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Monica Zielinski, journalism student, Poland

TEN QUESTIONS FOR: MONICA ZIELINSKI, ‘16

Head Journalist, Time for Polska, Warsaw, Poland

Southern’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), recently was awarded the Region 1 Outstanding Campus Chapter Award for 2015-16 “in recognition of outstanding programs and activities that enhance professionalism, thereby contributing service to the Society and to the profession.” Region 1 comprises chapters in the states of: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The SCSU SPJ President for 2015-16 was journalism major Monica Zielinski. Recipient of the Robin Marshall Glassman Outstanding Journalism Graduate award for 2016, Zielinski is now working for a publication in Warsaw, capital city of Poland.

“Monica, was one of those rare students who achieve academic success, at the same time giving back to students and the campus,” said SCSU Journalism Chair Cindy Simoneau.

We asked Monica a series of questions about her new professional career and her experiences as a journalism student at Southern:

First, just the basics: degree, age, hometown?

Degree: Major in Journalism, Minor in Communication, 22 years old, East Haven, CT

Tell us about your new job?

I’m currently working in Warsaw, Poland, as the head journalist for Time for Polska. It’s a new international project headed by the respected national newspaper, Rzeczpospolita. I’m interviewing CEOs and founders of top Polish brands and companies and writing articles about their products and services. The glossy magazine will be distributed at Polish diplomatic posts around the world, European parliaments, selected airports and hotels, and international trade fairs. So far I have interviewed the CEO of Inglot Cosmetics as well as founders of several tech start-ups such as Social WiFi — which allows businesses to provide free Wi-Fi while interacting with customers — and Monster & Devices, which developed a way to turn any wall or flat service into a touchscreen. Among others are clothing companies and furniture designers. The mission of the project is to market Poland on a global scale to show investors and ambassadors that business in Poland is thriving and is worth paying attention to.

How did you come to work in Poland after attending Southern?

As a first generation Polish-American, I have been traveling to Poland every other summer my whole life to visit my grandparents and extended family. Last summer, I studied abroad in Warsaw for four weeks through a program called School of Russian and Asian Studies in partnership with Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. It was the first time the program was offered in Poland and I studied Central European history as well as security and defense. I’ve been to Warsaw several times before the program began, but living in the city was a whole new experience. I fell in love with Warsaw and I was devastated I had to leave after one month.

I kept the dream of living in Warsaw in the back of my mind throughout senior year. I even applied for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant position for Poland and made it through the first round as a semi-finalist. I decided not to give up and researched English publications in Warsaw and stumbled upon Poland Today which was founded by a British native in 2012 who moved to Poland. I contacted the founder and received a response the next day. He was interested in my story and said he had an opportunity for me if I would come to Warsaw.

After the Time for Polska project is completed, I plan to be the online content manager for Poland Today. For now, I contribute articles, translate articles from Polish to English, and copyedit. Originally I decided to give Warsaw a try for the summer but I enjoyed my time here so much that I rented an apartment for a year and I’m truly loving it. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family however. My grandparents live in a town just two hours outside of Warsaw so I frequently make trips for home-cooked meals and a break from the city. My sister has already booked a flight to visit for Christmas and my parents are very supportive because I’m following my dreams and doing what I love.

Why did you want to become a journalist?

In high school, I signed up for an introduction to journalism class and I really enjoyed it. Senior year I took the course again but was the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. I fell in love with design and layout and spent hours outside of class perfecting the layout. As the sole editor, I had the freedom to create a paper I was proud of. I also enjoyed interviewing students and faculty for articles because I quickly realized how interesting people can be and they all have their own unique story to tell.

Did you have any internships, research experiences, or similar during your time at Southern?

At Southern, I was a journalism major and communication minor. I completed a summer internship at Connecticut Magazine, which gave me insight into the magazine publication world. I was also the online editor at Southern News junior year and managing editor senior year.

As for Society of Professional Journalists, I was the secretary junior year and then president senior year. I was also in the Honors College so in addition to the rigorous classes, I had to complete and defend an honors thesis. I decided to do a creative project and created my own women’s magazine for college students. It included profiles, articles, photographs and layout design all done by me. I successfully defended my thesis in April.

As a member of both SPJ and the newspaper, I frequently attended local conferences as well as ones requiring travel. With SPJ, I attended Connecticut chapter events in-state, regional conferences in Boston and New York, and the national conference in Florida. With Southern News, I attended the Associated Collegiate Press conference in Los Angeles, California, two years in a row. I also received a research grant to independently attend the ACP conference in Austin, Texas, last October.

How did your participation in SPJ enhance your education?

My participation in SPJ helped my education incredibly because I had a variety of responsibilities and I didn’t have anyone to guide me through it because the previous president and vice president graduated. I started my presidency with enthusiasm and determination. I ensured we were present at the club fair and talked to as many students as possible.

We attended the national as well as Region 1 SPJ conferences, organized a diversity event to talk about the race in the news, held the annual journalism alumni night and organized a trip to tour Bloomberg News in New York. I have to attribute our success to our incredible members: Anisa Jibrell and Vivian Englund (Vice Presidents), Josh Falcone (Treasurer), Natalie Barletta and Dylan Haviland (Secretaries) and members Danielle Campbell and Mihai Tripp.

Our members also volunteered and helped organize the Region 1 conference held right at Southern this past spring. I also moderated a panel discussion. I learned that organizing anything at a university involves a lot of planning ahead of time and a lot of paperwork from administration. I also managed the club’s Twitter and Owl Connect pages and promoted our events.

My position at SPJ taught me to lead weekly meetings, stay on top of required paperwork, promote the club and plan events in addition to being a full-time student Honors College student, managing editor at Southern News and part-time assistant at AXA Equitable Life Insurance.

What do you miss most about SCSU?

I miss my professors the most. After four years, the journalism department became like a family to me. I would see some professors twice a day for classes or meetings. They would always give the best professional advice and I just miss seeing them every day and hearing their “war stories” as Professor Jerry Dunklee (SCSU SPJ faculty advisor) would say.

They truly wanted to see us succeed and I would pop my head into their offices to boast about even small accomplishments. Unlike some departments with a larger student population, the journalism professors always made an effort to meet with me.

What do you most like to write about?

My favorite type of writing is human interest stories because I love sitting down with a subject and letting them tell me about themselves. Some people have never spoken to a journalist, nonetheless about themselves to anyone. Once I show genuine interest, they open up and sometimes won’t stop talking.

What is your ultimate career goal?

Working in Poland has made me realize how much globalization is impacting the world. I have attended conferences with business leaders, economists and political figures from Europe, Asia and the Americas. I learned about how interconnected the nations truly are and I developed an interest in this so I would like to continue to work as a journalist with a focus on international relations.

Why would you recommend journalism as a career?

The world needs respectable journalists right now. Between the political, economic and demographic issues in the United States and abroad, journalists need to seek the truth and report it. It takes investigative work, solid writing skills and a thick skin to be a journalist but it’s rewarding to see your byline next to an article.

I would recommend journalism as a career because it can take you all over the world. With technology, people can work from home or in a country thousands of miles away—which is what I have done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Barber, Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2016

For more than 50 years, James Barber ‘64, M.S. ’79, has given dedicated service to Southern Connecticut State University and its students. He was recognized by the SCSU Alumni Association with its 2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award on Friday, Sept. 9 at a campus event attended by more than 300 family members, friends, and fellow alumni.

A record-setting hurdler as a student athlete, Barber went on to become a successful Owls coach for almost 25 years, training numerous track champions and many All-Americans. His expertise also saw him coach both the men’s and women’s USA track teams at national and international championships.

In 1971, Barber launched Southern’s first Summer Educational Opportunity Program, which over time successfully opened the door to a college degree for scores of minority students. He also led the university’s affirmative action office, served as director of student supportive services for more than 20 years, and now helps to advance Southern’s mission as director of community engagement.

A committed community activist, he founded New Haven’s track and field outreach program for young people, working with more than 4,000 children and youth over the years. And he has served as president and a long-time board member of the New Haven Scholarship Fund, which has assisted generations of local high school students to pay for a college education.

“Unsurprisingly, you are a legend in New Haven, having inspired and mentored generations of city youth,” said Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, in a citation honoring Barber.  “And at Southern, your influence both on and off the field has impacted students and alumni nationwide, many of whom say they would never have graduated without your support and guidance.

“Your many contributions are being recognized today with the 2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award – a fitting recognition for a true Southern icon and a worthy member of the Nutmeg State.”

View a video tribute to James Barber.

View a photo gallery from the Distinguished Alumnus Award event.

 

Mawano Kambu

Powering through a diet of hot-cup ramen noodles and sleepless nights spent working at his kitchen table, Southern alumnus Mawano Kambeu, ’08, laid the foundation for what ultimately would be recognized by Harvard Business School’s Africa Business Club as the Best New Venture for 2015. “In Africa, it always seems you’re told what you cannot do. You need to stay positive and prove those people wrong,” says Kambeu, founder of the award-winning Dot Com Zambia, one of Africa’s fastest-growing ecommerce companies. The online service provides Zambians with a lifeline to merchandise from both local and international retailers (ranging from bus tickets to popular items from websites like eBay and Amazon.com) as well as fulfillment and shipping services.

Dot Com Zambia got its unofficial start in 2007 after Kambeu discovered that Amazon.com was not delivering U.S. goods to Zambia. Kambeu — who traveled between the two countries — would receive “shopping lists” from family and friends in Zambia, and would return to his homeland with multiple suitcases filled with the requested items.

“The world is getting smaller. We watch the same TV shows. We want the same things,” he says, noting that access to goods and services in Zambia is limited. Kambeu eventually started charging a premium on items he brought back. Meanwhile, his customers began asking for goods from the United Kingdom and China as well. The business expanded, moving out of Kambeu’s home in Derby, Conn., into warehouses in Orange, Conn., and Zambia — and today the company even has a presence in the United Kingdom and China.

A modern American success story, Kambeu worked for UPS (United Parcel Service) loading and doing odd jobs while pursing a Southern degree in business administration. While at Southern, he drafted a proposal for one of Dot Com Zambia’s services, Bus Tickets Zambia, a system that enables travelers to buy bus tickets online ahead of time. The service filled a basic need, says Kambeu, explaining that in Zambia consumers would typically pay for a ticket at a chaotic station or on the bus, and then wait for hours or even days before the bus filled and departed. Kambeu conducted market research and interviewed thousands of people to determine if they were willing to pay extra for more convenient ticketing and service. His “on-the-ground” audience analysis helped Dot Com Zambia adapt its ticketing strategies to the needs and customs of the locals, giving the company an edge over larger, more well-known competitors.

Kambeu’s corporate experience helped him compete as well. After UPS, he moved on to Prudential Financial. He initially sorted papers at the company but quickly rose through the ranks to the position of manager of investment and sales. He says his greatest hurdle was quitting his job at Prudential and moving back to Zambia where he struggled for two years to build the business. “There will always be a headwind,” says Kambeu. “My personal philosophy is to find a way around obstacles.”

It hasn’t been easy, however. Problems with differing social customs, weak infrastructure, and politics continue to be roadblocks for Kambeu and his team, which now includes 23 employees plus additional contractors. But the entrepreneur remains undeterred. “Let’s work on what we control; What’s Plan A, Plan B, Plan C? We want to do what’s good for the country,” he says.

In 2014, Dot Com Zambia brought in $741,000 in revenue, and more recently, has received $500,000 from investors. With growth comes change, and Kambeu now serves as managing director of the company and reports to an executive board.

Meanwhile, Dot Com Zambia’s success is both measurable and motivational. In November 2014, the company was named the runner-up in the Top Start Up category at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology Tech-I competition, led by the U.S. Department of State. The following year, the company was named the Best New Venture in Africa at Harvard Business School, winning $15,000 in support. Kambeu also won the Zambian Government Award and the Zambian Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

He says he’ll never forget his experiences as a struggling student and attributes the foundation of his success to Southern, particularly lessons learned from a practical business writing class taught by Jennifer Lee Magas, adjunct professor of English and the vice president of communications at Magas Media Consultants. As a result of the assignments, particularly the proposal, he felt prepared to follow his entrepreneurial passion, and he has willingly returned to Southern to share his experiences with today’s students.

“Life is a sound bite,” says Kambeu. “From the job to everyday life, it’s all about pitching. And if you love what you do and can communicate your passion, you will find success.”

Summer issue of Southern Alumni Magazine 2016

Mitch Hallock, '89, TerrifCon
TerrifiCon™ founder brings the world of comic books to his fellow fans — because with great power, comes great responsibility.

A young Mitch Hallock, ’89, was sitting in his dad’s parked car on the day destiny came calling. It was the early 1970s and the 5-year-old had been left alone, happily perched on the bench-style front seat while his dad ran into the neighborhood pharmacy to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Hallock will celebrate his 50th birthday this summer. But he still recalls the moment with picture-perfect clarity: “I was looking at my dad through the store window. There was a spinner rack next to the register, and I saw him picking out a few comics —  a Batman, a Shadow, a Spiderman. He came back to the car and handed them to me. ‘I had these when I was a kid,’ he said. My grandmother had tossed them out when he joined the service. ‘Don’t ever throw them away,’ he told me.”

Hallock stops for a moment and laughs: “He didn’t realize I was this obsessive-compulsive kid who would take his advice way too seriously.”

Decades later, comics remain Hallock’s passion as well as his livelihood. After working as an art director and in marketing, the self-described “fanboy” went on to launch TerrifiCon™, an annual Connecticut-based comic con — or comic convention — that showcases comic books and their creators, as well as films, television programs, pop-culture, and gaming.

This year, some 25,000 fans are expected to attend TerrifiCon™, held Aug. 19-21 at the Mohegan Sun Convention Center in Uncasville, Conn. The event sold out in 2015, and based on industry trends, the future is promising. In 2014, comic book sales in North America (print and digital) were about $935 million, according to Comichron and ICV2, which tabulate industry statistics.

The popularity of comic book-related films and television shows is at an all-time high as well. “Marvel’s The Avengers,” the top comic book-film adaptation to date, had worldwide ticket sales of more than $1.4 billion, according to Box Office Mojo (BOM). Equally telling, at press time, BOM listed more than 35 comic book film adaptations in development.

“In the early 2000s, the film industry realized that special effects had reached a point where we could capture what we could draw. We could show all of these great stories on film,” says Hallock.

His own story is intrinsically tied to Southern. Hallock majored in art, working as a staff cartoonist for the student newspaper, and as an actor and publicity director for the university’s Crescent Players. He met his future wife, Sharon, while working on a production.

Hallock also connected with other classmates who would later work in the comic book industry. He took art classes with Ron Garney, now an acclaimed comic book artist and writer known for his work on JLA (Justice League of America), The Amazing Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Daredevil, and Captain America. And in student theatrical productions, Hallock also crossed paths with Michael Jai White. White, now an accomplished professional actor and martial artist, played the title role in “Spawn,” becoming the first African American to star as a superhero in a major motion picture. Hallock has run into both former classmates at industry events. Following, he shares memories from these impromptu mini reunions and a few pivotal life moments — including being fired from Southern’s student newspaper.

Mitch Hallock, TerrifiCon

Hallock has loved comics for as long as he can remember. His earliest memories include drawing Fred Flintstone on the wall of his home. He was 3.

“My mom wrote to Stan Lee when I was about 5 — and he wrote back. [The legendary Lee worked with several artists to create Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, and more.] He told me to work hard and to keep practicing. We hung that card on my wall, and I would look at it every day.”

Comics remained a childhood passion. 

“Marvel’s arch nemesis is DC Comics. Mine was [my friend] Al — my big competition. We starting writing and drawing our own comic books. At school, we would sit in the back of the room, take out our spiral-bound notebooks, and draw. . . . We kept up with it into high school until we developed some other interests. It helped with we went to an all-boys Catholic high school. The nuns hated those notebooks.”

Following in the footsteps of his aunt and older sister, Hallock came to Southern.

“I was going to go to an art school, but my dad was a marine, a no-nonsense kid of guy: ‘You can’t just draw pictures. You need to get a degree.’ So I enrolled at Southern, which ended up being a great decision for me.”

He was an active member of the Crescent Players.

“There used to be a public access television studio nearby. I would go to the Theatre Department, and when the actors showed up, I’d tell them, ‘I can get you on TV.’ . . . They’d come down, and we would do these sketches. I tease my kids. I tell them, ‘I was the internet before there was an internet.’”

Hallock continued to love comics.

“I was the cartoonist at Southern News, and I would get fired every year. They’d tell me I was getting too weird . . . that I needed to tone it down, which is the wrong thing to say to the kid who’s been in Catholic school since he was 6. [laughing] I had to break free! So I would get fired. Then I’d come up with a new strip, and I’d send it in under a different name. I think I was Hal Mitchell at one point . . . “

Hallock kept drawing.

“I got fired again. But I was working late night at a copy shop in New Haven, and I would draw, then turn out thousands of comics. My friend delivered Southern News to all the dorms, and I would put my comics right next to the paper.”

He found work in a creative field.  

“After college I got a job at a studio in Branford. I was 23, working as an assistant art director when my boss was fired. It was 1989 — I was making $17,000 a year — and the owner said he’d give me a raise if I could do the work for six months.”

Hallock also kept thinking about comics.

“So I was working on a catalog for office supplies and I thought, hmm, what will work? What do I know? The answer was comic books. . . . I came up with a story about a guy who has to make a presentation at work. He’s a complete wreck. Then he hears a voice from the heavens that tells him to use these products. . . . So I made the pitch to do a comic — and they liked it. Which is great. But now I’m a complete wreck — because I don’t know how real comics are made.”

So he reached out to a stranger.

“I called Marvel in New York and eventually got through to the secretary. I explained everything and she says, ‘I know what to do.’. . . and connects me to John Romita! [Romita is perhaps best known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man.] I’ve always wanted to draw like this man. I couldn’t even speak . . . But eventually I explained everything to him. He told me to sit down — and for 45 minutes, John Romita walked me through the process of making a comic. So I did the catalog. It’s a hit. Sales are up. It’s written up in the industry magazine . . . and I get a raise. Now they’re paying me $30,000.”

He later rocked his dream interview.

“I had the opportunity to interview with Marvel. I met with the head of the marketing department — and I got it. They offered me $23,000 to work in New York City. I was married, making $40,000 a year, living and working in Connecticut. So I stayed. I regretted it somewhat at the time, but soon after there were massive layoffs [in the comic book field].”

He continues to love comics — and his alma mater.

“I had class with [alumnus] Ron Garney, an amazing artist with Marvel. He used to be a bartender in New Haven many years ago. At the time, Batman 1989 was premiering and there was a costume contest. I dressed up as the joker. Many years later, we ran into each other at a comic con, and realized I’d ordered a drink from him — dressed like the joker. He’s an amazing artist.

A lot of incredible talent comes through Southern.” Among those talents is Michael Jai White, who has starred in numerous films, and portrays Marcus Williams on the TBS/OWN comedy-­drama television series, “Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse.”

“I met Michael Jai White at that same convention in New York City. He was promoting ‘Black Dynamite,’ a hysterical movie, which he [co-]wrote and starred in. . . . He looked familiar, so I asked him if he had gone to Southern? He said yes — and then it hit me. So I asked him, ‘Were you Larry the Lobster?’ It was a crazy play we did about a lobster about to be boiled. . . . I was working stage crew. He was Larry. . . . Does anyone have a photo of Michael Jai White playing Larry? Because if they do, I want it to blackmail him.”

Hallock continued to love comic cons.

“It’s Woodstock for geeks and nerds — but without any of the bad stuff.”

So he founded TerrifiCon — and is living the dream.

“I have to downplay it somewhat, but I am still that 8-year-old kid who wants to grow up and work at Marvel. Take Neal Adams. [Adams created some of the iconic modern imagery for DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, and Green Arrow.] If there was a Mount Rushmore of comics, he would be one of the four heads. I will always see him as legendary — and I have the opportunity to sit and talk to him. And I get to bring him to TerrifiCon™ — so others who feel exactly the same way get to see him, too.”

He says he’ll always be a fan — and here’s one reason why.

“We weren’t the wealthiest people in the world, and it wasn’t always easy. That’s one of the things about comic book heroes. They’re from poor families. They have problems. Peter Parker is living with his aunt who is sick. He’s a scrawny guy, not popular. Then he gets bit by a radioactive spider, and he becomes Spiderman. It’s inspiring. It gives kids a reason to stay on the right path. It gives you hope.”

And he’ll never tire of meeting his fellow fans at TerrifiCon™.

“It’s the coming together of like-minded people — those former 10-year-olds who were sitting in the back of the room drawing comics. You grow up, go to this event, and realize you are not alone. . . . I find that a lot of kids who loved comics grew up to be police officers and firefighters. They come to help society in very important ways. . . . When you talk to them at a comic con, you immediately see that 9-year-old boy or the 10-year-old girl. But the hero is there too.”

For more, go to terrificon.com.

Summer issue of Southern Alumni Magazine 2016

Joe Andruzzi, Walter Camp Award

Former Southern Connecticut State University All-American Joe Andruzzi has been named the 2016 Man of the Year by the Walter Camp Foundation. He was recognized at the organization’s 49th annual Awards weekend on January 14-16.

The Walter Camp Man of the Year award honors an individual who has been closely associated with the game of American football as a player, coach or close attendant to the game. He must have attained a measure of success and been a leader in his chosen profession. He must have contributed to the public service for the benefit of his community, country and his fellow man. He must have an impeccable reputation for integrity and must be dedicated to our American Heritage and the philosophy of Walter Camp.

A two-time All-American at Southern, Andruzzi won three Super Bowls while with the New England Patriots from 2000-04 and was named to the squad’s All-Decade Team. He also played with the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns during his NFL career.

Off the field, Joe and his wife Jen have worked tirelessly to support those in need. Andruzzi has been recognized with the Ed Block Courage Award in 2002 and the first Ron Burton Community Service in 2003.

In 2007, Joe himself needed help as he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma. Following his recovery, he and his family founded the Joe Andruzzi Foundation and have been committed to tackling cancer’s impact by providing financial assistance for patients and their families to help them focus on recovery.

In addition to his great work helping others, Joe’s personal life story is even more inspirational. His three brothers are all members of the New York City Fire Department, and all three responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. During the 2013 Boston Marathon, he was able to help injured people following the bombings.

Andruzzi was also previously named the 2010 Man of the Year by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

Meet Nick Abraham, ’05 — musician, songwriter, and the “music mentor” of reigning “American Idol”-winner Nick Fradiani.

Musician Nick Abraham, ’05, is on the brink. While not quite ready to quit his day job at a local pharmacy, Abraham — the lead guitarist for Connecticut-based band Beach Avenue — is enjoying major success along with band-mates Nick Fradiani (guitar/vocals), Ryan Zipp (drums), Nick Fradiani Sr. (keyboards/vocals), and Jonah Ferrigno (bass).

The band has opened for everyone from STYX, Jefferson Starship, and REO Speedwagon to Third Eye Blind and Bad Rabbits. Twelve million viewers watched Beach Avenue perform on the 2014 edition of “America’s Got Talent.” Even the powers-that-be behind trendy retailer Hollister Co. are fans, featuring the band’s “Feel the Beat” on the in-store playlist, along with hits by megastars Taylor Swift, One Direction, Charlie XCX, and more.

And that’s just the beginning. In May, Beach Avenue’s lead singer Nick Fradiani won season 14 of “American Idol,” with Abraham and Zipp cheering him on every step of the way. Two days after his win, with the show’s full blessing, Fradiani invited the two to help with promotions leading up to the “American Idol Tour.”

The ensuing months were marked by one rock star moment after another. The three performed Fradiani’s hit single “Beautiful Life” in Times Square for VH1. Soon after, the guys traveled to Nashville to film the song’s official video. Later, it was off to Vancouver, Canada, to perform at the FIFA World Cup the day before the U.S. women’s team captured the trophy. A summer update on Beach Avenue’s Facebook page sums it up nicely: “We hopped on 9 flights in 11 days totaling well over 10,000 miles traveled.”

Far from an overnight sensation, Abraham has been a hard-working musician throughout most of life. His early childhood memories include listening to his mother sing and tirelessly banging on the pots and pans she gladly provided. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began playing drums at age 10 and went on to master more instruments — including the guitar, the mandolin, and the glockenspiel.

He joined his first band at 13. Others followed, and while Abraham initially planned to become a music teacher, he gradually realized that he wanted to be a professional musician.

At Southern, he majored in music, playing in numerous university ensembles. He notes that Mark Kuss, professor of music, was particularly inspirational. “He is an incredible pianist and composer. . . . He really inspired me and taught me a lot. I think he understood what I was looking to do with my music — and that really made a big difference.”

Scholarship support was helpful as well. Abraham received the Bellmore Family Scholarship, which benefits students who are majoring in music at Southern. “I was a musician myself,” says Roger Bellmore, who studied communication at Southern, and paid his way through school by playing in a rock band. “The cost of going to school has gone up significantly since I was a student,” Bellmore continues. “We wanted to make it a little easier for a musician, so he or she could focus more on music and classes.” He and wife, Sharon, have two sons, Nick and Charlie, both professional musicians. The latter majored in music at Southern.

Abraham notes that the scholarship met the Bellmore family’s objectives.

“The scholarship was huge in two ways,” he says. “First, in the financial sense, it was a big help. But it also was a big motivation. You feel like you have some support. . . . It’s an inspiration. It says ‘Okay, you are doing well, and you should continue down your path.’”

That path eventually led Abraham — then a Southern student — to successfully audition for a band that included drummer Ryan Zipp. When their lead vocalist left, Fradiani joined on and Beach Avenue was born, named after the Milford, Conn., street where the group got its start.

With only a few practice sessions under their belts, Beach Avenue went on to win Mohegan Sun’s Battle of the Bands in 2011, besting those who had been playing together for years. “Our prize winnings allowed us to put together a CD,” says Abraham.

An invitation to compete on “America’s Got Talent” in 2014 thrust the band into the national spotlight. The group played original music — typically not a winning formula for the show — and still made it through two rounds before being eliminated. “Howie Mandel wasn’t into it,” Abraham says with a smile. Fortunately, others were. “We were upset at the time. But when everything aired on TV, we had this huge response. . . . The song we played charted on ITunes. Social media exploded. So we were thrilled,” Abraham says.

Soon after, Fradiani auditioned for and was ultimately crowned the winner of “American Idol.” “We were really proud and happy for him. He’s our best friend about to win this incredible tournament,” says Abraham of watching the competition.

Fradiani, in turn, was quick to share the stage. Leading up to the show’s final weeks, the remaining competitors each had a homecoming parade and concert, and Beach Avenue was invited to play for the 10,000-plus fans gathered on the Guilford Green in Connecticut.

More surprises followed, with “American Idol” flying Abraham and Zipp out to watch the finale in person. There, Abraham was brought on stage so that Fradiani could introduce him to the world as his music mentor. Both Nicks were presented with cars from Ford. “I felt like I was on a game show. You don’t think things like that happen,” says Abraham, all smiles, shaking his head incredulously. “But they do.”

See Nick’s band page: Beachavenuemusic.com.

Southern Alumni Magazine, Winter 15
Read more in the latest issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.