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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”

 

Owl pride is running sky high thanks to a growing list of accomplishments that position Southern among the best. Here are some of the university’s many exciting achievements and initiatives.

Owl Pride graphic with Otis and banner

* Southern’s student-faculty ratio is 14:1, tied for the lowest among public universities in the state.

* Students receive free supplemental instruction, tutoring and academic success coaching in topics such as time management and study strategies at Southern’s Academic Success Center. There were 30,000 visits in 2016-17.

* 150-plus student clubs and organizations offer a wealth of opportunity. These clubs host more than 3,000 events annually. In fall 2017, 3,584 students were club members.

* An innovative trans-Atlantic partnership between Southern and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) offers research internships, study abroad opportunities, faculty exchanges, and soon, the first programs in a portfolio of joint master’s degrees. First on the agenda are an M.S. in coastal resilience and an International MBA. With these, SCSU and LJMU will be the only American/Anglo universities offering more than one joint master’s program.

* Southern was one of only five colleges and universities to receive the “Excellence in Assessment” designation in 2017. The designation recognizes institutions of higher learning that best proactively use assessment data to strengthen undergraduate education.

* Beginning with the Class of 2020, all first-year students accepted into the Honors College receive a merit-based scholarship covering one-half to full in-state tuition.

*Student retention rates in Southern’s Honors College historically have been well-above 90 percent — in step with many of the most-selective private institutions of higher education.

* Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was awarded to two campus buildings: the new science building and the home for the School of Business. The certification recognizes construction and design meeting exceptional ecological standards.

* Southern is home to the CSCU** Center for Nanotechnology, the only system-wide center for the field in the state.

* Also housed at Southern, the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies is the only CSCU** center dedicated to faculty-mentored student research that addresses environmental issues along the Connecticut shoreline and Long Island Sound.

* Southern’s campus will soon be home to the Barack H. Obama Magnet University School through a partnership with the city of New Haven and its school system. A true win-win initiative, it will provide in-classroom teacher training for education majors and an exceptional learning environment for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

* In 2016, Southern partnered with CARE (the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), which was founded at Yale University. In the following three years, CARE has been transitioning from Yale to SCSU’s campus — with Southern becoming responsible for CARE’s community engagement work. Yale will continue to manage and finance CARE’s research agenda while gradually shifting that work to Southern.

* Alumna Jahana Hayes, ’05 was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. Southern graduates also swept many of the state’s top teaching awards for 2016, earning honors as Connecticut’s “Best of the Year” in the superintendent, teacher, school counselor, and many other categories. Most recently, alumnus Dan Kahl was named the state’s “Adaptive Physical Education Teacher of the Year.”

* Computer science majors Michael Solati and Robert Crowdis won first place at the 2017 College Tech Challenge — standing out among many of the state’s top engineering and programming students. The duo won a $5,000 prize.

* In the past four years, 98-plus percent of students in Southern’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program passed the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) the first time — among the best records in the state. (State of Connecticut Department of Public Health, May 2018)

* A Southern team was a semi-finalist in the 2017 American Marketing Association’s Collegiate Case Competition. Southern was the only institution of higher learning in Connecticut to score among the semi-finalists and finalists — and joined Providence College as one of only two in all of New England.

* Sandra Gomez-Aceves, ’17, beat out nearly 500 applicants to win one of only twelve coveted spots at the 2017 ProPublica Data Institute, a seminar for journalists and journalism students. Gomez-Aceves was one of only three of the latter chosen by the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization to participate. The invitation covered all tuition costs.

* There are 11,000 student members in the American Marketing Association (AMA), and recent graduate Julia Rotella,’17, was one of the best, finishing second in the organization’s 2017 “Student Marketer of the Year” competition.

* Southern is an NCAA Division II athletics powerhouse. The Owls rank among the top 10 nationally with 80 individual titles and in team championships with 10 titles.

* In fall 2016, Southern’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists was named the “Outstanding Campus Chapter” for region 1, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

* Two Southern graduates were among a total of only 10 librarians chosen from throughout the U.S. to receive the 2016 “I Love My Librarian Award,” sponsored by the American Library Association.

* Southern previously was recognized at the White House Summit on Computer Science for All.

* In November 2018, Southern celebrated its second annual Social Justice Month with almost 100 events, all designed to further social justice education and awareness on campus.

* Southern is the first breast-feeding friendly campus in the state and the nation. — Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition

* Southern will provide residential leadership scholarships that cover housing expenses for 10 incoming New Haven Promise Scholars beginning next fall. The selected students — known as Promise Community Ambassadors — will mentor Southern’s New Haven Promise Scholars and city high school students. As of December 2017, Southern has had more New Haven Promise Scholars (339) than any other university.

* Sierra Magazine and the Princeton Review have repeatedly cited Southern among America’s greenest universities.

* Since being installed on campus, refillable water bottle stations have been more than 1 million times. That’s a lot of plastic kept out of landfills.

* More than 3,000 solar panels were installed on campus through a renewable energy program expected to generate over a million kilowatt hours of electricity annually — with no capital investment or upfront costs to Connecticut tax payers.

* By May 2018, Southern’s award-winning Food Recovery Project had collected 33,677 pounds of nutritious, unspoiled and unserved food from the dining hall and other campus dining establishments. The equivalent of 27,500 meals were then delivered to area food pantries and soup kitchens. Over the years, more than 50 student interns from Southern’s Office of Sustainability have helped drive the program.

* Southern’s organic garden produced 1,500-plus pounds of food from 2016 – spring 2018 — a bounty shared with area soup kitchens and local families through the Community Garden Nutrition Program, a partnership with CARE (Community Alliance of Research and Engagement) and New Haven Farms.

* Southern sends organic waste, including food scraps, to Quantum Biopower in Southington, Conn., where it is converted into energy, soil-based fertilizer, and compost.

* The university has been building communities and empowering lives for almost 125 years. Get ready to celebrate Southern’s anniversary in 2018!

**Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Cover graphic for Southern Alumni Magazine, Fall 2017 issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What role did education play in your family?

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

How about your parents?

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

Did that make an impression on you?

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

What was your college experience like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What led you to pursue the presidency at Southern?

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

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

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

Describe your leadership style in five words.

Compassionate. Kind. Collaborative. Relationship focused.

What are your immediate goals for Southern?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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