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Alumni

Dr. Jia Yu, assistant professor of economics, and Alexandra Ball, RN, MBA, '19

Alexandra Ball, ‘19, presented her MBA thesis at the Ninth International Conference on Health, Wellness and Society at Berkeley, CA, on September 19th, 2019. Ball’s research seeks to identify which U.S. region renders the highest quality patient care of total knee arthroplasty as measured by impact on patient discharge disposition, hospital length of stay, and adverse outcomes during a three-year span of 2008-2010.

The results of the study found that lowest lengths of stay are noted in the West and Midwest, and that the West had the highest patient outcomes.  Demographic characteristics of age, race, and marital are associated with shorter lengths of stay, however, discharge status is only significantly impacted by age. These findings are utilized to evaluate cost- efficiency of the surgery in the regions of the United States.

Ball’s advisor, Jia Yu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics said that this is a great international conference that brings together many health and medical researchers from different disciplines and countries, giving attendees the opportunity to learn different perspectives on health-related problems from a variety of countries.

She says, “We have also built up some connections with researchers from Hong Kong and Singapore for future collaboration possibilities.” And continues, “It is a wonderful opportunity for Southern students to know the world and let the world know about Southern as well.”

The 2019 Special Focus of the International Conference on Health, Wellness and Society was Inclusive Health and Wellbeing, stating “…the volume of healthcare research and wealth of groundbreaking healthcare technology continues to expand, leading to more advanced health delivery systems and an increased quality of living. Not all people or all groups are benefiting from these advancements equally; significant barriers to accessing these developments still exist across the globe…This conference aims to explore the implications and effects that geographic, socioeconomic, and political barriers pose to health and wellbeing as well as constructing means across these barriers moving forward.”

Photographs chosen among the best student work in the nation by the Society of Professional Journalists

Award-winning photographer Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18

Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18, has a way with a viewfinder — a gift that’s led the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) to recognize her photographs among the best student work in the nation. In spring 2019, she was named one of only two finalists in the “feature photography” category of the SPJ’s national Mark of Excellence Awards, which honor the best of student journalism.

Jean-Jacques’ award-winning photos — taken during trips to Haiti, India, Ghana, Ethiopia, and more — were included in the inaugural issue of Crescent Magazine, a lifestyle publication produced by Southern students. Jean-Jacques advanced to the national competition after winning first place at the SPJ, Region 1 conference, which represents universities throughout New England, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. (It was a great day for Southern students, who won five additional regional awards for their work on the Southern News student newspaper and Crescent Magazine.)

For Jean-Jacques, the national recognition came at an opportune time, validating her dream of becoming a photojournalist. She came to Southern after earning an associate degree at Housatonic Community College. At Southern, she majored in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in studio art and journalism. In addition to working as a photographer, she’s currently a finance billing specialist with a company in West Palm Beach, Fl.

Following, she talks about her approach to photography — and the unique challenges and rewards of earning a degree while raising three boys.

What was it like to be one of only two finalist in the national SPJ competition?
I was overjoyed and in total disbelief, especially since I was unaware I had been entered in the SPJ competition. [Jean-Jacques graduated in May 2018, before the national competition took place. But as a regional winner, she automatically moved on to the national competition.]

A portrait of several generations photographed by Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18, in Ghana.

This recognition has come at quite a pivotal point in my journey. I have been seriously contemplating leaving the field of photography and focusing my energy toward philanthropy. I have wrestled fretfully — doubting my skills, talents, and abilities. When Dr. [Cindy] Simoneau, [department chair and professor of journalism,] shared this most unexpected and welcomed news, I received concrete affirmation of my aspirations. Dr. Simoneau and Southern believed in me from the start, and I am truly thankful for their continuous and unwavering support.

How did you first become interested in photography?
I was always one of those kids who watched television incessantly. I loved how cinematography made me feel. Often times, I would think a particular scene would make a great photograph. I also loved flipping through magazines and being pulled into that moment in time. I think, ultimately, I loved photography because it made me feel like I was momentarily transported to a different place. I always had a desire to leave my Brooklyn home and see the world beyond.

Women photographed in Varanasi, India.

Do you remember the first photograph you approached artistically?
The first photograph I remember taking was in my first year of college for a black and white photography class. I went to the train tracks and took pictures of old buildings and alleyways — and wondered what kind of things took place in these spaces. I was responsible for developing the film, and found the entire process creative and rewarding.

What’s your favorite image among the photos you’ve taken?
My absolute favorite photograph is one I took in Ethiopian of a woman making coffee with her son wrapped in beautiful garb on her back. . . . This humble and proud woman welcomed me — a foreigner — into her home, and allowed me to document her daily routines and activities with her child. I felt blessed and grateful. Visually, her life appeared so different from mine. I was ecstatic to have captured this wonderfully beautiful difference. But I realized at that [same] moment that we were much more similar than different.

Asked to select a favorite among the photographs she’s taken, Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18, selected this image of a mother and child in Lalebela, Ethiopia.

The Crescent Magazine article explained that you were raising your children while attending Southern. What was most challenging about that time and were there advantages to attending college as an adult?
The two most challenging aspects of attending college as a seasoned adult were arriving home late — and having minimum energy upon that arrival. It was difficult carving out time to assist with my three sons’ homework assignments. I had my own homework to do.

In essence, I worked full time, attended school full time, and managed a family of three young boys, all as a single mother. Yes, challenging, to say the least! There were certainly not enough hours in the day to get it all done. However, with a great deal of planning and a tremendous amount of support from my sons, everything worked out. My sons were true troopers through it all!

Attending college as an adult was much more fulfilling than my earlier collegiate career. Real-life experiences were of great value when interacting with fellow students and professors. I was able to process a great deal of information quickly and make connections to the material being covered.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, is among the 30 some countries Jean-Jacques has traveled to in recent years, often bringing along her children.

Share five things that inspire your work.

Culture and tradition greatly influence my work. I am enthralled by the different cultures of our world — and by the traditions embedded in those cultures. I also am empowered by photographing people in their element. That being said, it stands to reason, my work is inspired by their personal and unique experiences. It is my passion to tell the intimate details of their lives through the lens of my camera.

Lighting is a motivating factor, as well. It’s critical and crucial to any composition. How lighting is used. How it hits the subject. How it ‘playfully plays’ and changes the mood. The affects are infinite.

Lastly, my work is inspired by authenticity. I strive to capture the true nature of a subject while bringing different life experiences to the forefront for all of us to see.

A playful moment in Ghana, captured by Jefferine Jean-Jacques, ’18.

What role does travel play in your work?
I traveled to approximately 30 countries in the past six years — and yet, that number is far, far below my wishes and aspirations. The cultures, the people, the smells, the colors, the mystique — all of it drives my work. I possess a strong desire to see more of the world and capture the interesting, the beautiful, the ugly, the unique. In the meantime, I will continue to try to see my surroundings with a new set of eyes so I can recognize the interesting, the beautiful, the ugly and the unique right where I am.

A moment in Kenya photographed by Jean-Jacques.

The founder of the award-winning popular vlog, The Needle Drop, has a lot to say about music — and his millions of fans are happy to listen.

Anthony Fantano, ’08, describes himself as the “internet’s busiest music nerd.” Spin — the legendary magazine turned webzine run by Billboard-Hollywood Reporter — offers a different perspective, dubbing him “today’s most successful music critic.”

It’s an apt description. Fantano began posting music reviews on his YouTube channel The Needle Drop in 2009. Two years later, he walked away from MTV’s second annual O Music Awards with the “Beyond the Blog” award. Today, Fantano is a celebrity in his own right, connecting with fans across multiple social media platforms, including YouTube/theneedledrop (more than 1.75 million subscribers), Twitter (473K-plus followers), and Facebook (229K-plus).

Fantano says his college years — specifically time spent at WSIN, the college radio station — expanded his focus on music and media. He majored in liberal studies [now interdisciplinary studies], with concentrations in journalism, political science, and communication. During an internship at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, he proposed and ran The Needle Drop as a podcast — setting the stage for what would eventually evolve into his wildly popular vlog (video log or blog).

Over the course of two interviews, he talked with Gregory Gagliardi, ’18, and Southern Alumni Magazine. In the following excerpts, he shares thoughts on Southern, success, and the meaning behind the flannel shirts he wears in his reviews. (Yellow signifies a great album; red, not so much.)

How did you come to attend Southern?
Coming in, I was thinking radio, radio, radio. So I was looking for a college with a radio station — a place that was close to me that was affordable. Southern seemed like the best of all of those worlds.

How did Southern help prepare you to launch the Needle Drop?
[Southern] provided places like the radio station and the school paper — training grounds to learn the ropes of journalism and broadcasting. In fact, I was there [at the station] even before school started. It was priority number one because that was my career goal.

How active were you with the radio station, WSIN?
Freshman year I came in and did a show. I hung out all the time, put in a lot of effort, and made a lot of friends. They saw I had a passion and interest. . . . That put me on the map for a lot of people and allowed me to go up the ranks at the radio station pretty quickly. I was the general manager for two years; the music director for a year before that.

Before the green screen, Fantano had to hold up the album being reviewed. Now he superimposes album covers on the screen.

And the show?
I had a show pretty much the entire time — except for a span when I was also the general manager and thought it was too much to juggle. But toward my final year at Southern I brought it back. I had gotten control of juggling work, school, the radio station . . .

So you were balancing everything well?
At the time, I didn’t feel like I was doing it very well. I was general manager and there was a lot of turbulence. The new student center had just opened and every other club — every other everything — had moved [to the new building]. We were in the old student center for over a year, if I remember correctly. We were literally the only people in the building. Sometimes in the winter, the heat was not as high as it should have been. . . .

It sounds very rebel student radio.
It seems very cool in retrospect, but everyone in the Radio Club was miserable about it at the time. [laughs]

The profile of you in Spin in 2016 mentioned that a professor helped you get an internship with Connecticut Public Radio.
It was the [WSIN] adviser, Jerry Dunklee, [professor of journalism]. By the time I finished college, my game plan was to go into radio as a political reporter, which is why I ended up at WNPR in Hartford.

What was the internship like?
It was a really good opportunity to learn more about the technical aspects of the business, since the amount of production they did was far greater than at the [university] station. I also got to see everything I’d learned in my “ethics in journalism” classes applied, sort of rubber to the road — in terms of what they were reporting and how they were reporting. The lengths they went to get an interview or clarify information. . . . Those are all things I still draw on today.

“I’d take out 15 or 20 CDs at a time. And during my 45-minute commute to school I’d listened to all the jazz CDs I’d illegally burned from the [Buley] library,” says Fantano.

Have you always wanted this type of career?
When I was younger, my aspirations were either in radio or in voice acting. [laughs] As my passion for music grew, my efforts started pointing elsewhere. The whole YouTube thing never could have been predicted. [YouTube formed in 2005.] . . . But as the platform grew, certain aspects like the partner program [which lets creators monetize their content] began to gain steam, and there were YouTubers out there who were actually making a career out of what they were doing. [For me,] it seemed like a last-ditch effort. Because the podcasts and the blog were not really panning out monetarily, so I figured YouTube might be my last hope.

But I had no way of foreseeing that I’d be doing music reviews on YouTube — and not just because of the YouTube factor. I didn’t grow up reading reviews. I wasn’t comfortable considering myself a reviewer or critic when I was doing the podcast initially. Those are two aspects of my career I stumbled into through experimentation.

Was there a specific point when you felt like you’d made it?
I was able to take The Needle Drop full time in 2012. I was making just enough money to move into an apartment with my girlfriend, so it was a ‘real’ job.

Beyond that, what says to me, ‘you’ve made it,’ is the way the audience perceives what you do and how they interact — especially in the internet age. Are you familiar with the website Reddit? [Founded in 2005, Reddit is a huge collection of online forums devoted to different topics.] . . . There is a [sub]reddit with 30,000 people who post about me. . . . [It was up to 44,200 at press time.] They post the most insane stuff — not bad — but insane in their level of devotion to every word that comes out of my mouth. To me, this says that this is a cultural phenomenon — not on the level of Drake or anything like that — but it has certainly brought me to a point where I can sustain myself and my loved ones. That means something to me.

437,192,317: the number of times The Needle Drop’s YouTube videos have been watched as of March 7, 2019.

That must be really satisfying.
Back when I had to struggle — not only to make ends meet but also to see the effect of what I was doing — I’d think, ‘I’m going to have a panic attack or two this month about what I am doing with my life.’ That doesn’t happen these days, mostly because I am too busy.

Were you always interested in music?
Absolutely. Collecting cassette tapes with my boom box. I loved a lot of radio music: pop and rock, hip-hop, whatever was popular at the time. When I got into high school, it was more alternative and punk. College helped expand my focus. We’re talking about the growth of P2P [peer to peer] file-sharing services like Napster, which are obviously obsolete now that we have music streaming. But at the time it was a music library, since I didn’t have all the money in the world to buy every other CD or album.

The [Southern] radio station and the university also helped. It wasn’t only the CDs and albums flowing into the station, but other resources like [Southern’s Buley] library. . . . I’d take out 15 or 20 CDs at a time. And during my 45-minute commute to school I’d listened to all the jazz CDs I’d illegally burned from the library.

You’ve achieved mainstream success with The Needle Drop. Has increased exposure brought any problems?
Sure, but nothing worth complaining about. All jobs come with their pros and cons. The only downside is the occasional, unintended creepiness of random people who might say something a little weird online. If you have millions of people watching you every month there are going to be one or two who don’t have any boundaries. The upsides far outweigh that. Most people have been really cool and respectful.

The internet connection must take things to a different level.
Yes. But I don’t blame anyone. There is a very friendly conversational tone to my videos. And a lot of people have been watching me for a long time. When I do speaking engagements, they’ll tell me they’ve been watching me since [they were in] sixth grade. That’s almost like being someone’s weird internet dad or something. At that point, you’ve become part of this person’s life — and their emotional and mental ecosystem.

Looking back at your time at The Needle Drop, what are you most proud of?
I have my nose to the grindstone so often that it’s hard to take a breather and think back on all the crazy things that have happened over the past 10 years. While an interview with Mick Jagger and a laundry list of endorsements from a variety of artists look good on paper, the best thing about it is just being a growing part of a greater conversation about music.

Take us inside the review writing process – from the onset to the final video.
The process is pretty much like watching paint dry: listening, re-listening, note taking, researching, drafting, re-drafting, recording, editing. It’s all very quiet, patient, introspective.

What are your thoughts on criticism directed at your reviews?
Ah, the criticism is what it is. It would be ridiculous for me to state my opinions on new records so openly and not expect to get criticism in return. It comes with the territory. If you go into this line of work expecting to have every one of your opinions praised, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. It’s more about stirring the pot, getting people thinking, sparking discussion, planting seeds for the listening audience to mull over. It’s not about being liked or being right. Sure, it’s nice when those things happen. But if that’s all you’re looking to achieve, you’re failing in your role as a critic.

Which is?
One of the most important things you can give your audience when talking about content you’re passionate about — is to give them pause. A reason to think about what they are listening to or consuming. To get them to think about why they enjoy it or why they don’t.

Is there anything new on the agenda for The Needle Drop?
I have a second YouTube channel [YouTube/fantano launched in 2017] where I talk about music news. . . . I am grouping the videos together to a podcast series so you can listen from there. A goal is to find ways to creatively repackage content so people can consume it in different ways.

There is someone I’ve been talking to about [the possibility of] a record label. I am considering it, but there are potential major journalistic ethics issues there. I couldn’t review people on the label. . . . So it creates a weird conundrum that I’m not sure I’m ready to dive into. Someone else approached me recently about helping put together a charity compilation of artists who I’ve reviewed over the years — and money would go to children’s cancer research. There’s a guy I’ve been talking to — trying to work out how to expand merchandise.

I expected you to be wearing a flannel, like in the posts.
The flannel thing is funny. When I first started, they were in regular rotation in my wardrobe, which is why I was wearing them in the first place. Now the flannel has become a signifier. When people see I’m wearing a red flannel in the thumbnail of the video, they know it’s a negative video. When they see a yellow flannel, they know it’s a positive review. I rarely wear one casually now. It’s like wearing my work clothes.

Speaking of work clothes, is doing The Needle Drop still fun?
Yes. It comes to those times when it’s 9 to 5 like anything else — but it’s better than 9 to 5 in an office. Even though it’s a lot of work. A lot of extra effort. One thing this generation doesn’t really appreciate is the quality of the workplace — that they are always connected with their job. As a result, they are never not working. If I am going to be in that position, I’d rather be doing it for me.

See other stories from the online issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Poet, artist, and lecturer, Pat Mottola, ’87, M.S. ’90, MFA ’11, shares her truth — and teaches others to do the same.

Pat Mottola, '87, M.S. '90, MFA '11, has written two books: “After Hours,” a collection of portrait poems of colorful characters, and “Under the Red Dress,” full of sensual imagery.

Note: Pat Mottola is one of two recipients of this year’s prestigious CSCU systemwide Board of Regents Adjunct Teaching 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.

Whether she’s guiding Afghan women toward the right English word to express the pain of oppression or helping Southern students discover their voice, creative writing lecturer Pat Mottola, ’87, M.S. ’90, MFA ’11, is driven by a force beyond her own talent. “My goal in life is to help people and enrich their lives,” Mottola says. “I guess I’m just a born teacher.”

Mottola — who teaches creative writing, poetry, and composition — has three Southern degrees: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education earned in 1987 and 1990, respectively, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing received in 2011. She began experimenting with writing in about 2007, prompting her return to the classroom. “I thought, I love doing this, but I need to learn how to do it right. I had a lot to write about,” she says.

She originally envisioned taking only a few writing courses at Southern. But she was inspired by her first poetry teacher, the late Professor of English Will Hochman, and as time went on, her professors encouraged her to earn a degree.

After raising her children, Mottola taught art in various settings. When Southern later hired her to teach writing, it was a perfect fit, she says, building on her passion for education. She’s known as the professor who takes attendance — it counts toward students’ grades — and more notoriously as one with a strict policy of no cell phones in class. “I say, ‘If this was a job interview, you wouldn’t have a phone,’” Mottola explains. “I want the best for them.’

But once the course is underway, students find something more meaningful than texting or the internet — their own voice. The interactive, workshop-style class is conducted in small groups. As the semester goes on, Mottola loves seeing students bounce ideas off one another, gaining confidence along the way. “Students realize they have something meaningful to offer the world,” she says. “They all have something to say.”

In one of her most fulfilling teaching roles to date, Mottola was a mentor for two years through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. The project produced a book of poetry and prose, “Washing the Dust From Our Hearts,” in which women share details of their lives under the Taliban. Because education for women in Afghanistan is discouraged, the operation was clandestine on their end. The women met at a secret location and mentoring was done online. Mottola gave the women writing prompts and feedback.

“A mentor can see in the poems/stories when the women are in danger. What can we do? I have often wanted to get on a plane and bring the writer back [to the U.S.],” Mottola says. “The most difficult thing for me is when I read about young girls — daughters or sisters, ages 12-14 — being sold to men who abuse them.”

In the introduction to the book, a woman named Pari, writes: “Writing began for me as an escape from my burqa, an escape from my most painful moments. With my pen and notebook, I had a secret place where I gave myself freedoms that were forbidden to me.”

In addition to her work at Southern, Mottola teaches poetry at Calendar House Senior Center in Southington, Conn., where she has taught art for 25 years. The seniors create museum-quality art pieces, she says. She shares that one widow, who is 89, is a marvelous artist who only recently picked up a brush because her late husband doubted her talent.

Mottola is also co-president of the Connecticut Poetry Society and an award-winning poet and artist who has written two books: “After Hours,” a collection of portrait poems of colorful characters, and “Under the Red Dress,” full of sensual imagery. She loves to write about people of all walks of life, in all situations — people in bars, family, veterans, and male/female relationships. “Everyone I meet is fascinating to me,” she says.

Homeless
––for Dorothy Z.

In those days your parents didn’t always
keep you –– or your sisters. In the 1930’s
they gave you away like cheap dishes
doled out in movie theaters. Ten cents

for a movie and a porcelain plate. Forgotten
on laps, they often fell, cracked or chipped,
got left behind. Odd pieces everywhere.
Disposable –– like you, shipped to aunts, uncles,

or the Klingberg Children’s Home, New Britain,
someone who could afford to put food on your
plate. No questions asked. Poverty spawning
an incomplete set, siblings were separated,

sent away by bus or train –– Maine, Connecticut,
Kansas –– no yellow brick road, no wizard,
no ruby slippers to click together, wish yourself
home.

— Pat Mottola

See other stories from the online issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

From award-winning undergraduate to a prestigious fellowship at the National Cancer Institute and a doctorate in microbiology. Meet Norbert K. Tavares, '06.

Norbert Tavares, '06, is one of two Science and Technology Fellows with the National Cancer Institute.

Norbert K. Tavares, ’06, first attended college in Florida where he was discouraged from planning a career as a biologist, despite his passion for the field. “I wasted a lot of time pursuing majors that were hot at the time like computer science and pharmacy, but I didn’t enjoy them,” he says.

A move to Connecticut and subsequent transfer to Southern set Tavares on a better course. Today, he holds a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Georgia and is an American Academy for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] Science and Technology Fellow at the National Cancer Institute — where he helps lead the fight against the deadly group of diseases.

Last fall, he shared thoughts on Southern, finding a mentor, and the importance of diversity in science and other areas. Here are some excerpts.

What inspired your interest in biology?
I remember taking personality and career assessments early on in college that said I would be good at science and engineering, and not being surprised. I was mostly taking math and science courses, and enjoying them.

My specific interest in microbiology stems from reading about bacteria that could eat oil. Digging further, I learned about bacteria that could “breath” metals instead of oxygen, live in hot springs, and do all the other crazy things bacteria can do. I was hooked.

I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors – climbing trees, playing in the dirt and ocean. That coupled with a strong curiosity and wild imagination, there was only one thing I could be, a scientist or a transcendentalist poet, I guess.

Give us five adjectives that describe you.
Curious, contemplative, solution-centric, humanist, inclusive.

It seems that biology was an early calling.
I was wavering on sticking with biology because at the time you really needed a Ph.D. to go anywhere in the field, and I didn’t want to stay in school forever. I was also previously discouraged from pursuing a Ph.D. by a professor in Orlando, [Florida].

Launched by the Biden Cancer Initiative, the #cancerFIERCE campaign “celebrates the FIERCE that we know is in everyone touched by cancer – patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers, researchers” — including Norbert Tavares, ’06.

What changed?
When I transferred to SCSU I decided I would pursue biology because I enjoyed it. . . . Nicholas Edgington, [associate professor of biology,] was my assigned academic adviser. I told him about my goals, my interest in microbiology, my desire for a Ph.D., and to peruse an academic career. He listened and gave me specific, practical advice. He was the first academic adviser I had at three separate institutions who actually gave me good advice specific to my desires.

I did exactly what he said, starting with applying for and doing a summer research program for undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin. I then applied for and was awarded a Sigma Xi grant-in-aid of research after Dr. Edgington nominated me for membership to this scientific society.

I think he was surprised that I followed through with all of his suggestions. He then took me on as an undergraduate researcher in his lab. Because of the training I gained in his lab and the three other summer research programs, I was more than competitive for graduate school and was accepted into the number three microbiology program in the country at the University of Wisconsin. I owe a great deal to Dr. Edgington. He put me on the academic and professional path that I’m currently on.

What was your research focus?
My previous laboratory looked at how bacteria make vitamin B12. Bacteria are the only organisms that make the vitamin, which humans get from our diet via meat. There are no plant sources. The herbivores we eat, like cows, get B12 from the bacteria in their guts. I studied the genes and enzymes that bacteria use to make B12.

Norbert Tavares, ’06, presents at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

What is your current position?
I am an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health in D.C. I work in a center that analyzes the cancer research landscape – and builds programs and collaborations to develop technology, standards, and innovative ideas to fill the gaps in cancer research and move the field forward. In my role, I analyze the cancer research field to find these gaps and opportunities — and manage and evaluate the existing programs we have built. In other words, I build and fund grants, infrastructure, and programs to help cancer researchers study, understand, treat, prevent, and eventually eliminate cancers.

Your bio with the National Cancer Institute lists your strong interest in the advancement of women and underrepresented individuals in science and other areas. Can you talk a bit about that commitment?
If you have at least two women in the room — whether that room is a meeting, a board room, or Congress — it changes the conversation in a way that is important. You’ve heard it said, “If there’d been a woman in the room at the time this idea was put forward, it never would have happened. We would not have made this mistake.” I believe that’s true. Whenever I write a policy document, I always make sure to get it in front of the eyes of a number of different women. And the things that have come back – “Hey, maybe you should change this.” – I would never have thought of without their input.

I’ve learned you need to have that diversity, and there’s data to back it up. If you have lots of diversity, you tend to have a slower start. But the group makes much greater progress and they are more creative.

We live in America during sensitive times and race has always been and will continue to be a touchy topic. I am a scientist – and, as I mentioned earlier, there is good data that shows diversity matters. If a girl has had a woman math teacher, she’s much more likely to excel in the subject and choose it as a major. I’m much more likely to pursue the sciences as a career if I’ve had a science teacher who is African American. It makes a difference . . . and I think the influence occurs as early as elementary school.

The truth is this is passive. . . . But I really believe existing in the world as an African American Ph.D. – as a scientist – and trying to do well is important and hopeful. Increasing exposure [to my educational and career path] is part of my obligation. And if I can maybe inspire another African American to study the sciences – or maybe go to Southern or another college – I am happy to do it.

SHARK TANK - "Episode 1008" - First into the Tank is a husband and wife team from Newtown, Connecticut, who pitch their simple and brilliant rooftop assistance design that helps access your vehicle's roof with one easy step. SUNDAY, JAN. 6 (9:00-10:01 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless) LORI GREINER, ALYSSA BROWN AND ZACHARY BROWN (MOKI DOORSTEP)

Alyssa (Weskolowski) Brown, ’11,  is singing a very different shark song than the rest of the world. The SCSU nursing graduate and her husband, Zach, walked away from ABC’s shark tank as newly minted millionaires after pitching their invention on the show last week.

According to CNBC.com,  “Zach, a firefighter, and Alyssa, an emergency room nurse, always enjoyed outdoor activities, like kayaking. There was just one problem: When they’d transport their kayaks (or bikes or snowboards) on the roof of their car, 5-foot-tall Alyssa would struggle to reach the roof to help take the gear down.

It inspired the couple to create the Moki Door Step, essentially a small step that attaches to the u-shaped latch in your vehicle’s open door so you can reach the roof. It currently sells for $44.95.”

Go Owls!

In the heart of New Haven, two Southern graduates are lifting up their community through separate organizations — both dedicated to the greater good.

Once labeled a "difficult' high school student, Adam Christoferson, '10, now uses his talent to help others through Musical Intervention, the New Haven-based nonprofit organization he founded.

During the worst days of his childhood, Adam Christoferson, ’10, turned to music as both his anchor and escape hatch. As a kid, he recalls living with his mom, who had schizophrenia, in a rent-subsidized apartment on Rock Street in New Haven, on the edge of one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. His father, a Vietnam veteran, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. When his mother’s illness progressed, Christoferson spent time in foster care and eventually moved in with his grandmother.

Music became a lifeline. Coming from a musical family — his uncle is New Haven-born singer-songwriter Michael Bolton — Christoferson learned to play drums as an 8 year old and later took up several other instruments. “It was my expression. It was the way I communicated in the world,” says Christoferson, now 34. “When there was absolute chaos all around, music kept me together and kept me healthy. It kept me, me.”

“I wanted my life to contribute more than a job.” — Erik Clemons, ’04, CEO and president of ConnCAT
Erik Clemons, ’04, grew up poor in Norwalk, Conn. By the time he was a teenager, his father had disappeared and his family moved to Stamford, where he shared a cramped, one-room apartment with his mother and three siblings. In the next few years, the family moved a lot. Clemons bounced from school to school — a different one for each year of high school — and the instability was reflected in his grades.

In spite of those experiences, both men persevered. Today they are each successful social justice entrepreneurs in the Elm City, running organizations that help people, including many facing extremely difficult life challenges. Clemons, 52, helms the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), a nonprofit that provides after-school arts programming for at-risk youth and job training for unemployed and underemployed adults in the health and culinary fields.

Christoferson, meanwhile, shares the therapeutic power of music with New Haven’s homeless and recovery population through Musical Intervention, a drug and alcohol-free space in a downtown storefront on Temple Street, where people can write, record, and perform their own music. He is now working to expand the concept nationally.

Both men say Southern played a big role in their success, citing mentors who recognized their potential and steered them toward life-changing internships. “What happened to me at Southern is that I found out I had some ability. I had some competence,” says Clemons. “There were just some incredible people who left an indelible mark on me.”

Erik Clemons, ’04, CEO and president of ConnCAT

Following the call
Clemons says his upbringing left him ill-prepared for college, so after high school, he worked various jobs to support himself before landing a position as a mail sorter at the U.S. Postal Service in Stamford. Married and raising four girls, he’d stay there for 16 years, but always had bigger dreams. “I wanted my life to contribute to something greater than a job,” says Clemons.

After 12 years at the post office, he decided to follow his calling. He enrolled at Southern as a full-time sociology major, driving to New Haven for classes after work and returning home at night so he could be back at the post office for his 6 a.m. shift.Knowing his desire to work with young people of color, Shirley Jackson, a former Southern sociology professor who was also Clemons’ adviser, recommended him for an internship at the youth-development organization LEAP (Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership) — where he would eventually rise to become a board member and then Connecticut executive director.

In 2009, his work at LEAP caught the attention of Carlton Highsmith, a retired New Haven businessman who was trying to replicate an acclaimed New Hampshire job training program in the Elm City.Highsmith asked Clemons if he would help him build and run the program. Clemons said yes, and in 2011, he became ConnCAT’s founding chief executive officer. The nonprofit began with the after-school program and adult courses in phlebotomy and medical billing and coding, and has since added a culinary program, a student-run restaurant, and a high school entrepreneurship camp. Southern hosted the camp in July. In January, ConnCAT scored a $1 million grant from KeyBank to further grow the program.

Asked about his favorite success story, Clemons points to two of his adult students, one in phlebotomy and another in medical billing and coding, who now are teachers in the program.“It’s not just about job training. It’s about how can we get people to see that there are possibilities beyond the conditions they see. That’s kind of the story of my life as well,” he says. “I never thought about being a CEO or founding CEO of anything,”adds Clemons. “I was able to do some really amazing things because people noticed me. That’s it.”

Adam Christoferson, ’10, founder of Musical Intervention

‘He gave me a shot’
On paper, Christoferson says he didn’t appear to be “college material” either. Branded a difficult student” and channeled into special education, he knew his GPA and test scores couldn’t get him into Southern. So he pleaded his case to Richard Farricielli, then the interim vice president for student and university affairs. Christoferson told him about a teen center he was trying to launch in East Haven and how he wanted to one day do something that would change the world.”

“He gave me a shot,” recalls Christoferson, who was granted conditional admission. Once on campus Christoferson immersed himself in student life, becoming a resident adviser, joining student government, and starting an Ultimate Frisbee team. But a few years in, he lost his way. He took time off to live in Hawaii. He fell into depression. “I was reading Deepak Chopra and trying to get my life together. I really didn’t know what my path was,” he says.

Eventually he returned to Southern, still unsure about his future, until he accidentally stumbled on a link for information on recreation and leisure studies while registering for classes. (Today, it’s the Department of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management.) “I just clicked on it and it opened up all these key courses that were, basically, what I’m all about,” he says. He decided to pursue recreation therapy and began to excel academically.

His adviser, James MacGregor, now chair of the department, set him up with an internship at Yale New Haven Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service unit, where he was later hired as a recreation therapist, a job that sowed the seeds for Musical Intervention. His first week there, Christoferson noticed a girl drawing a picture of someone singing. “I asked her if she wanted to make music with me,” he recalls. His supervisor gave him permission to bring some recording equipment onto the unit.

“And it was a hit,” Christoferson says. “This girl completely transformed, being able to make music and record it.” His work was later featured in the World Congress of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Christoferson would be invited to speak at international symposiums. In 2015, he won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to work with the homeless population.

The following year he opened Musical Intervention, where he continues to see miraculous transformations through music. “There are people who have been homeless for such a long time, they haven’t had a guitar to play. That’s what we provide. There are people who are in crisis with drugs or mental illness and they let [music] go years ago and missed it,” Christoferson says. “While they’re in treatment, they’re able to come to us and regain all of that passion and creativity that was lost.” ■

The sky’s the limit for Gabriel Geist, ’17, and Jack Dowe, ’17, co-founders of FlyReal, a full-service drone marketing and consulting company.

The FlyReal team includes [from left] two alumni of Southern’s School of Business — Gabriel Geist,’17, and Jack Dowe, ’17 — and fellow partners Justin Kegley and José Alvarez de Lugo [missing from photo].

You know your college business course is a standout when it inspires you to launch an actual business. So it was for Jack Dowe, ’17, and Gabriel Geist, ’17, who on April 12, 2017, exited Management 450 — Business Policy and Strategy — and headed to a study room in Buley Library to incorporate their new company.

“How’s that for a founders’ story?” asks Dowe of the resulting enterprise — FlyReal, a marketing and consulting company that specializes in drone video and photography. Based in New Haven, the company works primarily with the real estate industry, but has expanded into general marketing. Soon after taking to the skies, the FlyReal team has completed projects in 12 states for clients that include the KeyBank Foundation and commercial real estate leaders Marcus and Millichap, Cushman and Wakefield, Northside Development, and the NNN Pro Group. “The biggest kick for me is that we are helping to define an entire industry,” says Dowe.

A partnership forms
The FlyReal story began in a classroom — a Saturday session of the aforementioned Management 450, taught by Linda Ferraro, assistant professor of management. All business majors are required to complete the capstone course, which challenges teams of students to “run” a simulated business — a sensor company with about $100 million in initial hypothetical sales. Working online and in the classroom, each team draws on everything learned in previous business courses: accounting, economics, management, marketing, and more to operate their “sensor company” as successfully as possible.

The business-strategy simulation — called Capstone™ — is fittingly challenging. It was originally developed by Capsim for corporate management training, used by companies like Microsoft, General Electric, PwC, and Samsung. “It’s used in quite a few MBA programs,” says Ferraro. “It definitely requires students to up their game.”

Dowe and Geist were placed on the same Management 450 team. The senior business majors hadn’t previously met but had a lot in common — specifically a commitment to their studies. Dowe transferred to Southern from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he received a scholarship after graduating summa cum laude from Hamden Hall Country Day School. It had seemed a dream scenario. But the fit wasn’t right, and he made the difficult decision to leave for New Haven.

At Southern, everything fell into place. Dowe was named one of eight School of Business Ambassadors — a leadership-development program — and was invited to Tokyo, Japan, to explore international business through a program led by alumnus Austin Auger, ’78. Dowe ultimately graduated summa cum laude.

Gabriel Geist was a transfer student as well, enrolling at Southern after taking classes at Middlesex Community College. He also studied abroad, spending a semester at the highly regarded EDHEC Business School in Lille, France. As a Southern student, he tutored classmates at the Academic Success Center, completed two tax internships, and served as treasurer of SUMA Marketing (Southern’s chapter of the American Marketing Association) as well as the Accounting Society. He also worked part-time as a ballroom dance instructor —managing his busy schedule and graduating cum laude.

The two dedicated students took Management 450 in their final semester — and they gave it 110 percent. They each worked near the New Haven green, and would sometimes meet for lunch to discuss the project. One day, Geist shared an idea he’d had while studying abroad in France: a drone marketing company.

“The most important thing I learned in Management 450 was to view my learning outside of the context of the classroom,” says Gabriel Geist, ’17, (right) with Jack Dowe, ’17, (center) and Justin Kegley.

Dowe was intrigued and the student teammates soon became real-life business partners. They found an initial investor, purchased the required equipment, and within months FlyReal was open for business.

“The most important thing I learned in Management 450 was to view my learning outside of the context of the classroom,” notes Geist. “I give credit to Linda Ferraro and her discussion-based learning style for our success in developing our business idea.”

Their former professor is thrilled but not surprised to learn about FlyReal. Dowe and Geist did well in the class, ending the business simulation with more than $400 million in hypothetical sales over eight simulated years — a 300 percent increase. “Both are extremely intelligent and exceedingly professional,” she says. “Jack [Dowe] has the ability to unite people around a common purpose. He has great energy and enthusiasm — and a level of curiosity that inspires him to ask questions without fear,” says Ferraro.

Her opinion of Geist is equally telling. “Gabe is extremely thoughtful and analytical. He integrates information so well and is also curious, but in a less extroverted way.” They are, she notes, a good team.

Which leads us to today. Challenges remain — including balancing the demands of holding traditional corporate positions while running their own business. Dowe is a multi-family analyst at M&T Realty Capital Corporation and Geist is an international tax associate with RSM US, where he previously interned.

They are also entrepreneurs. As managing partners at FlyReal, they work alongside partners José Alvarez de Lugo, director of business development, and Justin Kegley, creative director, who pilots the drones.

Dowe and Geist say the opportunity for future success is their ultimate inspiration. They hope to expand FlyReal’s focus and work with hotels, resorts, golf courses, and more. They also would like to segue into industrial applications such as mapping, zoning, and surveying.

“Right now, drones are largely for hobbyists,” says Dowe. “But in 10 years, every industry is going to have an application for a drone.” He pauses, then asks a hypothetical question: “When that time comes, who is going to have a platform of FAA- [Federal Aviation Administration] certified, experienced drone operators — one that is large enough to meet that huge need? There will be very few. And if you can be one of the top 10, you’re all set.”

Want to succeed in life? “Stay curious,” says Rick Capozzi, ’83, who shares the secrets to surviving and thriving in today’s rapidly changing business world in his new book: “The Growth Mindset.”

Alumnus Rick Capozzi graduated from Southern Connecticut State University's School of Business in 1983. Today, he's a leader in the world of finance.

As a high school football star from northern New Jersey, Rick Capozzi, ’83, was being actively recruited by several NCAA Division I universities when he broke his back playing in an all-star game at Giants Stadium. He recovered from the injury, but was no longer a top Div. I prospect. Southern, however, was interested and Capozzi soon was playing in New Haven.

“The first year was tough,” says Capozzi, of his shift in plans. “But I came to love Southern.” Majoring in business administration, he played football for the Owls for three years. He also was a nationally ranked power lifter and served as a residence hall adviser. The latter, he says, provided a crash course in leadership and responsibility.

The skills honed on campus fueled Capozzi’s post-graduation success. He held senior management positions at TD Private Bank, Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo, and other industry leaders. His tenure at Morgan Stanley helps illustrate the breadth of his experience. As national sales manager at the organization, he was responsible for the firm’s network of 8,000 financial advisers in nearly 500 offices across the U.S. — and as Morgan Stanley’s regional director, he oversaw more than $35 billion in assets.

Building on such experience, he founded Capozzi Advisory Group in December 2014. “After 30 years on Wall Street, I wanted to be a bit more entrepreneurial,” he says. Today, he’s a sought-after consultant and speaker, who’s made more than 1,200 keynote presentations throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He’s also a successful author, whose most recent book, “The Growth Mindset: Leadership Makes a Difference in Wealth Management,” outlines strategies for success.

In November, Capozzi, who serves on the Business Advisory Council for Southern’s School of Business, returned to campus to meet with students. Following he shares a few of his thoughts on thriving in business today.

Tell us about the book’s title: “The Growth Mindset.”
Capozzi: Because of technology and innovation, we are facing arguably the greatest period of change in the business world in our lives. If you don’t have a growth mindset — meaning if you are not constantly thinking about ways to grow both professionally and personally — you will fall behind in this rapidly changing economy and world market.

Describe someone with a growth mindset.
Two words come to mind: responsibility and curiosity. Someone with a growth mindset wants to know more about the world around them and they take full responsibility for their lives. They always believe they can improve.

What are some of the changes shaping business?
In my world [economics and finance], the disruption comes from technology — algorithms and robo-advisers. You call in, basically talk to a computer, and based on your responses, it will, in essence, try to manage your money.

In other industries, some of the best examples of disrupters are Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and Tesla, the electric-auto manufacturer. Think about how much disruption Uber has caused — and they are able to do so because of technology. Uber is basically a technology company. We have no idea where artificial intelligence will lead to in the future. But we know that technological innovation is not going away. It’s going to accelerate.

What’s the effect on the personal level?
Everyone in the business world needs to ask: Can a robot or technology do my job? If the answer is, ‘Yes’ or ‘At some point soon,’ you are probably going to become less relevant unless you take steps.

You stress the importance of the human component as a way of maintaining a competitive edge.
Communication skills are paramount in this economy — and I stress this whether I am talking about leadership with college students or management directors. Seventy percent of our economy is service-based. If you don’t have the right interpersonal and soft skills, it will be hard for you to compete.

People generally do business with people they like. It’s best to form those relationships face to face. . . . If I look you in the eyes when negotiating, I can learn more in three seconds than through 25 email exchanges.

Any quick tips?
I am a big proponent of mentors. Based on the research I did for my book, you are never too old for mentors. I know CEOs who have run organizations with 50,000 employees — leaders who are 70 years old — who still have mentors. Being a mentor is also important. I consider myself a student teacher.

Did you have a mentor at Southern?
I had several. One was my philosophy professor Dr. Mohan [professor emeritus of philosophy]. He opened doors to a world that didn’t exist to me before. I’m from the Class of 1983 — but philosophy is still at the core of what I do today.

Rick Capozzi during a recent visit to Southern, where he is a member of the School of Business Advisory Council.

To what do you attribute your success?
It all started with a belief system. I was absolutely certain that if I wanted something badly enough, no one — no matter who they were — was going to tell me I wasn’t going to achieve it. That belief came from my parents and my siblings. They stressed a strong work ethic and the ability to persevere no matter what.

Also, if I didn’t know something, I was not afraid to ask. I wasn’t afraid of surrounding myself with people who were in some way smarter than me. In fact, my goal was to hire people who had a skill set or knowledge that I didn’t.

Finally, I never stopped learning — and I’m not just talking about the business world. It’s all about curiosity.

What’s something you’ve learned about recently?
My daughter wanted to go shark diving with great whites, so I went. Why? Because I was curious to see what great whites look like from a foot away.

Any final thoughts?
You never master it all. The best professionals, when they are in their 80s and 90s, will tell me, ‘Rick, I am excited about today, because I’m probably going to learn something new.’