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commencement

Sara Beland

Bridgeport and New London are on course for the sea level of their coastlines to rise 7 to 24 inches by the year 2100, according to a mathematical model developed by a Southern biology student.

Sara Beland, a Woodbridge resident, developed the model and conducted a poster presentation at the recent SCSU Undergraduate Research Conference. Beland graduated May 19 during undergraduate commencement exercises at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

Unlike other models, which predict and use factors such as carbon dioxide levels and temperature changes in the coming decades, Beland performed straight mathematical projections based on trend lines dating back to 1938 for New London and 1964 for Bridgeport. The projected rise in sea levels based on Beland’s models fall on the more modest end of the spectrum. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a sea level rise of between 8 inches and 6.6 feet, depending on which variables are used in the calculations.

Beland examined a variety of mathematical trend lines – some using data that starts in the mid- 20th century, while others begin as late as 2000. Those that begin in 2000 show greater increases by 2100 because of the faster rate of sea level rises in recent years. Those that start further back show more gradual increases.

Using a starting point of 1965, Beland’s model projects New London will encounter a sea level rise of 13.8 by 2100, while Bridgeport would see a 16.1-inch increase.

“I’m a mathematics major with a concentration in applied math, and wanted to come up with a research project that potentially could help people,” Beland said. “Scientists have different views on how much carbon dioxide levels will rise by the end of the century and what effect it will have on the oceans. So, rather than trying to predict that factor, I used a math model that is based on what actually has been happening in terms of sea level chances.”

“We believe that Sara’s model is plausible,” said Therese Bennett, SCSU professor of mathematics and Beland’s thesis advisor. Bennett noted that it falls close to the “best-case scenario” among climatology predictions, as some scientists believe a rise of 4 to 6 feet is more likely. But Beland’s projections are based on historical trends.

Jim Tait, SCSU professor of the environment, geography and marine studies, agreed.

“Even if the sea level rise is 1 foot, it would have a significant effect during a storm surge for a major event like Hurricane Sandy,” Tait said. “The flooding and damage would be that much greater. But if there were a 4-foot rise, the daily high tide would be roughly equivalent to a major storm surge. The impact would be much greater.”

He said the sea level rise would be similar along the Connecticut coastline, so that a 13 to 16 inch rise in Bridgeport and New London would likely translate to a similar rise in New Haven.

Beland said a 1-foot rise in New Haven would require about 240 people to relocate, according to Climate Control data. She said parts of Tweed Airport would be flooded unless the 9-foot tide gate was extended higher, and some houses in the Morris Cove section of New Haven would be flooded. But a 4-foot rise would translate to about 1,200 people needing to move.

Beland, an Amity High School graduate, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics this month. She is an Honors College student and an economics minor. She recently passed two actuarial exams and is looking to pursue a career in actuarial science.

“She was self-motivated in conducting this project, which typifies our Honors College students,” Bennett said. “The fact that she already passed two actuarial exams – and that passing five is usually needed to become a fellow, considered to be equivalent to a terminal degree – is quite an accomplishment for Sara.”

Lynn Houston

After a near-death experience, you really figure out what’s important, says Lynn Houston, a poet who graduated this May from Southern’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Houston’s collection of poems, “Unguarded,” recently won the inaugural Heartland Review Press prize, and will be published this fall by the press. The collection is Houston’s first book, but she also now has two other books of poetry under contract.

Writing poetry wasn’t always part of Houston’s life plan. But a few years ago, after Houston had begun keeping bees as a hobby, one day she was stung and went into anaphylactic shock. “I woke up in the hospital afterwards and thought about my bucket list,” Houston says. Although she was a literary scholar, with a Ph.D. in English and a job as a college professor, “my heart is in poetry,” she says, and she began to make some life changes.

She started a small literary press – Five Oaks Press — with her graduate students. “I started it to have a small community feeling,” she says, “but we’ve grown and we have many submissions.”

Wanting to improve her poetry, Houston applied to several MFA programs and chose Southern’s. “I wasn’t winning contests with my poems before I came to Southern, and now I am,” she says. “I like my work better now than I did two years ago, before starting this MFA program. I’m now able to write the kind of poems I enjoy reading.” Houston points to the sense of community within the MFA program as being a key component of her success.

English Professor Vivian Shipley, one of Houston’s professors and her thesis adviser, says, “As a student, Lynn was brave enough to share very personal and difficult emotions with the other poets and she invited them to come along with her as she experimented with her poems. In order to pay tribute to all those who have served our country and those who sustained them while they were deployed, the moving and memorable poems in ‘Unguarded’ are dedicated to ‘all the women who have waited for soldiers to come home.’”

Houston explains that the poems in “Unguarded” are letters she wrote to her boyfriend when he was deployed with the National Guard last year. Some of the poems appear in the book just as they were, and some Houston edited to make into poems. “This book is my heart on pages,” Houston says.

She and her boyfriend met when she was at a writing residency program. They knew he was going to be deployed, but they didn’t know when. They were together only three weeks before he deployed, serving in the Middle East.

While he was away, Houston sent him many letters. She says that as she waited for him to come back, she was strongly aware of the passage of time. “I also felt I was part of a long tradition of women waiting for men to come back from war,” she says.

Houston explains that he had been wounded previously, having been deployed six of the past 12 years and adds that “he suffers these deployments. When he came back he was not the same man as when we met.”

When he returned to the United States after several months, she flew to Florida to meet him. He told Houston her letters had stabilized him, keeping him connected to home. They spent four days together, but soon after, he broke up with her. “He was not the same person,” she says. “I was heartbroken.”

She began collecting the letters she had written to him, working on them as poems, and sending the collection out to contests. “It’s very raw,” she says of the emotion expressed in the poems. “But now I can say it was worth it – I have the book – it lives on.”

One of the judges of the Heartland Review contest, Matt Brennan of Indiana State University, wrote of “Unguarded” that it is “a coherent whole, its arc tracing the emotional plot of a woman waiting for her lover to return from a military deployment. It effectively links the changing seasons to the speaker’s fluctuating psychic experience.”

Houston says she found it difficult to be the support system for someone who’s deployed, but she adds, “My poetry has been a huge part of my healing process.”

“For other people to see the poems means so much – no other prize will ever mean so much to me,” Houston says. “It’s the record of the beautiful person I am when I’m in love with someone.”

 

A selection from “Unguarded”:

 

I Miss the Fullness of Summer Light

I’ve been up since five, and I’ve had too much

of that cold, blue glow from the computer.

What happened to the golden light of summer?

Mellifluous and wild, like well-gathered honey

with a tangy, feral taste. I’m not just talking

seasons. I’m talking about light that loves us:

second story light with its full horizon, the wide

angle of light over dunes or rolling hills, the kind

we had during afternoons in the holler.

It’s the kind of light one has to wait for,

and like anything, waiting makes it worth more.

 

Mother/Daughter commencement candidates Elizabeth Reyes and Angélique Quiñones.

Mother’s Day is coming late for Elizabeth Reyes, who will celebrate not one but two Southern graduations on May 20: her own and that of her daughter, Angélique Quiñones.

The two never had a class together, but the mother and daughter are united by a firm commitment to education. “I was at Southern first. Then she joined me,” says Quiñones, who is graduating with a degree in theater and a minor in communication.

“I am her mom, so I am going to get emotional,” says Reyes, her eyes welling with tears. “She is an inspiration to so many people.”

mom and daughter

As is Reyes, a single mother of two daughters. Building on years of experience working in preschool education, she began her degree at Gateway Community College where she earned more than 100 credits before transferring to Southern. “I wanted to continue my education, but I wanted to put my daughters first and make sure they had a good upbringing. So I took my time to get here,” says Reyes. She will graduate with a degree in general studies and hopes to begin working on a graduate degree in education this September.

The two soon-to-be-grads note that the family’s connection to Southern will remain strong. Reyes’ second daughter is currently studying at Gateway. “As soon as she hits 90 credits, she’s transferring those over and coming to Southern,” says the proud mother.

In the meantime, the family is excitedly looking forward to celebrating commencement, which will take place on May 20 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Later that day, Reyes has been invited to speak at the ROTC military ball held by her alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. The following day, they will gather with family to celebrate. “We’re really looking forward to it,” says Quiñones with a smile. “Grandma’s food.”

Asked what she is most proud of, Quiñones answer is decidedly short and sweet: “Graduating,” she says with a huge smile. “I’m graduating.”

commencement graphic

Mother and daughter graduates of the Class of 2016 reflect on their time at Southern.

Ideal Study Atmosphere
Elizabeth Reyes (Mother): “I love soft music in the background.”
Angélique Quiñones (Daughter):  “I’m the opposite. First I like noise. Then once I start focusing, everything needs to be silent.”

Most Challenging Part of Attending Southern Together 
Reyes: “No . . . I don’t have anything!”
Quiñones: “She stalks me sometimes. I’m just saying.”
Reyes: “No. How is that possible?
Quiñones: I don’t know where she comes from. She just pops up . . . .”

Favorite Classes
Quiñones: “There was an anthropology class that I took recently. There’s a script writing class. Creative writing.”
Reyes: “I enjoy the psychology courses, sociology courses and education courses.”

Best Part of Attending Southern Together
Reyes: “I know hers.”
Together: “Rides home!”
Reyes: “Having her on campus and seeing her smile. Seeing her being with her friends . . . engaging and socializing with other people. It warms my heart.”

A self-described mediocre student, Kristen Dearborn almost didn't make it to college.

Kristen Dearborn, 2016 Barnard Scholar

In the spring of 2013, a string of her college applications had been rejected. By her own admission, she was not a very good student in high school – her report cards reflecting an “alphabet soup” of grades. “I just didn’t like school very much,” she said.

And when she finally received an acceptance letter – from Southern Connecticut State University — it was conditional. She would need to pass two courses with a grade of “C” or better during the summer between her senior year at Sheehan High School and the fall semester at SCSU – a testing ground known as the “Proof of Ability” program.

The program is designed for students who show signs of academic promise, despite inconsistencies in their grades. Dearborn had started showing improvement in her grades during her junior and senior years of high school, spurring admissions counselors to give her a second look. She took up the Proof of Ability challenge in earnest.

“I wanted to prove to myself I could do it,” Dearborn said. “Those two classes were intense for me.”

Despite the pressure, she passed those courses – a writing composition and a communications class — with flying colors. She would be allowed to enroll for the fall.

“I was so elated,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m doing this. I’m moving in.’”

Not only did she set her sights on a college degree, but she sought to graduate in three years – a full year earlier than the traditional four-year path. Her plan was to take classes during summer and winter sessions, in addition to full course loads during the fall and spring semesters.

And right on schedule, on May 20, Dearborn will be receiving her diploma – a Bachelor of Arts degree in English — after three years of classes. The SCSU Undergraduate Commencement ceremony will be held at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, starting with the procession at 10:15 a.m.

Dearborn proved to be a model student. She earned the prestigious Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award – which honors four SCSU seniors each year for outstanding academic achievement and community service. She attained a 3.7 GPA, in addition to having served as vice president of Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society) and a member of the Zeta Delta Epsilon Honorary Service Society. She also is a volunteer at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“I loved every second of my experience at Southern,” she said.

Vivian Shipley, a CSU Professor of English who taught Dearborn in two poetry courses, said she was impressed by the student’s vigor, as well as her poetry.

“I have been teaching full time at SCSU since 1969 and Kristen is one of the most talented poets I have ever taught,” Shipley said. “Kristen had a remarkable ability to interact with other poets because she is open-minded and sensitive to cultural differences. She also enabled others to open up and share their ideas because she was courageous enough to write about some very complicated subjects. Like Kristen’s multiple achievements at SCSU, her moving poems provide inspiration for all who read them.”

Michael Shea, chairman of the SCSU English Department, also praised Dearborn.

“Ms. Dearborn’s story is among the most inspiring and fascinating I have heard from a Southern student,” said Shea. “Her journey of personal growth…is the kind that inspires all of us who work with students at Southern.”

Dearborn has been accepted into SCSU’s Master of Public Health program, which she will begin during the upcoming fall semester.

Shayla McQueen, student, Commencement story

On the joyous morning of May 20, Shaylah McQueen will walk across the stage to receive her diploma at Southern’s undergraduate commencement ceremony — an achievement made all the sweeter by the fact that she once considered dropping out of high school.

In the midst of her academic triumph — she will graduate magna cum laude and has received Southern’s Jack Georges Memorial Award recognizing an exceptional senior majoring in recreation and leisure studies — McQueen says she’ll never forget the moment she almost lost hope. Then a senior at James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, McQueen was sitting in a classroom with other sky-high academic achievers when the conversation took a familiar turn. “I heard them talking about who would be in the top 10 of our high school class,” she says. “And no one said my name.”

The omission was bewildering. McQueen was an outstanding high school student who excelled in advanced classes, including a college-level media course at Southern. With an overall grade point average well above 4.0, she was a member of the National Honor Society, president of the Spanish Honor Society, and an extremely active community volunteer who also participated in varsity sports and the Drama Club.

McQueen was also a teenage mother who had unexpectedly become pregnant as a high school junior. Many were supportive. She credits the high school’s Supporting Parenting Teens Program with helping her stay in school. But she also recalls classmates’ taunts, whispers, and stares — and despite McQueen’s many accomplishments, the odds were not in her favor. Only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school and fewer than 2 percent complete college by age 30, according to research released by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The pressure became overwhelming for McQueen. “I remember going home one day and thinking, ‘I am not going back to school. I am done. I can’t do it,’” she recalls. The next morning, she felt the same. Then she heard a familiar buzz, her phone signaling an incoming text message. “I looked down and read, “Shaylah, you are valedictorian.’”

More good news followed, with McQueen awarded the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship. The award, presented to only 1,000 out of 24,000 exceptional applicants nationwide (4 percent), provides full college tuition, as well as graduate tuition in the fields of computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health, or science. The award recognizes exceptional achievement among African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic American students.

Armed with the scholarship, McQueen first enrolled at Wilson College in Pennsylvania, which offers a program for single parents. The initiative enabled her to live on campus with her young son, Arlander, and attend school full-time. “It is awesome that he can honestly say, ‘Mommy, I went to college,’” says McQueen, with a smile. “I always want to be his advocate and his supporter. . . . The best step you can take as a parent is to be that role model — to live what you are trying to instill in your child.”

In 2014, the Gates Millennium Scholar transferred to SCSU. “Southern was always my number one choice,” says McQueen. “In high school, I was in the teacher-prep program which is affiliated with the university. I’d taken a class at Southern and loved it. . . . I’d been on campus, met the professors and students, and knew it was an exceptional university.”

She notes that majoring in recreation and leisure studies with a concentration in therapeutic recreation — a major she discovered at Southern — has allowed her to integrate her passions. “I’ve always known I want to mentor, counsel, and teach youth. . . . I’ve also always loved performance art — drama, creative writing, poetry, you name it,” says McQueen, who cites Southern’s Lyman Center for the Performing Arts as a favorite spot on campus.

McQueen lauds Southern’s faculty for its support, particularly Associate Professor Deborah Smith and Assistant Professor MaryJo Archambault, both from Southern’s Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.

Married and living in New Haven with her now five-year-old son, McQueen credits her mother and husband for helping her make the most of her education. In addition to attending school full time, she works at Montowese Health and Rehabilitation Center as a therapeutic rehabilitation assistant and is a recreation leader at New Haven’s Hill Central School (kindergarten through eighth grade), where she previously attended. “I want to be that role model,” says McQueen of her young charges. “ . . . to let them know that whatever they want to do, the sky’s the limit.”

Looking forward, she will continue her pursuit of education. Twenty-eight percent of Gates Millennium Scholars transition into graduate school. Having enrolled in Southern’s master’s degree program in special education, Shaylah McQueen will be happily among them.

NFL player Jerome Cunningham

NFL player Jerome Cunningham will be among the Southern students to walk across the stage at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport later this month to receive their college diplomas.

Cunningham, who had been a tight end with the New York Giants for the last two years – including as a starter for part of last season – said he originally came to SCSU because it was one of the few schools that offered him a scholarship after high school. Although waived by the Giants a week ago, he was claimed Monday by the New York Jets.

Cunningham, who grew up in Waterbury, will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in recreation and leisure studies with a concentration in sport management. He will participate in the SCSU undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 20.

“I want to be a sports agent and represent myself one day,” he said.

Cunningham said he was contacted by the Giants before his first season. “Before the next season, I made sure I took advantage of every opportunity and trained as hard as I could.”

He ended up earning a starting tight end spot.

Cunningham said SCSU prepared him well, both academically and athletically. (Former Owls’ coach Rich Cavanaugh) prepared me very well. He made sure nothing was given to me. But all that hard work and discipline helped me to never give up.”

He said about the only thing SCSU didn’t prepare him for on the field was playing in front of a crowd of more than 80,000 NFL fans, compared with a maximum crowd of about 8,000 when he wore the Owls’ uniform.

On the academic side, Cunningham said the faculty approached things in a similar manner. “The teachers here are phenomenal,” he said. “Nothing was given to you in the classroom. They are making sure that you are not just being passed you through and that you are actually learning.”

Cunningham said he is looking forward to being handed his diploma. “It’s a great feeling to graduate,” he said. “I didn’t realize the implications of it until I spoke to my grandmother and I told her I was going to graduate this May. She said I was the first one on my dad’s side to actually graduate and I’m going to be the second one on my mom’s side. So, it’s a huge accomplishment to my family.”

Cunningham has been volunteering at Hill Central School, an elementary school, where he previously had done an internship. He hopes to be a role model for the children. “I just enjoy coming back and giving back to people in the community,” he said.

Before playing for the Giants, Cunningham was a four-year member of the Owls’ football team, starting at tight end for three seasons. He recorded 61 catches for 690 yards and 7 touchdowns during his career.

Nursing Grads

A half dozen Southern students have received their doctoral diplomas in nursing education – the first group of students to earn that designation from the university.

The students participated in the winter graduate commencement exercises at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts. The undergraduate commencement ceremony was held earlier in the day.

The Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) in nursing education program was launched in 2012 as a collaborative effort with Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. The six SCSU contingent is among a group of 14 students who have completed their degree requirements at the two universities.

“It is exciting to have our first graduates receive their degrees,” said Lisa Rebeschi, chairwoman of the Nursing Department. “Each has worked diligently in their pursuit of developing the science of nursing education. The students have completed dissertation studies that add to the body of knowledge with regard to teaching and learning in nursing education.

“Our faculty are extremely proud of their significant accomplishments,” she said. “We are confident that these alumni will continue to have a significant impact within higher education.”

The program is geared toward individuals with a master’s degree who would like to teach nursing. It typically takes students about three years to complete the 51 credits needed. The students take the classes part time so that they can continue working while they pursue their degree.

Rebeschi said enrolled students come with varied professional backgrounds and have previously demonstrated clinical expertise in nursing practice.

“The structure of the program allowed me to continue working as an advanced practice registered nurse while completing my degree, thus lowering the financial impact on my family,” said Philip Martinez, who works at Middlesex Hospital in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. He also serves as a specialty coordinator for the Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing (GEPN) program at the Yale School of Nursing.

“I am quite proud of being in the first cohort of graduates and plan on using my degree to continue teaching in the university setting, while continuing my research on the academic needs of second degree nursing students in accelerated nursing programs,” he said.

Rebeschi said Linda Roney, who became the first student to complete the degree program when she successfully defended her dissertation in August, is another example of someone with valuable clinical experience. Roney served as the pediatric trauma program coordinator at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital from 2009-2014. She currently serves as a full-time faculty member in the Fairfield University School of Nursing, while maintaining her practice as a clinical nurse at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Bridgeport campus.

Most nursing doctoral programs in the country fall under the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or D.N.P. (Doctor of Nursing Practice) designations. The former focuses on research, while the latter centers on clinical skills.

But the Ed.D. program is geared toward developing nursing teachers and was one of only a handful in the country when launched. It is designed to address a state and national shortage of nursing faculty. With such a shortage, it is difficult for colleges and universities to maintain or expand their nursing programs, even though there is both a serious need for more nurses and increasing student interest.

“I want to congratulate the faculty of both (SCSU and WCSU) nursing programs, particularly those faculty who have been engaged in the development and implementation of this program from its inception,” said Greg Paveza, dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “I also want to express my appreciation to my fellow deans and provosts both here and at Western, past and present, for the time and energy also devoted to ensuring the success of this program.”

 

Karim Calle received her undergraduate degree in social work at Southern’s winter commencement exercises on December 18 — but she has spent years working for social change. “I am very active with my community, especially the immigrant community and my Hispanic community,” says Calle, who immigrated to the United States from Peru with her family when she was six years old.

Both parents were inspirational. “My dad was a political figure in Peru,” says Calle of her late father. “My mother is very involved with her church and the community. She is proud . . . a spokesperson, who is not afraid to say what she needs. But she does so with respect. She says people tell her, ‘Your daughter reminds us so much of you.’”

Calle recalls that her mother — then a widow with young children — often faced discrimination, which was intensified by language barriers. “I was her translator for everything, so I felt her pain, too,” Calle says.

Her involvement with Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA) — a grassroots social justice organization made up of immigrants in the Greater New Haven area — came naturally. ULA is dedicated to furthering workers’ rights, and immigrant and civil rights, while promoting culture and the community. While Calle had already been active with the organization, her commitment was heightened by a requirement to complete community work as part of her social work major. “I did so much work for ULA that semester . . . so much more than was required,” says Calle, with a smile.

A social policy class taught by Yan Searcy, associate dean of Southern’s School of Health and Human Services, gave her the opportunity to take her commitment to the next level.  “With Dr. Searcy, I became much more involved in terms of lobbying . . . and learning how legislative sessions run. I didn’t know any of that until I attended his class,” says Calle.

She was a quick study. One of Searcy’s assignments was to follow a bill. Inspired by her work with ULA, Calle was drawn to Senate Bill 914 — An Act Concerning an Employer’s Failure to Pay Wages. “This bill requires an award of double damages to workers who have not been paid or have been underpaid by their employers,” says Calle. The stories she heard from those in the community provided a wealth of inspiration. She talks about women faced with sexual harassment. Underage workers who didn’t attend school, working 60 – 80 hours a week and being paid $5 an hour. Employees who worked countless consecutive days, too afraid to ask for a day off.  Others who never received the wages they were owed. “The biggest challenge was that the immigrant community was so fearful of coming forward. They were fearful that they might be deported. They were fearful that they might not be able to find another job if their names were listed anywhere — and these testimonies are public.”

Calle wrote a testimony to members of the Labor Committee on behalf of some of these workers, after asking Dr. Searcy for advice.  “The first thing he said, was just speak from your heart,” she says, noting she was present from 11 a.m. in the morning to 11 p.m. at night on the day she gave her testimony. Her commitment to following the bill didn’t end with the class. “I didn’t give up — not for one second,” says Calle, who hopes to attend a graduate program that combines community involvement and policy, and sees a future in politics.  She recalls emailing senators and representatives, and asking others to do the same . . .  visiting the Connecticut legislative office building up to three times a week. She dropped off literature compiled by ULA. Made phone calls and sent texts. Networked and brainstormed.

Calle also kept in contact with her professor. Prior to the start of her last semester at Southern, she emailed Dr. Searcy a photograph. She is one of 17 people standing around Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy at a bill signing ceremony for Public Act 15-86, An Act Concerning an Employer’s Failure to Pay Wages. Like the others pictured, Karim Calle is smiling.

Karim Calle