(Above: Lewis J. DeLuca, Jr., coordinator of Student Financial Literacy and Advising, advises students on financial literacy.)
What if your college education included learning how to manage your finances, including student loan debt? At Southern, students are able to take advantage of the Student Financial Literacy and Advising program, which helps them do just that. Financial literacy initiatives have become popular on college campuses in large part because of the inflated expenses required to attend these institutions. Like Southern, many schools now offer workshops, courses, one-on-one consultations, and incentivizing programs to teach students to become fiscally responsible.
The website LendEDU has released its annual Top 50 Financial Literacy Programs report, and Southern made the list for the second year in a row. After analyzing more than a thousand colleges and universities based on LendEDU’s unique scoring system, LendEDU placed Southern in the top 50, at #29.
LendEDU is a marketplace for private student loans, student loan refinancing, credit cards, and personal loans, among other financial products. LendEDU’s goal is to create transparency in these markets to help consumers make educated decisions and better manage their money. It annually compiles a ranking of the 50 best financial literacy programs offered at colleges throughout the United States, looking at hundreds of colleges and universities that are known to have a financial literacy program.
According to LendEDU’s assessment of Southern’s financial literacy program, the university’s financial literacy website “has an impressive collection of financial literacy resources and tools. Besides offering one-on-one financial literacy consultations and presentations, Southern Connecticut State University offers customized financial planning sessions with individual students. Individual financial plans can be created for each student according to their financial situation and academic goals.” To date, over 2039 individual financial plans for Southern students have been created and aligned with academic goals for timely degree completion.
Learn more about Southern’s Financial Literacy and Advising Program.
It’s a three-peat for Southern’s business students in the Connecticut Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC).
The team of Paige Decker, Tyler Fedak and Mike Sullivan earned first-place honors recently to mark the third consecutive year in which an SCSU trio triumphed in the event. Student teams from Connecticut colleges and universities presented business and investment plans for hypothetical companies, which were evaluated by investment industry professionals. The program was held at Gateway Community College.
Connecticut is the only state with its own VCIC competition, according to Mike Roer, president of the Entrepreneurship Foundation Inc., which sponsors the statewide event. On the basis of its victory, the SCSU team advances to the New England Regional Finals in Boston on Feb. 24. Southern will compete against schools such as Boston University, Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania), Yale University, Cornell University, and Babson College. In addition to retaining the Connecticut team trophy, the team also earned $1,000 for travel expenses to the Northeast Regional competition.
“The consistent professionalism and courage of the Southern team speaks well of the acumen and state-of-the-art curricula of the (academic) Finance Department and School of Business,” Roer said. “The Entrepreneurship Foundation is proud to support the SCSU contingent by underwriting the entry fee and providing a travel stipend.”
Benjamin Abugri, chairman of the SCSU Economics and Finance Department, said he was proud of the students.
“As business faculty, we all celebrate the impactful achievement of our students and their two faculty advisers, Drs. Han Yu and Dave Tyson,” Abugri said. “Winning the trophy three consecutive times, taking the Connecticut State trophy for keeps at the SCSU Business School and advancing to a regional final for the second time as state representatives are historic achievements.”
Roer explained that under the rules of the VCIC program, the first team to win three competitions gets to keep the team trophy. A new one will be purchased for future competitions.
Decker said she learned much from participating in the event. “This competition was a great real world experience for my fellow classmates and me,” she said. “We were able to be venture capitalists for the day, judging startup ideas from various local colleges. We won the competition and had a lot of fun participating.”
Southern will provide residential leadership scholarships that cover housing expenses for 10 incoming New Haven Promise scholars beginning next fall.
The selected students — known as Promise Community Ambassadors — will provide mentorship and outreach to Southern’s New Haven Promise scholars and high school students in the New Haven Public Schools. To date, SCSU has had more New Haven Promise scholars (339) than any other university. To be eligible, students will be able to indicate interest and submit an essay on the New Haven Promise senior application. In addition, they will be instructed to supply a letter of recommendation.
“At Southern we are committed to academic excellence, access, social justice, and service for the public good,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino. “As part of this mission, it is vital that we support our home community by providing educational opportunities and pathways to academic and personal success for New Haven students.”
University officials — in collaboration with New Haven Promise — will select the recipients of the residential leadership scholarships.
“We are thankful to Southern for providing this deep leadership development opportunity designed to support our many scholars at the university and for those students to give back to New Haven Public Schools,” said New Haven Promise President Patricia Melton. “This immersion into campus life is guaranteed to provide voice and agency for our scholars and we are proud that Southern has committed to that.”
New Haven Promise Community Ambassadors will participate in the Freshman Leadership Experience (FLEX) program, a six-week leadership experience beginning in August of their first semester, which will prepare them to serve in their campus and community roles. Ambassadors will explore their leadership potential, participate in meaningful leadership experiences, interact with current student leaders, faculty and staff, and discuss topics impacting students. The program commitment will last the entire academic year.
Ten Southern students recently received prestigious internships or full-time positions with Deloitte. Yes, we’re counting!
It’s the Holy Grail for many accounting students: a position with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG — widely recognized as the largest professional services networks in the world. In 2016, they earned a combined revenue of $128.2 billion through work in auditing, advising, consulting, tax services, and more.
Deloitte is the largest of the Big Four in terms of revenue ($36.8 billion in 2016) and number of employees (244,400) — the latter figure receiving a boost from a growing number of Owls who recently joined Deloitte’s Stamford, Conn., office as interns and full-time employees.
“Once I became an accounting major, my only goal was to work for a Big Four firm. The goal now is specifically [to become] a partner at Deloitte,” says Kayla Seminoro, ’17, who graduated from Southern with a degree in business administration and a concentration in accounting. In September, she moved closer to realizing that dream, joining Deloitte as an audit assistant after interning there.
Her interest in accounting came relatively late in her college career. After transferring from Central Connecticut State University, she took her first college-level business course at Southern — an accounting class taught by Janet Phillips, professor of accounting and chair of the department. Several years later, Phillips recommended that Seminoro apply for an internship with Deloitte.
“The best advertisement for Southern’s accounting program is definitely our students,” says Phillips. Her confidence in Seminoro was well placed. After interviewing online and in person, she was selected for the highly competitive internship, which began at Deloitte University, The Leadership Center, a 700,000-square foot training facility in West Lake, Texas. She was then assigned to a client-team, receiving extensive real-world experience. “Deloitte values the importance of networking and making genuine connections with the professionals around you. This is one of my favorite aspects about both the firm and my internship experience,” says Seminoro.
Such positive feedback is icing on the cake for Lori Charlton, a partner at Deloitte based in its Stamford, Conn., office. Southern flashed on Charlton’s radar screen several years ago when she was working with an especially talented young colleague. “I asked her where she went to school, and she said Southern,” she says.
Soon after, Deloitte made its first campus presentation. “We had a very good turnout. The students were well-dressed and well-prepared, with resumes in hand. They asked great questions and were very enthusiastic,” says Charlton. “The faculty also came, showing a lot of support for their students and for us being there.”
In September 2017, Deloitte made its fourth campus visit — and many Southern students now know a classmate who’s interned or become an employee there. “They’ve been terrific,” says Charlton of the students and alumni who’ve received offers in both the audit and tax practices. “They interviewed very well and were very competitive. . . . It’s been a great success from my perspective. We’re really encouraged by our partnership with the university and want to keep the relationship going.”
Deloitte rates first among accounting companies for formal training, according to Vault, which annually ranks firms on numerous criteria. The services provider also finished among the leaders in the “prestige” and the overall accounting categories.
Muhamad Chowdhury, ’16, knew of Deloitte’s reputation. Before graduating in December, he’d explored different career options, including a potential winter internship with the organization. But after an in-depth interview process, Deloitte offered him a full-time position as an audit assistant in financial services. He started in January 2017.
His success comes after a period of intense struggle. In 2014, Chowdhury was a full-time junior at the University of Connecticut, among the first generation in his family to attend college. His parents both immigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S., where they built a successful life operating several Subway franchises in the Wallingford and New Haven areas. Then the family patriarch became seriously ill. Chowdhury left UConn, returning home to help run the family business. He also enrolled at Southern — working full time, attending school full time, and commuting. “It came out of a difficult situation, but I have to say it was the best decision I ever made,” he says.
At Southern, he majored in business administration with a concentration in economics — a program he says develops a comprehensive understanding of the business world. He also volunteered with the campus VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, which helps those with low-incomes, disabilities, and limited English. “My career is not in taxation, but the knowledge and experience I gained translate to any business environment,” he says of the program overseen by Frank Bevvino, associate professor of accounting.
Today, things are looking up. His father has recovered, and Chowdhury’s transition to Deloitte has been remarkably smooth. “After working for Deloitte for six months, I can absolutely say that this was the right decision for me. It’s been priceless in terms of the experience and many benefits,” he says.
Lubna Sparks, ’17, also transferred to Southern — and says her interest in Deloitte peaked after the organization made a presentation to the SCSU Accounting Society. After interning at the company last year, she’s been offered a full-time position. But she asked to remain an intern while preparing for her examinations to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) — a request Deloitte honored.
A fellow graduate of the Class of 2017, Louis Signor is preparing for his CPA examinations as well. It’s a welcome development for the talented alumnus who had worked at Home Depot for about six years when, in 2016, his position as an asset manager was eliminated.
“I’m not a typical student,” says Signor, who graduated from Southern at the age of 29. He’d attended Utica College right after high school, but didn’t return after his first year. Instead, responding to his father’s request to “get a job,” Signor applied at Home Depot — and steadily moved up the corporate ladder. Armed only with a high school degree, he ultimately found himself overseeing asset protection for all stores in the Norwalk, Conn., and New York Metro area — a market grossing $105 million.
“At the age of 24, I had a really good job making much more money than I thought would be possible,” says Signor. A watercooler conversation with coworkers changed his perspective. “The general consensus was that they felt stuck. They were paid well. It wasn’t a bad situation, but they didn’t have alternatives,” he says. He began attending Southern part-time, using Home Depot’s tuition reimbursement benefits. Then in August 2016, Home Depot underwent a corporate restructuring and his position was eliminated. Signor took the compensation package and, as a Southern senior, began attending the university fulltime for the first time ever.
In May 2017, Signor became the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating magna cum laude. He interviewed with six employers and received five job offers — including one from Deloitte. He started in September.
Deloitte consistently earns top ratings for its formal training program, a benefit experienced firsthand by a growing number of Owls, including four who participated in coveted summer internships in 2017. The interns — all business administration majors with a concentration in accounting — are students Luke Velez, Lyman DePriest, and Brooke Davis, and alumnus Nicholas Intino, ’17.
Velez and DePriest completed Deloitte’s Discovery Internship, with time spent exploring two company functions — audit and tax services. The hands-on learning kicked off at Deloitte University, the Leadership Center, in West Lake, Texas, where they connected with other high-achieving students from around the U.S.
“Before heading to Deloitte University, I heard so much about it that my expectations were through the roof. . . . Those expectations were met,” says DePriest.
During one team-building exercise, the students were placed in groups and challenged to develop a presentation. DePriest’s team took first place out of 25, earning an assortment of Deloitte gear. The victory was particularly sweet for DePriest. His team’s presentation focused on a startup mobile application that he is developing (myhypeeye.com) — Here Are Your Parties and Events Everywhere.
Looking forward, there is certainly a lot to celebrate. After completing their summer 2017 internships, Intino and Davis received offers to join Deloitte’s audit practice. Meanwhile, Deloitte’s Discovery Internship will continue for DePriest and Velez. Both chose audit as their area of focus and are invited to intern with Deloitte again: Velez in summer 2018 and DePriest in the winter. “It’s a very unique experience because it allows you to get a glimpse of both aspects of accounting to possibly steer your career decision-making before you graduate,” says DePriest.
Southern senior Yenny Bayas, who interned with Deloitte in the winter of 2017, agrees, noting the experience confirmed her career aspirations. Although she’s wanted to study business since high school, she was unsure what specialization to select. But she loved her accounting classes — and a trip to a major European accounting conference with Robert J. Kirsch, professor of accounting, and three other Southern students cemented the deal. Southern was the only college or university from the U.S. at the event. “That’s where I really fell in love with accounting,” says Bayas. “But my internship at Deloitte made that even clearer.”
Like the others who won internships after completing several rounds of interviews, Bayas is a hard-working, high-achieving student. She — and classmate Velez — are School of Business ambassadors, two of only nine in the selective leadership program. At the age of 23, she has also been a licensed realtor for several years. In sum, Bayas — a native of Ecuador and a first-generation college student — is no stranger to a challenging workload. Still, she concedes that her Deloitte internship, conducted during the busy tax season, was very intense at times. “I loved the challenge,” she says.
In terms of a future career, she says being an accountant who specializes in real estate would combine her passions. But she’s also drawn to audit services. “I like that you are with a team and that you are investigating,” says Bayas. “You see the financial statements, think about the facts and numbers, and combine them into the story to make sure it all makes sense. I discovered that I really enjoyed that at Deloitte — and that’s one of the things I loved most about my internship.”
This summer, two groups of Southern students — one studying special education, and the other, public health — traveled extensively in rural Guatemala during a two-week short-course abroad. Journeying together, while learning in two separate courses, participants from both groups explored the colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala, and its surrounding pueblos; Mayan villages in the country’s central highlands, including breathtaking Lake Atitlán, the caldera of an ancient volcano; and the lush jungle rainforest at Tikal National Park, site of vast archaeological ruins.
Students enrolled in the special education course, led by Dr. Kara Faraclas of the Department of Special Education and Reading, visited a variety of schools and programs for persons with disabilities, and met their inspiring founders and directors. Public health students, led by Dr. William Faraclas of the Department of Public Health, explored health program and facilities and engaged other providers of health services in Guatemala, including shamans and traditional birth attendants. The use of field guides developed especially for the two programs — the Quest for Understanding for public health students, and the Field Guide for the Journey for the special education group — fostered the interaction of students with people in the communities they visited, as students sought and analyzed information provided by cultural informants, used to compose essays for their field guides and perform community assessments.
During their time abroad, participants in both courses distributed greatly needed supplies they had carried from the United States. Students in the special education course provided materials to support the work of teachers of students with disabilities, and those in the public health course presented greatly needed medical supplies to health clinics. Accentuating and complementing the academic experience, students in both courses spent a day with an indigenous Mayan family, hiked to outlying villages, climbed ancient pyramids, sighted monkeys and toucans in the wild, and observed smoke and fire from an active volcano.
Both courses focused on an underlying theme of culture as a way to prepare teachers, health practitioners and participating students from other disciplines to work effectively with an increasingly diverse population in the United States and for opportunities in other countries. Several past enrollees were accepted into the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, and this year’s students in both courses reported gaining from their experiences in Guatemala a new understanding of how their studies at Southern would enable them to work globally or at home to help alleviate suffering and promote social justice.
Planning for next summer’s trip is underway, and graduate and undergraduate students in all majors are welcome to participate. For information, contact:
David Levine, chairman of Southern’s Art Department and an expert on art history, has been selected for one of the most prestigious faculty awards within the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.
The state Board of Regents for Higher Education on Tuesday bestowed Levine with the title of Connecticut State University Professor. Southern, Central, Western and Eastern Connecticut State universities each can have up to three such professors. It is awarded in recognition of excellence in the areas of creative activity (research), teaching and service, and includes a peer review process.
Levine fills an SCSU vacancy left by the recent retirement of Joseph Solodow, professor of world languages and literatures. He joins Vivian Shipley, professor of English, and Terrell Ward Bynum, professor of philosophy, as SCSU’s contingent of CSU Professors.
“During his long and distinguished career at Southern, (Levine) has received international acclaim as a scholar, in particular for his research on the Dutch and Flemish artists working in Rome during the Baroque era,” said SCSU President Joe Bertolino in his nomination letter. “His particular interest is in investigating the political dimensions of Dutch painting and the cultural competition with Italy.”
Troy Paddock, chairman of the CSU Professor Advisory Committee, said the committee concluded that Levine met or exceeded the standard of excellence required for consideration in each of the three criteria.
“Dr. Levine’s most significant research has been a new interpretation of the bambocciata, an anti-heroic genre painting style invented by Dutch artists in Rome,” Paddock wrote. “His work has been singularly responsible for a reassessment of the work of these figures.
“To redefine a field is no small achievement. He has co-edited or co-authored three books and written 17 articles, essays or book chapters. He has presented papers in North America and Europe.”
Paddock said Levine’s departmental colleagues and students hold him in high esteem. One former student, Laura Macaluso, wrote: “(Levine) changed my life when he opened his door to me 25 years ago. He was, I now realize, the first art historian I ever met, which means that my path might have been quite different if he had not been all the things he is: kind and warm, quietly brilliant yet at ease with laughter, humble, and genuinely interested in people.”
Paddock added that Levine’s service to the university has been exemplary. “Dr. Levine has served on every committee in the Art Department,” he said. “He played a leading role in establishing the Judaic Studies minor and has served as its coordinator on two different occasions. He is also a valued member of the Honors College and has served on numerous university-wide committees.”
New students moved in today and we asked them how they were feeling.
Hometown: Suffield, CT
“I’m excited and a little nervous to be moving in, but am also looking forward to meeting new people.”
Hometown: Seekonk, MA
“I’m excited to be moving in today and to be part of the gymnastics team.”
Hometown: Enfield, CT
“This is the start of a new era!”
Hometown: Milford, CT
“This is the beginning of a brand new journey!”
Hometown: Meriden and transfer from Springfield College
“New year, new school”
“Wondering if I’ll have room for everything! And I’m excited about meeting new people and learning about the school and nursing department.”
Hometown: Wilton, CT
“Am excited to decorate my room and meet my new roommate!”
“I’m looking forward to majoring in business administration.”
Hometown: Sandy Hook, CT
“I’m excited to start this journey on the path to the rest of my life.”
“I’d like to be wealthy and this is the start!”
Hometown: New Britain
“Am excited for new opportunities and will be studying nursing.”
“I’m excited to be here on the track team — I’m a pole vaulter, and will be majoring in exercise science.”
Nikolas Strickland (photographed with his sister, Kiah, SCSU ‘19)
Hometown: Montville, CT
“I’m excited to be here on the track team – I’m a sprinter.”
“Looking forward to a new beginning!”
Hometown: Old Saybrook
“Excited to start my life here and be in a new environment.
“Looking forward to a fresh start!”
“Hoping the freshman 15 isn’t true, and excited to be studying social work!”
Hometown: Ledyard, CT
“Strive for greatness! Am happy to be a sprinter on the track team!”
Hometown: New Milford, CT
“Excited to meet new people and study psychology!”
Hometown: Barkhamsted, CT
“I’m excited to live on campus and meet new friends!”
Hometown: Southington, CT
“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.” George R.R. Martin
Hometown: Southington, CT
“Excited to start the journey of my life!”
Hometown: East Hartford, but originally from Ghana
“Everything happens for a reason, and I’m excited to be here and meet new people.”
Hometown: Manchester, CT
“I’m ready to achieve my goals!”
Hometown: Wallingford, CT
“I’m excited to start college and get a nursing degree!”
Hometown: Canterbury, CT
“I can’t wait to start classes and will study athletic training. Am also on the cross country and track teams.”
Hometown: Bristol, CT
“I’m excited to be part of the honors college and hope to study secondary education and history.”
Hometown: Niantic, CT
“I’m excited to be pursuing higher education and will study special education.
Hometown: West Haven
“I can’t wait for track and to get involved in clubs and different organizations. On the track team, I run the hurdles and short sprints, and I hope to major in political science.”
Hometown: West Haven
“I’m excited to study nursing and contribute to my community.”
Hometown: New Haven
“I’m excited to start a new chapter of my life.”
“I’m looking forward to studying nursing and am excited to experience new things!”
“I’m excited to be part of such a welcoming community!”
Hometown: East Hartford
“Looking forward to being part of the honors college!”
“I’m excited to start classes and also be part of the honors college!”
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.
The 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.”
President Joe Bertolino shares thoughts on Southern, how he came to the university, and the life-changing power of Camp Ockanickon.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Compassionate. Kind. Collaborative. Relationship focused.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
— This article was featured in Southern Alumni Magazine, Spring 2017