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Alumni

A Southern MBA graduate turns to genetic testing and discovers the sister she didn’t know she had.

Sisters Ruby Hunter, MBA '19, (right) and Leah Boedigheimer

Ruby Hunter, MBA ’19, always knew she was adopted from China. “My mom was very open and honest about it. As I grew up, she answered any questions I had and always encouraged me to learn more about my Chinese background,” says Hunter, who was raised as an only child in Connecticut, primarily in Branford.

Hunter has a tattoo that playfully nods to her heritage with the text: “Made in China.” But she was never certain of her lineage. “I have always wondered if I was mixed … because being adopted from China doesn’t necessarily mean my parents were Chinese,” she says. Looking for answers, in November 2019, she completed genetic testing through 23 and Me. A month later, the results came in: Hunter is 100 percent Chinese — and she also has a sister, Leah Boedigheimer, who lives in Minnesota, some 1,350 miles away.

“It was surreal. You always hear about these kinds of stories, but I never thought it would happen to me,” says Hunter of the discovery. Initially skeptical, the two women communicated by text and online, and uncovered uncanny similarities. “Once I had connected with her and talked for a bit, I knew she was my sister. We are so alike,” says Hunter.

Like many siblings, the two share mannerism and physical traits. They also sound alike, despite being raised in different parts of the country. Hunter says both are night owls; love shopping, food, and dogs; and are “very straight forward and blunt.” Another tattoo also figures prominently in the sisters’ story. Each has a tattoo of the quote, “Veni, Vidi, Vici,” a Latin phrase popularly attributed to Julius Caesar, which translates as, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Clearly, the two women are motivated. “I work as a data analyst, and she is getting her master’s in health care analytics. I have my MBA from Southern. We are both driven and hard working,” says Hunter, who works in the Windsor Locks, Conn., office of Collins Aerospace, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp.

The sisters later learned they were adopted from the same orphanage. Hunter’s adoption story began in Hangzhou, China, where she was born in September 1994. Found at a bus stop, she was wrapped in a blanket, a note listing her birthdate attached. At the age of nine months, she was adopted by Mary Hunter of Seattle, a single mother who moved with her child to Connecticut.

Across the country in Minnesota, Leah Boedigheimer’s adoption story had similar twists. Born in 1995, she was discovered in a government building in China, her birthdate also pinned to her blanket.

On July 1, the sisters met in person for the first time at the airport in Detroit en route to a July 4 holiday visit to Hunter’s relatives. (Her mother had moved to Michigan in 2018.)

“We hugged and then went to grab a drink and catch up,” says Hunter of the sisters’ first meeting. She recalls feeling nervous but also a sense of comfort, a sort of homecoming, “like seeing someone you just haven’t seen in a while if that makes sense.”

 

RUBY HUNTER, MBA ’19, ON WHY SHE CHOSE SOUTHERN

WORKING WHILE LEARNING: “I liked that Southern was local and offered an MBA program that was accelerated that I could do while working.”

ON THE JOB: “My MBA definitely opened the door for me to work at Collins Aerospace. . . . Going to Southern while working helped me build my skills and learn while applying the school lessons to on- the-job training,” she says.

STUDYING WITH A COHORT: “It allowed us to really get to know each other and become friends. The class discussions were particularly helpful.”

BOTH WORLDS: “I liked how the classes were in person and online. I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school if it was all in person. I also didn’t want to do it all online, because I felt the social interaction was key. This was the perfect option.”
 

Cover image, Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring '21Read more stories in the Spring ’21 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

 

MFA student William Conlon, in 1960 and 2016
MFA student William Conlon, in 1960 and 2016

Back when Bill Conlon was an undergraduate at Southern in the early 1960s, he happened to know Walter Tevis, who was teaching creative writing at Southern at the time and later went on to write the novel The Queen’s Gambit, upon which the wildly popular Netflix miniseries is based. Based on Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, The Queen’s Gambit is a coming-of-age drama created for Netflix in 2020. Tevis also wrote The Hustler, which was made into a movie starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason; The Color of Money, which was made into a film starring Newman and Tom Cruise; and The Man Who Fell to Earth, which also was made into a film, starring David Bowie.

But when Conlon knew Tevis, he was a writing teacher and “a superb storyteller.” Conlon is himself a storyteller, and is now a graduate student in the English Department‘s MFA in creative writing program. Here Conlon shares his own story about his early years at Southern and his friendship with Tevis.

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Have you lived in the New Haven area your whole life?

I was born at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., on July 8, 1942. The oldest of six siblings, I attended St. Mary’s School and graduated in 1956 with the English prize. I spent three years at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn., and graduated with honors from Derby High School in 1960.

What was it like to be an undergraduate at Southern in the early 1960s?

I started my studies at Southern Connecticut State College in the fall of 1960. In May 1963, I married and moved to New Haven where I worked, 3-11, at the Hospital of St. Raphael since the summer of 1960. Marriage, employment, and fatherhood impacted my involvement at Southern, scholastically and socially. After SC² became SCSU, I transferred to the class of 1965 to enroll in the B.A. program and escape student teaching. Unfortunately, low grades prevented my graduating, and I didn’t earn my B.A. until 2016.

In what ways is it different to be a graduate student at Southern in 2020?

I am presently retired from the work force and enrolled in the MFA program in creative writing. Devoting adequate time to my studies allows me to appreciate the admirable faculty of Southern’s English Department. I earn the grades that I dreamed of as an undergraduate. I also have time to partake of activities like answering this questionnaire.

I understand that you knew Walter Tevis, who wrote the book The Queen’s Gambit, on which the popular miniseries is based. Tevis taught creative writing at Southern when you were an undergraduate student here. How did you know him, and what was he like?

When Walter Tevis taught at Southern, he was well known as the author of The Hustler. I was never in his class. We did meet and chat on a number of occasions. We lived equidistant from the Yale Bowl Café on Derby Ave. Passing the café on my way home from work, I would look through the window to see if Mr. Tevis was at the bar. I would then check my pockets for a spare half dollar for a couple draft beers and join him. Mr. Tevis was an affable gentleman and a superb storyteller. He enjoyed talking about the pool room he ran, off campus, at the University of Kentucky where he majored in English. He said that the fixes that got the entire UK basketball team banned from the NCAA took place in his poolroom. He later wrote the science fiction novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth. He also talked about making the movie of The Hustler, his role as technical advisor, and hobnobbing with the movie stars. He spoke of being at the home of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton dropped in for cocktails. He suggested that I take his class, but I couldn’t envision finding time to write.

What made you want to enter Southern’s MFA program? Have you always been a writer? Where are you in the program, and what kind of writing do you do?

After finally earning my degree, I took advantage of the generous CSCU program for senior citizens and continued taking courses. I took introductory courses in creative writing because I had often dreamed of writing as I am sure most avid readers sometimes do. My excellent teacher, Jason Labbe, encouraged me to apply for the MFA program. Before taking Jason’s classes, I had never written anything other than school assignments except for a one-page story when I was in second grade. I applied to the program, and I was accepted. Presently, I am about halfway through the 48-credit program. My major is fiction writing. I have been writing mostly stories about after-hours night life in the 1970s. During these past two semesters, I have explored a burgeoning interest in writing poetry.

How are virtual writing classes going?

The virtual writing workshops have gone remarkably well. One misses the camaraderie that is part of the workshop experience, but I believe my writing has improved as it would have in the classroom environment.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

I would advise any aspiring writer to take beginning courses in creative writing to ground oneself in the techniques of craft. Then write and continue writing and write some more.

an early photo of Walter Tevis
Walter Tevis, around 1960

#SouthernStrong graphic with photo collage of SCSU students, faculty, staff, and alumni
As the university prepares to reopen, here’s a look at how the Southern community responded to the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic — and upheld its commitment to education.

First, the good news. Southern’s physical campus is slated to reopen for fall 2020, with classes beginning on Aug. 26, following a staggered move-in for residence hall students. Courses will be offered in a HyFlex model, a combination of on-ground and online courses. Public health guidelines will be followed (face coverings, class size, etc.) and, if the need arises, the university is prepared to pivot to an all online schedule. The goal is to complete the entire fall semester as scheduled, with one caveat – on-ground classes will end at the Thanksgiving break. After Thanksgiving, all remaining classes and final exams will be held online and all student services will be offered remotely.

The plan is a promising return to normalcy for the campus community.

The first campus-wide warning came in January: an email with tips for fighting seasonal influenza included a sentence about the outbreak of a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan, China. The news became increasingly dire in the following weeks, and, on Feb. 26, U.S. officials reported the first non-travel-related case of the illness now officially known as COVID-19.

On campus, the disease’s rapid-fire spread came to light on March 10, after a Southern student attended an event where another participant later tested positive for the virus. Southern’s physical campus was closed (initially for five days) for a deep cleaning, a process that included licensed professionals in HAZMAT suits.Southern’s campus has remained shuttered through spring and summer to date, following the Office of the Governor’s directives for statewide closures and the decision of the Connecticut State Universities and Colleges system.

At the macro-level, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented: in early June when the university magazine in which this article first appeared went to press, there were more than 1,800,000 cases and 106,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — figures that have been tragically surpassed today. Like the nation and, indeed, much of the world, Southern is mourning profound losses. Students, university employees, and alumni have become ill from the virus, some seriously. While impossible to track all cases, Southern graduates have died from COVID-19.  No student has died from the virus as of June 24. The university is also navigating a new world order, driven by an overarching directive: ensuring the health and welfare of the Southern community and the community-at-large.

To be clear, the university was never closed. Instead, over a 10-day period that corresponded with students’ spring break, faculty prepared to adopt remote/online learning for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. On March 23, all Southern courses began being offered remotely /online, with summer sessions soon following suit. With fall’s campus opening in sight, here’s a look at some of Southern’s initial responses to the early phases of the pandemic.

More at:  go.SouthernCT.edu/strong    inside.SouthernCT.edu/coronavirus

Demographic of SCSU students, Grad assistants/interns/faculty/staff, with collage images
The People:

Piloting Southern through the COVID-19 pandemic is complex. The university is a home-away-from-home for 11,072 people — more residents than 44 percent of cities/towns in Connecticut. In spring 2020, the Southern community included 9,212 students (1), a figure that comprises 7,456 undergraduates and 1,756 graduate students, both full- and part-time. There are also 2,050 faculty and staff, including some 190 students working as graduate assistants/interns.

FEMA setting up cots in response to Covid-19 at SCSU Moore Fieldhouse
Changing Places:

On March 31, 2020, the National Guard began assembling a 300-bed “Connecticut Medical Station” inside Southern’s Moore Fieldhouse [above]. (2) Designed as “overflow” space for Yale New Haven-Hospital in anticipation of a surge of COVID-10 patients, the facility fortunately had not been needed as of early June. The university also made available 2,500 rooms in nine residence halls, which were used minimally to house some National Guard staff.

A New Way of Working:

Following the governor’s mandate for statewide closures, about 1,662 faculty and staff began working remotely. They are responsible for most university operations — from admissions and teaching to information technology and health services. Those designated essential employees — 34 unsung heroes as of press time — continue to regularly report to campus. Among them: the police chief and officers, and the facilities team, including grounds crew, custodians, receiving staff, mailroom workers, supervisors, dispatchers, and building tradesmen.  An additional 116 employees are on-campus on an interim basis.

Chart showing pre- and post-Covid remote learning accounts, participants, and sessions

Teaching Remotely:

Between mid-March and the end of the month, the Office of Online Learning held more than 70 webinars — including individual and group support sessions. The focus was on teaching/learning through the use of several platforms: WebEx (web conferencing), Teams (an online communication and collaboration platform), Kaltura (video), and Blackboard (educational technology). In April, the office also held a three-day online Teaching Academy, with all sessions filled to capacity. In addition to the staff from the Office of Online Learning, faculty volunteers have helped with training.

SCSU Academic Success Center has Coach Team Meeting online

Academic Support:

The Academic Success Center is working virtually to help students succeed. The center’s hours have stayed the same and its tutors, 100 PALS (Peer Academic Leaders who focus on gateway and foundational courses), Academic Success Coaches, and more than 200 student workers all mobilized online through Microsoft Teams. “The short answer is we’re here,” says Kathleen De Oliveira, director of the ASC. “We want them to succeed. Just like before, all they have to do is come and ask.”

Buley Library:

The building is closed, but the library is open for business, with 100 percent of staff working remotely. They’re a busy group. Between the shutdown and mid-May, they redesigned their web page to promote online resources and services (100,000 visitors), answered 180 questions from students, hosted numerous online events (including an online exhibit for National Poetry Month), and even used 3D printing to create mask components for health care workers at UConn Health. Since the shutdown, they’ve also activated 3,500-plus online resources, including thousands of ebooks and streaming videos.

A Global Issue:

The pandemic has been particularly challenging for students who were far from home. There were 13 Southern students studying abroad during the spring 2020 semester: 10 returned home in mid-March and three signed waivers after deciding to remain in their host countries. International students studying at Southern — both exchange students and those who are matriculated at SCSU — were helped by the Office of International Studies (OIS) and, when needed, Residence Life. (They coordinated flights and airport shuttles, ensured access to food and housing, and much more.) The 26 international exchange students studying at Southern this spring returned home by early April. But many of the 65 matriculated international students remained in the U.S., staying with extended family or in campus-sponsored accommodations at an extended stay hotel with other students.
Looking forward, Southern is holding strong to its long-term commitment to international education. Intercultural engagement and global diversity in the classroom “are the antidote to the isolationism and nationalism that the pandemic has fueled in some parts of the world,” says Erin Heidkamp, director of the Office of International Education.

SCSU student and Army National Guard member Renee Villarreal with baby
Renee Villarreal — parent, student, Army National Guard member
The Ties that Bind:

“The current situation is hard for students,” says Sal Rizza, director of New and Sophomore Programs, reflecting on the spring 2020 semester. “We’re trying to bring a little life and enjoyment. There are a ton of activities happening.” Among them: SCSU Music Trivia, The Dan Baronski Hour (peer mentor and orientation ambassador Baronski talks fashion and music), Cooking with Kyra, Coffee Chat with Student Involvement, and more.

Campus Recreation and Fitness held programs to get students moving, including a live-stream workout with President Joe Bertolino and his trainer, Hunter Fluegel, that drew about 300 viewers. Similarly, more than 200 students and 100 faculty and staff signed up for A Southern Strong Step Challenge. Many student clubs also met online, with Daphney Alston assistant director of Student Involvement, noting that the university is “really proud of how clubs and organizations have tried to figure out this new normal.”

SCSU President Joe Bertolino and volunteers deliver lawn signs to 2020 future graduates

Celebration:

With large gatherings prohibited, Southern is holding a virtual commencement ceremony for undergraduate and graduate students on Aug. 15 — and also found ways to immediately honor students safely. More than 1,000 celebratory yard signs were delivered to graduates; an emotional virtual pinning ceremony was held for graduating nursing majors; and seniors submitted photos and memories for a virtual yearbook and social media spotlights.

Helping Hands:

When the Southern campus closed suddenly in mid-March, Chartwells was left with an abundance of food. That’s when an existing food recovery program run by Southern’s Office of Sustainability and Chartwells sprang into action. Several students and Chartwells staff packaged more than 300 pounds of food for delivery to St. Anne’s Soup Kitchen in Hamden, Park Ridge Tower Affordable Senior Living in New Haven, and Monterey Place Senior Living in New Haven.
There were countless other outreach efforts. Southern police collected equipment from university labs/clinics to assist in relieving the PPE shortage, numerous community members made and donated face coverings, Buley Library staff 3D printed components for face masks, and more.

You helped, too:

Responding to students’ heightened need, more than 1,000 donors contributed over $500,000 during Southern’s Day of Caring, held on April 22.

SCSU Alumni collage during Covid-19 pandemic

Alumni Pride:

Thoughts are also with our alumni, many of whom are in the frontlines of fighting the pandemic. Among them are more than 11,000 graduates of the College of Health and Human Services. Similarly, as the largest educator of teachers and educational administrators in the state, Southern salutes its graduates of the College of Education — who have turned to technology to educate their young charges.

Through it all, our 93,500-plus alumni have remained a source of pride, strength, and optimism. Consider Fairfield, Conn., couple Maureen and Dan Rosa (3), both graduates of the Class of 2010, who met as Southern students in 2006. Tragically, Maureen’s father Gary Mazzone was among those killed in the crash of a World War II-era B-17 bomber plane on Oct. 2, 2019, at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. A year later, the couple faced the fear of welcoming their first child during the epicenter of the pandemic. And, yet, they persevered and triumphed — and the media heralded their joy on April 2 when they welcomed their new daughter: Cecilia Hope Rosa.

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

When Melissa Sutherland, ’09; Jarryn Mercer, ’09; and Symone K. Wong, ’09, saw the need for a dedicated space for artists of color to express themselves, Wong says, “We made a decision and just went for it.”

[From left] The founders of sk.ArtSpace: Southern graduates Jarryn Mercer, Melissa Sutherland, and Symone K. Wong.

It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s another to implement it, especially when there are multiple people involved — three — and other responsibilities call — full-time jobs — and a physical space is needed — a bright, airy gallery would do nicely — and bills need to be paid — rent! — and there are only so many hours in the day — 24, to be exact. But when Melissa Sutherland, ’09; Jarryn Mercer, ’09; and Symone K. Wong, ’09, saw the need for a dedicated space for artists of color to express themselves, Wong says, “We made a decision and just went for it.”

The women, who have been friends for 14 years, met on the track and field team at Southern and, as they put it, “immediately connected.” They were in different academic programs at the university: Sutherland majored in studio art, Wong studied communication, and Mercer pursued a liberal studies degree. But alongside running, they also shared a love for the arts.

Members of the Class of 2009, (from left) Jarryn Mercer, Melissa Sutherland, and Symone Wong became friends competing on Southern’s track and field team.

In 2015, after Sutherland and Wong headlined a two-woman show at VM Nation Studios, they began talking about having their own creative space, namely for black artists, to exhibit.

“Artists show art in places that don’t align with their vision, like in bars and coffee shops,” Sutherland says. “It takes away from the experience.”

“The main point isn’t the art,” adds Wong. “We needed a place that represented a space for artists.”

“We put the numbers together and said, ‘We can actually do this. Let’s do it,’” Mercer says.

By June 2016, sk.ArtSpace in Brooklyn was born. The two-level locale, which is bright and inviting, is one part gallery and one part event space, with a courtyard in the back. “It’s much more like a traditional gallery space, with white walls and lighting,” Wong says. “It’s a blank canvas.”

In addition to showcasing artists and musicians in the gallery, the women host product launches and wedding showers, and offer cost-friendly services to fellow creatives. The SK team also has launched successful events, including an annual Future Is Female exhibition, which features an all-women roster of artists from throughout New York City. Reaction to the show has exceeded the women’s expectations, creating a conclave of artists with close bonds.

The gallery showcases artists and performers in the community.

According to Sutherland: “Response has been quite amazing, sometimes overwhelming. People love and enjoy what we’re doing, and they think it’s something we really need, so they support us. There aren’t many galleries in our neighborhood that provide this platform.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been struggles. Before the women opened sk.ArtSpace they were working nine to five jobs as executive assistants in different industries. They still are: Mercer is with a wealth management firm; Wong and Sutherland at different marketing companies.

Says Mercer, “There are never enough hours in the day, but somehow the work always gets done.” The friends manage the workload by dividing and conquering. “We pick up each other’s slack. We all do whatever needs to be done, day-to-day,” says Mercer.

Finances, too, are a critical consideration. The gallery combines an event-space business model with a traditional gallery structure. The women receive commission for some collaboration packages as well as group exhibitions they curate, and they rent the gallery for private events.

They are continually looking for support to keep the momentum going.

“Support doesn’t always have to mean money,” Sutherland says. The gallery relies on interns, for example. Support could also mean assistance from a videographer to help with marketing. “We’re also trying to find sponsors and donors. We want to take the gallery and creative space to another level,” says Sutherland.

Based in Brooklyn, sk.ArtSpace has hosted more than 12 first-time solo shows for up-and-coming visual artists as well as more than 25 free art exhibitions for the community.

She continues: “One of our top priorities that we look forward to is offering services for beginning and emerging artists, like workshops on how to write an artist bio, and being able to coordinate panel discussions on how to become gallery artists, and the steps it takes to get there. We would love to connect with successful artists in the community and create spaces for artist talks.”

Networking and building a community for black creatives — a place they can call home — was the impetus behind the gallery’s creation. It will always take center stage. “We have a huge list of initiatives that would help with expanding the depth and knowledge of black artists,” Sutherland says. “We are working on building a larger creative network where people are able to connect, collaborate, and expose each other to new opportunities.”

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is, but Sutherland, Mercer, and Wong all hope to parlay their work at the gallery into full-time positions. “That’s our ultimate hope, that we can make our own schedules and deep-dive into this,” Wong says. “We think about it every day. Our conversations as friends have always been, ‘How can we be our best selves and better ourselves and support each other and others?’” They’ve taken the first step by opening the gallery doors. ■

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Just Bagels President Cliff Nordquist, '90

When Cliff Nordquist, ’90, and James O’Connell, ’90, founded Just Bagels in 1992, philanthropy wasn’t their No. 1 priority — growing the business and paying the bills was. But now that the company has established roots in its Bronx neighborhood, supporting the neighbors has become a part of daily operations, even though business is down 60 to 70 percent.

Until COVID-19 hit, Just Bagels sold their distinctive line of water-bath bagels nationally and internationally to large retailers such as Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, and Starbucks; airlines such as United Airlines; college campuses; Marriott and Hilton properties; and Barnes & Noble cafes in all 50 states. Now, with the market upended by the pandemic, Just Bagels President Nordquist said his biggest revenue generator is QVC.

“We are non-stop with QVC,” he said. “We started with them last May, and it’s what’s keeping us alive.”

The market may be uncertain, but Just Bagels’ continued commitment to the neighborhood isn’t. The company has started donating bagels to frontline workers and nurses in nine local hospitals in the Bronx.

“Being here so long, as you grow, you want to give back, so we love giving back and supporting the local community,” he said. “We have donated to churches, homeless shelters, the local police station, and food pantries, and I thought that would be a nice thing to do, to give something to our frontline workers, so we started. We can’t do it forever, but the neighborhood knows they can come in and we will be there, supplying the bagels.”

Maureen and Dan Rosa with their new daughter, Cecilia Hope (photo courtesy of Connecticut Post)
Having a baby in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t usually among new parents’ plans, but for a Fairfield couple who met as students at Southern in 2006, bringing their new daughter into the world during a time of crisis is a sign of hope.
A Connecticut Post article, “At a time of fear and anxiety, baby Cecilia brings Hope” (Jeff Jacobs, April 7, 2020), recounts the story of Cecilia Hope Rosa, who was born April 2 to Maureen Mazzone, ’10, and her husband, Dan Rosa, ’10, who met at Southern  when she was a sophomore and he was a freshman. They married in 2016 and settled in Fairfield, and Maureen is now an eighth-grade teacher at Fairfield Woods Middle School and Dan is the vice president of Rosa Carpentry, working as a carpenter and business manager. Tragically, Maureen’s father, Gary Mazzone, was among the seven killed when the B-17 Flying Fortress crashed at Bradley International Airport in October 2019.
The Rosas were expecting their first child to be born in mid-April, but baby Cecilia had other ideas: Maureen went into labor on the morning of April 2, and later that day, after she and Dan had made it to Norwalk Hospital, had their temperatures taken at the entrance, and donned face masks, Cecilia Hope came into the world, weighing in at 6 pounds.

Read the full story here.

The Rosa family (photo courtesy Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media)

Vicky Conde in her home in Spain

Spain — one of the nations most affected by the coronavirus pandemic — began a government-ordered nationwide lockdown on March 14, 2020. Southern graduate Victoria Conde, ’17, a native of Madrid, is among those quarantining to slow the spread of the disease. At Southern, Conde was an international transfer student who majored in exercise science and aptly demonstrated her fighting spirit playing soccer for the Owls. Now pursuing graduate studies in sports ethics and integrity at KU Leuven University in Belgium, she recently reached out to Southern via email to talk about life in Spain during the pandemic.

1. What is it like in Spain right now, with stricter quarantine orders?

It seems like in Spain we have reached our peak, so the measurements taken (on March 14th) are showing that it was the right thing to do: only essential workers are allowed outside, like health care, army or workers from supermarkets. Only people who have dogs can go for a short walk (and I have two cats!), and when shopping at the supermarket we have to buy food for days to avoid going often (my family is shopping twice a week, and just one person can go). Most people understand that we have to follow these instructions but many people were caught traveling to their summer homes and were fined by the police.

2. Can you explain some of those traditions, what the people are doing on a regular basis there now to stay positive?

There is only so much we can do from home (note that all these things we are doing were started by the people and not the government):

  • Every night at 8pm people start an applause from their balconies or windows for a few minutes to stop and thank the doctors and nurses that are working non-stop. They chose this time to include kids before bedtime (the first time this happened was at 9pm but social media did the magic to change this into 8pm daily).
  • Also, other staff like police or firefighters are showing up to the hospitals at night and turning their sirens on to thank the health staff.
  • People are volunteering to shop for the elderly in their neighborhoods.
  • People are making equipment from home to donate to hospitals and residences for the elderly, and others are collecting money to buy this equipment and donate it.
  • Health care staff are sending videos saying thank you for staying home (and for the applause).
  • Many Spanish artists started to participate in an online festival (@yomequedoencasafestival), and we could watch them live from home.
  • The “anthem” for the past weeks has been “Resistiré” from El duo dinámico (from 1988), and some Spanish artists released a new version (from home).
  • A very funny one: someone from a private residential complex runs a work out from the common patio so everyone could join from their balconies, and some others have been playing bingo with their neighbors from their balconies.

3. What have you been doing to stay healthy and pass the time?

First thing I did was get rid of my agenda and understood that all my plans for the next few months were over. I was studying abroad in Belgium and I decided to fly home and stay with my parents in Madrid. They were coming to visit me, but we were in lockdown so I went grocery shopping that day and added some Belgian stuff to the basket. We pretended we were in Belgium that day! I also stay busy with online classes and homework, and working out from home.

4. What advice would you give to Southern students?

I would say to take advantage of this situation to do all the things that you never had time to do, whether that means spending some time alone or with your family. I highly recommend this time to try something new that makes your day challenging and your brain to keep working!

Conde’s at-home work space

5. What have you been seeing that is giving you so much hope?

The situation in Spain is very similar to Italy, we are two weeks behind, so seeing how everything was slowly improving in Italy was a good reason to stay optimistic. My mom works at the hospital and she has been the most reliable source to understand how the situation was going. The storm is passing!

6. What hobbies/activities have you started doing?

I have been reading, cooking and watching Netflix, trying to stay away from the news. I already did those things before but my time was limited. I am also doing some coloring because it is therapeutic, and playing some FIFA. I am also in touch with my friends via video calls, and I created a presentation simulating a game (That’s you from PS4) to play with them and it was very fun.

7. You talked about cooking, reading, and Netflix. So far what’s been your best recipe, book, and show?

I made vegan burgers just to try something new because my sister is vegan and they were very good actually! I am now reading Sapiens: From animals into Gods, and I just finished watching Money Heist on Netflix (the best Spanish TV show ever!).

8. What are some of your favorite/least favorite parts about spending so much time at home?

I am enjoying spending time with my parents and cooking for them. They are both great cooks so I get to learn from them. I am missing making plans with my friends and just walking outside. I do not have a backyard so all the fresh air that I get comes through a window in a third floor apartment.

9. How did you feel about the transition to online classes at first/how are you liking it now?

It took my classmates and our professors a few days to master it, and I would much rather have them in class, but it is working for us, we still get to interact with everyone and get the important content.

10. How are you dealing psychologically with so much time indoors?

I am trying to keep a routine. I get things done in the morning like working out and doing some school work to keep the afternoon for leisure. I have a list with little things to do after the quarantine. I also reach out often to friends and family members who work in hospitals, supermarkets or any job involved and send a special thank you to them.

Vicky Conde in her days as an Owl

Local media coverage on Conde:

“Spanish SCSU grad on coronavirus: ‘It’ll get worse before it gets better’” (New Haven Register, April 10, 2020)

 

How's this for true grit? Alumnus and former track star Collin Walsh, ’08, learned to walk again after being diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis. What's next for the stellar scholar? A highly selective fellowship that will prepare him for a career in the Foreign Service.

Collin Walsh, '08, and his wife, Amika
Collin Walsh, '08, and his wife Amika

Congratulations to Collin Walsh, ’08, who was awarded a highly prestigious Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship for 2020. Designed to prepare outstanding young people for Foreign Service careers, the fellowship is funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University. We recently caught up with Walsh, who had just completed a course at the Foreign Service Institute. Here’s what we learned.

The award: Each Pickering Fellow receives $75,000 to complete a master’s degree; two internships with the State Department (one in the U.S., the other overseas); and mentoring and other professional development.

A standout: Only 3.5 percent of applicants were successful — with the program receiving 844 applications for 30 spots. “My emotions were a mix of elation and peacefulness, as if years of dedication realized their purpose in that instant,” says Walsh of receiving the acceptance letter.

At Southern: As a student-athlete majoring in political science, he served as a White House intern and vice-president of the Pre-Law Society. An NCAA All-American athlete, he was captain of the cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field teams — and graduated magna cum laude. “Collin’s academic talent is unparalleled,” notes Patricia Olney, professor of political science.

His early career: Shortly after graduating Southern, Walsh enrolled at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, where he studied abroad in India. (He’s proficient in Bengali.) Building on a commitment to public service, he next became a police officer in Milford, Conn., and taught law courses at the Connecticut Police Academy. His tenure with the U.S. Department of State began with an appointment to the Foreign Service as a Diplomatic Security Special Agent.

Challenging times: “Three days after achieving my career dream of being appointed a Special Agent in the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service, I became suddenly and unexpectedly paralyzed with a disease I did not know I had,” says Walsh. The disease: a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.)

Fighting spirit: Told he’d unlikely walk again, Walsh began extensive medical treatment in the U.S. and India. “I was aimless and hopeless until my wife [Amika] shook me back to reality and taught me what it meant to believe and to fight. And those two things we did — all day long, every day — until I was back on my feet,” says Walsh.

On Nov. 11, 2017, Walsh participated in the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field Meet, completing the 55 meters as the Southern community cheered on.

Returning to campus: On Nov. 11, 2017, he participated in the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field Meet, completing the 55 meters as the Southern community cheered on. Walsh now serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, where his work spans the fields of national security, intelligence, and counterterrorism.

What’s next: Supported by the Pickering Fellowship, he’s pursuing a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

On Southern:  He gives special thanks to Patricia Olney, professor of political science, and Jack Maloney, Southern’s former long-time head coach of cross country and indoor/outdoor track and field.

“Professor Olney’s student-focused enthusiasm convinced me to pursue political science as a major and to dedicate my life to public service. From that point, there was no looking back,” says Walsh.

“Coach Maloney welcomed me into the SCSU athletic family and steadfastly supported both my athletic ambitions and personal development from my first practice. . . . I owe an immeasurable portion of my success to ‘Coach.’”

On sharing his diagnosis: “I believe in the power of story. Anyone with a disability understands the impact of stigma, but I am here to change the conversation: the community of the disabled is powerful,” says Walsh.

Future plans: “It is difficult to imagine literally where I will be in five to ten years, because, by definition, I will be ‘worldwide available.’ However, I can say with certainty that I will be working hard every day in support of our foreign policy objectives,” says Walsh.

Colin Walsh, wedding
“With each step I take, however, I know that it will be better than the last, so I invite the struggle to come. That level of perseverance is attributable entirely to my wife, Amika, for her uncompromising faith and her unwavering support,” says Walsh. The couple is pictured during their wedding.

 

 

 

 

Alumna jewelry designer takes the prize for artistry and entrepreneurship.

Jewelry designer Stephanie Howell wearing one of her creations.

Having spent six years traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe, Stephanie Howell, ’11, has officially arrived as a business owner. In June 2019, she launched her first collection of jewelry through her namesake company S. Howell Studios — and within months was named a top five finalist in the Halstead Grant competition for emerging silver jewelry designers.

Applicants to the annual competition submit a portfolio of their work and answer 15 questions related to their businesses. “Applying for the Halstead Grant is essentially like creating a well-thought out business plan,” says Howell, who won a $500 grant and received national media exposure from the competition.

The recognition was a welcome confirmation for the entrepreneur, who traveled extensively after graduation. She financed her trips by working in restaurants while keeping future business plans in mind. “I set a goal to start turning one of my passions into a career by the time I turned 30,” says Howell. At 29, she decided to devote her career to jewelry design. “Once I was ready to settle down, it felt like a no brainer,” she says.

“I am profoundly inspired by botanical textures. By co-creating with the earth, I’m able to make carefully handcrafted silver fossils,” says Stephanie Howell.

The clues to Howell’s future career were certainly there. Years earlier, as an incoming freshman browsing through Middlesex Community College’s undergraduate catalog, she was immediately drawn to a course in metal and jewelry design. She earned an associate degree and transferred to Southern where she was a studio art major “from day one,” with a concentration in jewelry and metalsmithing.

She recalls a small, tight-knit group of classmates, and cites Professor of Art Terrence Lavin as being “invaluable” in terms of shaping her education. “He constantly challenged me to step outside of my creative comfort zone and become a better artist,” says Howell, who graduated magna cum laude.

She continues to design in metal, valued equally for its permanence and malleability. She uses the lost-wax casting process to create “silver fossils, preserving plants indefinitely.” Botanical details — the delicate veins of an aspen leaf or the floral whorls of lupine — embellish her handcrafted collection of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, often accented with gold and semiprecious stones.

“By featuring subtle beauty in my work, I encourage people to take a closer look at the world around them,” she says.

A model shows some of Howell's latest jewelry collection.
A model shows some of Howell’s latest collection. “Terry Lavin was my jewelry and metalsmithing teacher the entire time I was at Southern. He constantly challenged me to step outside of my creative comfort zone and become a better artist,” says Howell.

How does music influence those with mental illness? Adam Christoferson, ’10, the director of the nonprofit organization, Musical Intervention, has joined a team of Yale professors looking for answers.

Adam Christoferson, '10, founder of Musical Intervention

Adam Christoferson, ’10, the founder and director of Musical Intervention in New Haven, is working with a group of Yale Researchers to study how music influences people with psychotic illnesses. The project is being forwarded by a $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through its Sound Health initiative — a partnership between the NIH and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts. Philip Corlett, a cognitive neuroscientist and associate professor in the Yale School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the Yale study.

For Christoferson, the research project will further a long-held commitment to helping others through music. At Musical Intervention, he shares the therapeutic power of music with the community, including New Haven’s homeless and recovery population. The nonprofit organization, located in a downtown storefront on Temple Street, provides a drug- and alcohol-free space where people can write, record, and perform their own music.

Christoferson has felt music’s healing power personally. Much of his childhood was difficult. His mother had schizophrenia, and he grew up in a rent-subsidized apartment on Rock Street in New Haven, on the edge of one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. His father, a Vietnam veteran, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. For Christoferson, music was a source of comfort and escape.

The entire community is invited to jam at Musical Intervention on Thursday nights.

At Southern, he majored in recreation and leisure studies. (Today, it’s the Department of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management.) His adviser, James MacGregor, now chair of the department, set him up with an internship at Yale New Haven Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service unit, where he was later hired as a recreation therapist, a job that sowed the seeds for Musical Intervention. His first week there, Christoferson noticed a girl drawing a picture of someone singing. “I asked her if she wanted to make music with me,” he recalls. His supervisor gave him permission to bring some recording equipment onto the unit. “And it was a hit,” Christoferson says. “This girl completely transformed, being able to make music and record it.”

His work was later featured in the World Congress of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Christoferson was invited to speak at international symposiums.
In 2015, he won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to work with the homeless population. The following year he opened Musical Intervention.

The organization remains his passion. “There are people who have been homeless for such a long time, they haven’t had a guitar to play. That’s what we provide. There are people who are in crisis with drugs or mental illness and they let [music] go years ago and missed it,” Christoferson says. “While they’re in treatment, they’re able to come to us and regain all of that passion and creativity that was lost.”

In addition to Corlett and Christoferson, the research team includes Michael Rowe, co-director of the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health; Sarah Fineberg, MD; Al Powers, MD; and Claire Bien. The group is affiliated with Connecticut Mental Health Center, a clinical and research hub of the Yale Department of Psychiatry that is run in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

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

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