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Alumni

Ten Southern students recently received prestigious internships or full-time positions with Deloitte. Yes, we’re counting!

Louis Signor, ’17, who graduated with a degree in business administration, is one of numerous Southern alumni who recently joined Deloitte.

It’s the Holy Grail for many accounting students: a position with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG — widely recognized as the largest professional services networks in the world. In 2016, they earned a combined revenue of $128.2 billion through work in auditing, advising, consulting, tax services, and more.

Deloitte is the largest of the Big Four in terms of revenue ($36.8 billion in 2016) and number of employees (244,400) — the latter figure receiving a boost from a growing number of Owls who recently joined Deloitte’s Stamford, Conn., office as interns and full-time employees.

“Once I became an accounting major, my only goal was to work for a Big Four firm. The goal now is specifically [to become] a partner at Deloitte,” says Kayla Seminoro, ’17, who graduated from Southern with a degree in business administration and a concentration in accounting. In September, she moved closer to realizing that dream, joining Deloitte as an audit assistant after interning there.

Her interest in accounting came relatively late in her college career. After transferring from Central Connecticut State University, she took her first college-level business course at Southern — an accounting class taught by Janet Phillips, professor of accounting and chair of the department. Several years later, Phillips recommended that Seminoro apply for an internship with Deloitte.

“The best advertisement for Southern’s accounting program is definitely our students,” says Phillips. Her confidence in Seminoro was well placed. After interviewing online and in person, she was selected for the highly competitive internship, which began at Deloitte University, The Leadership Center, a 700,000-square foot training facility in West Lake, Texas.  She was then assigned to a client-team, receiving extensive real-world experience. “Deloitte values the importance of networking and making genuine connections with the professionals around you. This is one of my favorite aspects about both the firm and my internship experience,” says Seminoro.

Such positive feedback is icing on the cake for Lori Charlton, a partner at Deloitte based in its Stamford, Conn., office. Southern flashed on Charlton’s radar screen several years ago when she was working with an especially talented young colleague. “I asked her where she went to school, and she said Southern,” she says.

Soon after, Deloitte made its first campus presentation. “We had a very good turnout. The students were well-dressed and well-prepared, with resumes in hand. They asked great questions and were very enthusiastic,” says Charlton. “The faculty also came, showing a lot of support for their students and for us being there.”

In September 2017, Deloitte made its fourth campus visit — and many Southern students now know a classmate who’s interned or become an employee there. “They’ve been terrific,” says Charlton of the students and alumni who’ve received offers in both the audit and tax practices. “They interviewed very well and were very competitive. . . . It’s been a great success from my perspective. We’re really encouraged by our partnership with the university and want to keep the relationship going.”

Deloitte rates first among accounting companies for formal training, according to Vault, which annually ranks firms on numerous criteria. The services provider also finished among the leaders in the “prestige” and the overall accounting categories.

Muhamad Chowdhury, ’16, knew of Deloitte’s reputation. Before graduating in December, he’d explored different career options, including a potential winter internship with the organization. But after an in-depth interview process, Deloitte offered him a full-time position as an audit assistant in financial services. He started in January 2017.

His success comes after a period of intense struggle. In 2014, Chowdhury was a full-time junior at the University of Connecticut, among the first generation in his family to attend college. His parents both immigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S., where they built a successful life operating several Subway franchises in the Wallingford and New Haven areas. Then the family patriarch became seriously ill. Chowdhury left UConn, returning home to help run the family business. He also enrolled at Southern — working full time, attending school full time, and commuting.  “It came out of a difficult situation, but I have to say it was the best decision I ever made,” he says.

At Southern, he majored in business administration with a concentration in economics — a program he says develops a comprehensive understanding of the business world. He also volunteered with the campus VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, which helps those with low-incomes, disabilities, and limited English. “My career is not in taxation, but the knowledge and experience I gained translate to any business environment,” he says of the program overseen by Frank Bevvino, associate professor of accounting.

Today, things are looking up. His father has recovered, and Chowdhury’s transition to Deloitte has been remarkably smooth. “After working for Deloitte for six months, I can absolutely say that this was the right decision for me. It’s been priceless in terms of the experience and many benefits,” he says.

Lubna Sparks, ’17, also transferred to Southern — and says her interest in Deloitte peaked after the organization made a presentation to the SCSU Accounting Society. After interning at the company last year, she’s been offered a full-time position. But she asked to remain an intern while preparing for her examinations to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) — a request Deloitte honored.

A fellow graduate of the Class of 2017, Louis Signor is preparing for his CPA examinations as well. It’s a welcome development for the talented alumnus who had worked at Home Depot for about six years when, in 2016, his position as an asset manager was eliminated.

“I’m not a typical student,” says Signor, who graduated from Southern at the age of 29. He’d attended Utica College right after high school, but didn’t return after his first year. Instead, responding to his father’s request to “get a job,” Signor applied at Home Depot — and steadily moved up the corporate ladder. Armed only with a high school degree, he ultimately found himself overseeing asset protection for all stores in the Norwalk, Conn., and New York Metro area — a market grossing $105 million.

“At the age of 24, I had a really good job making much more money than I thought would be possible,” says Signor. A watercooler conversation with coworkers changed his perspective. “The general consensus was that they felt stuck. They were paid well. It wasn’t a bad situation, but they didn’t have alternatives,” he says. He began attending Southern part-time, using Home Depot’s tuition reimbursement benefits. Then in August 2016, Home Depot underwent a corporate restructuring and his position was eliminated. Signor took the compensation package and, as a Southern senior, began attending the university fulltime for the first time ever.

In May 2017, Signor became the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating magna cum laude. He interviewed with six employers and received five job offers — including one from Deloitte. He started in September.

[From left] Students Luke Velez, Brooke Davis and Lyman DePriest interned with Deloitte over the summer, while student Yenny Bayas completed an earlier internship during the busy tax season.
[From left] Students Luke Velez, Brooke Davis and Lyman DePriest interned with Deloitte over the summer, while student Yenny Bayas completed an earlier internship during the busy tax season.
The Interns

Deloitte consistently earns top ratings for its formal training program, a benefit experienced firsthand by a growing number of Owls, including four who participated in coveted summer internships in 2017. The interns — all business administration majors with a concentration in accounting — are students Luke Velez, Lyman DePriest, and Brooke Davis, and alumnus Nicholas Intino, ’17.

Velez and DePriest completed Deloitte’s Discovery Internship, with time spent exploring two company functions — audit and tax services. The hands-on learning kicked off at Deloitte University, the Leadership Center, in West Lake, Texas, where they connected with other high-achieving students from around the U.S.

“Before heading to Deloitte University, I heard so much about it that my expectations were through the roof. . . . Those expectations were met,” says DePriest.

During one team-building exercise, the students were placed in groups and challenged to develop a presentation. DePriest’s team took first place out of 25, earning an assortment of Deloitte gear.  The victory was particularly sweet for DePriest. His team’s presentation focused on a startup mobile application that he is developing (myhypeeye.com) — Here Are Your Parties and Events Everywhere.

Looking forward, there is certainly a lot to celebrate. After completing their summer 2017 internships, Intino and Davis received offers to join Deloitte’s audit practice. Meanwhile, Deloitte’s Discovery Internship will continue for DePriest and Velez. Both chose audit as their area of focus and are invited to intern with Deloitte again: Velez in summer 2018 and DePriest in the winter. “It’s a very unique experience because it allows you to get a glimpse of both aspects of accounting to possibly steer your career decision-making before you graduate,” says DePriest.

Southern senior Yenny Bayas, who interned with Deloitte in the winter of 2017, agrees, noting the experience confirmed her career aspirations. Although she’s wanted to study business since high school, she was unsure what specialization to select. But she loved her accounting classes — and a trip to a major European accounting conference with Robert J. Kirsch, professor of accounting, and three other Southern students cemented the deal. Southern was the only college or university from the U.S. at the event. “That’s where I really fell in love with accounting,” says Bayas. “But my internship at Deloitte made that even clearer.”

Like the others who won internships after completing several rounds of interviews, Bayas is a hard-working, high-achieving student. She — and classmate Velez — are School of Business ambassadors, two of only nine in the selective leadership program. At the age of 23, she has also been a licensed realtor for several years. In sum, Bayas — a native of Ecuador and a first-generation college student — is no stranger to a challenging workload. Still, she concedes that her Deloitte internship, conducted during the busy tax season, was very intense at times. “I loved the challenge,” she says.

In terms of a future career, she says being an accountant who specializes in real estate would combine her passions. But she’s also drawn to audit services. “I like that you are with a team and that you are investigating,” says Bayas. “You see the financial statements, think about the facts and numbers, and combine them into the story to make sure it all makes sense. I discovered that I really enjoyed that at Deloitte — and that’s one of the things I loved most about my internship.”

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

As director of the Westbrook Health Department in Connecticut, Sonia Marino, '09, M.P.H. '14, oversees public health for more than 6,900 residents.

As the first full-time health director in Westbrook, Conn., in more than a decade, Sonia Marino, ’09, M.P.H. ’14, is working to develop a community health plan that could touch on everything from opiate dependency and emergency preparedness to outdoor activities for children.

“Public health is my passion,” says Marino, who took the job in January 2015, replacing a part-time director. “It’s not just about wells and septic and food. It’s so much more.”

Marino envisions a forward-looking health department for her town, with public education and prevention programs, and social media campaigns tailored to the community’s needs.

She credits Southern, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health, for shaping her comprehensive approach and for providing the broad background she needs to deal with the numerous issues that come across her desk, from landlord-tenant conflicts to restaurant inspections.

When it comes to keeping communities safe and healthy, graduates of Southern’s public health programs are leading the charge as area health directors.

“The professors are great,” says Marino. “I had a wonderful relationship with all of them.”

Marino is one of about 20 Southern alumni now serving as health directors across Connecticut’s 74 local health agencies. Many more hold jobs as deputy directors and sanitarians — the latter, a public health worker with knowledge of environmental and public health issues such as food protection, water quality, product safety, and more.

Peggy Gallup, professor of public health and coordinator of the undergraduate program, says she was contacting Connecticut health directors for a project recently and was struck by how many she recognized as former students.

Professor of Public Health William Faraclas says producing graduates who would lead local health efforts in the state was a dream of founders who launched the program in 1980.

“We dreamed big and our dream came true,” says Faraclas, who chaired the department for 33 years.

Southern’s was one of the first undergraduate public health programs in the United States when it began, Faraclas says, and it continues to serve as a national model. The Master of Public Health program — state law requires local health directors to have the degree — was added at Southern in 1990.

While many graduates work in hospitals or nongovernmental organizations, Southern graduates are particularly suited for jobs in local health departments because of the program’s strong focus on community-based aspects of public health.

Meanwhile, hands-on programs, such as the popular two-week field study trip to Guatemala, foster the resilience and “roll- up-your-sleeves” attitude needed for jobs in public service.

Students must also complete an internship that takes them to the front lines of public health practice, says Faraclas.

It was an internship during his senior year at Southern that launched Robert Rubbo’s career with the Torrington Area Health District in 1996. Two decades later, he is running the place.

After graduation, Rubbo, ’96, M.P.H. ’02, was offered a position as a sanitarian trainee and worked his way up, becoming a sanitarian, deputy director and, in 2013, the director.

Comparing notes with colleagues who attended other schools, Rubbo says he realizes how much Southern stands out in terms of quality.

“I really feel like they have one of the more challenging M.P.H. programs out there,” Rubbo says.

Gallup notes Southern’s relationship with local health departments is reciprocal. Health directors often email her if they are looking for interns or resources for projects.

One graduate student worked with a health department to survey pediatricians about their lead-screening practices for young children; another created a brochure on healthy homes and household environmental hazards. In Westbrook, Marino says Southern students have helped her conduct a community health assessment in town.

Maura Esposito, ’90, M.P.H. ’11, director of the Chesprocott Health District, which covers the towns of Cheshire, Prospect, and Wolcott, says she recently had several Southern students working for her as interns, and would love to work with more.

“I take Southern interns all the time because I know the program, and I know the quality of work that is expected,” Esposito says. In return, she gives them plenty of opportunities to work in the trenches.

“Anybody who comes through my department should be able to get a really good job,” she says. ■

Haitian native Rey Alabre, ’09, is living the American dream — in the spotlight as one of the top franchise owners in the nation.

Rey Alabre, alumni, school of business

Husband and wife Nathalie and Rey Alabre, ’09, receive the H&R Block National Franchisee of the Year award.

Growing up in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Reynold “Rey” Alabre, ’09, was surrounded by inspiration. “My mother was a single parent, raising my sister and me in poor conditions,” says Alabre. “But she always had a business mindset. She did everything she could as far as businesses to help support us. Selling clothes, shoes, candies.” Eventually, the hardworking mom began traveling to the Dominican Republic — located next to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola — to buy items less expensively and earn a greater profit.

Her determination left a lasting impression on Alabre, who today runs a successful H&R Block franchise in Bridgeport, Conn. In October, H&R Block, the global tax services provider, named Alabre the National Franchisee of the Year, recognizing him for excellence in the one to two store category among more than 1,500 franchisees considered for the honor.

The achievement is particularly sweet for Alabre, who crossed the ocean and numerous hurdles on the way to success. “My first day in the U.S. , it wasn’t that great,” says Alabre, who flew to the U.S. alongside his sister in winter 2002. It was the first time Alabre saw snow, and he was wearing a thin T-shirt, comfortable attire in his island homeland. He expected to be met at the airport by his father, who he hadn’t seen in about 15 years. But there were complications. Alabre’s father hadn’t yet told his wife in the U.S. that the teens were coming and didn’t travel to meet them — and so the two waited alone at the airport. Neither spoke English. Eventually, they fell asleep. Alabre was 18.

Today he shares the story matter-of-factly, smiling when he recounts the high point of that day. “A limo driver at the airport heard my sister and I speaking Creole. He asked us where we were from and our names,” Alabre says. The driver coincidentally knew another Alabre — the teens’ half-sister Angelina — and he drove them to her home.

Despite this inauspicious start, Alabre swiftly found his way. He attended Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Conn., rapidly learning English. “I’m a poet, so I picked it up quickly by writing,” he says. He also loved music, but at the urging of family and friends decided to study computer science at the University of Bridgeport. Later realizing the computer science field wasn’t a good fit, he transferred to Southern to major in business administration. When he took an accounting class, he knew he’d found his calling.

Life wasn’t easy. Alabre was homeless at one point, living in his car for several weeks. But he persevered. He worked full time while attending school, holding posts as a security guard and as a factory worker. (While still a student, he applied to work at H&R Block but was turned down.)

At a Southern professor’s recommendation, he began volunteering with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax help to people with low incomes, disabilities, and limited English. The following year, VITA asked him to manage the site where he volunteered. When others outside of the VITA program began asking Alabre to complete their taxes, he took the leap and started a business. “I was a junior then,” he says. “One of my instructors at Southern told me exactly what to do — step by step. I rented an office space in Bridgeport for very, very little. In the beginning, it was just me . . . But then we needed to move to a bigger office.”

Eventually he partnered with H&R Block. “It is a very good relationship,” says Alabre. “They are very supportive of what I am doing in the community.” Which is quite a lot. Building on experience gained volunteering in college, Alabre supports numerous community organizations, from the Connecticut Food Bank to the Bridgeport Public Library. He also has launched his own foundation, Mind is Power, a nonprofit committed to expanding educational opportunities.

Business continues to thrive as well. The H&R Block National Franchisee of the Year award caps off a string of honors for Alabre, who also received a Mission: Possible Award from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council and was a finalist in the Celebrating Diversity in Business competition run by Business Journals.

About seven years ago, he also became a U.S. citizen. “That was one of my proudest moments,” he says. “There is no way I could accomplish all that I have in Haiti. I moved to the U.S. for hope — for a better life — and I have found that.”

 

 

Women's Studies Conference 2016

The M.A. in women’s studies degree program turns 20 this year, and in celebration of this milestone, the Women’s Studies Program will hold an alumnae/i summit, “Transforming the World With a Feminist Degree and Vision,” on April 21. Co-sponsored by Women’s Studies and the SCSU School of Graduate Studies, Research, and Innovation, the summit will draw graduates of the program back to campus to discuss their experiences in the program and beyond.

The summit program is as follows:

2-3:15 p.m. – Kick-off Welcoming Roundtable: “Looking Back, Moving Forward”

3:30-4:45 p.m. – “Transforming the Community with a Feminist Cornucopia”

5-6:15 p.m. – “Transforming the World with a Feminist Cornucopia”

6:30-8 p.m. – Dinner/Music/Spoken Word
20th anniversary Women's Studies Program

With the first course in women’s studies offered at Southern in 1971, it was among the first universities in the United States to offer courses in this discipline. The master’s degree program, conceived more than 20 years ago by a small group of colleagues — Director of Women’s Programs Rosalyn Amenta, History Professor Virginia Metaxas, and English Professor Vara Neverow, who continue to teach women’s studies today — was the first free-standing M.A. program in women’s studies offered by any university in the Northeast. Two decades later, it remains the only M.A. program in women’s studies offered by a public university in New England. Ms. Magazine, in its April 2012 issue, reviewed all of the women’s studies M.A. programs in the country and recognized the SCSU women’s studies master’s degree program as a “vibrant” regional program.

Amenta recalls that at the time the program was first being developed, “there were no interdisciplinary degree programs that offered a rigorous, thorough and focused history of women’s experiences, accomplishments, intellectual and creative works, and women’s ongoing challenge, from ancient times to the present, to the repressive patriarchal restrictions on their lives, activities and independent personhood.” She adds that there were no advanced courses at that time that offered a sustained interdisciplinary critique of the economic, social, and cultural oppressions not only of women and girls but also persons of racial, ethnic, age, size,  gender, sexual and ability diversities, locally and globally. Amenta says, “The Master of Arts in Women’s Studies was conceived in response to these academic deficiencies by an active community of SCSU faculty, administrators, staff and students who shared a common vision for a unique feminist graduate education. The program’s goal is to empower students to understand and critique the power structures that give voice, privilege and advantage to a few at the expense and detrimental exploitation of all others, and to empower students to apply what they are learning  in challenge to the existing status quos.”

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“For this momentous occasion” of the program’s 20th anniversary, says Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, professor and chair of women’s studies, “we plan to celebrate our alums and the extraordinary work and service they do in the community and in the world. We will do it with tremendous feminist energy, interspersed with art, music, and powerful narratives.”

This summit is a reunion, an honoring, and a networking opportunity, says Lin. In this gathering, by sharing the women’s studies graduates’ talents and passions, event organizers aim to showcase the activist, advocacy, policy, and scholarly work that alumnae/i have taken on in different corners of the world and the nation for the past 20 years.

To register for the summit, click here. Lin explains that the registration fee is to offset the cost of the dinner program. She adds, “We look forward to welcoming you each back home on April 21 and hearing all about the glorious work you are doing, engaging the world and making a difference!”  For more information, call (203) 392-6133 or email WomenStudies@Southernct.edu.

Women's Studies Program, 20th anniversary

Monica Zielinski, journalism student, Poland

TEN QUESTIONS FOR: MONICA ZIELINSKI, ‘16

Head Journalist, Time for Polska, Warsaw, Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your new job?

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you want to become a journalist?

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

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

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

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

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

How did your participation in SPJ enhance your education?

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

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

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

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

What do you miss most about SCSU?

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

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

What do you most like to write about?

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

What is your ultimate career goal?

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

Why would you recommend journalism as a career?

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Barber, Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a video tribute to James Barber.

View a photo gallery from the Distinguished Alumnus Award event.

 

Mawano Kambu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer issue of Southern Alumni Magazine 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitch Hallock, TerrifiCon

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

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

Comics remained a childhood passion. 

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

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

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

He was an active member of the Crescent Players.

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

Hallock continued to love comics.

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

Hallock kept drawing.

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

He found work in a creative field.  

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

Hallock also kept thinking about comics.

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

So he reached out to a stranger.

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

He later rocked his dream interview.

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

He continues to love comics — and his alma mater.

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

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

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

Hallock continued to love comic cons.

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

So he founded TerrifiCon — and is living the dream.

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

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

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

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

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

For more, go to terrificon.com.

Summer issue of Southern Alumni Magazine 2016

Joe Andruzzi, Walter Camp Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Nick’s band page: Beachavenuemusic.com.

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