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social justice

First graduate of 2020 Charles Vaughn with SCSU President Joe Bertolino, Provost Robert Prezant, and Vuaghn family

If there’s one constant in Charles Vaughn’s life, it’s this: learning. If you ask him, in fact, what his favorite part of his 14-year college journey has been, he says, frankly, “I was there to learn.”

Nothing more, nothing less.

But the truth is, there is so much more — and nothing less — to the 35-year-old’s quest to become a college graduate.

Charles’ journey certainly wasn’t a solitary one, as evidenced by the crowd in attendance as Joe Bertolino, Southern Connecticut State University president, and Robert S. Prezant, provost and vice president for academic affairs, conferred upon Charles a bachelor’s degree in General Studies in a special Jan. 13 ceremony. Along with Charles’ parents, Robert and Laurajean, and his brothers, Robert and David, several of Charles’ special education teachers and family friends watched as he proudly accepted his degree.

“The true test of success is persistence,” Bertolino remarked. “Charles, you have taken your own path.”

An autism diagnosis at a young age wasn’t typical in the ‘90s, but after watching the movie Rain Man, Charles’ father, Robert, thought Charles, who was five at the time, might be on the spectrum. He and Laurajean had had their suspicions, but the movie struck a nerve.

They visited the Yale Child Studies Clinic when Charles was five and a half years old and got the confirmation they were seeking: Charles was, in fact, autistic.

Thus began a lifelong association with the clinic, where Charles has been on the forefront of many of its research protocols, such as EEG studies, facial recognition, structural and functional MRI, and social learning. The diagnosis also began a life-long journey with education. Though the resources for children with autism weren’t as widespread or progressive during Charles’ childhood as they are today, taking Charles out of school was never an option because, as Laurajean says, “He’s a learner. He deserved a chance, like anyone else.”

Charles repeated kindergarten, then grade one with a special education teacher, then attended grades two through six in the Wallingford public school system in a self-contained classroom, where a special education teacher was responsible for the instruction of all academic subjects. He joined his classmates for subjects such as gym, physical education, and science, which he excelled at.

“Charles loves astronomy, science and technology. He reads Scientific American and watches the Discovery channel,” Robert says. “There was a lot of Star Trek and Star Wars at our house. And our family is big into computers and gaming.”

After sixth grade, Charles was mainstreamed — the practice of placing students with special education services in a general education classroom during specific time periods based on their skills — with an aid.

According to Laurajean, “Seventh and eighth were tough years.” Charles struggled with the social component and stimulation. From grade nine to age 21, he studied at Whitney High School East ACES. (Area Cooperative Educational Services, or ACES, offers Applied Behavior Analysis-based programs in various schools throughout Connecticut that serve students with autism and other developmental disorders.)

First graduate of 2020 Charles Vaughn with SCSU President Joe BertolinoWhen he aged out of the program, Robert and Laurajean knew Charles’ education needn’t end just because school did.

“He was interested in everything,” Laurajean says. “He is a voracious reader. We never had to tell him to study. Why shouldn’t he keep going?”

“It’s true,” Robert says. “In this one class, the teacher would always ask a stumper question on the first day and no one had ever answered it. And then Charles did.”

In 2006, Charles enrolled part-time at Gateway Community College. When asked about making the transition to college, Charles nonchalantly says, “It was fine. I’m a workaholic.”

Alongside school, he worked various part-time jobs. His favorites were office jobs, such as data programming, because he “didn’t get messy” and because they weren’t physically taxing. (Like many others with autism, Charles suffers from low muscle tone, which limits his gross and fine motor skills.)

When at home, Charles continued to enjoy his favorite past-times: conducting research on the internet and spending time with his family. He scheduled his classes in the afternoon so he had his mornings free for homework and reading.

Charles studied at Gateway for seven years, eventually earning an associate’s degree in 2013.

Still, there was another goal; a bachelor’s degree. In 2014, Charles transferred part-time to Southern, choosing to major in General Studies. His brother Robert attended at the same time, though the two didn’t share classes.

At Southern, Charles has enjoyed the welcoming environment and the peaceful nature of the large campus. His favorite spot was Buley Library.

“It was nice and quiet,” he says.

The demands of his degree were challenging at times, like the time he had to read four books simultaneously for homework — “That was tough,” he says — but there was never any doubt that he would keep going.

“We are particularly proud of Charles,” Laurajean says. “His determination to finish has been inspiring. He’s going to be a lifelong learner and Southern really helped him. It’s a testament to Southern and its diversity. Everyone truly is welcome here.”

Asked if there’s anything he wants to add, Charles says, “That’s it. I’m done.”

Really though, he’s just getting started.

First graduate of 2020 Charles Vaughn with SCSU President Joe Bertolino and Provost Robert Prezant

The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.

This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, is being awarded this academic year during the months of November, December, January, February, and March to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of December 2019, the Top Owl Award winners are student Molly Flanagan, staff member Britt Conroy, and Cheryl Green, associate professor of nursing.

Molly Flanagan is a senior Honors student majoring in interdisciplinary studies who conducted two events for Social Justice Month this past November. The first event was an open discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion within the visual and performing arts communities. Flanagan gathered a panel of professionals from Long Wharf Theatre, Yale School of Drama, Collective Consciousness Theatre, Elm Shakespeare, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, and other local arts companies to discuss issues and current initiatives around social justice in arts administration and programming. Flanagan also organized a second event, “Voices of Immigration,” where she invited SCSU faculty, students, and members of the Ethnic Heritage Center to address their experiences of immigration to the United States from historical, sociological, political, and personal perspectives. Flanagan’s nominator wrote, “The event was a safe space for open discussion and embraced all with a relationship to or experiences with immigration in the U.S. — a completely important topic right now. I could not get over how one student, probably bombarded with classes and work, put together these two important events all on her own. I believe [Flanagan] should be recognized for her efforts as I don’t know many students that would want to do something like this in their spare time.”

Britt Conroy, who works in the First Year Experience office, is a veteran who leads yoga and meditation sessions for veteran students and also offers these experiences for staff and faculty members of the third floor of Buley Library, where her office is located. Her nominator, who also works on Buley’s third floor, wrote that she observes Conroy “consistently comforting and encouraging a population of students who are academically at risk for many different reasons and obstacles, some of which are out of their control completely. She provides a safe space for students and community members daily in her work. Britt does this additionally to her role in the FYE office. Britt helps to make the third floor of the library a place where each and every individual matters and feels just as important as the next. We are really lucky to have her as part of the Southern family.”

As a licensed clinical social worker, Associate Professor of Nursing Cheryl Green is one of the founding members of the National Association of Social Worker’s first Cultural Diversity Committee in the state of Connecticut. Through this committee, at a legislative level, Green and her social work colleagues have supported legislation on LGBTQ Health and Social Work Title rights, and transfer of licensure from state to state. As a registered nurse, Green is published in the area of incivility and bullying in clinical practice and academic settings. She is also participating in the writing of a white paper on equity with National Education in Nursing Collaborative (NEPIN). Her nominator wrote that “civility and equity are important in the development of healthy environments that do not just talk about social justice, but live it.”

Congratulations to December’s Top Owl Award winners!

To nominate someone for a Top Owl Award, visit the university’s Social Justice website.

 

Ms. Lula Mae White's mugshot, from when she was arrested in 1961 as a Freedom Rider

Lula Mae White, a Freedom Rider who was a longtime resident of Hamden and New Haven, died in September at age 80. Ms. White’s family invites the public to attend a memorial for her on Sunday afternoon, December 15, 2019, from 2-5 p.m. in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom. In addition to other speakers at the memorial, Journalism Professor Frank Harris III will be taking part, showing a short documentary on Ms. White that he made based on an interview he did with her several years ago.

The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 and subsequent years to challenge non-enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. In 1961, as a 22-year-old University of Chicago graduate student, Ms. White became one of 300-400 individuals to risk life and limb to ride the buses in the South to test the law that was supposed to provide for integrated transportation facilities in America. She was arrested and spent time in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Prison. The efforts of the Freedom Riders led to the integration and removal of the “colored” and “white” signs that used to dominate the landscape in America’s South.

Photo courtesy of New Haven Register

A new Haven native, Ms. White attended Hillhouse High School, class of 1956, and earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in history with honors from the University of Chicago. She went on to teach history for over 28 years at the former Lee High School in New Haven. She was recognized by the Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2016, was awarded the Thurgood Marshall Award for her activism and community service, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Albertus Magnus College in 2010.

Read a column about Ms. White by Harris, published in the Hartford Courant last September: “Saying goodbye to, but never forgetting, a freedom rider.”

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!

 

The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.

This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, will be awarded this academic year during the months of November, December, January, February, and March to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of November, the Top Owl Award winners are Marian Evans, assistant professor of public health and the department’s graduate program coordinator, and Jane DeLuca, secretary in the Department of Management.

Marian Evans incorporates social justice into her classroom curriculum and inspires her students to take initiative for their own social justice journey while guiding them with reading, support, and events. She has led the public health service trip to Bermuda and beforehand held a “how to pack” session for students who had never traveled or who may not own traditional luggage. 

Evans’ nominator wrote, “Dr. Evans continuously involves herself in making the university better and more equitable for her students. She is always willing to listen to students and over the month already has met with various students who were struggling with employment or class, and helped them navigate the systems to best meet their needs. Overall Dr. Evans does a lot for this SCSU campus and for her students who are struggling.”

Evans’ teaching and research interests include public health, women’s health, environmental health, health disparities, academic and public partnerships, and scholarship of teaching and learning.

Jane DeLuca‘s nominator wrote that as the department secretary, “she ‘intercepts’ a lot of calls and/or visits from students and faculty. She treats everyone with respect and dignity even when they do not treat her with respect back. Oftentimes, they are upset, mad, crying, yelling or frustrated. She is compassionate and a great listener. She also knows who to refer each student or faculty to in order to solve their problem. There is no one like her throughout the entire campus.”

Congratulations to November’s Top Owl Award winners!

To nominate someone for a Top Owl award, visit the university’s Social Justice website.

The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.

This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, are being awarded this academic year during the months of December, January, February, March, and April to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of March, the Top Owl Award winners are undergraduate student Madison Caruso; Michelle Mann, department secretary in the Department of Public Health; and Meredith Sinclair, assistant professor of English.

Madison Caruso is an Honors College student who is committed to pursuing social justice for those suffering from mental illness. Her honors thesis concerns advocacy for social justice by inviting the SCSU community to a talk on mental illness, then offering them the opportunity to make artwork in response to the talk. Those who complete the artwork will have a chance to share stories and come to a better understanding of how mental illness impacts us all, as well as how art has the potential to heal us all.

Caruso took advantage of SCSU’s Social Justice Grants program to provide the Southern community with these opportunities to both learn and create, and, her nominator wrote, “I applaud both her initiative and care.”

Her nominator continued, “Madison is going above and beyond what is required of an Honors Thesis to also better all of us at SCSU, especially those struggling with mental illness and/or those who know someone struggling with mental illness.”

As the department secretary in Public Health, Michelle Mann was described by her nominator, a student worker in the department, as “Office Mom!” and “the glue that keeps this department together.” Mann, her nominator wrote, is thoughtful and caring, baking cakes for birthdays, taking student staff on museum trips, and open to learning about others’ backgrounds and cultures. “I have never seen Mrs. Michelle be biased, judgmental or close minded to any topic, culture, or any challenge,” her nominator wrote. Her nominator particularly noted Mann’s care and concern for her department’s student workers, writing, “Mrs. Michelle is the kind of person who would encourage me to go to counseling services rather than clocking in. Mrs. Michelle is the kind of person who will take a walk with you just to listen about your concerns. Mrs. Michelle is the kind of person who will slip $10 in your backpack after you persisted to tell her not to just to help you out. Mrs. Michelle has opened her home, and her arms up for me, and I am ever so grateful. She has encouraged me to challenge myself, and believe in my abilities.”

Further, when it comes to social justice, Mann’s nominator wrote, “she is not complacent nor quiet in the eyes of oppression. Graduating from UCONN with a history degree, she found her stance against racial discrimination and promotes cultural awareness to her child and the rest of her staff. She is ready to march at any time, to open her mouth against things that aren’t right. She is open minded, and exposes herself to many cultures. She is the woman on all of the boards, has the huge dinners for her church, and orchestrates fellowship among different cultures and people.”

Meredith Sinclair has taken a leading role at SCSU in promoting anti-racist and culturally responsive pedagogy for future PK-12 teachers and for university educators. She is a co-director of the Urban Education Fellows, a student-driven organization for future teachers who are committed to teaching in urban schools and promoting activism through education. She is also a member of the SCSU Racial Justice Pedagogy Project and of the Faculty Senate Curricular Task Force for Social Justice and Human Diversity, as well as being a leader in AAUP Committee W. Her nominator wrote, “Dr. Sinclair integrates Social Justice in her teaching, research, and outreach, and many teacher candidates are grateful for her guidance, support, and struggle against inequities in education.”

 

 

The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.

This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, will be awarded this academic year during the months of December, January, February, March, and April to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of February, the Top Owl Award winners are undergraduate student Dayana Lituma-Solis and Victoria Zigmont, assistant professor of public health.

Dayana Lituma-Solis is an undergraduate student majoring in communications disorders and, according to her nominator, is a “living embodiment of the SCSU values of Social Justice and Access.” A student representative to the Undocumented Students Support Team, she is an integral member of the team and provides valuable ideas that have been recognized by the faculty and staff members of team. Last year she led a group of students to travel to the Capitol Building in Hartford to testify in front of the Higher Education Committee to equalize access to financial aid funds for all students regardless of immigration status. She assisted in a College Access Program for ESL (English as a Second Language) students at Wilbur Cross High School. She worked under CT Students 4 A Dream, an organization that fights for immigrant rights and the rights of undocumented students throughout the state of Connecticut. As part of her work with them she delivered “Undocupeer” training for student leaders (RA’s and OA’s) at Southern.

Lituma-Solis has has served as panelist for several immigration related events for Social Justice Month, including sharing her experience as a first generation immigrant at last year’s TRUMP CARD discussion. She is the president of the Hermandad de Sigma Iota Incorporada chapter at Southern, and under that role led several voting registration drives last fall to increase voting engagement by all students, but particularly Latino students. Last fall she also volunteered to give a bilingual tour to a group of more than 50 high schoolers and parents from Bridgeport and New Haven.

As a communications disorders major, she is an active member and secretary of the Autism Awareness ad Advocacy Club. In her free time, she is a tutor for New Haven Reads and works as a research assistant for the SCSU R.E.A.D.S. lab.

Lituma-Solis’ nominator wrote, “I could go on and on about Dayana’s accomplishments and contributions to SCSU’s mission of social justice. But the truly remarkable quality about Dayana is her willingness to step out of her comfort zone to assist her peers and pave the way for students to achieve their higher education goals.

“Even though she is only 20 years old, she has developed a vast network of contacts at SCSU and the New Haven community. She has referred many students and parents to my office to make a personal connection to talk about coming to SCSU. Dayana does not get any financial benefit from helping these students apply to SCSU, yet she goes above and beyond to ensure that these prospective students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, are able to navigate the application process and make a personal connection with key people in the faculty and staff that look like them or speak the same language.”

Dr. Victoria Zigmont is committed to improving Southern’s students’ health and well-being through her work on campus and in the community. She recognizes the relationship between social justice and academic (and personal) success for Southern students. She has been involved in several initiatives that include her service on committees, leadership in projects and grant-funded research studies to reduce food insecurity among students on campus. Her efforts resulted in greater access to food and resources in a manner that protects and respects students’ privacy. She contributed to the relocation of the mobile food pantry, creation of satellite pantries housed across campus, and planning for a sustainable large pantry. She has been successful in building momentum, creating a sense of urgency, and engaging collaborators to remedy students’ food insecurity and related needs.

Dr. Zigmont also has demonstrated her commitment to student success through her involvement of graduate and undergraduate students in her research and practice in this area. She has led and engaged her students in campus-wide assessments and steps to address identified needs on campus and in the community.

Her nominator wrote that Dr. Zigmont “is committed to a mission of social justice, which is evident in all that she does. She is an exceptional role model who fully embraces her students and colleagues with dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and civility.”

Nominate a member of the Southern community for a Top Owl Social Justice Award.

 

From award-winning undergraduate to a prestigious fellowship at the National Cancer Institute and a doctorate in microbiology. Meet Norbert K. Tavares, '06.

Norbert Tavares, '06, is one of two Science and Technology Fellows with the National Cancer Institute.

Norbert K. Tavares, ’06, first attended college in Florida where he was discouraged from planning a career as a biologist, despite his passion for the field. “I wasted a lot of time pursuing majors that were hot at the time like computer science and pharmacy, but I didn’t enjoy them,” he says.

A move to Connecticut and subsequent transfer to Southern set Tavares on a better course. Today, he holds a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Georgia and is an American Academy for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] Science and Technology Fellow at the National Cancer Institute — where he helps lead the fight against the deadly group of diseases.

Last fall, he shared thoughts on Southern, finding a mentor, and the importance of diversity in science and other areas. Here are some excerpts.

What inspired your interest in biology?
I remember taking personality and career assessments early on in college that said I would be good at science and engineering, and not being surprised. I was mostly taking math and science courses, and enjoying them.

My specific interest in microbiology stems from reading about bacteria that could eat oil. Digging further, I learned about bacteria that could “breath” metals instead of oxygen, live in hot springs, and do all the other crazy things bacteria can do. I was hooked.

I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors – climbing trees, playing in the dirt and ocean. That coupled with a strong curiosity and wild imagination, there was only one thing I could be, a scientist or a transcendentalist poet, I guess.

Give us five adjectives that describe you.
Curious, contemplative, solution-centric, humanist, inclusive.

It seems that biology was an early calling.
I was wavering on sticking with biology because at the time you really needed a Ph.D. to go anywhere in the field, and I didn’t want to stay in school forever. I was also previously discouraged from pursuing a Ph.D. by a professor in Orlando, [Florida].

Launched by the Biden Cancer Initiative, the #cancerFIERCE campaign “celebrates the FIERCE that we know is in everyone touched by cancer – patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers, researchers” — including Norbert Tavares, ’06.

What changed?
When I transferred to SCSU I decided I would pursue biology because I enjoyed it. . . . Nicholas Edgington, [associate professor of biology,] was my assigned academic adviser. I told him about my goals, my interest in microbiology, my desire for a Ph.D., and to peruse an academic career. He listened and gave me specific, practical advice. He was the first academic adviser I had at three separate institutions who actually gave me good advice specific to my desires.

I did exactly what he said, starting with applying for and doing a summer research program for undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin. I then applied for and was awarded a Sigma Xi grant-in-aid of research after Dr. Edgington nominated me for membership to this scientific society.

I think he was surprised that I followed through with all of his suggestions. He then took me on as an undergraduate researcher in his lab. Because of the training I gained in his lab and the three other summer research programs, I was more than competitive for graduate school and was accepted into the number three microbiology program in the country at the University of Wisconsin. I owe a great deal to Dr. Edgington. He put me on the academic and professional path that I’m currently on.

What was your research focus?
My previous laboratory looked at how bacteria make vitamin B12. Bacteria are the only organisms that make the vitamin, which humans get from our diet via meat. There are no plant sources. The herbivores we eat, like cows, get B12 from the bacteria in their guts. I studied the genes and enzymes that bacteria use to make B12.

Norbert Tavares, ’06, presents at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

What is your current position?
I am an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health in D.C. I work in a center that analyzes the cancer research landscape – and builds programs and collaborations to develop technology, standards, and innovative ideas to fill the gaps in cancer research and move the field forward. In my role, I analyze the cancer research field to find these gaps and opportunities — and manage and evaluate the existing programs we have built. In other words, I build and fund grants, infrastructure, and programs to help cancer researchers study, understand, treat, prevent, and eventually eliminate cancers.

Your bio with the National Cancer Institute lists your strong interest in the advancement of women and underrepresented individuals in science and other areas. Can you talk a bit about that commitment?
If you have at least two women in the room — whether that room is a meeting, a board room, or Congress — it changes the conversation in a way that is important. You’ve heard it said, “If there’d been a woman in the room at the time this idea was put forward, it never would have happened. We would not have made this mistake.” I believe that’s true. Whenever I write a policy document, I always make sure to get it in front of the eyes of a number of different women. And the things that have come back – “Hey, maybe you should change this.” – I would never have thought of without their input.

I’ve learned you need to have that diversity, and there’s data to back it up. If you have lots of diversity, you tend to have a slower start. But the group makes much greater progress and they are more creative.

We live in America during sensitive times and race has always been and will continue to be a touchy topic. I am a scientist – and, as I mentioned earlier, there is good data that shows diversity matters. If a girl has had a woman math teacher, she’s much more likely to excel in the subject and choose it as a major. I’m much more likely to pursue the sciences as a career if I’ve had a science teacher who is African American. It makes a difference . . . and I think the influence occurs as early as elementary school.

The truth is this is passive. . . . But I really believe existing in the world as an African American Ph.D. – as a scientist – and trying to do well is important and hopeful. Increasing exposure [to my educational and career path] is part of my obligation. And if I can maybe inspire another African American to study the sciences – or maybe go to Southern or another college – I am happy to do it.

The Top Owl Social Justice Award is given to recognize contributions toward helping the university achieve its mission of creating and sustaining an inclusive community that appreciates, celebrates, and advances student and campus diversity.

This award, selected by the President’s Commission on Social Justice, will be awarded this academic year during the months of December, January, February, and March to recognize the contributions, leadership, and service of a worthy faculty, staff, part-time student, and full-time student.

For the month of January, the Top Owl Award winners are graduate student Mykelle Coleman; Sedell Hairston-Hatton, secretary from the Student Involvement and Leadership Development Office; and Yi-chun Tricia Lin, director and professor of Women’s Studies.

Mykelle Coleman, a second-year graduate student in the School Psychology Program, has shown a passion for and commitment to social justice throughout her time at Southern. For the past two years, she has headed the Counseling and School Psychology Department’s Social Justice/Diversity Committee, a group that designs and coordinates learning experiences to meet these goals. In addition, last year Coleman worked on the On Our Own Turf Project, a Social Justice Committee grant-funded activity that looked at issues of microaggressions, discrimination, and injustice on the SCSU campus. She also developed and led the Clothesline Project, an art-based activity dealing with issues of sexual assault and violence, and a showing and discussion about the film For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf during last year’s Social Justice Month. This year she was a student leader for two major Social Justice Month activities, the Racial Justice Film Festival and the Sleep Out America event, to bring attention to the issue of child, youth, and college student homelessness. She has also helped to provided diversity training to Southern staff.

One of Coleman’s nominators wrote that she “embodies the ideals of social justice and utilizes the core values of SCSU to bring those ideals to her peers and fellow Owls. As a leader in the social justice committee, she has organized events at Southern that promote awareness of some challenging issues that we face today, both as Owls and members of our larger society.” Aside from the activities she is involved in on campus, a nominator wrote, “she exhibits a nurturing nature towards all, accepting and celebrating others constantly. She is a positive spirit who is always there for others. [She] is able to light up a room with her presence while also shining the spotlight on others around her. She has an incredible spirit that Southern is very lucky to have as a part of its community.”

Sedell Hairston-Hatton, who is also known as Dell, was described by her nominator as “such a beautiful person inside and out, and she is extremely helpful! She is very reliable and always willing to go out of her way to make sure those around her get the assistance that they need. She does a lot of behind the scenes work to make sure everything runs smoothly.”

Her nominator added that Hairston-Hatton is “a remarkable person who has a heart of gold, and it is evident that she takes her job not only seriously but has a passion for what she does. I think these are very important qualities to have as a staff member at the University, and she is a wonderful candidate for the Top Owl Award.”

As the director of the Women’s Studies Program, Yi-chun Tricia Lin has been organizing the 64 Days of Nonviolence program at Southern for many years. As part of that program, every spring semester she puts together a wide array of events to promote social justice on campus. Her nominator wrote that Lin “does this work tirelessly and on a shoestring budget” and pointed out that the 64 Days of Nonviolence program predates Social Justice Month by more than a decade. One of the most impressive feature of the 64 Days of Nonviolence, wrote Lin’s nominator, “is the wide array of topics covered, from Indigenous, women’s, and LGBTQ rights, to Black Lives Matter, to increasing social justice for girls and boys. She really is a model advocate for the teaching and learning of social justice on campus.”

Congratulations to January’s Top Owl Award winners!

To nominate someone for a Top Owl award, visit the university’s Social Justice website.