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Chaz Guest, ’85, takes artistic expression to new heights, re-examining the history of slavery and launching a superhero in the process.

SCSU alumnus Chaz Guest, '85, standing in front of painted canvas.
Brian Bowen Smith Photo

Chaz Guest, ’85, may not be a household name, but his work has been embraced by many big ones. Herbie Hancock and Vanessa Williams collect his paintings. Former President Barack Obama hung his portrait of Thurgood Marshall in the Oval Office. Oprah Winfrey praised a portrait of Maya Angelou as a little girl that she had commissioned from Guest: “Saying the painting is beautiful is too mild of a word.”

Chaz Guest shaking hands with President Barak Obama
The artist shakes hands
with former President Barack Obama, who hung Guest’s portrait of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, in the Oval Office.

Guest arrived at Southern as a gymnast on scholarship, not knowing what direction he wanted his life to take. He left after studying graphic design with an inkling he had become an artist. He credits David Levine, his art history professor, and the late Howard Fussiner [professor emeritus of art], the only painting teacher he ever had. “Those two put me on the path of the life I have now as a painter,” Guest says from his studio in Los Angeles, brush in hand, working on a portrait of the abolitionist John Brown while we speak. One of Fussiner’s landscapes hangs on the wall.

Levine introduced Guest to the history of art. Fussiner encouraged him to become part of it. The painter — who reminded Guest of Salvador Dali with his wild white hair, quirkiness, and energy — encouraged Guest by praising his work in front of the class. He also passed along commissions to paint watercolors of people’s homes. “He opened my eyes to the idea that I could paint something and actually earn some money,” Guest says.

Painting by Chaz Guest
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a brief stint illustrating fashion magazines in Paris, Guest devoted himself to his own painting. He sold his first work on the sidewalk outside his apartment in New York City. With that money, he bought a larger easel and more supplies and was on his way. Today, the artist is represented by the Los Angeles-based Patrick Painter Gallery. His work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris.

A devotee of Kyokushin karate, which his older brother taught him upon returning from the service in Okinawa, Japan, Guest has used the martial arts to open his mind and dedicate himself to his art. An aging hip prevents the 58-year-old from regularly practicing karate, but he still applies the mental principles. “Martial arts is a way of life,” he says. “I certainly have it in mind.”

His influences range from Fussiner to Balthus, from Dali to Picasso. Inspiration also comes from musicians — Pavarotti to Mahalia Jackson, but especially his beloved jazz. Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane. He has painted them and frequently plays their music in his studio while working. He’s also created paintings on stage inspired by live jazz performances. He starts without preconceived notions of what he is going to paint and improvises along with the musicians. “It’s best to have a blank mind, and flow to the vibrations and spirit of the music,” he says.

Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest
Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest. • ICONN MANN Photo

Guest works in a variety of mediums. His Geisha Series, created on Japanese zori sandals, was inspired by a trip to Japan, and his Cotton Series, portraits of enslaved men, women, and children, is done on cotton picked from Southern fields, where the subjects might have toiled.

After admiring Guest’s Cotton Series, Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Republic of Gambia, invited him to visit in 2010. Guest painted an oil portrait of Jammeh as a gift, which he presented upon his arrival. “It was a life-changing trip,” Guest says.

A stop at James Island in the Gambia River to see the remains of a fort used by British slave traders was particularly profound. Guest spent time alone in a holding cell. “I felt all of my nightmares as an African-American started in this one place,” he says. He wept. Anger and sadness washed through him. He emerged transformed. “Afterward, I felt new,” he says.

Guest suggested that the island be renamed Kunta Kinteh Island to honor the slaves who passed through. Jammeh agreed and the name was officially changed in 2011. For the occasion, Guest sculpted a Mandinka warrior rising out of one of the island’s many baobab trees and escaping the shackles of slavery. He called it Freedom. It was not installed as a 30-foot statue on the island as originally intended, as it lacked the support of the president who succeeded Jammeh.

But the bronze sculpture was chosen for the statuette of the ICON MANN Legacy Award, most recently presented to Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ruth E. Carter, winner of the 2019 Academy Award for costume design on the film, Black Panther. The Legacy Award honors those whose body of work has positively transformed the narrative and trajectory of black culture.

For all of his success as an artist, Guest is proudest of his role as a father. He has two sons, Xian, 16, and Zuhri, 25. He wears a bracelet made from a mold of their umbilical cords. “I enjoy being a father of two great boys,” he says.

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photos

Guest’s latest project is Buffalo Warrior, a graphic novel he wrote about a boy born into slavery in the 1800s who becomes a modern-day superhero. Guest illustrated the book in Japanese sumi ink on handmade paper — and also painted a series of the hero in oil and another related series entitled Buffalo Soldiers. He’s in discussions with movie studios to turn the story into a feature film.

He sums up his aesthetic, which is particularly apparent in the Cotton Series and Buffalo Warrior: “I wanted to start from the root of our American experience, which happens to be slavery. So I wanted to go back there in that time and paint with everything I have to convey dignity and love and [that] they’re people, not only slaves. If you want to make a good painting, you’ve got to paint what you love — and I love those people.”

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

A first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ‘06, is paying it forward by mentoring some of tomorrow's most promising engineers.

Never underestimate the power of a great mentor. As a first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ’06, came to Southern to major in physics — and, within that first year, was conducting research in the physics lab. “The catalyst that really set me on my path was meeting and working with Professor [of Physics Christine] Broadbridge. She was instrumental in igniting my love of materials research and guiding me in the pursuit of a doctoral degree,” says Garofano.

Today, Garofano has come full circle, mentoring the next generation of engineers as the program manager of the Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at United Technologies, a new entry-level program for top engineering students. Participants rotate through four six-month assignments across the United Technologies business units, such as Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace.

This focus on education echoes Garofano’s early career. Under Professor Broadbridge’s leadership, she held several positions with the Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena (CRISP), a National Science Foundation-funded partnership between Southern and Yale University. Its goal: to share the wonders of science with K-12 students, college students, and educators. Garofano’s commitment to Southern remains strong — and this fall, she joined the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors.

“The two pillars that my career stands on are mentorship and networking,” says Garofano. “Over all this time, a simple but powerful mantra has struck with me: ‘I want to be for someone what Christine was for me,’ and it has materialized in a profound why.”

She’s a STEMinist: Garofano advocates for increasing the presence of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “Representation matters (#SeeHerBeHer). As a first-generation college student, I was fortunate to have a strong female role model and mentor at Southern: Christine Broadbridge, [professor of physics and executive director of research and innovation]. Now that I’m a professional woman in the tech industry, I make every effort to share my journey and empower young students — but young girls and women, in particular.

A few accomplishments: Garofano earned a doctorate from the University of Connecticut and was named a “Woman of Innovation” by the Connecticut Technology Council in 2011; was spotlighted on the “40 under 40” lists of outstanding young professionals compiled by Connecticut Magazine (2013) and Hartford Business Journal (2015); and was honored by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund for advancing women and girls in the STEM field.

On the job: “As program manager of the Ingels program, I have the privilege of cultivating and leading the next generation of engineers who will shape our future. Frankly, this is what attracted me to this role,” says Garofano, who has complete oversight of the program. Her responsibilities include: leading recruiting activities, managing associate rotation schedules, and planning training curriculum for both technical and leadership development.

On board: “I’m thrilled to have been asked to serve on the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors and look forward to the opportunity to support Southern’s mission of providing exceptional, accessible, and affordable educational opportunities to students through the work of the foundation.

A mighty mentor: Last fall, Garofano was approached by a young woman, Edwina Lorient, a native of Haiti, who was studying mechanical engineering. “Edwina was interested in learning more about the different aspects of engineering and hearing about my experience as an engineer,” says Garofano. “She shared with me her desire to use her engineering skills to support her family and community in Haiti with innovative solutions to provide pure water and clean energy,” she says. Garofano encouraged her to apply for summer research experiences, directed her to the Leadership Summer Research-Early Identification Program through The Leadership Alliance, and guided her through the application process. “I was elated when she told me that she was accepted into Brown University’s program for the summer! The return on my seemingly effortless investment has been massively rewarding, not just for Edwina in securing a research fellowship, but, for me also, because I’ve been able to be ‘that person’ for an aspiring young woman engineer,” she says.

Words of wisdom: “I encourage our program associates to build a strong professional network (as they have a unique opportunity to have four different roles across our enterprise), but most importantly, enjoy the journey and have fun!” she says.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

The founder of the award-winning popular vlog, The Needle Drop, has a lot to say about music — and his millions of fans are happy to listen.

Anthony Fantano, ’08, describes himself as the “internet’s busiest music nerd.” Spin — the legendary magazine turned webzine run by Billboard-Hollywood Reporter — offers a different perspective, dubbing him “today’s most successful music critic.”

It’s an apt description. Fantano began posting music reviews on his YouTube channel The Needle Drop in 2009. Two years later, he walked away from MTV’s second annual O Music Awards with the “Beyond the Blog” award. Today, Fantano is a celebrity in his own right, connecting with fans across multiple social media platforms, including YouTube/theneedledrop (more than 1.75 million subscribers), Twitter (473K-plus followers), and Facebook (229K-plus).

Fantano says his college years — specifically time spent at WSIN, the college radio station — expanded his focus on music and media. He majored in liberal studies [now interdisciplinary studies], with concentrations in journalism, political science, and communication. During an internship at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, he proposed and ran The Needle Drop as a podcast — setting the stage for what would eventually evolve into his wildly popular vlog (video log or blog).

Over the course of two interviews, he talked with Gregory Gagliardi, ’18, and Southern Alumni Magazine. In the following excerpts, he shares thoughts on Southern, success, and the meaning behind the flannel shirts he wears in his reviews. (Yellow signifies a great album; red, not so much.)

How did you come to attend Southern?
Coming in, I was thinking radio, radio, radio. So I was looking for a college with a radio station — a place that was close to me that was affordable. Southern seemed like the best of all of those worlds.

How did Southern help prepare you to launch the Needle Drop?
[Southern] provided places like the radio station and the school paper — training grounds to learn the ropes of journalism and broadcasting. In fact, I was there [at the station] even before school started. It was priority number one because that was my career goal.

How active were you with the radio station, WSIN?
Freshman year I came in and did a show. I hung out all the time, put in a lot of effort, and made a lot of friends. They saw I had a passion and interest. . . . That put me on the map for a lot of people and allowed me to go up the ranks at the radio station pretty quickly. I was the general manager for two years; the music director for a year before that.

Before the green screen, Fantano had to hold up the album being reviewed. Now he superimposes album covers on the screen.

And the show?
I had a show pretty much the entire time — except for a span when I was also the general manager and thought it was too much to juggle. But toward my final year at Southern I brought it back. I had gotten control of juggling work, school, the radio station . . .

So you were balancing everything well?
At the time, I didn’t feel like I was doing it very well. I was general manager and there was a lot of turbulence. The new student center had just opened and every other club — every other everything — had moved [to the new building]. We were in the old student center for over a year, if I remember correctly. We were literally the only people in the building. Sometimes in the winter, the heat was not as high as it should have been. . . .

It sounds very rebel student radio.
It seems very cool in retrospect, but everyone in the Radio Club was miserable about it at the time. [laughs]

The profile of you in Spin in 2016 mentioned that a professor helped you get an internship with Connecticut Public Radio.
It was the [WSIN] adviser, Jerry Dunklee, [professor of journalism]. By the time I finished college, my game plan was to go into radio as a political reporter, which is why I ended up at WNPR in Hartford.

What was the internship like?
It was a really good opportunity to learn more about the technical aspects of the business, since the amount of production they did was far greater than at the [university] station. I also got to see everything I’d learned in my “ethics in journalism” classes applied, sort of rubber to the road — in terms of what they were reporting and how they were reporting. The lengths they went to get an interview or clarify information. . . . Those are all things I still draw on today.

“I’d take out 15 or 20 CDs at a time. And during my 45-minute commute to school I’d listened to all the jazz CDs I’d illegally burned from the [Buley] library,” says Fantano.

Have you always wanted this type of career?
When I was younger, my aspirations were either in radio or in voice acting. [laughs] As my passion for music grew, my efforts started pointing elsewhere. The whole YouTube thing never could have been predicted. [YouTube formed in 2005.] . . . But as the platform grew, certain aspects like the partner program [which lets creators monetize their content] began to gain steam, and there were YouTubers out there who were actually making a career out of what they were doing. [For me,] it seemed like a last-ditch effort. Because the podcasts and the blog were not really panning out monetarily, so I figured YouTube might be my last hope.

But I had no way of foreseeing that I’d be doing music reviews on YouTube — and not just because of the YouTube factor. I didn’t grow up reading reviews. I wasn’t comfortable considering myself a reviewer or critic when I was doing the podcast initially. Those are two aspects of my career I stumbled into through experimentation.

Was there a specific point when you felt like you’d made it?
I was able to take The Needle Drop full time in 2012. I was making just enough money to move into an apartment with my girlfriend, so it was a ‘real’ job.

Beyond that, what says to me, ‘you’ve made it,’ is the way the audience perceives what you do and how they interact — especially in the internet age. Are you familiar with the website Reddit? [Founded in 2005, Reddit is a huge collection of online forums devoted to different topics.] . . . There is a [sub]reddit with 30,000 people who post about me. . . . [It was up to 44,200 at press time.] They post the most insane stuff — not bad — but insane in their level of devotion to every word that comes out of my mouth. To me, this says that this is a cultural phenomenon — not on the level of Drake or anything like that — but it has certainly brought me to a point where I can sustain myself and my loved ones. That means something to me.

437,192,317: the number of times The Needle Drop’s YouTube videos have been watched as of March 7, 2019.

That must be really satisfying.
Back when I had to struggle — not only to make ends meet but also to see the effect of what I was doing — I’d think, ‘I’m going to have a panic attack or two this month about what I am doing with my life.’ That doesn’t happen these days, mostly because I am too busy.

Were you always interested in music?
Absolutely. Collecting cassette tapes with my boom box. I loved a lot of radio music: pop and rock, hip-hop, whatever was popular at the time. When I got into high school, it was more alternative and punk. College helped expand my focus. We’re talking about the growth of P2P [peer to peer] file-sharing services like Napster, which are obviously obsolete now that we have music streaming. But at the time it was a music library, since I didn’t have all the money in the world to buy every other CD or album.

The [Southern] radio station and the university also helped. It wasn’t only the CDs and albums flowing into the station, but other resources like [Southern’s Buley] library. . . . I’d take out 15 or 20 CDs at a time. And during my 45-minute commute to school I’d listened to all the jazz CDs I’d illegally burned from the library.

You’ve achieved mainstream success with The Needle Drop. Has increased exposure brought any problems?
Sure, but nothing worth complaining about. All jobs come with their pros and cons. The only downside is the occasional, unintended creepiness of random people who might say something a little weird online. If you have millions of people watching you every month there are going to be one or two who don’t have any boundaries. The upsides far outweigh that. Most people have been really cool and respectful.

The internet connection must take things to a different level.
Yes. But I don’t blame anyone. There is a very friendly conversational tone to my videos. And a lot of people have been watching me for a long time. When I do speaking engagements, they’ll tell me they’ve been watching me since [they were in] sixth grade. That’s almost like being someone’s weird internet dad or something. At that point, you’ve become part of this person’s life — and their emotional and mental ecosystem.

Looking back at your time at The Needle Drop, what are you most proud of?
I have my nose to the grindstone so often that it’s hard to take a breather and think back on all the crazy things that have happened over the past 10 years. While an interview with Mick Jagger and a laundry list of endorsements from a variety of artists look good on paper, the best thing about it is just being a growing part of a greater conversation about music.

Take us inside the review writing process – from the onset to the final video.
The process is pretty much like watching paint dry: listening, re-listening, note taking, researching, drafting, re-drafting, recording, editing. It’s all very quiet, patient, introspective.

What are your thoughts on criticism directed at your reviews?
Ah, the criticism is what it is. It would be ridiculous for me to state my opinions on new records so openly and not expect to get criticism in return. It comes with the territory. If you go into this line of work expecting to have every one of your opinions praised, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. It’s more about stirring the pot, getting people thinking, sparking discussion, planting seeds for the listening audience to mull over. It’s not about being liked or being right. Sure, it’s nice when those things happen. But if that’s all you’re looking to achieve, you’re failing in your role as a critic.

Which is?
One of the most important things you can give your audience when talking about content you’re passionate about — is to give them pause. A reason to think about what they are listening to or consuming. To get them to think about why they enjoy it or why they don’t.

Is there anything new on the agenda for The Needle Drop?
I have a second YouTube channel [YouTube/fantano launched in 2017] where I talk about music news. . . . I am grouping the videos together to a podcast series so you can listen from there. A goal is to find ways to creatively repackage content so people can consume it in different ways.

There is someone I’ve been talking to about [the possibility of] a record label. I am considering it, but there are potential major journalistic ethics issues there. I couldn’t review people on the label. . . . So it creates a weird conundrum that I’m not sure I’m ready to dive into. Someone else approached me recently about helping put together a charity compilation of artists who I’ve reviewed over the years — and money would go to children’s cancer research. There’s a guy I’ve been talking to — trying to work out how to expand merchandise.

I expected you to be wearing a flannel, like in the posts.
The flannel thing is funny. When I first started, they were in regular rotation in my wardrobe, which is why I was wearing them in the first place. Now the flannel has become a signifier. When people see I’m wearing a red flannel in the thumbnail of the video, they know it’s a negative video. When they see a yellow flannel, they know it’s a positive review. I rarely wear one casually now. It’s like wearing my work clothes.

Speaking of work clothes, is doing The Needle Drop still fun?
Yes. It comes to those times when it’s 9 to 5 like anything else — but it’s better than 9 to 5 in an office. Even though it’s a lot of work. A lot of extra effort. One thing this generation doesn’t really appreciate is the quality of the workplace — that they are always connected with their job. As a result, they are never not working. If I am going to be in that position, I’d rather be doing it for me.

See other stories from the online issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

In honor of Southern's 125th anniversary, here's a look at some of the most historical, beautiful and inviting spots on campus.

An important link to Southern’s past, Founders Gate was previously located on the Howe Street campus and now stands between Lyman Center and Engleman Hall. Each fall, immediately after new student Convocation, first-year students enter campus by walking through the gate. The tradition continues in the spring when graduating seniors cross under to mark the culmination of their undergraduate experience.

Founders Gate
Founders Gate

A unique outdoor classroom located outside of the Academic Science and Laboratory Building, the Geological Rock Garden includes 52 rocks that are indigenous to Connecticut. Numerous quarry operators in the area donated boulders for the display, which was created with the aid of Thomas Fleming, professor of earth science. Some of the boulders are from Stony Creek Quarry, which provided stone for many iconic buildings and monuments — including the base of the Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Geological Rock Garden
Geological Rock Garden

Set along a well-traveled path outside Engleman Hall, the stainless steel sculpture, “H20: Liquid Zone,” was designed by award-winning international landscape architect Mikyoung Kim. Rain, snow, and ice collect on the sculpture, changing the view on an ongoing basis. The artist’s stunning portfolio also includes the Crown Sky Garden in Chicago, the roof garden of the John Hancock Tower in Boston, and the ChonGae Canal Restoration Project in Seoul, Korea.
Commissioned through Connecticut’s Art in Public Spaces Program

H2O: Liquid Zone
H2O: Liquid Zone

Nature lovers are invited to look at West Rock in a whole new light courtesy of the environmental sculpture, “End of the Line/West Rock,” which was installed in 1985 on the Farnham Avenue-side of Brownell Hall. The sculpture was designed by the late Nancy Holt, a pioneer of the land-art movement, which began in the late 1960s in response to growing awareness of environmental issues and debates about what constituted “real” art. In this work, two rings frame views of West Rock, showcasing the geological formation as an art object.
Commissioned through Connecticut’s Art in Public Spaces Program

End of the Line/West Rock
End of the Line/West Rock

Is it an owl’s outstretched wings, an open book evoking the quest for knowledge, or, perhaps, both? Perched on top of Engleman Hall, this sculpture can be seen throughout much of Southern’s campus.

Sculpture on top of Engleman Hall
Sculpture on top of Engleman Hall

Every cloud has a silver lining, and, on campus, it’s the rain harvester located outside of the Academic Science and Laboratory Building. Named in recognition of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority for the organization’s leadership-level support, the rain harvester is ecologically sound as well as beautiful. Water drains into a 40,000-gallon underground collection system that is used to water surrounding greenery — reducing the need for irrigation of the area by 50 percent. An ultraviolet-purification system eliminates bacteria.

Rain Harvester
Rain Harvester

The SCSU Sandy Hook Alumnae Remembrance Garden — located behind Jennings Hall — honors four educators and Southern alumni who were killed during the tragedy at the Connecticut elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012: Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, M.S. ’97, 6th Yr. ’98; Teacher Anne Marie Murphy, M.S. ’08; School Counselor Mary J. Sherlach, M.S. ’90, 6th Yr. ’92; and Teacher Victoria “Vicki” Leigh Soto, M.S.’13, who was pursuing a master’s degree at the time of the shooting and was awarded her degree posthumously. The sculpture reflects the vision of Carlene Barnes, ’13, who won a design competition while attending Southern.

There’s a new owl in town: a five-foot wide bronze sculpture installed outside of Engleman Hall in 2018. “Hopefully, we’ll start some new traditions,” says Michelle R. Johnston, director of alumni relations, who foresees students commemorating milestones like commencement by photographing themselves next to the sculpture or touching it for luck.

Those who haven’t mastered Southern’s sundial turn to the Hilton C. Buley clock. The bars light up in blue to show the hour, while the dots glow a golden hue for minutes. The clock was installed in 2015 as part of the library renovation. For a picturesque view of campus, go to the fourth floor of the library and look out of the clock’s transparent face.

Hilton C. Buley Library clock
Hilton C. Buley Library clock

Rising nearly 50 feet, the Engleman Hall tower sundial built in 2005 is an award winner. The Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects named it the top design in the art/architecture category in 2006. The project’s architects are Howard Hebel (Herbert Newman & Partners) and Frederick Sawyer, who is a co-founder of the North American Sundial Society.

50-foot-tower sundial
50-foot-tower sundial

Set on a hill overlooking the campus pond, the bronze sculpture, “Serie Metafisica XVIII,” was created by Herk Van Tongeren and installed on campus in 1983. In 1987 the New York Times fittingly described the late sculptor’s work: “The walls, columns, and steps of the theaters were mysterious and incomplete. They suggested Greek and Roman theaters, but it was unclear who would take their place on stage and what roles they would assume.” On sunny days, students are often found sitting on the sculpture, bringing Tongeren’s vision to life.
Commissioned through Connecticut’s Art in Public Spaces Program

Serie Metafisica XVIII
Serie Metafisica XVIII

Buley Library is home to four Tiffany windows created by one of America’s most celebrated artists, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). The three arched windows located in the first floor Learning Commons were donated by the historic First Church of Christ in New Haven after it was renovated. The fourth window, known as the “Congregational” window, was donated by the North Stonington Congregational Church in the 1990s — after being stored in a barn on a dairy farm for more than 30 years.

Searching for the hidden Owl is a time-honored tradition at new student orientation. The search begins in Engleman Hall.

Searching for the hidden owl? Look down in Engleman Hall.

Southern’s first Alumni House was dedicated at Homecoming on Oct. 29, 2016. The home away from home for Southern graduates is located at 131 Farnham Ave., in what was formerly the Admissions House. The latter was relocated to the Wintergreen Building to create a one-stop student services area.

Want to succeed in life? “Stay curious,” says Rick Capozzi, ’83, who shares the secrets to surviving and thriving in today’s rapidly changing business world in his new book: “The Growth Mindset.”

Alumnus Rick Capozzi graduated from Southern Connecticut State University's School of Business in 1983. Today, he's a leader in the world of finance.

As a high school football star from northern New Jersey, Rick Capozzi, ’83, was being actively recruited by several NCAA Division I universities when he broke his back playing in an all-star game at Giants Stadium. He recovered from the injury, but was no longer a top Div. I prospect. Southern, however, was interested and Capozzi soon was playing in New Haven.

“The first year was tough,” says Capozzi, of his shift in plans. “But I came to love Southern.” Majoring in business administration, he played football for the Owls for three years. He also was a nationally ranked power lifter and served as a residence hall adviser. The latter, he says, provided a crash course in leadership and responsibility.

The skills honed on campus fueled Capozzi’s post-graduation success. He held senior management positions at TD Private Bank, Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo, and other industry leaders. His tenure at Morgan Stanley helps illustrate the breadth of his experience. As national sales manager at the organization, he was responsible for the firm’s network of 8,000 financial advisers in nearly 500 offices across the U.S. — and as Morgan Stanley’s regional director, he oversaw more than $35 billion in assets.

Building on such experience, he founded Capozzi Advisory Group in December 2014. “After 30 years on Wall Street, I wanted to be a bit more entrepreneurial,” he says. Today, he’s a sought-after consultant and speaker, who’s made more than 1,200 keynote presentations throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He’s also a successful author, whose most recent book, “The Growth Mindset: Leadership Makes a Difference in Wealth Management,” outlines strategies for success.

In November, Capozzi, who serves on the Business Advisory Council for Southern’s School of Business, returned to campus to meet with students. Following he shares a few of his thoughts on thriving in business today.

Tell us about the book’s title: “The Growth Mindset.”
Capozzi: Because of technology and innovation, we are facing arguably the greatest period of change in the business world in our lives. If you don’t have a growth mindset — meaning if you are not constantly thinking about ways to grow both professionally and personally — you will fall behind in this rapidly changing economy and world market.

Describe someone with a growth mindset.
Two words come to mind: responsibility and curiosity. Someone with a growth mindset wants to know more about the world around them and they take full responsibility for their lives. They always believe they can improve.

What are some of the changes shaping business?
In my world [economics and finance], the disruption comes from technology — algorithms and robo-advisers. You call in, basically talk to a computer, and based on your responses, it will, in essence, try to manage your money.

In other industries, some of the best examples of disrupters are Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and Tesla, the electric-auto manufacturer. Think about how much disruption Uber has caused — and they are able to do so because of technology. Uber is basically a technology company. We have no idea where artificial intelligence will lead to in the future. But we know that technological innovation is not going away. It’s going to accelerate.

What’s the effect on the personal level?
Everyone in the business world needs to ask: Can a robot or technology do my job? If the answer is, ‘Yes’ or ‘At some point soon,’ you are probably going to become less relevant unless you take steps.

You stress the importance of the human component as a way of maintaining a competitive edge.
Communication skills are paramount in this economy — and I stress this whether I am talking about leadership with college students or management directors. Seventy percent of our economy is service-based. If you don’t have the right interpersonal and soft skills, it will be hard for you to compete.

People generally do business with people they like. It’s best to form those relationships face to face. . . . If I look you in the eyes when negotiating, I can learn more in three seconds than through 25 email exchanges.

Any quick tips?
I am a big proponent of mentors. Based on the research I did for my book, you are never too old for mentors. I know CEOs who have run organizations with 50,000 employees — leaders who are 70 years old — who still have mentors. Being a mentor is also important. I consider myself a student teacher.

Did you have a mentor at Southern?
I had several. One was my philosophy professor Dr. Mohan [professor emeritus of philosophy]. He opened doors to a world that didn’t exist to me before. I’m from the Class of 1983 — but philosophy is still at the core of what I do today.

Rick Capozzi during a recent visit to Southern, where he is a member of the School of Business Advisory Council.

To what do you attribute your success?
It all started with a belief system. I was absolutely certain that if I wanted something badly enough, no one — no matter who they were — was going to tell me I wasn’t going to achieve it. That belief came from my parents and my siblings. They stressed a strong work ethic and the ability to persevere no matter what.

Also, if I didn’t know something, I was not afraid to ask. I wasn’t afraid of surrounding myself with people who were in some way smarter than me. In fact, my goal was to hire people who had a skill set or knowledge that I didn’t.

Finally, I never stopped learning — and I’m not just talking about the business world. It’s all about curiosity.

What’s something you’ve learned about recently?
My daughter wanted to go shark diving with great whites, so I went. Why? Because I was curious to see what great whites look like from a foot away.

Any final thoughts?
You never master it all. The best professionals, when they are in their 80s and 90s, will tell me, ‘Rick, I am excited about today, because I’m probably going to learn something new.’

SCSU students Eric Clinton, Tracy Tenesaca, and Alyssa Pearl Korzon
Scholarship support helps students make the most of their Southern experience. A new online application process makes it easy for them to apply.

Business major Eric T. Clinton doesn’t have much down time. Since arriving at Southern in 2014, he’s helped launch a mentoring group for men of color, served as a peer mentor to new students, and tackled numerous lead roles in campus theater productions.

Public Health major Tracy Tenesaca (center) is equally driven. In addition to being a peer mentor in the Honors College, she’s vice president of the Class of 2018, a member of OLAS (the organization of Latin American Students), and an extremely active volunteer.

Then there’s Alyssa Korzon, an Honors College student with a dual major in special education and theatre. Korzon has two jobs — she’s a certified yoga instructor and works in retail — and is president of Active Minds, a group dedicated to mental health awareness and advocacy.

Clinton, Tenesaca, and Korzon have unique backgrounds, accomplishments, and dreams. But their Southern success stories share a common thread. All are scholarship recipients, a distinction that recognizes their achievements — while lessening financial pressures so they can make the most of their Southern experience. (The specific scholarships each receives are included with their photos.)

More than 300 scholarships are overseen by the SCSU Foundation, with funds benefiting both undergraduate and graduate students. In 2017, the application process was simplified, making it possible for students to apply for all by completing a single online application. Applying takes as little as 10 minutes, but students may opt to earn extra points by completing an optional short essay.

“They are quite amazing,” says Heather Rowe, business manager of the SCSU Foundation. “Our students are very passionate about what they want to do with their lives. They are dedicated to helping their peers — and they want to pay it forward.”

Three out of every four Southern undergrads receive some form of financial aid — and in 2015-2016, almost 41 percent of undergraduates received a Federal Pell Grant, awarded to those with the most extreme need. Scholarship dollars, like grants, do not have to repaid. As such, scholarships play an extremely important role in a student’s financial aid package: helping them graduate with less debt.

At Southern, about 75 percent of the Class of 2016 graduated with student debt averaging about $28,000, according to a study by LendEDU. The SCSU Foundation hopes to sharply slash both statistics with the help of donations from alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and friends.

Among them is Rowe, who last year established the Grace Rowe International Travel Award to benefit students who want to enhance their education through travel. The award honors Rowe’s mother, who received a framed certificate announcing the fund’s creation on her 95th birthday. “It represents something she firmly believes in — the power of travel to broaden your horizons. I was raised on the road and international travel was part of my upbringing,” says Rowe.

The ability to tailor a scholarship to reflect a donor’s specific desires is readily seen when browsing through the 300-plus funds. Some benefit students with certain majors or career aspirations. Others recognize specific talents like athletics success or community service. Students may browse through the various scholarships on the website — and learn about the donors.

At a time of great need, foundation scholarships were at an all-time high for fiscal year 2017 at just under $800,000. The goal, moving forward, is to encourage more students to apply and to establish additional funds to benefit them. Consider the words of David McHale, ’98, chairman of the SCSU Foundation Board, speaking at the inauguration of President Joe Bertolino: “It’s our aspiration, perhaps, in just a few short years to provide $1 million in scholarships to 1,000 students. That would be a real game changer for this university.”

Since 2007, university photographer Isabel Chenoweth has told Southern’s story through photographs. Here are a few of her favorites.

SCSU University Photographer Isabel Chenoweth
University photographer Isabel Chenoweth has photographed campus for a decade.

Isabel Chenoweth has searched for light in the darkest places — including the basement of James Moore Field House. In Hutchinson Natatorium. Under the water.

On that particular day — April 8, 2013 — Chenoweth stood in the humid-thick air, her mind set on finding a new way to photograph Southern swimming sensation Amanda Thomas. Thomas, among the most celebrated student-athletes in Owl history, would go on to graduate with two degrees in exercise science (a bachelor’s in 2013 and a master’s in 2015) and four first-place finishes at the NCAA Div. II national championships. But at that moment some four and one-half years ago, victory would be a simpler thing for the 18-time All American — look serene while swimming horizontally across the pool, face aimed directly at a viewing window where Chenoweth stood camera-in-hand.

SCSU swimmer Amanda Thomas underwater

“We focused the lights into the water and then triggered them with radio transmitters,” says Chenoweth. “It took several takes to get her hands perfectly placed, with her legs right behind her. You can see where the light falls off. It wasn’t an instant portrait. It was trial and error.”

The resulting shot is one of Chenoweth’s favorites — and that is saying something. As of July 2017, she has chronicled campus life for more than a decade, taking close to 50,000 Southern-related photographs every year. The subjects and assignments are decidedly varied. They include portraiture, event coverage, and photo journalism as well as editorial and marketing shoots.

On a “typical day,” Chenoweth has captured megastar John Legend on stage at the Lyman Center, singing with such strength the microphone had to be turned down. She’s also traveled to Europe to photograph Southern’s choir performing to sold-out audiences — and made countless trips throughout New Haven neighborhoods to get shots of students volunteering, interning, and conducting research. And she’s spent hours taking portraits of faculty members, often learning about their fields of scholarship.

She says these and all other assignments share a common denominator: “Photography is storytelling with light and a moment in time. Light is key. You have to always be conscious of where your light’s coming from — its source and direction, the quality and quantity of light, and the patterns being created.”

The attached gallery showcases more of Chenoweth’s favorite photographs — images captured when the light was perfect and all was right with her world.

Gallery: 10 Years, Favorite Photos

Cover graphic for Southern Alumni Magazine, Fall 2017 issue

Collin Walsh, '08, competed in the 55 meters at the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field event on November 11 at Moore Field House

Former Southern track and field All-American Collin Walsh, ’08, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has been paralyzed from his mid-section to his toes, competed in the 55 meters at the James Barber/Wilton Wright SCSU Alumni Track and Field event on November 11 at Moore Field House. Owl Nation cheered him on every step of the way, especially when he successfully completed the 55 meters at the event.

Walsh was an All-American during his undergraduate career at Southern and competed with the cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field squads. He was an All-New England performer and conference champion, and was also recognized with numerous academic honors. Walsh also completed an internship at the White House during his senior year.

After graduation, he went on to serve as a Milford police officer and pursued additional graduate coursework at UConn, Indiana University and abroad in India. In April 2016, he headed to Washington, D.C., to work for Diplomatic Security Service as a special agent specializing in counter-terrorism.

However, after just days there, he became stricken, and during his hospitalization was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Walsh became paralyzed and unable to walk. Since then, he has undergone extensive medical treatment, even going to India for treatment.

SCSU President Joe Bertolino with Collin Walsh, '08, Jim Barber, and coach

Walsh’s participation in the event garnered local media attention:

New Haven Register: “Former SCSU runner with MS participates in alumni track meet”
By Clare Dignan

Fox 61: “Former police officer, track star with MS walks in track meet”

News 12: “Former Milford officer who was told he’d never walk again defies odds”

Milford Patch: “Former Milford Cop Doesn’t Let Crippling Illness Slow Him Down”

 

map showing solar panels projected for SCSU campus

Southern Connecticut State University will soon be the new home for over 3,000 photovoltaic solar panels. The culmination of over two years’ planning, the renewable energy project will generate over a million kilowatt hours of electricity annually and will be installed with no capital investment or up-front cost by Connecticut taxpayers.

The Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) has partnered with Current powered by General Electric and Connecticut Green Bank to install the solar energy system on the SCSU campus in order to decrease operating expenses. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2018.

Solar panels will also be installed at Manchester and Middlesex Community Colleges, with the goal of extending to other campuses including Central, Housatonic, Asnuntuck, Quinebaug, Tunxis and Western in the next two years. The solar energy initiative is funded entirely with private capital sourced by Connecticut Green Bank and once fully implemented is estimated to save CSCU more than $10 million within the first 20 years.

SCSU’s panels will be installed in three arrays: as a combination ground mount and carport array in parking lot 9 near Brownell Hall, and a rooftop array at Wintergreen garage. The panels will help power the west side of campus, which largely comprises residential areas and business operations. Eric Lessne is the associate director for project management and engineering for the CSCU system, and has a long track record improving SCSU’s energy efficiency. “This is a public-private partnership with Current, powered by General Electric, and the Connecticut Green Bank,” Lessne says. “SCSU will purchase the electricity that the solar panels produce with substantial and immediate savings compared to our current utility rate. These solar panels will power about 4% of our electricity use as a campus.”

illustration showing solar car port on SCSU campus

SCSU President Joe Bertolino, who in early summer 2017 signed We Are Still In, joining over a thousand business leaders, university presidents, mayors and governors to support climate action to fulfill the Paris agreement, is very pleased about the project. “Clean renewable energy and social justice go hand in hand,” Bertolino says. “There was no question we wanted to do this. We’re already planning a second project.”

Robert Sheeley, SCSU associate vice president of facilities and capital budgeting, chairs the SCSU Sustainability Committee. “Our partnership with GE and CT Green Bank is a triple bottom-line win for the environment, our campus community, and for taxpayers,” Sheeley says. “Ten years ago, we dreamed about projects like this. We’re looking forward to breaking ground next year.”

Suzie Huminski, SCSU’s sustainability coordinator, explains, “We chose sites for this solar project that are best for maximizing energy production and don’t compromise other potential land uses or ecological value. Even though our goal is to maximize solar installation, it is just as important to consider ecosystem and community value for potential sites as it is to consider southern sun exposure. We’re proud to take such a big step forward with our climate leadership efforts.”

SCSU students have been involved in the process as well. Huminski recalls that in 2015, four students worked with her as part of a fellowship funded by Energize CT. Together, the student fellows worked with consultants at Celtic Energy to conduct a campus solar feasibility study. The university was already in early stages of solar planning, and these students got a real-time firsthand view of planning a large commercial renewable project.

Of the four fellows, Huminski reports that Skyler Edmondson, ‘16, got a job working in the solar industry after graduation, and another fellow, Justin Lipe, M.S. Chemistry, ’16, now works at Quantum Biopower, Connecticut’s first anaerobic digester located in Southington. The facility converts food scrap to renewable energy and landscape products.

“Anything we can do to make our system and our planet more viable and sustainable in the future is a step we’re willing to take,” said CSCU President Mark Ojakian of the solar project. “I want to sincerely thank all our partners who worked hard to make this important project possible.”

“The CSCU has shown tremendous leadership with this initiative,” commented Connecticut Green Bank President and CEO Bryan Garcia. “The Connecticut Green Bank is thrilled to be supporting CSCU’s efforts to go green. By not only installing solar energy systems across multiple campuses at once but using private capital to finance the projects, CSCU will be saving significant dollars for the State. And with a high-quality partner like GE overseeing the installations, there is little question these systems will perform and create a win-win-win for all involved.”

“This project is a great representation of the potential of solar generation,” said Amol Kapur, Current by GE’s business development manager for the CSCU portfolio, “CSCU is demonstrating the value of bringing together engineering, technology and finance to support both business and sustainability goals.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bugman4