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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. ■

CARE, New Haven

Above, left to right: Yan Searcy, associate dean of the School of Health and Human Services; Sandra Bulmer, dean of the School of Health and Human Services; Alycia Santilli, CARE director; and Jeannette Ickovics, CARE founder

The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) is partnering with Southern Connecticut State University to enhance its ongoing efforts to improve the health of residents in New Haven’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

Since its founding in 2007 at the Yale School of Public Health, CARE has worked to identify solutions to health challenges such as diabetes, asthma, and heart and lung diseases through community-based research and projects focusing on social, environmental, and behavioral risk factors. During the next three years, CARE will transition from Yale to SCSU’s campus, with SCSU becoming responsible for CARE’s community engagement work. Yale will continue to manage and finance CARE’s research agenda while gradually shifting that work to SCSU.

“This partnership with SCSU represents a powerful next step in the evolution of CARE by engaging with a local state university to drive deeper change into our neighborhoods,” said CARE founder Jeannette Ickovics. “This is an opportunity of mutual benefit:  a way to extend CARE’s work in New Haven, provide continuity and new energy to the work, and provide a platform to launch a center at Southern. “

The new SCSU Center for Community Engagement will help foster student service learning, advance community-engaged scholarship, and benefit CARE’s community partners, said Sandra Bulmer, dean of SCSU’s School of Health and Human Services (HHS). With Alycia Santilli as director, and Ickovics serving in an advisory capacity, CARE is beginning its transition to SCSU this month, Bulmer said.

Southern’s School of Health and Human Services is unique in Connecticut in combining seven disciplines under a single umbrella –  communication disorders, exercise science, marriage and family therapy, nursing, public health, social work, and recreation, tourism, and sport management. As a result, academic opportunities are highly interdisciplinary, while the school’s wide range of internships means that students participate in the community while earning their degrees.

“SCSU’s students and faculty are tremendous assets that will bring CARE expanded opportunities in community-based research, programming, and policy change, leading to further improvement in the health of New Haven residents,” Bulmer said.

During the transitional period, YSPH will remain as the central hub of CARE’s research activities, with a focus on data analysis from its New Haven Public Schools and neighborhood health surveys, said Santilli, who began her employment with SCSU Sept. 23 as a special appointment faculty member in the Department of Public Health.

“The potential of student, faculty, and staff power, combined with the legacy of work initiated over the past decade at the Yale School of Public Health, will be leveraged in a new way that I hope will have a lasting impact for another decade to come,” Santilli said.

“I am excited about the capacity and resources that this expanded partnership can bring to the SCSU campus community and the Greater New Haven area. As I become familiar with SCSU, two things stand out: the drive to best serve students and the commitment to social justice. These are simultaneously familiar and fresh perspectives from which CARE can begin to refine our focus on improving health in the New Haven community.”

Santilli, who has been with CARE since 2007, will spend the coming months transitioning CARE’s operations to Southern’s campus, developing CARE’s new strategic plan, and launching its new community engagement activities. She will split her time between offices at Lang House and Southern on the Green in downtown New Haven.

More information about CARE, including its accomplishments and publications, can be found on the CARE website.

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.

 

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

Food Recovery NetworkEver wonder what happens to that sandwich in The Bagel Wagon that has reached the “best by” date on its label? Prior to this past summer, it would be thrown away, but now, foods that Chartwells can no longer sell when they reach that date no longer go to waste, thanks to the efforts of the Sustainability Office, Chartwells, and a dedicated student intern.

This past summer, Southern joined the Food Recovery Network, a national organization that supports college students recovering perishable and non-perishable foods on their campuses that would otherwise go to waste and donating them to people in need.  Heather Stearns, recycling coordinator, says that Chartwells hired a student intern, Ashley Silva, who is focused on sustainability, and has been working with her on a weekly food collection schedule. Each week, Silva makes the rounds to the Bagel Wagon, Davis Outtakes, and the North Campus Kiosk and collects perishable foods — including salads, sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, bagels, and hummus — that have reached their “best by” date. The foods would be thrown away when they reach that date, but they are still safe to eat. So after Silva collects them, they are donated to Connecticut Food Bank, a private, nonprofit organization that works with corporations, community organizations, and individuals to solicit, transport, warehouse and distribute donated food.

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In addition to the food collected from campus Chartwells locations, fruits, vegetables, and herbs from the campus organic garden are harvested and donated to local soup kitchens such as the Community Dining Room in Branford and St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen in Hamden. Pounds of produce such as squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, various greens, corn, peas, potatoes, peppers, and basil, are donated on a regular basis. This fall, Southern donated almost 200 pounds of fresh produce that was grown at the garden, located behind Davis Hall.  Suzanne Huminski, sustainability coordinator, says that throughout the fall semester, between the garden and FRN efforts, over 600 pounds of food have been collected and donated.

To promote community awareness of hunger and food insecurity in Connecticut, students working on FRN at Southern organized a recent campus event called “Hunger 101,” meant to be a conversation about food access and food justice in the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food security” as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” According to the Sustainability Office’s website, over 14 percent — of New Haven County residents — nearly 123,000 people — are food insecure, and over 19 percent of all hunger-stricken residents are children.

To expand the university’s food donation program, the Sustainability Office is placing permanent food donation boxes in the lobby of the Facilities building, in the Wintergreen building, and on the second floor of Engleman, outside of the FYE Office. Members of the university community are encouraged to donate non-perishable food items year-round. Donations from these collection sites will be brought to the Connecticut Food Bank in Wallingford each week. Stearns also encourages staff and faculty to bring food items to the Sustainability Office during the regular Swap Shop open houses.

Anyone interested in helping with FRN efforts on campus can call Silva in the Sustainability Office at (203) 392-7135.