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CSU Professor Elliott Horch

He developed a super-powered device for telescopes that enabled astronomers to snap photos of celestial objects many times clearer than had ever been taken. He was tapped by NASA to assist with the Kepler Mission – a project to find potential “new Earths” in the Milky Way Galaxy. He has assembled a stellar teaching record and demonstrated a strong commitment to student success since he began teaching at Southern Connecticut State University in 2007.

And on Thursday, Elliott Horch was recognized for the sum of his professorial achievements by being named a Connecticut State University Professor by the state Board of Regents for Higher Education. The recommendation for this honor came from SCSU President Joe Bertolino.

The designation is one of the most prestigious within the Connecticut State Colleges and University System. Only three faculty members at each of the four CSU campuses can hold the title at any given time.

Horch, a professor of physics, joins Vivian Shipley, professor of English, and David Levine, professor of art history as the Southern contingent of CSU professors. A vacancy was created with the recent retirement of Terrell “Terry” Bynum, who had been a professor of philosophy.

“A full professor since 2013, Elliott has developed a remarkable record of teaching and service excellence and has, with little company in his scholarship stratum, a remarkable record of peer-reviewed publications and grant success,” wrote Robert Prezant, SCSU provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“Dr. Horch represents one of our most successful scholars in any field,” Prezant said. “Roll into the mix his strong teaching credentials, devotion to our students, and his high level of important service, and you have an individual who can easily serve as a model for newer faculty members who have high aspirations. (He) is recognized for high quality work at the international level, and that recognition, in concert with his strong global collaborations, makes him an exceptional representative of Southern across continents.”

The CSU Professorship Advisory Committee reviewed eight applications for the award this year, according to Adiel Coca, chairman of the CSU Professorship Advisory Committee.

“It is the committee’s opinion that Dr. Horch has a documented high level of effectiveness in all three categories of evaluation (creative activity, teaching, and service), including a record of outstanding performance in the area of creative activity,” Coca wrote.

Horch earned a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University in 1994. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University and the Rochester Institute of Technology and held teaching appointments at RIT and at UMass Dartmouth before coming to Southern.

His research interests are in astrophysics, binary stars, exoplanets, high-resolution imaging, and astronomical instrument building. He regularly collaborates with scientists from around the globe. During his time at Southern, Horch has co-authored 82 publications and has been awarded 10 external grants, most of which came from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense.

He developed the Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI) and the SCSU Interferometer and described the DSSI as being like “putting eyeglasses on a telescope.”

Horch earned the CSU System Research Award in 2011 and was the recipient of the 2012 SCSU Faculty Scholar Award. He has taught more than 20 physics courses, including four courses that were new at the time.

“It is clear from his student evaluations that students really enjoy having Dr. Horch as an instructor,” said Coca, who noted that Horch supervised 26 undergraduate and five graduate theses.

Horch was also instrumental in the development of the Master’s in Applied Physics program at Southern, and served on the LEP Committee from 2011 to 2015. He currently serves as chairman of the university’s Research and Scholarship Committee. Horch also chairs the Scientific Organizing Committee for the Gemini Science Meeting scheduled for June.

He thanked Physics Department Chairman Matthew Enjalran for nominating him, and thanked colleagues for their letters of support.

“This designation is a tremendous honor, and something I simply could not expect given the many excellent faculty we have at SCSU,” Horch said.

“I receive this during a very uncertain time,” he added. “But my hope is that as we find our way through the COVID-19 crisis and eventually reach better times, this position would allow me to be a stronger advocate for the value of science in our society and for the positive role that SCSU plays in that regard, both in teaching and research.”

SCSU students Amber Archambault, Melissa Palma Cuapio, Brooke Mercaldi, and Alexis Zhiomi, 2020 Henry Barnard Scholars
2020 Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award recipients, Amber Archambault, Melissa Palma Cuapio, Brooke Mercaldi, and Alexis Zhitomi

Four Southern students who have displayed outstanding scholarship and a commitment to community service during their collegiate career have been selected as recipients of this year’s Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award.

Each year, 12 seniors are chosen by the four Connecticut State Universities – four each from Southern and Central, and two each from Eastern and Western. It is considered among the university’s most  prestigious student awards. Criteria include a 3.7 GPA or better and having demonstrated significant participation in university and/or community life.

Alexis Zhitomi, a communication disorders major, has a GPA of 3.97. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology at Southern this fall.

Zhitomi is president of the Student Government Association and a member of the Honors College. She has been the recipient of several scholarships. She has volunteered with the Friends of Rudolph, SCSU Day of Service, Adopt-a-Family, The Big Event, and was a Yale-New Haven Neuro-Speech Volunteer. She also has been an orientation coordinator for the Office of New Student and Sophomore Programs.

During her lifetime, she has traveled to all 50 states, and five continents. Zhitomi presented her undergraduate thesis last fall at a national American Speech-Language Hearing Association convention in Orlando, Fla.

“She has proven to be a passionate, diligent, and self-motivated student and is most deserving of this type of recognition,” said Heather Warner, associate professor of communication disorders. “…Given the depth of her classroom discussions, it was easy to see her passion for people, desire to help, and thirst for knowledge.”

Amber Archambault, a social work major, has a 3.96 GPA. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work at Southern this fall in the advanced standing program.

She is an intern at the East Hartford High School Student Assistance Center, where she evaluates and counsels students’ needs and concerns. On campus, she was a resident advisor for nearly two and a half years, and was named Resident Advisor of the Year in 2019.

Archambault also served as an orientation ambassador, and earned several awards and grants, including a Connecticut State University grant in 2019. She had volunteered at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, where she worked with children with physical disabilities.

“Ms. Archambault is a natural leader who is driven by passion to make a positive impact in the community for those who may otherwise be unable to advocate for themselves,” said Kyle O’Brien, assistant professor of social work. “(She) will represent SCSU well as an alum as she enters the social work profession and begins to leave a lasting footprint in the communities she works within.”

Brooke Mercaldi, an environmental systems and sustainability studies major, has a 3.93 GPA. She plans to attend the Elizabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University this fall.

Mercaldi is a member of the Honors College. She is a Werth Center for Coastal Marine Studies Fellow, and served as research coordinator for the center. She is a recipient of several scholarships and is executive vice president of the Student Government Association. She is a member of the Board of Regents for Higher Education Student Advisory Committee, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Taskforce, and the SCSU Global Education Advisory Council.

She has volunteered with the Friends of Rudolph and Adopt-a-Family programs. Mercaldi served as an intern with the Connecticut General Assembly and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“Brooke’s work was not only outstanding, but she exhibited an intellectual curiosity and a critical thinking ability that impressed me deeply…After 20 years of teaching, I can think of no student more appropriate for the Henry Barnard Award than Brooke,” said James Tait, professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences.

Melissa Palma Cuapio, a chemistry major, has a GPA of 3.8. She is considering applying to medical school in the future.

Palma is a chemistry tutor and was selected as the American Chemical Society’s Outstanding Senior Organic Chemistry Student in 2019. She was a member of the Math Club, Botany Club, Club Taekwondo and Service Commission Club.

She conducted research in the field of chemistry and presented her findings at the SCSU Research Symposium. Palma Cuapio served as a youth leader in the Junta Youth in Action Program.

“She is very gifted and works very hard…I find Melissa to be very excited about science and research. Melissa has a very strong desire to enter the medical field when she graduates from Southern, and I believe that she has taken the right steps to prepare herself for a career in medicine,” said Adiel Coca, chairman of the Chemistry Department.

 

Asma Rahimyar, the first student in Southern's history to receive a prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship

Asma Rahimyar, a junior at Southern Connecticut State University, has been awarded the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship for her “outstanding potential for leadership, commitment to public service, and academic excellence.”

Awarded by the Washington, D.C.-based foundation named for the 33rd president of the United States, this highly competitive national scholarship was awarded to 62 outstanding students from 773 applicants nationwide and grants recipients up to $30,000 for graduate studies.

The first Truman Scholar in Southern history, and the first among the four Connecticut State Universities,  Rahimyar has worked to promote equity,  social justice, and inclusion both on and off campus. Post-higher education, she plans to take that courageous commitment worldwide, by practicing international human rights law.

The Truman Scholarship is the latest in a line of accolades for Rahimyar, who has excelled both in- and outside of the classroom at Southern. A Dean’s List student, she has received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Research, a Diversity Scholar Excellence Award, a CSCU Scholarship, the Dr. Hilton C. Buley Scholarship, and the SCSU Top Owl Award for her commitment to social justice. She is also President of SCSU’s Muslim Student Association, a Writing Specialist/First Year Research Tutor at Southern’s Academic Success Center (who also facilitated the first series of bilingual literacy workshops for tutors), and a political science and philosophy major, minoring in English.

The first American-born daughter of parents who emigrated from Afghanistan, Rahimyar was raised in Trumbull and grew up listening to her parents’ stories of Kabul, documenting them in her journal.

“My parents’ stories of the joy and beauty of Kabul were juxtaposed with the reality of air strikes and war,” Rahimyar said. “Kabul has beauty but also tragedy, and it’s one world.”

As she became increasingly aware of the stark contrast between her parents’ idyllic descriptions and the reality of war-torn Afghanistan, she experienced a significant internal shift. She started writing in her journal in the first person, taking ownership of the stories. The more she listened, the more determined she became to understand the truth of her parents’ experience.

“I’ve grown up around stories of war time, and I decided I wanted to research the history and facts behind the stories,” she said. “Beyond the story, I wanted to know what my family had to endure.”

At Southern, Rahimyar’s journey was bolstered by political science and law courses, specifically International Relations, where her interest in the field grew alongside her belief that she could someday “be part of it” by devoting her career to combating “the many iterations of impunity.” Rahimyar’s experiences and courses ultimately informed her decision to pursue graduate studies in transitional justice — measures implemented in order to redress legacies of human rights abuses.

“Impunity corrodes the legitimacy of whichever legal system it permeates,” she said in her Truman Scholarship application. “As an Afghan-American, I have tracked its palpable manifestations post-Saur Revolution with an intrinsic passion (the overthrow of the Afghan government in 1978 led to the Soviet invasion of the country). When a nation’s most powerful are able to readily abuse the most vulnerable, the reverberations are felt in the halls of parliament and wracked households alike.”

Her goal, after she has earned her master’s and doctoral degrees, is to practice pro bono law within refugee and immigrant communities, while serving Afghanistan’s most vulnerable and working to improve the country’s system of legal education.

“Rahimyar is passionate about returning to Afghanistan in order to help build the rule of law she values so much in the United States,” Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, associate professor of political science and pre-law advisor at Southern, said. “Asma has been a leader in the Muslim Student Association, the Multicultural Leadership Council, and the Interfaith Council. Furthermore, she has used her leadership positions for service. She brought the World Hijab Day to Southern to allow all of us to share the experience of wearing a hijab. As a result, an increased number of Muslim women at Southern have felt comfortable expressing their faith by wearing a hijab.”

Rahimyar coordinated a special collaboration in November 2019 with Elena’s Light, a nonprofit organization that has provided at-home tutoring for local refugee and immigrant women since its inception three years ago, and helped bring 100 refugees from the New Haven community onto Southern’s campus to experience the American tradition of Thanksgiving.

Rahimyar’s favorite part of the meal came as she was reading aloud from a speech she had prepared. She realized she couldn’t hear her own voice over the laughter of children.

“Because of the work we had put in,” she said, “these children had five hours to be children. Where there is discordance, I will promote communication; where there is endurance, I seek to cultivate joy.”

“These efforts exemplify Asma’s focus on community inclusion,” Marchant-Shapiro said. “The work she has done at Southern portends a future in which she will make a difference in the world.”

It takes considerable courage to make a difference, especially in a country upended by war. To Rahimyar, “Courage is something I value, and I had to cultivate. My dad says courage looks like courage from the outside, but it’s often survival on the inside. We need to stare at what scares us in the face. If not me who undertakes this, then who?”

As for being awarded the scholarship, Rahimyar is both humble and full of gratitude.

“I’m filled with love for my parents and family,” Rahimyar said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without their support. I also want to express how much Southern means to me. Faculty, staff and students give you their all and invest in you as a human. I’ve been able to go to the United Nations, to explore the nuances of political theory, and to work with students as a tutor. I’m proud to represent Southern and my family, and I’m very grateful.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship was named for President Truman, who wanted to support the next generation of public service leaders. It was created by Congress in 1975. Scholars are required to work in public service for three of seven years following completion of a Foundation- funded graduate degree program as a condition of receiving funding.

Moore Field House interior, April 1, 2020

Trucks with hospital beds and medical equipment pulled up outside Moore Fieldhouse on March 31, 2020, as the National Guard began the assembly of a 300-bed “Connecticut Medical Station” inside the facility. Southern is providing “overflow” beds for Yale New-Haven Hospital, in anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 patients throughout the month of April . The university has also made available 2,500 rooms in nine residence halls for an as yet undesignated purpose, although at least one hall will be used to house medical personnel.

“As a public institution dedicated to the pursuit of social justice, Southern is committed to helping the state mitigate the spread of COVID-19,’” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “With hundreds of graduates from our College of Health and Human Services on the front lines fighting the pandemic, it was a natural step for the university to make our facilities available during the duration of this public health crisis.”

See a photo gallery of the field house’s conversion into a field hospital

See media coverage of Southern’s conversion to a medical station:

Gov to visit ‘hospital in a box’ at SCSU (WFSB, April 1, 2020)

National Guard soldiers help build field hospital to help overflow of coronavirus patients (WTNH, April 1, 2020)

Field hospital for non-coronavirus patients built at SCSU (New Haven Register, March 31, 2020)

National Guard, SCSU To The Rescue (New Haven Independent, March 31, 2020)

Overflow hospital to be set up at Southern Connecticut State University (WTNH, March 31, 2020)

National Guard Sets Up Field Hospital at SCSU For Coronavirus Patients (NBC CT, March 31, 2020)

COVID-19 overflow site being constructed at SCSU (WFSB, March 31, 2020)

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (third from left) at Moore Field House to inspect the Connecticut Medical Station that the National Guard set up there (April 1, 2020)

 

 

Left to right: Christopher O'Connor, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Yale New Haven Health System; Mark Ojakian, president, Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education; Joe Bertolino, president of Southern Connecticut State University; Sandra Bulmer, dean of the College of Health and Human Services; Kevin McNamara, director, SCSU Center for Communication Disorders Clinic; Melquicedex Hernandez, sophomore, Department of Nursing; Kevin McGinniss, '79, M.S. '85, 6th Yr. '92, assistant professor and graduate coordinator, Department of Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management; Marian Evans M.D., M.P.H. '15, assistant professor, Department of Public Health

Southern can train the next generation of nursing students using a healthcare simulation center that will closely mimic a hospital floor and enable students to visually review how they handled themselves in treating “patients.”

That will be among the highlights of a new College of Health and Human Services building scheduled to be completed by fall 2021.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday, March 6 in the construction area, which is adjacent to Pelz Gymnasium.

“This state-of-the-art facility will provide greatly enhanced, research and experiential learning opportunities for our students and faculty in the health-related fields,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino.

“We are gaining the physical resources to prepare our students for success in a knowledge-based workforce, he said. “And by producing more graduates with much-needed expertise in health and human services, Southern will continue to be a key player in Connecticut’s economic revival.”

The four-story, 94,750 square-foot brick building will house most departments within the College of Health and Human Services. These include the departments of Nursing; Communication Disorders; Health and Movement Sciences (formerly Exercise Science); Public Health; and Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management.

The building will provide students and faculty with additional classrooms, state-of-the-art teaching and training spaces, lecture halls, increased office space, collaborative spaces, a demonstration kitchen and modern human performance labs. It also will feature an abundance of natural light.

When completed, the total cost is expected to be between $53 million and $56 million — paid for through state bond funds, according to Robert Sheeley, SCSU associate vice president for capital budgeting and facilities operations.

Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, said the current healthcare challenges posed by the Coronavirus underscore the importance of having top notch facilities to train our students. He said today’s students will be on the frontlines of addressing health care challenges that arise in the future.

Sandra Bulmer, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said she is excited about the opportunities that await students and faculty. “Our programs train the workforce of the state,” she said.

Other speakers included:

Christopher O’Connor, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Yale-New Haven Health System Marian Evans, SCSU assistant professor of public health; Peter Simmons, project manager for the state Department of Construction Services; Kevin McGinniss, graduate program coordinator for the SCSU Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management; Kevin McNamara, director of the SCSU Center for Communication Disorders Clinic; and Melquicedex Hernandez, a sophomore nursing student at Southern.

Among the highlights of the building will be:

  • a home simulation apartment to train students from multiple professions in home care.
  • expanded facilities for the Communication Disorders Clinic that will be able to serve more clients and train more graduate speech-language clinicians.
  • a human performance facility that will house Southern’s Running Injury Clinic and include labs for testing health and fitness, metabolism, neurophysiology and biomechanics. This includes a high-tech Bod Pod to measure body fat composition through air displacement, rather than having to be underwater. It also includes a biomechanics lab with motion capture technology, a high-tech treadmill and use of force plates for movement analysis.
  • an athletic training teaching lab.
  • a center for individuals with different abilities to have recreational opportunities that are supervised by recreational therapy students.
  • two 60-seat lecture halls that can be joined together to form a large auditorium.
  • a demonstration kitchen classroom that seats 40 students and will be used by the Public Health Department for teaching nutrition, food safety and healthy food preparation.
  • a business presentation and collaboration classroom that seats 25 students.

 

Southern’s new College of Health and Human Services building, which breaks ground March 6, promises to boost interdisciplinary research and dramatically enhance the student experience across a variety of health-related fields.

The 4-story, 94,750-square-foot brick building, which will be located between Pelz Gymnasium and Fitch Street, will feature an abundance of natural light, collaborative spaces, state-of-the-art teaching and training spaces, lecture halls, a demonstration kitchen, and modern human performance laboratories.

“We are one of the major educational engines in this state,” said Sandra Bulmer, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “Many of our health and human services programs have waitlists. This building is a manifestation of that need — to provide the best facility possible to prepare the best workforce possible.”

The building will house communication disorders; health and movement sciences (formerly exercise science); nursing; public health; and recreation, tourism and sport management. The Department of Social Work will remain in the historic Lang House, while the Marriage and Family Therapy Program will stay in Davis Hall

Until now, the departments resided in eight different buildings on campus. The new space “will finally enable them to be under one roof,” said Robert Sheeley, associate vice president for capital budgeting and facilities operations. “It is going to be an excellent addition to our campus.”

The university worked with Svigals + Partners for the exterior plans, and Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, a firm with vast experience in the health sciences, for the interior.

“The building will invite visitors to think about health and wellness. Stairs are a prominent, attractive feature on each floor, which we hope will encourage physical activity for those who are able,” Bulmer said. “We have also prioritized active learning spaces, natural light, and ergonomic furniture.”

A first floor “Main Street” is where the many student experiences, such as classes and advising, will take place. Departments will have their own dedicated spaces, but opportunities for cross-training, teaching and conversation are key to the building’s cost-effective design. For example, a single, centralized Interprofessional Collaboration and Meeting Center — with small hosteling office areas where adjunct faculty can work and meet with students — was created, instead of meeting rooms for each individual department.

Training spaces, such as a high-fidelity healthcare simulation center, will provide students with the latest technological capabilities and put them as close to real-life healthcare situations as possible. The center will be used to train students from nursing, communication disorders, recreation therapy, social work, athletic training, respiratory care, human performance, and public health.

“The high-fidelity healthcare simulation center is designed like a hospital floor,” Bulmer said. “Additionally, there are four standardized patient rooms that will allow us to have patient actors interacting with our student nurses and other health profession students. We will have a home simulation apartment to train students from multiple professions in home care.”

Videotaping capabilities within the center will allow students to better see what they are doing correctly or incorrectly and to view their patient interactions and debrief with faculty supervisors and other peers.

Departmental labs and clinics, currently used to train students and assist at-need populations in Connecticut, also will expand in size and capabilities in the new building.

“Our Communication Disorders Clinic currently serves 150 clients per week and provides a tremendous service to our community,” Bulmer said. “The new building will include updated and expanded clinic facilities that will allow us to serve more clients and train more graduate speech-language clinicians who can fill critical workforce shortages.”

Bulmer, who works closely with health industry professionals throughout the state, said these workforce shortages always have helped inform programmatic decisions; now they have served as a guide for the building’s design.

“This entire building has been designed to meet the needs of the workforce in Connecticut,” she said. “We know professionals are needed in these fields in this state. We take that very seriously. One of our goals is to increase our capacity to accept students into our many excellent programs, and these facility upgrades will be a significant step in moving in that direction.”

Paid for by state bond funds, the College of Health and Human Services building is expected to be completed in fall 2021, at a cost of $53 to $56 million.

Building features:

  • 1st floor “Main Street,” where many student experiences, such as classes and academic advising, will take place
  • State-of-the art healthcare simulation center fully outfitted with video capture technology:
    • 6 simulated hospital rooms with high fidelity manikins, adjacent technology control rooms, nurses station, and medicine room
    • 4 standardized patient rooms that will allow patient actors to interact with student nurses and other health professional students and have those sessions video streamed into debriefing classrooms
    • home simulation apartment to train students from multiple professions in home care, also using patient actors
    • 2 debriefing classrooms where student can view videotaped session to better see what they are doing correctly or incorrectly, view their patient interactions and consult with faculty supervisors and other peers
    • 4 large nursing labs each with 6 beds, 6 exam tables, nursing equipment and technology, and a teaching presentation area that seats 16 students
  • Human performance facility that will house Southern’s running injury clinic and include labs for training students and testing health and fitness, metabolism, neurophysiology, and biomechanics
  • High-tech Bod Pod to measure body fat composition through air displacement
  • Biomechanics lab with motion capture technology, high-tech treadmill, and the use of force plates for movement analysis
  • Athletic training teaching laboratory
  • Interprofessional collaboration and meeting center
  • Communication Disorders teaching and research clinic where speech, language and hearing services will be provided to the community. All clinic rooms include adjoining observation areas for family members and/or student learners.
  • Audiology research lab with sound booths for hearing testing and services
  • Center for individuals with different abilities to have recreational opportunities that are supervised by graduate and undergraduate recreational therapy students
  • Department offices and research spaces for faculty and staff
  • Business presentation and collaboration classroom that seats 25 students
  • Demonstration kitchen classroom that seats 40 students and will be used by the Department of Public Health for teaching nutrition, food safety, and healthy food preparation
  • (2) 60-seat lecture halls that can be joined together to form a large auditorium

One of the largest grant awards Southern has ever received will directly benefit students who face educational or economic disadvantages.

The five-year, $2.18 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education, through its Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP), was spearheaded by Kathleen De Oliveira, director of the university’s Academic Success Center.

De Oliveira’s grant submission, “Promoting Educational Retention through Collaborative High-Impact Services,” or PERCHS (an acronym that nods at Southern’s mascot, Otus the owl), proposes one overall goal: to increase the success and retention of promising students who face educational or economic disadvantages and who will thrive with additional support.

“The opportunities this creates for impact on our students is amazing,” Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs, said. “We are really focusing on what holds students back, and we recognize that we have to get down to a more granular, student-by-student level. One-on-one points of connection are important and successful ways to help students persist.”

Students who face educational or economic disadvantages — notoriously called at-risk — constitute a growing portion of Southern’s population. Close to 40 percent of Southern’s undergraduate class receive federal Pell Grants, the most popular federal grant given primarily to low-income undergraduate students. And nearly 30 percent of students are food insecure, according to Jules Tetreault, dean of student affairs.

When students balance multiple jobs, or they’re worried about where their next meal will come from, or they are underprepared and don’t understand concepts in class, that prevents them from thriving academically; the PERCHS award aims to support those students in a multi-pronged, multi-faceted, multi-divisional approach.

“Funding started October 2019, and we hit the ground running,” De Oliveira said. “It’s kind of like we’re first responders. Whatever students need, we either help them or refer them to the right place.”

Bolstering the offerings of the Southern Success Center is just one of the PERCHS program’s approaches. Currently, the center encompasses the Academic Success Center, First Year Experience (FYE), New Student and Sophomore Programs, Career Services, and Academic Advising. Students use the center as a centralized hub, minimizing room for error and frustration when seeking university services such as academic or career help.

“The idea is to have a central location for students instead of sending them to multiple stops around campus,” De Oliveira said. “And if you don’t know where to go, come here and we’ll help you.”

The PERCHS program has four distinct goals when it comes to the Success Center: decrease the percentage of students with grades of D, F or W in key gateway courses; increase persistence rates for first-time, full-time freshmen; decrease the percentage of the student body with an overall GPA of 2.5 or lower; and increase student satisfaction with support services.

Within the center, the current Peer Academic Leaders Program (PALS), will be expanded.

“PALS focuses on many gateway/foundational courses, particularly in STEM,” De Oliveira said. “Unlike tutoring, which can be sporadic, PALS helps students understand material on a week-by-week basis, and the grant helps us increase our number of PALS to almost 60. We’ve seen students improve as much as a grade level with consistent help. This takes students on the cusp of success and brings them to solid footing.”

The number of academic success coaches will increase as well.

“For students on academic probation who consistently meet with coaches, their retention rate is 70 percent,” De Oliveira said. “This grant lets us add more coaches and see how to use them most strategically.”

On a broader level, the PERCHS grant allows for the creation of an Opportunity Center, a physical space that will house a food pantry, and a full-time and part-time position to support it. Though the pantry will give students immediate access to food, the center also will connect students to various types of assistance they might need.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the cost of higher education, but it’s mostly been centered on tuition,” Tetreault said. “The reality is the expenses of rent, childcare, food and books is very high, and that aid is shrinking, and it’s left a big population who can’t meet their basic living needs. The idea is to use the Opportunity Center as a hub to support these pieces. Can we help them and refer them? It’s all about connection points. We are a culture of support and care. We want to provide our students with access and success.”

De Oliveira added that the distribution of funds over five years enables the university to explore all of the objectives and analyze the outcomes so key players can hone in on what is sustainable and keep it going.

“It’s about finding the right keys, all with the goal to help students,” she said.

Ultimately, the efforts benefit everyone.

“We’re paying attention to things that higher ed hasn’t usually paid attention to,” Tetreault said. “If a student gets a degree, they’re more likely to give back to their community, to make a million dollars more over their lifetime, and they’re less likely to rely on social services. We’re just providing the right mechanisms of support, so students are equipped to thrive.”

 

Social Justice Community Award winners (clockwise from upper left): Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.; staff from SEOP; MaryJo Archambault, assistant professor of recreation, tourism, and sport management; graduate student Vanessa Parker; undergraduate student Jim D'Elia; and University Chaplain James Furlong

The Social Justice Community Awards honor individuals and groups for outstanding achievement in promoting diversity, inclusion, equity, and access at Southern and/or the community at large — and a demonstrated commitment to these goals through programs, projects, or partnerships.

These awards are presented annually in six categories, and the award winners are selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice in the spring of the academic year, following a call for nominations. Honorees receive a monetary award ($250 value for students; $500 value for faculty, staff, organizations and departments) and a certificate.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, the Social Justice Community Awards were awarded in the spring 2019 semester and included the following honorees:

Undergraduate Student Award

Jim D’Elia was nominated for the Top Owl Award before his graduation from the university in May with a degree in sports marketing. As an undergraduate at Southern, he was an active member in student organizations on campus that focus on disability awareness and advocacy and served in leadership roles within those organizations, which included Outreach Unlimited and the Autism Awareness club.

Known as an advocate for others, D’Elia planned and organized programs for Disability Awareness Month and throughout the year. He also contributed to programs that support populations that are underserved and in need — for example, he helped to organize the campus’ Stuff-a-Shuttle event, which collects donations of basic necessities such as food, clothing, and toiletries and delivers them to Saint Luke’s Church in New Haven. When he needed a summer job, instead of returning home to Wethersfield to find work, D’Elia stayed in New Haven to work with local children in a summer program at a school located near the SCSU campus.

D’Elia’s nominator said that in addition to getting involved in programs that help others, D’Elia also advocates for friends and classmates in social settings by making sure others do not feel left out based on differences.

His nominator wrote, “If one were to gather Jimmy’s friends and acquaintances in a room, you would need a very large room, as he is well liked and well respected by many. What you would also see in that room, is a very diverse group, as Jimmy makes friends with everyone. He has a natural ability to bring people together while encouraging action and social justice among his peers.”

D’Elia made the Dean’s List on several occasions during his years at Southern, according to his nominator.

Graduate Student Award

Vanessa Parker, who goes by “Parker,” graduated from the university in May with a Master of Arts degree in Women’s and Gender Studies, and was nominated for the Top Owl Award prior to her graduation.

While at Southern, Parker demonstrated exceptional leadership in bringing together both graduate and undergraduate students in raising awareness and inspiring action on social justice issues. She accomplished this via culturally focused programming that she conceived and implemented, and also via healing dialogue that she has initiated between student groups that were experiencing conflict.

Parker was elected president of the Kappa Chapter of Iota Iota Iota (Triota), the National Women’s Studies Association Student Honor Society, for the 2018–2019 academic year. In her capacity as president, she led the graduate and undergraduate members in developing an agenda committed to building a sense of a “service community” and leading the students in implementing the activities. For example, Parker organized, produced, and directed a campus presentation of The Vagina Monologues to raise funds for a crisis center. She also organized a campus-wide donation drive for basic care necessities for a local shelter. In her leadership roles in initiating and carrying out these community service activities, she inspired students by raising their moral consciousness on the needs of those who struggle with racial, gender, economic and social discrimination and disadvantages.

Parker was also the principal organizer for a campus presentation of a play written by Southern alumna Daisha Brabham, Homegoing: A Herstory of the Black Woman, which traces the experience of Black women from their African roots to their struggles in white-dominated cultures. Parker organized, advertised, and produced the play and led two post-play dialogues with audiences on racial unity.

One of Parker’s nominators wrote that she “seeks out opportunities to build bridges among different student constituencies on campus” and calls her “a natural healer, a gifted bridge-builder who employs all her education, skills, experiences and talents to bring people together and help them to interact with mutual dignity, respect, compassion, kindness, and civility.”

As a Graduate Assistant for the LGBTQIA Center and Women’s Center at Connecticut College, Parker worked to build community among students of gender and sexual diversity and to advocate for their rights to equal access, respect and equality in society.  Also, for her hometown of New London, Parker organized a donation drive for hair-care products for women of color who are suffering severe economic challenges and seeking help at New London shelters and charities.

As a graduate student in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Parker created a project, “Queering Healing Spaces Occupied by Black Womxn: A Queer Black Feminist Theory Multi-Media Project,” in which she highlighted the the role Black womxn (Black Cis, Queer, and Trans) have played in creating healing spaces in the United States since the 1600s. She did field work at Hearing Youth Voices (HYV), a student-led organization invested in creating systemic change in the education system.

After graduation Parker had planned to open a healing space for Black womxn in New London, Conn., her hometown, which would be the first in her area.

One of Parker’s nominators wrote, “I am very excited to recommend Vanessa Parker for the Social Justice Community Award and wholeheartedly support her candidacy. Her academic and professional pursuits along with her campus leadership indicate her commitment to community and social justice for all especially those of marginalized groups.”

Club Winner

The Omicron Theta chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated, actively engages with students at Southern through various events, personal interactions, and programs hosted. The chapter also reaches out to the New Haven community through volunteering during Thanksgiving food drives, March of Dimes and Breast Cancer Awareness walks, and working with the students of Lincoln-Bassett Community School.

The chapter — whose motto is motto is “Culture for Service, Service for Humanity” — commits to service in everything it does on campus and beyond. Its national philanthropy, March of Dimes, works to improve the health of mothers and babies. In New Haven, members speak to kids of all ages about college and their own experiences, welcome young students on their first days of school, and give various performances and shows at schools and after-school programs.

Phi Beta Sigma stands by the phrase of being the “inclusive we” rather than the “exclusive we” and lives by three principles: Brotherhood, Scholarship, and Service. On the Southern campus, the Omicron Theta chapter makes it a point to exemplify those principles. All current members of the chapter hold various positions on campus, in jobs and other club or organization commitments. With everyone involved in in different areas of the campus, the group’s nominator wrote, the chapter is better able to reach out to build relationships across the university.

Two years ago, Phi Beta Sigma collaborated with Beta Mu Sigma Fraternity for a program called the “Power of Privilege,” a panel discussion with four students and a faculty member. The program was part of Social Justice Month and aimed to raise students’ awareness of what privilege is and the different privileges people have because of their socioeconomic status, race, and gender. The chapter was recognized for this program and won an award with Beta Mu Sigma for best collaboration event of the year.

The chapter’s nominator wrote that “The brothers of the Omicron Theta Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated, have contributed to this campus their principles with the students of Southern. We support Southern’s mission of creating inclusive environments for everyone here, and we will continue to provide that for everyone throughout our civic engagements, events, and interactions with faculty and students. We are happy to be a part of the Southern community and give back where we can, share experiences, and keep the lively, exciting atmosphere of Southern thriving.”

Staff Winner

James Furlong provides a safe, welcoming atmosphere in the Interfaith Office at Southern. His nominator wrote that he shows care for students, demonstrates understanding, and “has a boundless empathy for students, faculty and staff.”

For the last 13 years, Furlong has led the university’s Newman Society (club) to annual alternative break trips to such places as New Orleans and Philadelphia, where he makes sure that students are exposed to social justice issues such as racial inequality, persistent homelessness and drug addiction. He not only exposes students to such issues, but guides them in reaching out to and being present in communities facing such issues.

He has helped organize a “Soup for Souls” event, to benefit food insecure students on campus and demonstrates a commitment to the well being of the Southern community by sponsoring monthly Chinese Luncheons, open to students seeking a meal. He also cares for the community around the university by bringing students to Saint Anne’s Soup Kitchen, a local New Haven soup kitchen, where he serves meals every week.

Furlong has organized an event, “Catholic Social Justice,” which helped students learn about social justice issues in a faith-based context. He has also worked with VPAS on a display about the plight of domestic workers in Connecticut, to encourage students to fight for the rights of these vulnerable workers.

His nominator wrote that Furlong shows a strong sense of openness, respect, and solidarity with the different faith communities on campus, offering a home and friend for all students following their conscience and regularly reaching out to help all the faith organizations on campus. He also is known to, as part of his daily routine, walk around the upper levels of the Adanti Student Center where he works, greeting faculty and staff with a warm smile.

Finally, Furlong’s nominator wrote, Furlong is “a true blue Southern Owl. He has endless pride in Southern, always carrying the school’s values with him and rooting for the school’s sports teams.”

Faculty Winner

MaryJo Archambault was described by her nominator as going “above and beyond in all she does in and out of the classroom, with the utmost fairness, compassion and integrity.” The Social Justice Faculty Community Award recognizes a faculty member who incorporates diverse values in the classroom, curriculum and/ or research; displays a commitment to diverse cultures, religions, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and other areas of inclusion and perspective; makes the classroom accessible for and supportive of diverse learning styles; engages in equity, diversity and inclusion efforts in the campus community; uses innovative teaching methods to support students with special learning needs; and/or mentors underrepresented students or diverse populations of students, faculty and/or staff. The awardee receives $500, which can go to their department or to professional development funds.

Recognizing a gap in service delivery for persons with disabilities, Archambault has been instrumental in the development of the Institute for Adapted Sports and Inclusive Recreation. Reflective of her research and areas of interest, the institute provides programming opportunities, education experiences, and advocacy services for individuals with disabilities, and conducts research and evaluation relating to adaptive sports and inclusive recreation.

Archambault has been active in applying for research- and program-related grants and has been awarded over $45,000 in grant dollars over the course of the past four-plus years. Most noteworthy, she along with a colleague serve as the co-project directors for a $38,000 grant awarded to Southern by the Office of Veteran’s Affairs in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of providing or facilitating the provision of adaptive sport opportunities for disabled veterans.

Archambault also provides exemplary service to the department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management; the School of Health and Human Services; and to the University through her active and varied involvement in numerous committees and board memberships. In addition, she engages in numerous student recruitment activities.

Department Winner

SEOP focuses on providing access to diverse groups of students. The program is committed to recruiting and retaining underrepresented populations on Southern’s campus. SEOP promotes equity and diversity as well as opportunity and success. This program also hires students who have successfully completed the program, adding to the diversity of the campus workforce and providing even more opportunity to those students to gain work experience.

Congratulations to all of the awardees!

 

Southern Connecticut State University’s nursing program hit the half century mark this year, and the future looks exceptionally bright. The program has maintained its commitment to nurse education and excellence – its pass rates are near perfect – and can now add expansion to its roster, as the university will soon break ground on a building that will serve the Nursing Department and other health-related programs.

Nursing alumni, faculty, students, and university officials will have the chance to come together to celebrate this week at “50 Years of Nursing Excellence – Looking Back as We Look Forward.” Dr. Leslie Mancuso, ’78, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and chief executive officer of Jhpiego, an international nonprofit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, is the keynote speaker.

“It is a true milestone,” said Lisa Rebeschi, BS ‘84, and MS ‘91, former associate professor and chair of the Nursing Department.* “[In 1969] we started with just 13 students. The difference we are making to state healthcare field and in nurse education is drastically different than it was 50 years ago. Certainly, we’ve come a long way.”

One of the staples of the program, since inception, has been its quality of excellence.

“The Nursing Department takes great pride in the quality of education that they provide,” said Dr. Sandra Bulmer, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Southern. “Students are both going to be prepared to practice nursing on day one and be able to pass the NCLEX-RN, the National Council Licensure Examination, on the first try. Consistent accreditation is another marker of the high quality.”

Growth and evolution have played key roles in the program’s success as well. When the nursing program was established in 1969, it consisted of a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program. The program now includes a bachelor’s degree program with two admission pathways, an accelerated career entry (ACE) program for those with a BS or BA in another discipline, and an RN-to-BS completion program.

In 1985, Southern added graduate MSN programs that allow students to choose from one of three tracks: Nursing Education, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Clinical Nurse Leader; students who already have an MSN can enter certificate programs in any of these three areas. And in fall 2012, Southern added an EdD in nursing education in collaboration with Western Connecticut State University. It’s one of the few doctoral programs in nursing education in the United States.

Across the board, pass rates for programs are stellar: The NCLEX-RN first-time pass rate for the 2018 graduates from the traditional program was 100 percent. The NCLEX-RN first-time pass rate of 2018 graduates from the ACE program was 97 percent. Ninety-two percent of MSN graduates passed their FNP (family nurse practitioner) certification exam on their first attempt.

“The range of degrees is across the spectrum,” Bulmer said. “Our interdisciplinary curriculum is developed to be the core in innovation in the way we educate; we train our own nurse educators to go out and train.” Added Rebeschi, “We literally train from bedside to practitioner.”

More growth looms on the horizon: Southern is about to break ground on a new building that will serve the Nursing Department. The building will feature increased, dedicated space for practice-based learning, lab rooms for hands-on instruction, and a simulation center.

“There will be one high-fidelity lab with computerized high-tech mannequins, known as Sim Man, and video capture,” Bulmer said. “It mimics the floor of a hospital with a medical station and nursing station, and different patient rooms. Students will encounter real-life situations. Students will be debriefed, which gives them the opportunity to see what they’re doing right and wrong. It’s a highly effective way to train.”

In addition to the high-tech Sim Man — some of these mannequins talk and can even give birth — the program will use patient actors, guided by scripts, in realistic “doctor’s rooms” and a home simulation room that will mimic home visits.

Of course, growth comes with a price tag. Technology is expensive, as is the manpower to manage it. Opportunities for clinical sites, which are heavily supervised and monitored, are taxed as well. But the program’s 50-year evolution always has been guided by keeping a close ear to the needs of the local healthcare system, so the program will keep doing what it’s been doing all along: innovate.

“Southern is a leader in preparing the next generation of academic nurse educators,” said Cheryl Resha, chairperson and professor, Nursing Department. “We have accomplished and talented faculty who have authored books, chapters, articles in peer-reviewed journals, and practice guidelines. SCSU’s faculty is dedicated to evidence-based practice and is committed to ensuring students are educated on the most up-to-date evidence.”

Bulmer added, “Everyone does a great job training nurses in Connecticut, but we provide access and opportunity and produce a workforce that’s diverse. There’s a need for nurses of color and doctors and nurses of diverse income to serve their counterparts. We want to help healthcare diversify its workforce and to grow our capacity to serve students and Connecticut.”

“The future,” Bulmer said, “is incredible.”

*Rebeschi is currently Associate Dean, School of Nursing, Quinnipiac University.

Alumna wins the "Oscars of Teaching," becoming the first Milken Educator Award recipient of the 2019-20 season.

A group of students come in for a group hug to support their award-winning teacher.
Excited students swarm Sepulveda for a group hug. Photo: Milken Family Foundation

Social studies teacher Lauren Sepulveda, ’10, entered the gym prepared for an upbeat but typical morning assembly at Clinton Avenue School in New Haven. Instead she received the surprise of a lifetime when her name was announced as the first recipient of the 2019-20 Milken Education Award and its $25,000 prize. Watch Sepulveda receive the award.

Hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards are designed to “celebrate, elevate, and activate the American teaching profession.” It is not a lifetime achievement award. Instead, the recipients are recognized for exceptional mid-career achievements — and the promise of what they might accomplish given the resources provided with the award.

Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, made the presentation to a shocked Sepulveda in front of a cheering crowd of students, colleagues, and local and state officials. “Lauren Sepulveda brings history to life by demonstrating how past events have shaped our nation, world, and people today. Students develop a greater understanding of the responsibilities as global citizens and lifelong learners,” said Foley.

Sepulveda, who earned a B.S. in history 7-12 at Southern is the sole award recipient in Connecticut. Nationwide, no more than 40 educators will be honored during the 2019-20 season.

Sepulveda, who teaches seventh and eighth grade, was lauded for efforts to help her students become global thinkers and empathetic citizens. In her classroom, students have met guest speakers who share personal stories of their experiences during World War II, the Korean War, and the Rwandan genocide. Another assignment challenged students to review coverage of the Revolutionary War in their text books — and determine whose perspectives were missing. The students next drafted a new chapter that included the stories of significant minorities. Sepulveda then helped the students submit their work to the text book publisher for consideration for the next edition.

In addition to the cash prize, the award includes networking and mentoring components. Sepulveda will join the other 2019-20 honorees at an all-expenses-paid trip to the Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, to connect with other educational trailblazers. In addition, each 2019 recipient will be paired with a veteran Milken Educator mentor.