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As a child idolizing the men and women of the Japanese TV show “Ninja Warrior,” Derek Mathews never imagined he’d grow up to be one of them.

“I just thought that was the coolest thing,” Mathews said. “Being a kid at the time, I thought that I could do everything that was on TV.”

Flash forward to 2017 and Mathews is training with American Ninja Warrior legend Drew Drechsel at New Era Ninja Gym in Hamden, preparing for the show’s city finals in Cleveland.

“I just went into this to have fun,” Mathews said. “I didn’t expect to do as well as I did. Never in a million years did I think I would be training at a Ninja gym or competing on TV.”

Drechsel encouraged Mathews to send in a submission video for the show after he tested high on an assessment at the gym. He was selected to compete in the Cleveland City Qualifiers in May, an event that aired in July. Contestants that make city qualifiers go on to compete in city finals, then several more rounds before a national champion is crowned.

Mathews describes training for the show as one of the most intense times of his life. When he found out he would be able to compete, he increased his training from a moderate workout twice a week to three days of intense training.

bugman2The morning of the Cleveland City qualifiers, Mathews went on a run to prepare for the outdoor obstacle course. It was 34 degrees outside. Despite the unseasonable cold weather in early May, Mathews said he felt prepared because “discipline” is his strongest asset.

“You can get so far with being the strongest person or the most durable, but if you don’t have a strong mindset going into it, you won’t go far,” Mathews said.

Mathew’s most challenging obstacle came in the form of the “I-Beam,” a course of construction-like beams that require contestants to hang at a horizontal position while using their feet and fingers to make their way above a pool of water. Starting with 4 inches of spacing and ending with two, the test is to defy gravity.

“My hands [were] so cold that I couldn’t grip. I was just burning myself out trying to just power through it and then I quickly made my descent into the water,” Mathews said.

Having never practiced the obstacle, he didn’t realize his error until it was too late.

Nonetheless, Mathews moved on to the Cleveland City Finals because of his speed and number of obstacles completed. The show airs on Monday, August 14 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

While the opportunity to train with veterans and elites was a gift, after workouts Mathews was “wrecked.”

Not to mention he was simultaneously working toward a feat that he describes as equally challenging: earning his bachelor’s degree. Despite being exhausted at the end of each day, Mathews became the first person in his family to graduate in May.

“I never let Ninja get in the way of my academics,” Mathews said. “But I did let Ninja influence and enhance my academics. I knew what needed to be done. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that.”

bugman4

President Joe Bertolino shares thoughts on Southern, how he came to the university, and the life-changing power of Camp Ockanickon.

It was the ultimate college acceptance — albeit with a bit of a twist.

The message came by phone and the recipient, Joe Bertolino, had been invited to become Southern’s new president. Roughly eight months later, Bertolino is no longer the new kid in town. Since officially taking the helm at the university on August 22, he’s quickly become “Top Owl” in name and deed, crisscrossing campus, New Haven, and beyond in an ongoing quest to connect with students, alumni, and business and community members.

In recent months, Bertolino — or President Joe as students call him — has met with scores of legislators and industry leaders, joined the board of directors at the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA and New Haven Promise, rolled up his sleeves at the university’s day of service, jointly led an on-campus social justice forum with his partner and fellow higher education leader Bil Leipold, and connected with neighborhood schools. Among the Owls most vocal fans, he’s even tackled the t-shirt cannon, gamely shooting Southern swag to the cheering crowd at Jess Dow Field.

“Since his first days on campus, he’s been incredibly involved,” says Corey Evans, a senior political science major and president of Southern’s Service Commission, which runs student-led community outreach programs. “He’s very committed to social justice. It’s one thing to talk about it, but he puts himself out there, helping with planning and going to events. . . . When I look back at Social Justice Week and the other programs that were held on campus during his first semester, I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Such commitment is a given says Bertolino, who has 25-plus years of leadership experience at private and public universities, the latter in Vermont, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

“I come from a social work background. I firmly believe it’s all about relationships — and students always come first.”

Before Southern, he was president of Lyndon State College in Vermont for four years, spearheading the development of new master and strategic plans, the launch of nine academic programs, and an almost 200 percent increase in annual giving in three years.

He joins Southern at a pivotal time, highlighted by the dramatic transformation of campus, including the construction of a state-of- the-art science building, a new home for the School of Business, and the expanded Hilton C. Buley Library, now twice its original size. The obstacles facing the university are dramatic as well, including a statewide budget deficit and a shrinking population of high school graduates. But Bertolino remains upbeat.

“In terms of our financial position, yes, we are facing challenges,” he says. “But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we have a lot to be proud of. When I look out over this campus, I see great facilities. Great research opportunities. Great faculty. A strategic plan that I am very excited about and will be particularly aggressive about implementing.”

A longtime social justice educator, Bertolino has pledged to continue championing the cause. In November, he became one of an initial 110 college and university presidents to issue a joint letter to then President-elect Donald Trump urging a forceful stance against “harassment, hate, and acts of violence.”

“I want people in this city, state, and beyond to know Southern as the university dedicated to social justice.”

It’s a message he’ll be sharing throughout Southern and the community-at-large. “At the moment, I am going to be out and about a lot. It’s kind of nonstop,” says Bertolino. Following, he pauses briefly to share some personal stories and his thoughts on the university’s future.

What role did education play in your family?

I’m the product of a traditional lower-middle class family, born and raised in the suburbs of South Jersey. Faith, family, and education were the priorities in our home — in that order. I had 16 years of private school education. My younger sister and I attended a catholic grammar school and high school. I went on to the university of Scranton, a catholic college in the Jesuit tradition. It was always assumed that my sister and I would go to college. It was just something you never questioned.

How about your parents?

Neither of my parents initially had a college degree when i was growing up. My father had a high school education and took some community college classes. He worked for the shipyard in Philadelphia and, later, for what was then bell Telephone. He was a switch operator before going into management. My mother went to nursing school after she graduated from high school. At the time, people typically didn’t think about getting a college degree to become a nurse. But when I was in about seventh grade, my mother went back to school to get a BSN [bachelor of science in nursing].

Did that make an impression on you?

Absolutely. She worked very hard. I consider myself to be a first-generation college student in the traditional sense. But my mother was the first in the family to get a college education, which she did as an adult while simultaneously raising a family.

What was your college experience like?

When I look back at grammar school and high school, it’s all a blur. I don’t have negative memories, but they’re not particularly fond either. But college was amazing. That’s one of the great benefits of higher education. It gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself a bit . . . to explore. You find your cohorts . . . your people. I was in a group that included the band and singers. Last year, I went back to my alma mater to celebrate our former director’s 35th anniversary. Here it was 30 years later, and I was so excited to see everyone.

Your parents have many fans on campus. They made great comments about being proud of you on Facebook.

It’s very, very sweet. [laughs] My mother always emphasized education, but it was important to my father, too. He started his professional life as a blue-collar worker and worked very hard. The summer after I graduated from high school, he found a job for me at a cable TV factory. Later, when I was packing to leave for college, he came to my room and asked how I had liked working there.

‘I hated that job,’ I told him. ‘It was horrible. horrible.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘And that is why we are sending you to college. Don’t forget it.’ I never did.

Now, both my sister and I work in education. She works in pre-K and here I am in higher education.

You recently were named to the board of directors at the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA. You’ve had a long association with the YMCA. How did it start?

It was the summer after my freshman year of college. The local newspaper — the Courier-Post — had a job listing: ‘Counselors Wanted.’ I remember thinking, ‘I’m majoring in psychology. I can be a counselor.’ I didn’t have a clue. . . . So I went to the interview. Drove up and there’s a big sign: YMCA Camp Ockanickon [in Medford, N.J.] I went to the director’s office, and he proceeded to ask me a series of questions. Have you ever been to camp? Nope. Do you swim? Nope. Play any sports? No. Boat? Nope. Practice archery? No. Arts and crafts? Maybe. Umm, no.

How about working with children? I’d like to, I told him — and he thanked me and I left. Soon after my mother called to tell me they’d offered me the job . . . which I thought was just crazy.

So was that director right? Was it a good fit?

I worked at camp every summer — both when I was in college and, after, while working as a high school teacher. I went on to serve on the camp’s board of directors for 13 years and was the president of the board from 2006 to 2010.

It’s the relationships that stand out. I met Stephan, one of my first campers, when he was 9. His parents were getting divorced that first year. From then on, he came back and stayed in my cabin every summer. Eighteen years later, I was the best man at his wedding. His oldest son, Matthew, is my godson. Last summer we sent Matthew off to Camp Ockanickon, where he stayed in the cabin where his dad and I met.

Camp has been the single most important influence in my life. I credit the fact that I am sitting in this chair — that I’m the president of Southern — to that camp.

An article in Vermont Business magazine mentioned that you contemplated becoming a priest?

I was in the seminary in Scranton for a year and a half. In hindsight, it was far more conservative than I would have liked. But I didn’t leave for religious reasons or a lack of faith; I left because I wanted to forge my own path — and that presented an unexpected opportunity. I took a leave of absence and was assigned to teach religion at a Catholic school in South Jersey. I never went back to the seminary. Teaching led to graduate school, which led to my starting a career in Student Affairs in higher education — and I’ve never left higher education.

What led you to pursue the presidency at Southern?

Southern is a highly diverse community located in a great, culturally rich, urban environment. The university educates many first-generation college students and is positioned to be a strong community partner — the traits that I really love in a university setting. New Haven is also a great city, and it’s a lot closer to my family than Vermont. My partner Bil and I talked about it — and I thought I had nothing to lose by throwing my hat into the ring. It’s a great opportunity. So here I am. Bil and I recently closed on a home in Morris Cove in New Haven. We are excited.

You’ve been described in the press as one of the country’s first openly gay university presidents. Does that carry an added responsibility?

When I started at Lyndon [State College] there were about 20 to 25 openly gay presidents in the U.S. There are now about 70 to 75. I do think that for the LGBTQ community — and also for the Student Affairs community — I feel an added responsibility to “represent” . . . to go above and beyond. But I also remind folks that I am not the gay president. I am the president who, by the way, just happens to be in a committed relationship with a man. Period. It’s not really a focus for me and the work that I do. That said, I am certainly honored if my role at Southern inspires others — lets them see the possibility of holding a public leadership position.

Describe your leadership style in five words.

Compassionate. Kind. Collaborative. Relationship focused.

What are your immediate goals for Southern?

Topping the list, I would like Southern as a community to become even more focused on social justice — in every possible way. I have been a social justice educator for more than 25 years, and my administration will be committed to social justice, not just in word, but in action and deed. Secondly, raising the profile of the institution is key. As I said during my interview [for Southern’s presidency], ‘I’m a PR man!’ I welcome the opportunity to share Southern’s accomplishments and all the benefits it offers to our students, our community, and the state. Third, we will be having solid discussions to address our financial challenges through the promotion of entrepreneurship, the development of new and innovative community partnerships, and a greater emphasis on private fundraising. And this is extremely important to me — we are focusing on student success, furthering efforts to enhance academic excellence, remove obstacles to graduation, and improve retention.

Last summer, prior to officially becoming president, you attended an on-campus dialogue, “A Campus Conversation on Race, Policing, Advocacy, and Action.” You briefly shared your concerns for Joel (pronounced Jo-el), a young man from Jamaica.

My family is very nontraditional. I refer to Joel as my son, though he’s not in a legal sense. But I believe family is defined by love, not by blood or paperwork. When Joel’s first baby was arriving, he told me, ‘You are going to be a grandfather.’ His son Roman calls me Grandpa Joe.

It’s important for people to know how we define family . . . who in our lives are important to us — especially if this helps me to better understand the young men and women at Southern.

[Bertolino first met Joel Welsh Jr. at Queens college. Then a student, Joel worked as his exercise trainer. Today, he is the head strength and conditioning coach at Delaware State University.]

You’ve invited the students to call you President Joe. Why is this important?

I want members of the community to think of me as a person . . . a member of the community. I also want to be somewhat informal. But that doesn’t take away from the seriousness of my role. I tell people not to confuse my smile and my informality with a lack of seriousness. But too many times, people get stuck in their own hype. I think ‘President Joe’ invites people to engage in a conversation and build a relationship.

Speaking of conversations, you’ve been talking to many constituencies — from students and alumni to faculty to legislators. Have you learned anything that surprised you?

One thing I am really excited about is the quality and the caliber of our student population. The academic excellence and rigor at Southern is far beyond what many realize. Our students are sometimes underestimated. In the sciences, a team of Southern students recently won a bronze medal at an international synthetic biology competition. Southern’s Society of Professional Journalists was named the Outstanding Campus Chapter in our region [Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island]. Our freshman class includes many top students, including three high school valedictorians. We are a community of scholars, artists, and community activists. I’m looking forward to seeing all that we accomplish.

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— This article was featured in Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring 2017

Inauguration of Joe Bertolino

Joe Bertolino outlined his vision Friday for Southern – a vision that establishes the university as the regional higher education institution of choice for students and community partners.

At the same time, he wants to help foster a university culture that promotes respect, compassion and kindness; where members of the campus community care about one another personally and professionally; and from which Southern becomes a statewide leader for social justice.

Bertolino discussed his vision during an inauguration ceremony at SCSU’s Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, where he took the oath of office as the school’s 12th president.

“At Southern, as many of you know, our students are drawn from all types of backgrounds – racial, ethnic, religious, gender and economic,” Bertolino said. “Many have had to overcome life’s obstacles to reach their goal: working jobs while studying, supporting children or elderly relatives; taking those initial, uncertain steps into higher education as the first in their families to attend college.

“So when we help provide the empowerment to achieve their goal – it is just that, a personal achievement that means a great deal, because these young men and women truly had to strive and sacrifice to get there. But the needs of our students and their goals cannot be achieved without an institutional commitment to building relationships, strengthening communities and ensuring that social justice is a core value of Southern.”

Bertolino, 53, began his duties as president last August after being selected by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education. He previously served as president of Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt.

He already has immersed himself in projects designed to enhance SCSU’s profile; boost enrollment and graduation rates; streamline the transition process to Southern for students; and bolster community partnerships.

Bertolino succeeds Mary A. Papazian, who left SCSU last summer to become president of San Jose State University in California.

Speakers at the ceremony included Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University system; Lawrence DeNardis, a member of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education; Ugo Eze, a former student of Bertolino, and Patricia Cormier, president emeritus of Longwood University, based in Farmville, Va. Regents Merle Harris, Naomi Cohen and Scott Jackson also attended.

Ojakian said that from the first interview, he could see Bertolino possessed the qualities that would make an excellent president. “I saw the passion. I saw the commitment. I saw the selflessness,” Ojakian said.

DeNardis expressed similar sentiments.

“I think we have chosen wisely and well,” DeNardis said, noting the new president’s “boundless energy and sense of purpose.”

In addition to being a lecturer and educator, Bertolino is the author of many articles and book chapters. He is the co-author of “Let The Games Begin, A Guide for Peer Mentors,” which was published in 2012.  His research interests include student immigration, campus community development, campus social change, leadership development, service learning, multicultural worldviews and LGBTQ student issues.

He is a member of the American Association of State Colleges & Universities, American Council on Education, New Haven Promise Board of Directors and the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA Board of Directors.

Before becoming president of Lyndon State, Bertolino served as vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at Queens College/City University of New York from 2004 to 2012.

He earned an Ed.D. in higher education administration and leadership development from Columbia University Teachers College in 2003. He also holds a Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Scranton in 1986.

 

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.”

 

 

Academic Science and Laboratory Building

Southern’s Academic Science & Laboratory Building has been certified LEED® Gold, placing it among the top one-third most sustainably designed certified buildings in the state.

Designed by Centerbrook Architects & Planners, the nearly 104,000-square-foot building exceeded expectations with its sustainable features. Originally targeted for LEED® Silver, the Academic Science & Laboratory Building scored 63 points on the LEED® scale to earn BD+C (Building Design + Construction) Gold.

“We are grateful to Centerbrook Architects & Planners for their innovative, sustainable design work,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “This is our second LEED® Gold recognition at Southern – the first was awarded for our new home for the School of Business – and adds to our growing reputation as an environmentally friendly campus.”

Southern has been recognized regionally and nationally in recent years for its greening initiatives — including new building design, energy efficiency and student-driven recycling programs.

Designing a sustainable facility that would increase operational efficiency and reduce the SCSU’s long-term energy and water costs was an important goal of the project. This is a challenge for laboratories, which are voracious consumers of energy and water.

What resulted was a building that saves the university 34 percent on its energy consumption and reduces water use by 20 percent.

“Science laboratory buildings present significant challenges from a sustainability standpoint, especially one with 76 fume hoods, as this one had,” said Centerbrook Partner Jefferson B. Riley, FAIA. “Through a holistic sustainable design approach we were able to provide students, faculty and staff with a healthy and uplifting environment in which to learn and work.”

Riley’s design, marshaled by Centerbrook’s project architect Reno Migani, AIA, and project manager Andrew Safran, AIA, captured six out of 10 points in Water Efficiency, including both points available in the Innovative Wastewater Technologies subcategory. This was achieved by the rainwater collection system that reduces the amount of potable water used to irrigate the quad by more than 60 percent.

The project also earned 22 out of a possible 26 tallies in LEED’s Sustainable Sites category. By connecting to Jennings Hall and utilizing existing resources, the new building’s program and footprint was reduced, while promoting connectivity between the science disciplines.

The Academic Science & Laboratory Building is the 18th project designed by Centerbrook to earn LEED certification. An additional six are currently slated for LEED.

“Southern Connecticut State University’s LEED certification demonstrates tremendous green building leadership,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chair, USGBC. “The urgency of USGBC’s mission has challenged the industry to move faster and reach further than ever before, and Academic Science & Laboratory Building serves as a prime example of just how much we can accomplish.”

The LEED certification system was established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2000. Short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED is the foremost program for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. LEED-certified buildings are found in all 50 states and in more than 164 countries and territories.

http://www.usgbc.org/projects/new-academic-and-laboratory-building

sustainability major

A new major at Southern will enable students to not only learn the science behind environmental issues, but to understand their societal complexity and offer practical, real world solutions.

A Bachelor of Science degree in environmental systems and sustainability studies will be offered starting next fall. Three concentrations will exist within the major – environmental systems, coastal marine systems, and environmental policy and management.

“It really is going to be an exciting program,” said Vincent Breslin, a professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences who helped organize the major. “It takes a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to environmental and sustainability issues.

“As an example, let’s take climate change. Sure, the solution sounds simple – eliminate the use of fossil fuels. But realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So, what are our options? What steps can we take? The students will look at those options and the social and economic consequences they could have on society.”

Breslin said the program will emphasize critical thinking, system thinking and problem solving.

“There is a need for professionals who understand the complexities associated with environmental problems and solutions,” he said. “This program will provide our students with the knowledge and skills to help Connecticut face a rapidly changing future.”

Breslin said the Connecticut coastline is an example. Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, he said coastal communities have been more sensitive to the potential damage caused by major storms and hurricanes, as well as rising tidal waters and other consequences of global warming. “I could envision a time when each community, or group of communities, has its own sustainability coordinator,” he said.

Steven Breese, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, said the quality and health of the environment is being challenged every day.

“And with this challenge comes a pressing need for our students and our culture to develop a deep and broad understanding of the complex interactions between human and natural systems,” Breese said. “Not only will this new program teach our students about this critical interaction, it will empower them to devise sustainable solutions that will impact our collective well-being now and for generations to come. It is a timely program and one that, we believe, will attract new students to Southern while offering our current students new educational opportunities.”

The environmental policy and management concentration within the new program would be ideal for someone who wanted to pursue environmental law, according to Breslin.

The program will require students to take about 40 credits in their major, differing slightly based on their concentration. The coursework includes foundation classes – such as an introduction to environmental and marine studies; an introduction to the principles of sustainability; and a research methods course. Students also will complete an experiential component, such as an internship, research experience or participation in a seminar.

In addition, each concentration will require four core courses and three electives, as well as a social science and humanities course.

Breslin said the major incorporates various disciplines – including biology, geography, earth science, environmental studies, marine studies, public health, political science and business management.

(For additional information about the program, please contact Vincent Breslin at (203) 392-6602 or at breslinv1@southernct.edu; Jim Tait, professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences, at (203) 392-5838 or at taitj1@southernct.edu, or Patrick Heidkamp, chairman of the Department of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences, at (203) 392-5919 or at heidkampc1@southernct.edu.)

For students who are considering a career in scientific research or who are interested in doing work to help food, farms, forests, or the environment, a new internship program co-sponsored by Southern and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station could be an ideal way to become immersed in field- or laboratory-based research projects and engage in hands-on learning.

The Summer Undergraduate Fellows in Plant Health and Protection program offers 10 undergraduate research internships during summer 2017. During the internships, which will be funded by the USDA, students will participate in research projects focused on plant health and protection, including: plant pathology, analytic chemistry, entomology, microbiology, molecular biology, plant physiology, and forest health.  Weekly enrichment activities will include field trips to learn about research careers in the public and private sector, and workshops to develop scientific leadership and communication skills.

i-MvGxgZC-X3Interns will be provided with free housing, a meal plan, and a stipend. The nine-week program beginning on June 5 will culminate with student presentations at Plant Science Day held on August 2 at the CT Agricultural Experimental Station’s outdoor research facility, “Lockwood Farm”. Students interested in conducting scientific research in areas related to agriculture and crop health are encouraged to apply.

The program is open to undergraduate students from any college or university who: are U.S. citizens or permanent residents; are at least 18 years of age; will have completed two to four semesters toward a biology, chemistry, or related science major by June 2017; are in good academic standing; and can commit to live at SCSU and to work full-time from June 5-August 4, 2017 (not including July 4). Underclassmen and novice researchers (students with no prior paid research experience) are strongly encouraged to apply, as are first-generation and minority college students. The deadline for applications is March 10, 2017.

For more details or to apply, visit www.planthealthfellows.com.

Katie Crochet, swimmer, Northeast-10

Southern’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will look to continue their dominance of the Northeast-10 when they host the conference championship at Hutchinson Natatorium Feb. 16 to 19.

The men’s team is seeking its 13th NE10 championship title in the past 14 years and seventh in a row.

The women have won 10 NE10 championships in the previous 13 years and have finished in the top three of every single competition.

One of the standout performers on the women’s team is All-American scholar and athlete Katherine Crochet, who won six events at the 2016 conference championship. As a child, Crochet was diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and swimming offered a way to channel her energy.

For more on Katherine Crochet and her inspirational journey, see the video and Q and A below:

 

Meet the Student-Athlete

Katherine Crochet
Majoring in communication disorders, minoring in psychology
Swimming and Diving co-captain
Hometown: Watertown, Conn.

Honors: Pre-season All American (2016) * All American in the 50 and 100 freestyle * Northeast-10 (NE-10) Swimmer of the Year in 2016 * Won six events at the 2016 NE-10 Championship and named Most Outstanding Champion * Two first place finishes at the 2015 NE-10 Championship * College Swimming Coaches Association of America Scholar All American

Record breaker: Southern’s all-time fastest in the 50 Freestyle (23.31) and 100 Freestyle (51.19) * Also holds the Owls’ record in the 400 Freestyle Relay, competing with teammates Sydney Fromkin, Emily Wolfe, and Katherine Krajcik.

In the pool: As a child, Crochet was diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Swimming offered a way to channel her energy.

Inspiration: “I wasn’t a very good swimmer growing up,” says Crochet, who credits her former Watertown Parks and Recreation coach Paul Catuccio, ’97, M.S. ’01, 6th Yr. ’10, with igniting her competitive spirit when she was in eighth grade. “He told me, ‘If you put some effort in to it, you could be really good.‘ It just clicked,” she says. Today, Catuccio is the athletics director at Watertown High School.

Hit by pre-NCAA Championship Nerves: “I talked to former All American national champion Amanda Thomas, [’13, M.S. ’15] — someone I always looked up to. . . . She told me, ‘You deserve to go. You are just as fast as any of those girls.’

Puppy love: Cares for her own rescue dog, Wesley, and helps her mom, Stacy — owner of Stacy’s Pet Porium — provide foster care for animals. “We have anywhere from 10 to 15 puppies at any one time — all rescues.”

On her Teammates: “We have one common goal this season — winning the NE-10.”

Katie Crochet, swimmer, Northeast-10

Students in Nicaragua

Winter break may feel like just a distant memory for most students by now, but for one group of Southern students, this year’s break created memories that will last a lifetime.

Members of a university club called Global Brigades traveled to Nicaragua from January 5-13 to work on a project to help improve water access and sanitation for a remote village. The students did all of the planning and fundraising for the trip and did not receive course credit for their work; their efforts were all volunteer. “I think this level of volunteerism abroad is a first for SCSU,” says Michael Schindel, assistant director of the Office of International Education and the club’s adviser.

The Southern group is a chapter of the national nonprofit organization Global Brigades, the largest student-led international community service group. Global Brigades operates in four countries — Ghana, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama — and provides ongoing support within the countries. Essentially, different college chapters fundraise to pay for airfare, accommodation, and funds to support the projects in these countries for periods of one week to 10 days, with the option of going for longer. One university chapter joins a project after another leaves, so that the projects can remain continuous. The projects focus on different community needs relating to public health, medical and dental needs, engineering, microfinance, water access, and human rights.

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

The Southern chapter has been on campus for two years, and this was the group’s first time conducting a “brigade” abroad. Students Sleman Hussein and Amanda Saslow and a core group of other students started the chapter; they drafted the constitution, made all the connections with the national organization, and recruited members. For the trip to Nicaragua, the executive board oversaw all of the travel arrangements, as well as fundraising, planning the “Charla” (a community public health lesson that was presented to a group of children, entirely in Spanish), and designing the t-shirts.

Hussain praises the dedication of the students who joined Global Brigades. “We went through many hurdles and obstacles to build the club,” he says. “We have 14 devoted people who spent the last couple years fundraising money, not for a vacation, or to donate to a church or soup kitchen. No, we have 14 devoted people who took time out of their busy college schedules to go to a third world country and break their backs for a week.”

Saslow agrees, adding, “I am so beyond proud of not only the 14 individuals joining us on the brigade but the entire Global Brigades family that we’ve established at Southern. It has been incredible seeing students support each other and stand by each other in an environment where it’s very easy to feel alone. Working with these 14 people has been a life-changing experience and I’m definitely walking out of here with a heck of a lot more than just a degree.”

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

Student Emily Gersz, a member of the club who went to Nicaragua, says she found the experience “life-changing.” She admits the trip “was a ton of hard work . . . but I’d do it 100 times over to see the gratitude in the eyes of the families we helped.”

According to Paul Nicholas, a member of the club’s e-board, the students did manual labor each day for five days, waking up at 6 a.m., taking a two-hour bus ride to Jinotega, the community where they worked, and then working side-by-side with the families they were helping. Together, they built concrete floors, sanitary stations, and septic tanks for homes that were typically made out of cinderblocks and wood branches, with dirt floors.

“The families were so welcoming and humble; letting us (complete strangers) work in and outside their homes,” Nicholas says. He explains that the group worked on building sanitary stations because many families don’t have toilets or showers at all. Because the women have back problems from always bending down to scrub clothes when doing laundry, the wash stations in the sanitary stations were raised to a higher level.

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

Nicholas says the conditions some of the families live in helped him realize that “there are so many more important things to worry about in this world . . . as opposed to all the small things we worry about here in the U.S.” He learned that the men in Jinotega make about two dollars a day, while the women have to walk miles carrying clean water from a clean source. Before Global Brigades became involved in helping Jinotega, the village’s water had a high concentration of fecal matter, causing parasites and disease. The solution Global Brigades is providing is to build an irrigation system directly connecting clean water from the mountains to many communities.

Part of the Global Brigades model is to have the community receiving assistance also participate in the work and provide some funding, so that the community is helping itself and taking ownership of the improvement projects.

Student Annie Kaczmarczyk’s outlook on life was transformed by her experience on the trip. “My perspective on what I take for granted has been drastically changed after seeing people live without basic life necessities,” she says. “What impacted me most on the trip is truly how much compassion and joy the people of Nicaragua have, even in such a dire state.”

Schindel says, “I am so proud of and impressed by this group of students. They took all of this on, set a goal, and worked all year towards achieving it.” Schindel applauds the students for volunteering their winter breaks “to spend it digging trenches for water pipes, laying concrete foundations in people’s homes, building sanitation stations with access to potable water and waste removal, and teaching children about proper hygiene.”

See an album of students’ photos from the Global Brigades trip.
Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

iGem, Mayor Toni Harp, proclamation

Mayor Toni N. Harp Wednesday honored a group of Southern  science students – including a New Haven Promise Scholar — for earning a bronze medal at a recent international synthetic biology competition.

Harp presented the SCSU students, as well as faculty and administrators, with a proclamation at a ceremony at Southern on the Green, located on the 10th floor of 900 Chapel St.

The students competed in October at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition in Boston, where they presented their research on trying to find a faster testing method to detect tuberculosis.

The event included nearly 300 teams of students – mostly undergraduates, but some graduate students and high school students. It marked the first time Southern competed in the program, and SCSU was among only three teams from Connecticut to do so this year. Yale University and the University of Connecticut also earned bronze medals.

Julio Badillo, an SCSU student and a New Haven Promise scholar, was a member of the team.
“We are so proud of Julio and the entire team of Southern students,” Harp said before reading the proclamation. “(Their work) is awe-inspiring.”

The students’ accomplishment was so inspiring that it brought one of Badillo’s former teachers to the ceremony.

Lana Rowan, a teacher in the New Haven Public Schools, was Badillo’s freshman biology teacher when he was a student at the Connecticut Scholars Academy, a sub school of Wilbur Cross High School.

“Julio was an A-student and someone who was motivated and asked questions in class,” Rowan said. “But I also remember him being one of the nicest students in class and was generally a pretty quiet kid. We are very proud of him.”

Rowan said she was told about the ceremony by Richard Therrien, science supervisor for the school system, and she immediately expressed an interest in attending, along with Therrien.

Several of the students presented a synopsis of the team’s work during the ceremony.

“We are very proud of you,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “You have represented yourselves well as scientists, and you also have represented Southern well.”

The project was the latest example of a partnership SCSU forged in 2015 with the city of New Haven, as well as the region’s bioscience industry. The agreement, named “BioPath,” calls for SCSU to expand its bioscience offerings and to work with area school systems in the development of curricula to prepare them for college-level programs in the biosciences. The biosciences are an important economic sector for Connecticut, employing nearly 25,000 people statewide. The Greater New Haven region is the No. 2 bioscience cluster in New England with companies advancing the science in oncology, antibiotics, rare disease treatments and other specialties. Notable companies include: Alexion, Arvinas, Achillion, Melinta and BioArray.

As part of the BioPath agreement, the city has agreed to assist with grant applications that would help pay for equipment and other expenses, as well as promote the new SCSU programs with local businesses, and to assist with internships for SCSU students at biotech companies.

SCSU opened a new, high-tech science building before the start of the fall 2015 semester that has provided students with more research and laboratory opportunities in areas such as biology, biotechnology, chemistry, physics, earth science, marine studies and more.

The team sought to develop a screening test for TB that is both accurate and speedy. The more accurate tests today require a wait that can take several weeks before learning the results.

The DNA materials that the team generated have been sent to a repository where future college teams from around the globe can use to advance this effort. In addition, Thomas Hoang, a member of the SCSU team, will seek to finish the project on his own after securing an SCSU undergraduate research grant.