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When disaster strikes, Katherine Bequary, ’93, and David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, travel the country and the world — saving lives and providing solace.

David Denino, '75, M.S. '76, worked with many survivors in McComb, Miss., a post-Hurricane Katrina evacuation zone. [below] In Mosul, Iraq, Katherine Bequary, '93, works behind the front lines at a crisis-care clinic run by the organization.

Think of the worst human tragedies of the last 15 years — earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings. Chances are Katherine Bequary, ’93, or David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, were there to help.

Bequary has traveled the globe as executive director of NYC Medics, coordinating emergency care in places few are willing to go — from earthquake-torn Haiti and Japan to the remote mountains of Nepal. In summer 2018, she returned from one of her most challenging assignments yet: running a crisis-care clinic in Mosul, Iraq, just behind the front lines in the fight against ISIS. Bequary says more than 10 percent of the trauma casualties reported in the city were children, many of whom died before they could reach a hospital.

The clinic, which moved with the fighting, did whatever was needed — starting IVs, applying tourniquets, inserting chest tubes — to stabilize victims and help them survive the journey. Staffed 24/7, it provided life-saving care to more than 2,600 patients in the span of a year, many of whom were civilians shot by ISIS snipers while trying to flee the city.

“Every mission always has a powerful message or takeaway, but I have to say Iraq, by far, has been the most important work I’ve ever done,” says Bequary, 49.

“Not only for the medical intervention our team provided,” she adds, “but for the hope that comes with seeing so many people putting themselves in a conflict zone to help a stranger.”

Psychological first aid
Closer to home, as the mental health lead for the Connecticut/Rhode Island American Red Cross, Denino, 66, manages teams of mental health volunteers dispatched to disaster scenes around Connecticut and the country. He administers what he calls psychological first aid, setting up mental health triage based on patients’ levels of distress. If someone needs medication or a hospital, Denino works to connect them with services in the community.

A licensed professional counselor and director emeritus of counseling services at Southern, he trained as a Red Cross crisis responder following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“When I watched the towers go down, I felt paralyzed,” recalls Denino. “The call for help went out far and wide, and I couldn’t do anything because I hadn’t been vetted.”

Too late for 9/11, he was sent to New Orleans a few years later, assigned to the shelters housing residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Subsequent missions included hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Harvey as well as the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, Denino worked in the family assistance center, offering counseling and comfort to people who survived the shooting or lost loved ones. Staged in a conference hall “three times the size of Costco,” he remembers the center being eerily quiet despite being filled with concertgoers and workers, mostly in their teens, 20s, and early 30s.

David Denino, ’75, M.S. ’76, finds a moment of comfort in the midst of helping others.

“A lot of them were struggling a couple of days out with sleeplessness and anxiety,” he says.

In addition to counseling the victims, Denino also kept an eye on the mental health of his fellow volunteers, helping them process their emotions and cope with stress. He earned the 2017 Meritorious Service Award from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA) for his work in Las Vegas and in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, he served as the organization’s president, leading efforts to prevent suicide and violence on college campuses and K-12 schools. In July 2018, the U.S. Secret Service issued a report concluding that the most effective way for schools to prevent targeted violence is with a behavioral intervention team — heightening the focus on NaBITA significantly.

Southern roots
Now living in Wallingford, Conn., with his wife, Vanessa [Pomarico] Denino, ’92, M.S.N. ’98, Ed.D. ’18, and two dogs, Denino traces his interest in counseling to his days as a resident adviser at Southern’s Neff Hall. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure, he stayed on for a master’s in counseling and landed his first job at Southern right out of grad school.

He spent 37 years at the university, retiring as director emeritus of counseling services in 2009, and he still teaches in the clinical mental health program. In 2007, he received the J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching, one of Southern’s top faculty honors. He credits his mentor, James Brine, professor emeritus of counseling and school psychology, with steering him toward higher education.

As the executive director of NYC Medics, Katherine Bequary, ’93, has organized aid efforts around the world, including Nepal.

Bequary, who lives in New York City, came to Southern as a physical education/athletic training major intending to be a physical therapist, but says the university prepared her well for her eventual, if unexpected, disaster-relief career. She credits Gary Morin, professor and chairman of the Department of Health and Movement Sciences, for teaching her that physical and emotional healing go hand-in-hand.

“It’s a big part of what we do [at NYC Medics],” she says. “We’re there to provide the physical care, but it’s so much more than that.”

After graduating from Southern, she held several jobs in the healthcare field before earning a master’s in public health from the University of Connecticut in 2010. She had just finished her thesis when the Haiti earthquake struck, and she learned through a friend that NYC Medics was mobilizing to help.

“I deployed with them and have been involved ever since,” says Bequary. In December 2019, she traveled to Yemen, which has been ravaged by civil war. NYC Medics is working to legally implement a program there and Bequary hopes to return soon.

‘Humbling and inspiring’
Asked why they do what they do, Bequary and Denino offer slightly different takes on the same answer.

“If I could just have people stand in my shoes for one day, they wouldn’t even need to ask the question,” Bequary says. “When people embrace us and open their arms to us . . . it’s the most humbling and inspiring experience in the world.”

She offers a story about a 3-year-old Iraqi boy she found wandering alone at the clinic. Through some detective work, Bequary eventually learned his mother had been a patient, shot in the stomach during a mass casualty incident, one of 60 civilians with serious injuries brought to the clinic in a single day. In the chaos, mother and son had been separated. Although critically injured, the mother survived, and Bequary was there for the joyful reunion: “He hadn’t spoken for three days, but as soon as he saw his mother, he just started crying out to her. He ran over and embraced her. It was incredible,” she says.

Like Bequary, Denino cites the people he helps as his inspiration. “With Katrina, I was talking to people who lost everything — everything — including members of their family or extended family, and the first thing they would do is hug you and say, ‘Thank you for coming here,’” Denino recalls.

He remembers the relief on one woman’s face when he was able to locate her elderly mother in a shelter, and recounts how some neighborhood families brought a home-cooked, fried chicken and biscuits dinner to the volunteers — a welcome change from the military-style MREs [meals ready to eat] they’d been dining on for days.

“You come home and it takes a little while to recover emotionally,” he says. “But when I’m out there, I feel good about it.”

Chaz Guest, ’85, takes artistic expression to new heights, re-examining the history of slavery and launching a superhero in the process.

SCSU alumnus Chaz Guest, '85, standing in front of painted canvas.
Brian Bowen Smith Photo

Chaz Guest, ’85, may not be a household name, but his work has been embraced by many big ones. Herbie Hancock and Vanessa Williams collect his paintings. Former President Barack Obama hung his portrait of Thurgood Marshall in the Oval Office. Oprah Winfrey praised a portrait of Maya Angelou as a little girl that she had commissioned from Guest: “Saying the painting is beautiful is too mild of a word.”

Chaz Guest shaking hands with President Barak Obama
The artist shakes hands
with former President Barack Obama, who hung Guest’s portrait of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, in the Oval Office.

Guest arrived at Southern as a gymnast on scholarship, not knowing what direction he wanted his life to take. He left after studying graphic design with an inkling he had become an artist. He credits David Levine, his art history professor, and the late Howard Fussiner [professor emeritus of art], the only painting teacher he ever had. “Those two put me on the path of the life I have now as a painter,” Guest says from his studio in Los Angeles, brush in hand, working on a portrait of the abolitionist John Brown while we speak. One of Fussiner’s landscapes hangs on the wall.

Levine introduced Guest to the history of art. Fussiner encouraged him to become part of it. The painter — who reminded Guest of Salvador Dali with his wild white hair, quirkiness, and energy — encouraged Guest by praising his work in front of the class. He also passed along commissions to paint watercolors of people’s homes. “He opened my eyes to the idea that I could paint something and actually earn some money,” Guest says.

Painting by Chaz Guest
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a brief stint illustrating fashion magazines in Paris, Guest devoted himself to his own painting. He sold his first work on the sidewalk outside his apartment in New York City. With that money, he bought a larger easel and more supplies and was on his way. Today, the artist is represented by the Los Angeles-based Patrick Painter Gallery. His work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris.

A devotee of Kyokushin karate, which his older brother taught him upon returning from the service in Okinawa, Japan, Guest has used the martial arts to open his mind and dedicate himself to his art. An aging hip prevents the 58-year-old from regularly practicing karate, but he still applies the mental principles. “Martial arts is a way of life,” he says. “I certainly have it in mind.”

His influences range from Fussiner to Balthus, from Dali to Picasso. Inspiration also comes from musicians — Pavarotti to Mahalia Jackson, but especially his beloved jazz. Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane. He has painted them and frequently plays their music in his studio while working. He’s also created paintings on stage inspired by live jazz performances. He starts without preconceived notions of what he is going to paint and improvises along with the musicians. “It’s best to have a blank mind, and flow to the vibrations and spirit of the music,” he says.

Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest
Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest. • ICONN MANN Photo

Guest works in a variety of mediums. His Geisha Series, created on Japanese zori sandals, was inspired by a trip to Japan, and his Cotton Series, portraits of enslaved men, women, and children, is done on cotton picked from Southern fields, where the subjects might have toiled.

After admiring Guest’s Cotton Series, Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Republic of Gambia, invited him to visit in 2010. Guest painted an oil portrait of Jammeh as a gift, which he presented upon his arrival. “It was a life-changing trip,” Guest says.

A stop at James Island in the Gambia River to see the remains of a fort used by British slave traders was particularly profound. Guest spent time alone in a holding cell. “I felt all of my nightmares as an African-American started in this one place,” he says. He wept. Anger and sadness washed through him. He emerged transformed. “Afterward, I felt new,” he says.

Guest suggested that the island be renamed Kunta Kinteh Island to honor the slaves who passed through. Jammeh agreed and the name was officially changed in 2011. For the occasion, Guest sculpted a Mandinka warrior rising out of one of the island’s many baobab trees and escaping the shackles of slavery. He called it Freedom. It was not installed as a 30-foot statue on the island as originally intended, as it lacked the support of the president who succeeded Jammeh.

But the bronze sculpture was chosen for the statuette of the ICON MANN Legacy Award, most recently presented to Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ruth E. Carter, winner of the 2019 Academy Award for costume design on the film, Black Panther. The Legacy Award honors those whose body of work has positively transformed the narrative and trajectory of black culture.

For all of his success as an artist, Guest is proudest of his role as a father. He has two sons, Xian, 16, and Zuhri, 25. He wears a bracelet made from a mold of their umbilical cords. “I enjoy being a father of two great boys,” he says.

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photos

Guest’s latest project is Buffalo Warrior, a graphic novel he wrote about a boy born into slavery in the 1800s who becomes a modern-day superhero. Guest illustrated the book in Japanese sumi ink on handmade paper — and also painted a series of the hero in oil and another related series entitled Buffalo Soldiers. He’s in discussions with movie studios to turn the story into a feature film.

He sums up his aesthetic, which is particularly apparent in the Cotton Series and Buffalo Warrior: “I wanted to start from the root of our American experience, which happens to be slavery. So I wanted to go back there in that time and paint with everything I have to convey dignity and love and [that] they’re people, not only slaves. If you want to make a good painting, you’ve got to paint what you love — and I love those people.”

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

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

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

A first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ‘06, is paying it forward by mentoring some of tomorrow's most promising engineers.

Never underestimate the power of a great mentor. As a first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ’06, came to Southern to major in physics — and, within that first year, was conducting research in the physics lab. “The catalyst that really set me on my path was meeting and working with Professor [of Physics Christine] Broadbridge. She was instrumental in igniting my love of materials research and guiding me in the pursuit of a doctoral degree,” says Garofano.

Today, Garofano has come full circle, mentoring the next generation of engineers as the program manager of the Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at United Technologies, a new entry-level program for top engineering students. Participants rotate through four six-month assignments across the United Technologies business units, such as Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace.

This focus on education echoes Garofano’s early career. Under Professor Broadbridge’s leadership, she held several positions with the Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena (CRISP), a National Science Foundation-funded partnership between Southern and Yale University. Its goal: to share the wonders of science with K-12 students, college students, and educators. Garofano’s commitment to Southern remains strong — and this fall, she joined the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors.

“The two pillars that my career stands on are mentorship and networking,” says Garofano. “Over all this time, a simple but powerful mantra has struck with me: ‘I want to be for someone what Christine was for me,’ and it has materialized in a profound why.”

She’s a STEMinist: Garofano advocates for increasing the presence of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “Representation matters (#SeeHerBeHer). As a first-generation college student, I was fortunate to have a strong female role model and mentor at Southern: Christine Broadbridge, [professor of physics and executive director of research and innovation]. Now that I’m a professional woman in the tech industry, I make every effort to share my journey and empower young students — but young girls and women, in particular.”

A few accomplishments: Garofano earned a doctorate from the University of Connecticut and was named a “Woman of Innovation” by the Connecticut Technology Council (2011); was spotlighted on the “40 under 40” lists of outstanding young professionals compiled by Connecticut Magazine (2013) and Hartford Business Journal (2015); and was honored by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund for advancing women and girls in the STEM field.

On the job: “As program manager of the Ingels program, I have the privilege of cultivating and leading the next generation of engineers who will shape our future. Frankly, this is what attracted me to this role,” says Garofano, who has complete oversight of the program. Her responsibilities include: leading recruiting activities, managing associate rotation schedules, and planning training curriculum for both technical and leadership development.

On board: “I’m thrilled to have been asked to serve on the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors and look forward to the opportunity to support Southern’s mission of providing exceptional, accessible, and affordable educational opportunities to students through the work of the foundation.

A mighty mentor: Last fall, Garofano was approached by a young woman, Edwina Lorient, a native of Haiti, who was studying mechanical engineering. “Edwina was interested in learning more about the different aspects of engineering and hearing about my experience as an engineer,” says Garofano. “She shared with me her desire to use her engineering skills to support her family and community in Haiti with innovative solutions to provide pure water and clean energy,” she says. Garofano encouraged her to apply for summer research experiences, directed her to the Leadership Summer Research-Early Identification Program through The Leadership Alliance, and guided her through the application process. “I was elated when she told me that she was accepted into Brown University’s program for the summer! The return on my seemingly effortless investment has been massively rewarding, not just for Edwina in securing a research fellowship, but, for me also, because I’ve been able to be ‘that person’ for an aspiring young woman engineer,” she says.

Words of wisdom: “I encourage our program associates to build a strong professional network (as they have a unique opportunity to have four different roles across our enterprise), but most importantly, enjoy the journey and have fun!” she says.

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

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

Peter Marra, ’85, says a love of nature saved his life. Today, the longtime Smithsonian scientist and newly named director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative is returning the favor.

Peter Marra, '85, on shoreline releasing bird with tracking device back to the wild.
Smithsonian Institute Photo

Scientist Peter Marra, ’85, views the world through the eyes of a naturalist — and that includes his childhood. “I was a feral kid,” says Marra, of growing up largely unsupervised in a wooded neighborhood in Norwalk, Conn. The youngest of four siblings, he was raised in a broken home. His father, an Army veteran turned baker, left when Marra was only 1 and his mother was left seriously struggling.

By middle school, Marra was struggling as well, smoking and experimenting with alcohol. He also spent time wandering, often ending up at the neighboring Westport Nature Center. One day, the center’s staff set up a mist net: made of very fine threads, it blends with the surroundings and is used to catch birds without harming them. “I was able to experience a chickadee up close and personal. I’m pretty sure I even held it,” says Marra. “I don’t remember a lot, but I remember there being this moment that was pretty magical.”

The experience was an epiphany and a saving grace. “I could have continued down this really bad road. Some of my friends from that time did, and it didn’t end well,” says Marra, who, instead, opted to pursue his passion. Today, he’s an internationally recognized naturalist and ornithologist (expert on birds), an emeritus senior scientist with the Smithsonian Institute, and an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014).

“You could live without art. You could live without music. But would you want to? Would we want to live in a world without warblers, shorebirds, and hawks?”
— Peter Marra, ’85

In August 2019, Marra left the Smithsonian after a 20-year tenure, where he most recently served as director of the Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C. For the next chapter of his career, he’ll direct the Georgetown Environment Initiative, which integrates Georgetown University’s scholarship and outreach efforts related to the earth’s stewardship. Marra also was named the Laudato Si’ Professor of Biology and the Environment, and a professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy.

The significance isn’t lost on Marra, who notes he was first in his family “to even think about going to college.” He’d applied only to Southern for his undergraduate degree. The draw: the late Noble Proctor, ’70, M.S. ’72, professor emeritus of biology — a nationally recognized naturalist and author who, during his lifetime, traveled to some 90 countries conducting avian research. Marra, like many students, called him Nobe.

Southern proved a great match for Marra. “I think it cost me $350 a semester. Having a really quality education available to me at an affordable price made all the difference in the world,” says Marra, who studied — and often simultaneously worked — full time. As a senior, he received the university’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Biology, and more than 30 years after graduating, he easily recalls his professors’ names. He credits Proctor with helping him secure an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — he researched the interaction between gypsy moths and birds — and says the professor also helped him get into graduate school. Marra earned a master’s from Louisiana State University and a doctorate from Dartmouth College, before joining the Smithsonian in 1998.

SCSU alumnus Peter Marra, '85, with students observing bird, writing in journal
Scientist Peter Marra, ’85, has co-authored more than 225 papers in journals such as Science and Nature.

 

Through it all, curiosity was a driving force. He’s jointly published more than 215 peer-reviewed papers in journals such as Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His research has three broad themes: the ecology of migratory birds, urban ecosystems, and disease. Basically, if an issue relates to birds, Marra has probably investigated it. He’s studied migratory birds wintering on military bases; what happens to birds and otters when a dam is removed; and the role migratory birds play in the spread of West Nile virus.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Marra, who’s received top research awards from organizations such as the Smithsonian (Secretary’s Distinguished Research Prizes in 2008 and 2010) and the American Ornithological Society (the Elliott Coues Award in 2018). In sum, Marra is an experts’ expert — the one the White House and members of Congress call for briefs on the highly contagious bird flu.

Of course, in most cases, the birds are the ones in danger, and Marra has spent his career studying direct anthropogenic stress: the many ways humans harm birds. “The number one killer is cats,” says Marra, who discusses the issue in-depth in his book, Cat Wars, the Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, co-authored with Chris Santella.

Marra estimates that cats kill 1.3 – 4 billion birds annually in the U.S. — and three to four times that many native mammals. (There’s limited data on feral cats, hence the wide-ranging statistics.) But the end results, Marra says, are devastating for bird populations. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species around the world, he explains. “DDT, in comparison, has never caused the extinction of a species,” he says, stressing the importance of keeping pet cats inside and on leashes when outdoors. The book also advocates management of feral cat populations, including euthanasia in some cases.

Bluethroat
The Bluethroat • Smithsonian Institute Photo

Another decidedly less controversial research project is centered just outside of Nome, Alaska, and focuses on a small bird called the bluethroat. It’s primarily an Old World species — meaning it breeds and spends most of its life in Europe and Asia, says Marra. But long ago, one population of bluethroats started traveling to Alaska. The birds annually arrive in May and remain through June to breed. These bluethroats then migrate to another location. “Probably to someplace in Southeast Asia, but we don’t know where,” says Marra.

In summer 2018, Marra and other researchers began catching the birds and tagging their backs with light-level geolocators that use daylight to estimate location. It’s an intense process. In Alaska, Marra jump-started the day with a cup of coffee, followed by trudging through deep snowbanks to reach small patches of vegetation. The goal: stay clear of musk ox and grizzlies while searching for the newly arrived bluethroats, which must be caught and tagged.

The scientists then wait. “If we catch the birds again when they come back next year, we can download the data off their backs,” says Marra. The project was a dream assignment for the naturalist, who is working on The Atlas of Migratory Connectivity for the Birds of North America. Still, recapturing a bird is a challenging task. Only about one in every five birds that scientists tag is captured again the next year, according to the Smithsonian. But Marra remains undaunted, inspired by how much remains to be learned.

“The last 10 years, we’ve made some real advances because of the miniaturization of tracking devices and other technology. It’s been a remarkable time to be in migratory animal ecology,” he says.

Marra’s new post as head of the Georgetown Environment Initiative will capitalize on his commitment. Ask Marra why we should care about the conservation of various bird species, and he turns thoughtful. There are practicalities: removing insects and rodents, spreading seeds, pollinating plants. Birds fulfill critical ecosystem services, he explains: when populations decline or worse, become extinct, it’s a sign that something is deeply unhealthy with the environment.

Other motivations are more difficult to articulate, says the conservationist. “You could live without art. You could live without music. But would you want to?” asks Marra. “Would we want to live in a world without warblers, shorebirds, and hawks? I don’t think so. . . .When I wake up in the morning and hear birdsong outside — that fulfills me.” 

Bird Calls

Want to attract more birds to your yard? Get planting — and be sure to include as many native species as possible, according to a study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The magic ratio of native plants? Seventy percent.

“If more than 30 percent of the [plant] species in your yard are non-native, your yard will not produce enough insects to successfully support bird populations,” says Peter Marra, ’85, outlining the results of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The research looked specifically at chickadees, but has widespread implications. More than 90 percent of herbivorous insects target only one or a select few plants for food. “Everybody, even those in an urban or suburban environment, should be thinking about their yard as a natural park, a place that wildlife depends on — including insects and birds,” says Marra.

The Smithsonian suggests these online sites for information on bird-friendly plants: the Audubon’s Native Plants Database, the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness map. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted in conjunction with the University of Delaware.

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

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

Judit "Judy" and George Paolini earned a combined four degrees at Southern — and found love in the process.

Judit "Judy" and George Paolini met at Southern — and celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary in August 2019.

By Judit “Judy” Paolini, ’73, M.S. ’79, 6th Yr. ’93

I first met George as I was studying at the College Union. He and some friends were engaged in a lively conversation when he caught my eye. He was young, handsome, and loved to state his position on any issue. At the time, Vietnam was the number one issue. Days went by as this group of friends, which included boys and girls, continued talking and debating. I came to discover we were all commuters passing time between classes. I studied as they had fun conversing. I wanted to be part of this great group, but wasn’t quite sure how to enter. Then one day when their conversation was livelier than ever someone looked right at me and asked: “Do you have an opinion? Whose side are you on? Do you even care or do you just like watching us?”

Well, I certainly liked watching George. In fact, as the next few weeks past, I liked watching George so much that I cut my Spanish class in order to spend more time with him. I decided to join him as he headed for art history, which was held in the Engleman Hall amphitheater. Not being there for the history, we chatted in the darkened room as the instructor scrolled through slide after slide. She stopped twice, asking whomever was talking to stop or they world be asked to leave. Suddenly, the lights went on, and she pointed to George and me as she dismissed us from class. How embarrassing was that! I cut a class to spend time with this hunk only to get us both thrown out of his class. The lecture hall had been filled with oh, so many students. They laughed for months every time they spotted us. Actually, when we realized there would be no other repercussions, we laughed, too.

George and I had a delightful freshman year making new friends, attending the freshman prom, writing love notes, etc. I wrote the one below on April 25, 1970.

I look into your eyes and see
a bright blue world before me.
You hold me in your arms and
my fears escape me.
Your strength gives my strength
to Love and be Loved.
I think of you and see — us.
Do you think of me and see us also?

Well, the short answer is that he is still thinking of me and I of him. In fact, this August we celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary.

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.