecticut State University.

 

Celebration of Excellence: Robert E. Jirsa Service Award

2019 Recipient: Dr. Michele Vancour, Professor of Public Health

About the award

Named in honor of the late Robert E. Jirsa, former Faculty Senate President and P & T Committee Chairman, the Robert E. Jirsa Service Award is given annually to a full-time faculty member who has made extraordinary contributions and demonstrated outstanding leadership in his or her service to the university.

About the recipient

Dr. Michele Vancour, professor of Public Health, has been with Southern since 1998. In those 21 years, her exceptional leadership and service to the university — and community — has not gone unrecognized. In 2012 Dr. Vancour received the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award and was nominated again in subsequent years. In 2015, she received the CT American Council on Education (ACE) Women’s Network, Distinguished Academic Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award. She has been nominated — multiple times — for the J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award and nominated for the New England College Health Association President’s Award.

Over the years Dr. Vancour has been either elected to, appointed to, invited to, or has participated in, at least 28 different committees, including the Food Pantry committee, the CT ACE Women’s Network Chapter at Southern, the Barnard Scholarship committee, the Undergraduate Public Health Program committee, and many, many more.

Her credo, that “service is (and has been) the foundation of my professional and personal work,” is evident in her life’s choices, and her focus on the needs of Southern’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors bespeaks to her high regard for the Southern community as a whole.

Dr. Vancour recalls Robert E. Jirsa for “his authenticity, deep care and concern for Southern, its students, and employees, and his commitment to and work for positive and impactful change on campus.” Her dossier, which displays evidence of this philosophy of service, heartily exemplifies the tenets of the award she is now receiving.

Dr. Vancour received a Ph.D. in Health Education from New York University; an M.P.H. in Community Health Education from Southern; and a B.A. in English from Central Connecticut State University.


 

Members of the class of 2018 in the BSN nursing program

The Nursing Department has been informed by the State Board of Nurse Examiners that the traditional BSN degree program graduates of 2018 had a 100 percent first-time pass rate with NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses). Although Southern’s pass rate last year was remarkable at 95 percent — the highest of all public nursing programs in Connecticut, including UCONN — this is the first time since 2008 that graduates of the 4-year traditional program have achieved 100 percent.

The 2018 first-time pass rate for ACE (Accelerated Career Entry) program graduates was 96.77 percent and first-time FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) certification pass rate was 91.7 percent, also excellent results.

Associate Professor of Nursing Lisa Rebeschi, department chair, says, “I could not be any more proud of the students and my faculty colleagues. The success of the SCSU Nursing Department is a true testament to the commitment and talent of our students and the dedicated faculty who are privileged to learn with and from them. I must also recognize the incredible support from University administrators who have provided the Department with the necessary resources required for academic excellence in nursing education.”

In light of the stellar performance of Southern’s nursing grads, the website RN Careers has written: “Congratulations to @southernct for being one of the best ranked nursing programs in the country and the #1 best ranked nursing program in Connecticut for 2019 with an impressive overall ranking of 99.26%.

“Our 4th annual competition looked at 1,949 nursing programs and ranked them on metrics such as first-time NCLEX passing rates, accreditation, and more.

https://www.rncareers.org/rn-programs/connecticut/

“Share and Like this accomplishment earned by Southern Connecticut State University for preparing some of the best nurses in the country.”

 

 

 

 

Celebration of Excellence: Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship

2019 Recipient: Dr. Victoria Zigmont, Assistant Professor of Public Health

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

Dr. Victoria Zigmont, assistant professor of Public Health, has amassed significant data on college student food insecurity, which is defined as “the uncertainty of being able to acquire enough food, or enough nutritious food, needed to maintain a healthy diet.” Her research on solutions to student food insecurity seeks to expand upon her previous research, analyzing data about risk factors and food insecurity status and identifying solutions to the problem.

According to Dr. Zigmont’s notes, although college students experience food insecurity at higher rates than the national average, they are often deemed ineligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. A 2016 Southern-wide study conducted by Dr. Zigmont revealed that 30 percent of undergraduate students reported some degree of food insecurity; furthermore, that that insecurity leads to lower average grade point averages, increased anxiety or depression, and poor nutrition.

In addition to further measuring the effect of food insecurity on academic performance and identifying variables in existing data associated with food insecurity, Dr. Zigmont’s project will culminate in two manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals and a conceptualized grant for external funding to expand this work.

According to Dr. Zigmont, “This project has implications to benefit students across the country… [It] will share new knowledge with educators, public health providers and the general academic community to show what the disparities in academic outcomes are for students who are food insecure.”

Dr. Zigmont received a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health from The Ohio State University; a Master of Public Health in Health Promotion from Southern; and a B.S. in Chemistry and Physiology & Neurobiology from the University of Connecticut.

Celebration of Excellence: Million Dollar Club

2019 Recipient: Alycia Santilli, Director of CARE

About the award

The Million Dollar Club is calculated to include all grants and awards brought into Southern by faculty over the years. This club originated in SPAR in 2004 as a means of publicly recognizing faculty who have consistently pursued grants throughout the years as well as those who secured a single or multi-year large award.

About the recipient

As Director of the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) at Southern, Alycia Santilli transforms her everyday ethos — directly involving people most impacted by health disparities in the development of solutions to create health equity — into tangible successes.

Ms. Santilli began her relationship with CARE, which works collaboratively with community organizations and neighborhood groups across New Haven to improve the health of the city’s residents, in 2007 after its inception at Yale. With years of experience as a community organizer and as a coordinator of research projects at the Yale School of Public Health, she was instrumental in providing administrative oversight and strategic direction.

She quickly rose to a leadership position, becoming Director in 2016. She brought to the role all the ingredients for success: more than a decade of experience in community engagement; deep ties to the New Haven community; expertise in community-based intervention development; and a strong educational background in social work.

Under her directorial leadership, Ms. Santilli and the CARE team began implementing a renewed path offered through this unique university partnership. Recently, CARE secured several grants and contracts of varying sizes, including two major sources of funding.

Ms. Santilli also serves as the Principal Investigator for the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and as the Principal Investigator of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. This award has the potential to bring more than $3.6 million to New Haven. In its first year, CARE is proud to distribute 38 percent of this funding directly into the community.

As someone who received all of her education at public schools and state universities in Connecticut, and as a dedicated resident of New Haven, Ms. Santilli ’s experience — both hands-on and career-based — have helped her improve the health of the city, and beyond.