Yearly Archives: 2013

The Millennials may be the most studied generation in American history.

Their size – which exceeds that of Generation X and rivals that of the Baby Boom Generation – coupled with their distinctive characteristics are fodder for a sociological analyst’s dream. Why do they appear to be so different from previous generations in the classroom, at work and in society, in general? Indeed, cultural shockwaves have been felt in the workplace since the Millennials’ entrance a decade ago.

To be sure, some of the same things have been said of every succeeding generation. After all, all one needs to do is look at the images of the late 1960s and early 1970s – the coming of age era for so many Baby Boomers – to feel the cultural stir that permeated society.

But many experts say that the changes within the Millennial Generation are deeper and more ingrained than those from previous generations. Some say that members of this generation approach their careers in a different way than in the past. For example, paying your dues at an organization for a significant amount of time — a path doggedly taken by most Baby Boomers and their parents — is no longer viewed in the same light. Millennials tend to want to make a significant, sometimes dramatic impact, right away.

Similarly, this generation sees the world in more horizontal terms than in hierarchical terms. Ironically, Millennials appear to be less confrontational toward authority figures than their parents were at their age…perhaps because of their closer relationship with their own parents than Baby Boomers had. But that relationship also has been controversial as educators frequently bemoan a less independent student body. This style of “helicopter parenting” owes some of its genesis to the technological boom with the creation of cell phones, iPhones and other new communication vehicles.

blogphotomillennials

Interestingly, phone conversations for college students have decreased over the years, according to Ro Conforti, associate professor of media studies at Southern. She tells the story of how one of her students used to complain…not that her mother called her frequently on the phone…but that her mother did not know how to text her.

Texting is considered the communication vehicle of choice. It’s faster and less intrusive than calling someone, or even emailing. And while Conforti says the new technology, including social media, allows friends and family members to stay in touch more easily, she adds that it comes with a price tag.

“I see many young people having a lot of trouble articulating their feelings or thoughts,” Conforti says. “Texting and tweeting don’t allow a person to express themselves fully. And it goes even further in some cases. Growing up, I remember looking forward to when the phone rang. We’re finding that many younger adults today actually perceive phone calls as an interruption in their lives.”

The use of high tech communication devices is bound to continue among those in the post-Millennial Generation, those born around 1996 and later and sometimes referred to as Generation Edge or Generation Z. But the early trends are beginning to show some behavioral changes, according to some experts. The prevalence of “helicopter parenting” may be waning as the children of Generation X are growing up. While a single breadwinner was common place during the childhoods of Baby Boomers, the “latch key kids” era was a trend among GenXers. In other words, they grew up in a family environment that required them to learn self-reliance at an earlier age with both parents working. It’s not surprising, then, if the kids of GenXers are being raised to be more independent.

But since the oldest GenEdgers are just now approaching college-age, the jury is still out in terms of how they will differ from Millennials, as well as previous generations.

The trends among Millennials and GenEdgers will be discussed in depth during a Nov. 18 forum at Southern called, “Ready or Not, Connecticut, the Millennial Generation is Here!…And the GenEdgers Aren’t Far Behind.” The program will explore topics such as how these two generations differ from past generations; Millennials in the workplace ; how modern technology may be affecting the interpersonal communication skills of younger folks and how to bridge the generation gaps. For further information about the forum, go to: http://www.southernct.edu/millennialforum.html

    He has been called “The Most Heard Voice” on National Public Radio (NPR). Listeners across the country have heard him dozens of times a day as the man who says “Support for NPR comes from NPR member stations and . . . ,” announcing the funding credits after every national news and information program. And now Communication Professor Frank Tavares — who says he has been writing his entire professional life — has published a book of short stories, The Man Who Built Boxes, a collection that showcases his unique storytelling abilities with 12 stories about a remarkable cast of complex, quirky characters. He has also been doing a series of interviews with NPR member radio stations around the country as his 30-plus-year gig with NPR comes to a close and his writing career simultaneously takes off.

    Tavares says he started writing fiction seriously in the 1990s and has several unpublished novels. About a dozen years ago, he started writing short stories. “I like to be working on more than one thing at a time,” he says. He started publishing some of his stories in journals, and at one point a friend suggested he pull his stories together into a collection and publish them as a book. “I thought, ‘how hard can this be?’” says Tavares, adding he had no idea how complex the process of publishing a book would be. Deciding which stories to keep in the book, which to take out, and in what order they would run were just a few of the many steps he had to work through with his publisher. His book also includes part of the next novel he is working on.

    He is drawn to the short story genre, Tavares says, not only because it doesn’t take as long to write a short story as it does a novel, but also because the writer has to have fully fleshed-out characters in a short span of pages and has to give each story a satisfying arc. It’s a challenge he enjoys. “You can leave the reader with the feeling that they want to know more,” Tavares says. “You don’t have to answer every single question.”

    Tavares says one of his favorites aspects of writing fiction is exploring characters. “You let them take you where they’re going to go. I love that. When I’m working on something and a character suddenly does something I didn’t really see coming, it’s very exciting.”

    Although he has been writing fiction in bits and pieces all his life, Tavares says when he first started thinking of writing a novel he thought he would do it when he had time. Then he came to realize that was just an excuse. “I don’t believe in the idea of a muse,” Tavares says. He quotes the prolific Connecticut poet, the late Leo Connellan, as saying to him once: “Writers write.” “This is my mantra,” Tavares says. “There is no secret to it – the bottom line is you sit down and you just do it.” He writes in the early mornings, and says, “Some days I might only get a sentence or a couple of pages, but I am writing. And eventually I have something I can go back to and work on.”

    As for the connection between his work as a professor of communication and his writing, Tavares says, “words have power. The better you know how to use words, the more powerful you are.” He sees a connection between, for example, writing fiction, a letter for an academic journal or a project for a course. “They are all the same, because they all involve writing,” he says. “Words are powerful.”

      When Tim Parrish talks to other white people about racism, he says, their reactions, like his, literally come from a racist place. Racism in the United States is institutionalized, he says, but many white people are reluctant to talk about how they’ve been influenced by that.

      “White people, including me, often find it hard to talk about how racist institutions in American may have wired racism into them,” Parrish says. “Plus, talking about how you might have racist impulses — and I know that I do — seems like a no-win situation because of the absolutes people in the U.S. use to talk about race. The conversation usually goes, You’re either ‘pure of heart’ or ‘wearing a white hood.’ The reality is a lot more complicated than that, and we need to talk about it in a more nuanced way.”

      Parrish, an English professor and director of the creative writing program, and a native of Baton Rouge, La., takes a hard look at racism in his two new books, both published this fall: Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, a Memoir, and The Jumper, a novel, winner of Texas Review Press’s 2012 George Garrett Prize for Fiction.

      Parrish says the idea for The Jumper came from a man he tutored in Baton Rouge in the 1980s. “He was in his mid-30s and he was illiterate,” Parrish says, “I was teaching him how to read.” Parrish asked the man about his life story and learned that he had grown up on a west Texas ranch thinking he was an orphan. But one day he received a telegram from his biological father saying, “come back to Baton Rouge.”

      This man’s story was the inspiration for Parrish’s novel’s main character, Jimmy Strawhorn. The Jumpertakes its title from Strawhorn’s urge to jump from high places, but the trope of jumping also goes back to Parrish’s 2000 book of short stories, Red Stick Men, also based in Baton Rouge.

      Parrish describes The Jumper as a plot-driven novel and “kind of a crime novel.” One of the judges for the Garrett Prize wrote of the book that it is “so shockingly good that readers will abandon their favorite authors . . . and rush to read all his work.”

      Both The Jumper and Fear and What Follows are underpinned by racism, Parrish says. The racial and class politics portrayed in the novel echo the real world of 1960s and ‘70s Baton Rouge that Parrish writes about in his memoir. “Race riots and vicious street fights were all I knew,” says Parrish, who grew up in the years of desegregation in Baton Rouge.

      Parrish says he started toying with the idea of writing his memoir when he was in graduate school, but he brought it out again after 9-11. “There was a lot of apocalyptic talk after 9-11,” he says, “and it started stirring up all these emotions about my life.”

      Parrish says he and other members of his generation in the South “grew up in a time and a place where racism saturated everything that was going on,” but nobody in the white community really talked about it. Parrish feels that in writing about this period in his own life, he could confront his own demons while also saying something meaningful about the toxic thinking that surrounded him in his youth.

      About his own experience with “fear and what follows,” Parrish writes of his personal spiral in his teens into racist violence and irrational behavior. “When you get scared, you look to a brute to protect you,” he says, “and you believe you’ll be safer if he does.” His book portrays his choice to ally himself with a vicious, charismatic racist. Under this bigot’s sway, Parrish turns to violence in the street and at school. “I tried not to hold anything back about myself in the book,” he says. “I wanted to give an unvarnished look at what happened. I wanted to show how true fear informed a lot of atrocious behavior.”

      He describes the atmosphere at his desegregating high school in the mid-‘70s as “extremely violent” and discusses a shootout in the streets between members of the African American community and Baton Rouge police during which five people were killed. “It was kind of like gang war,” Parrish says, but the white press was not covering such events. It was an extremely complex racist and violent environment, he says, yet there was no assessment of the psychic or emotional toll this environment took on the people who lived in it.

      Ultimately, with this book, Parrish says, he wants to engage people in a conversation. He says he didn’t set out to write a pedantic book but just wrote about what happened to him. He does say, though, that he would like this book to speak to white people in a way that encourages them to investigate what he calls their “racist wiring.” “People are conditioned to be racist in our culture, but they are terrified to admit it.”

      Terry Bynum

      The technology landscape has changed dramatically over the past quarter century and continues to do so on a daily basis. Accompanying these changes are many new issues in the field of computer ethics — intellectual property, privacy, computer security, access to computing resources and downloading music and film off the Internet, to name a few.

      During this time, the Research Center on Computing and Society, based at Southern, and headed up by Philosophy Professor Terry Bynum (below, left), has established itself as an international leader in analyzing and promoting the ethical use of computer technology.

      The one-of-a-kind center has also advanced computer ethics as an academic discipline through teaching, networking, research, publications and a website that offers articles and papers, multimedia materials and links to other computer ethics resources. To mark the center’s 25th year, Bynum is planning events in the fall and spring semesters that address current topics in the field of technology.

      President Mary A. Papazian praises Bynum and his faculty colleagues associated with the center: “Their ongoing commitment to exploring the complex issues raised by new technology is a valuable societal contribution – and in so doing, they have given Southern international recognition in this groundbreaking field.”

      Bynum, who began the center at Southern in 1987, is one of the world’s foremost computer ethicists. In 1995, he traveled to England to assist a colleague who was starting a computer ethics research center there and to help put a conference together. ETHICOMP95 became the first in a series of international computer ethics conferences. Bynum says by now there have been 15 of them in 11 countries in Europe and Asia as well as the United States.

      In addition to his work with the center and ETHICOMP, Bynum has conducted workshops, given speeches and addresses, produced and hosted video programs and published articles on computing and human values. For 25 years he was editor-in-chief of Metaphilosophy, an international scholarly journal, now edited by Armen Marsoobian, professor of philosophy.

      Over the years, many scholars, both international and American, have come to Southern to give presentations and participate in roundtables sponsored by the center.

      On Nov. 8, the center held a mini-conference on computer security. Five scholars presented papers in the morning (see below), and in the afternoon, the 2013 Norbert Wiener Address was given by Donald Gotterbarn, director of the Software Engineering Ethics Research Institute at East Tennessee State University. Gotterbarn is also chairman of the Association for Computer Machinery’s (ACM) Committee on Professional Ethics and a leading author of the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, which promotes ethics among software engineers. Bynum says that ACM is the largest computer professional organization in the world. The namesake of the Norbert Wiener Address, according to Bynum, was an MIT mathematician whose study of information feedback systems during World War II was really the beginning of the computer ethics field.

      The second event to commemorate the center’s anniversary, planned for the spring semester, will focus on the social and ethical implications of MOOCs and other forms of online education. MOOCs (“massive open online courses” aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the Web), have been much in the news lately, as more and more educational institutions join the movement toward online education. In addition to these projects, the anniversary is also being marked by the presence of Chinese scholar Jin Tong (above, right), who is working at the center this year. She and Bynum are now working together on a book on “flourishing ethics,” a new ethical theory that, according to Bynum is “informed and grounded by recent scientific insights into the nature of living things, human nature and the fundamental nature of the universe – ideas from today’s information theory, astrophysics and genetics.”

      Bynum is also working on a history of the center and intends to produce a publication in honor of its milestone anniversary.

      Presenters for Ethics in the Information Age: – A Mini Conference –

      Terry Bynum, “What is Computer Ethics”
      Krystyna Gorniak, “Robotic Caregivers: A New ‘New Frontier’ in ICT Ethics”
      Anne Gerdes, “Fighting Emerging Organized Crime: Privacy Issues”
      Jin Tong, “On the Citizenship of a ‘Netizen’”
      Richard Volkman, “Digital Culture, Collective Intelligence and Ethical Individualism”
      Fran Grodzinsky, “Deception and Trust on the Internet”

      *Jonathan Ruiz, who works at Southern as part of the AmeriCorps Campus Compact, and Southern student volunteers were noted in an Oct. 30 story in the New Haven Register. the article was about a Halloween party for kids from the Westville section of New Haven.

      *Jim Tait, associate professor of science education and environmental studies, and Ezgi Akpinar Ferrand, assistant professor of geography, were quoted in an Oct. 27 story in the New Haven Register about the recovery of coastal communities a year after Hurricane Sandy. Jim and Ezgi, as well as their students, have been working with the communities of East Haven and West Haven to analyze beach erosion and flood damage. The goal is to help those towns develop a plan to restore those beaches and mitigate damage from future storms.

      An article about Southern’s efforts in East Haven and West Haven also appeared in the Register’s October education supplement, “Education Connection.”

      *Southern attracted considerable media attention in relation to the Oct. 21 visit to campus byU.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

      • The New Haven Register ran a Page 1 story that ran on Oct. 22. It also published online a series of photos from the event.
      • The Connecticut (Television) Network (CT-N)broadcast the event in its entirety several times, beginning on Oct. 22.
      • WQUN (1220 AM) aired a segment about the visit during its Oct. 22 newscasts.
      • Frank Harris, a columnist with the Hartford Courant (and associate professor of journalism here at Southern), wrote a column that ran in the Oct. 24 edition of the paper and referenced the event.
      • The Connecticut Post ran two blog posts —  published Oct. 18 and Oct. 20 — which previewed the event.

      *Frank Tavares, professor of communication, was interviewed Oct. 17 on the “Where We Live”show on WNPR (90.5 FM) about his new book, “The Man Who Built Boxes.”

      Frank also was interviewed by WNPR about the upcoming change in National Public Radio funding credits. Although it did not air, the clip was posted on the station’s website.

      *Joe Fields, professor of mathematics, was “in the news” on back-to-back days for his development of an open-source textbook that has been used by many of his students over the last several years. The book is available online at no cost to his students, or to anyone else who chooses to use it for their own classes or reading.

      On Oct. 14, he was featured in an article that appeared on the front page of the New Haven Register. Len Brin, assistant chairman of the Mathematics Department, and Aaron Clark, associate professor of mathematics, also were quoted in the story.

      On Oct. 15, Joe was interviewed on the Channel 61 Morning Show about the book and a budding trend in higher education toward open-source textbooks.

      *An Oct. 10 article in the New Haven Register previewed the conference, “Title IX: Equality in Action: The Enduring Legacy of Title IX.” The conference was held the following day. The daylong event focused on the history of the landmark federal legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal money on the basis of sex.

      *Tim Parrish, professor of English, was interviewed on two Louisiana radio stations for his recent books: “Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, A Memoir,” and “The Reading Life.”

      An interview aired on Oct. 8 by the Baton Rouge-based WRKF, a National Public Radio affiliate, for “Fear and What Follows.” It is part of that station’s “All Things Considered” program.

      On Oct. 9, he was interviewed on WWNO, the University of Louisiana’s station for “The Reading Life.’

      *Yahoo! Canada ran a story on Oct. 8 that offered 13 tips on how to feel your absolute best this month. It mentioned a study conducted a few years ago by William Lunn, assistant professor of exercise science, which indicated chocolate milk is an excellent beverage when recovering from a strenuous workout.

        Christmas ferns are pretty ordinary plants in the botanical world – they are in abundance in the eastern half of the United States, and if you walk through a shaded area of a park, you can find them pretty easily.

        Yet the properties inside this ostensibly unremarkable fern may be a catalyst toward combatting an aggressive form of brain cancer. So says, Sarah Crawford, a professor of biology at Southern who has an extensive background in cancer research.

        But her statement is more than just an abstract theoretical possibility. An extract made from the Christmas fern has demonstrated anti-cancer properties in pre-clinical testing conducted by Crawford and her students. In fact, the results were impressive enough to spur the U.S. Patent Office to award Crawford, as well as Erin Boisvert, a former student of Crawford, a patent for the extract.

        “This is really exciting news,” Crawford says. “I applied for the patent more than six years ago and was hopeful it would grant its approval. But it’s a long, thorough process. You’re never quite sure whether it is going to be approved or not.”

        The extract was tested as part of a three-component cocktail – carmustine, a powerful chemotherapy drug used to treat brain cancer; curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric that has anti-inflammatory qualities; and polystichum acrostichoides, the technical name for the Christmas fern. The plant is believed to have antioxidant properties, but to Crawford’s knowledge, it has not previously undergone rigorous testing for its anti-cancer ability.

        The tests showed that the cocktail was effective in killing nearly half of the cancer cells in tiny tumors created in the Biology Department lab – far more effective than use of any of the three substances alone. “I won’t rest until we can kill 100 percent of the cancer cells, but it’s a good start,” she says, adding that she plans to experiment by using different levels of each substance to see if that increases the efficacy of the extract’s anti-cancer properties. She said she also may test other chemotherapy drugs with the Christmas fern and curcumin.

        Crawford says that a reduction in the level of carmustine, but maintaining or increasing the effectiveness of the cocktail, would be ideal. That could reduce the side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy drugs.

        The tests were conducted on glioblastoma multiforme, considered to be the most deadly form of brain cancer with a fatality rate of more than 90 percent within five years.

        Two current students are assisting Crawford with this project.

        Brielle Hayward, who is a graduate fellow, is examining the Christmas fern’s antioxidant properties and comparing its anti-cancer effects with other phytochemical antioxidants, such as American and Korean ginseng.

        Paulina Mrowiec, who is a member of the Honors College, is continuing her research on the project after completing an undergraduate thesis last spring on pre-clinical models for cancer drug testing.

        Crawford says she looks forward to the opening of the Academic and Laboratory Science Building, scheduled for 2015, which promises state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to conduct further research.

        Halloween is a tough time to be a bat.

        Only a month ago, the Flying Mammal had a buffet of available bugs to choose from for its meals. But the cool weather of late fall has drastically reduced the volume of mosquitoes, gnats and other flying insects from which to dine. The chillier conditions and declining food supply has sent some bats into hibernation already, with others preparing for the long, sleepy fast.

        Brown bats are common in the United States.
        Brown bats are common in the United States.

        But if that’s not enough to give bats the blues, their reputation is annually besmirched during Halloween season. In movies, we see Dracula turn himself into a bat, flying around a haunted house and sucking blood from his victims. Kids equate bat costumes with those of witches, goblins and other menaces of the night.

        “With the exception of ‘Batman,’ we generally don’t see bats portrayed in a positive light,” says Miranda Dunbar, assistant professor of biology at Southern and a self-proclaimed Defender of the Bat. “But the reality is the bat is actually one of the good guys.”

        Dunbar, who has conducted extensive research on bats, has offered to help dispel some of the biggest myths about bats. Here are some of them:

        Myth: Bats like to suck people’s blood.
        Reality: There are only a few species of bat that consume blood at all, none of which are regularly found in the United States or Canada. And even among the species that do feed on blood, such as the vampire bat, they prefer livestock.

        Myth: Bats are dirty animals that often spread rabies.
        Reality: Bats are actually very clean, frequently giving themselves and their young tongue baths. And while it is possible to contact rabies from a bat, like many animals in wildlife, you have a much higher chance of getting rabies from raccoons, rats, foxes or dogs. When a bat gets rabies, it often dies within a week, not allowing it to hang around very long to spread the disease.

        Myth: Bats are blind, at least during the day.
        Reality: Although most have small eyes and don’t have great vision, they can see, even during the day. Some tropical species actually have vision that’s quite good.

        Myth: Bats do nothing but sleep during the daytime hours.
        Reality: Like other nocturnal animals, bats certainly sleep during the day. But they don’t sleep the entire time. In fact, they often groom and socialize during the day. Yes, they have friends.

        Myth: All bats are brown or black in color.
        Reality: While most in North America are some variation of brown, the Eastern red bats are actually a fiery red or orange. They are very handsome, but they tend to be a little high maintenance compared with the other bats.

        Most bats wouldn't want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.
        Most bats wouldn’t want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.

        Myth: Other than eating some insects, the bat contributes little to the eco-system.
        Reality: Not true. They eat a tremendous amount of insects – sometimes even their own weight in bugs during the course of an evening. But one of the little known facts about bats is that they are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many tropical fruits, such as bananas, mangoes and figs, as well as cashews and even for the Agave plant, which is used to make tequila. Their fur gets full of pollen when they eat the nectar of flowers. They then spread the pollen in their travels.

          U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the Southern community that she thought about asking President Barack Obama to withdraw her nomination to the nation’s highest court amid intense scrutiny four years ago during her confirmation process.

          “The attacks on me were wearing me down,” she said. “The process was exhausting. Some people were saying I wasn’t smart enough to do the job.” But Sotomayor persisted with the support of her family and friends and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

          It was a blunt admission during her nearly hour-long talk on Oct. 21 at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, where she spoke to an estimated 1,300 people – mostly students, faculty and staff. Her talk was part of a one-on-one interview with President Mary A. Papazian. It capped her campus visit, which included meeting with Southern students, as well as a class of seventh and eighth graders from New Haven’s Columbus School. She also had her photo taken with attendees of a reception in her honor.

          And while she recalled the confirmation process, most of the dialogue focused on her life’s journey and lessons that she has learned along the way. She weaved in plenty of advice to students, especially freshmen who were required last summer to read her memoir, “My Beloved World,” as part of the “Common Read” program.

          Among the pieces of advice she offered students was to take courses outside of their comfort zone while in college. “College is the one time you can experiment a little,” she said.

          While she knew in college that she wanted to go to law school, she decided to take a course in economics so that she had a better understanding of supply and demand, and a course in psychology so that she knew what terms such as “Freudian slip” actually meant.

          “Take courses just because they are interesting…Become a more interesting person,” she urged.

          Asked for her thoughts on taking a foreign language course in college – something many students would prefer to avoid — she expressed her approval for registering for such classes. “Most Europeans speak not (just) one other language, but multiple other languages,” she said.

          Sotomayor said taking a foreign language is also important because it helps to expose students to other cultures. And she added that while cultures may differ, the underlying values among the people are essentially the same – the importance of family, sharing, loyalty and love.

          She also offered a blunt analysis of courtroom justice. “In a courtroom, there are winners. But there’s always, but always, a loser. That person feels justice was not on their side.”

          She said that in writing the book, she attempted to give people an insight into her life beyond the biographical information about her that had already been made known to the public. She also wanted to let people know that although her early life was filled with personal and family struggles, they taught her a great deal and gave her strength.

          The visit was coordinated by a committee, spearheaded by Dawn Cathey, a university assistant in the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and an adjunct faculty member who teaches in the First-Year Experience program, and Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs.

          MEDIA STORY: The New Haven Register ran a Page 1 story in its Oct. 22 edition. The following are links to that story, as well as a collection of photos taken by the paper:

          http://www.nhregister.com/lifestyle/20131021/in-new-haven-justice-sotomayor-shares-the-story-of-her-life

          http://photos.newhavenregister.com/2013/10/22/photos-u-s-supreme-court-justice-sonia-sotomayor-at-scsu-new-haven/

            You are sitting on an examining table in a doctor’s office, waiting to hear what your physician has to say about your mystifying symptoms. But when the doctor begins to explain, you cannot understand the medical terms he uses. It’s a situation that can make anyone anxious, but add to that a language barrier – imagine your doctor only speaks English and you only speak Spanish.

            Luisa Piemontese, professor of Spanish, says people in this position are often scared. She has helped Spanish-speaking friends and family with communicating in doctor’s or dentist’s appointments. Piemontese will also assist if she is out in a doctor’s office and notices that someone is having trouble communicating because of a language barrier. And she is helping in another way: the new course on medical Spanish (Spanish 220) that she is teaching this fall will give students, particularly those going into medical or helping professions, the capability to converse with patients and make them feel comfortable.

            The course was developed by Resha Cardone and Sobeira Latorre, associate professors of Spanish. Cardone was originally approached by the Nursing Department in 2010 to create such a course and later worked with student Stephanie Caicedo, a double major in Spanish and nursing, who wanted to do an independent study to connect her two majors. Caicedo translated a series of documents into Spanish for the Connecticut Lifespan Respite Coalition (CLRC), a local agency. Thanks to this independent study, Cardone says, she met Peaches Quinn of the CLRC, who helped her understand that the need for medical Spanish courses existed not only at Southern but also within the community. “Despite the fact that her agency serves many Hispanic clients, they had no materials in Spanish to offer them,” Cardone says.

            By the end of Stephanie’s independent study, she says, she was hearing from both students and members of the community that a medical Spanish course was needed. When the time came to put together the course proposal, Latorre offered to help. “Neither of us have any expertise in the medical field, so we had to do quite a bit of research in putting the proposal together,” Cardone says.

            When Piemontese offered the course for the first time this fall, it was immediately apparent how much interest there is among students for such a course. The course filled quickly, prompting its developers to consider creating a medical Spanish track or minor, not only for nursing students, but also for students in related fields like public health, psychology and exercise science.

            Spanish 101 is the prerequisite for the course, along with three years of Spanish in high school. Spanish 200 is required for the LEP, but the medical Spanish course can fill the same requirement. “In Spanish 200, you learn the parts of the body on the outside,” Piemontese says. “In this course we’ll go inside the body.”

            Learning vocabulary is important, she says, and the students will do that, but her ultimate goal for the course is for them to be able to communicate. “We are focusing on the medical terms – the textbook is on medical Spanish, and the dictionary required for the course is for students in medical professions – but we’ll also do a lot of mock scenes of being in a hospital or doctor’s office.”

            She is interested in knowing how much her students know about the Spanish-speaking world and wants to move beyond stereotypical ideas of the cultures so that students understand they will be dealing with human beings, not stereotypes. Early in the course, Piemontese will talk about how important correct pronunciation is – “mispronunciation can be insulting,” she says.

            One way she plans to give her students hands-on experience is to take them with her to help at a medical clinic for migrant farm workers run by the University of Connecticut. The clinic, staffed by medical students, goes out into farms around the state and provides medical and dental care for the migrant workers.

            Piemontese volunteered with this clinic over the summer and has asked her students if they would like to join her. The first week of class, she and some of her students were headed to Lyman Orchards to accompany the clinic staff to observe and to help with communication, if asked.

            The students who registered for this course want to be there, Piemontese says. “It is immediately meaningful to them. They know it is a skill they need.”

            Two Southern Connecticut State University faculty members and their students are analyzing the effect that Hurricane Sandy had on the coastlines of East Haven and West Haven in an effort to help those communities prepare for future storms.

            James Tait, associate professor of science education and environmental studies, and Ezgi Akpinar Ferrand, assistant professor ofgeography, have been examining the beach erosion that occurred from the hurricane that hit the East Coast a year ago. The bulk of their efforts have been focused on East Haven, so far, though some analysis has taken place on the coastline of West Haven. They may look at other coastal communities in the future.

            “East Haven was really the poster child of damage as a result of that storm,” says Tait, who lives close to the beach area in that community.

            He says the width of the beach area was the primary factor in determining how much damage a coastal community sustained. In areas with a wide beach, the damage was minimal, but in narrow beach areas, the effects were much more profound. In fact, the waters of Long Island sound extended 1,845 feet inland in the Silver Sands Road and Farview Road area of East Haven, according to Tait. And the beach area was cut in half in the vicinity of Caroline Avenue.

            “It could have been even worse had the peak of the storm coincided with high tide,” Akpinar Ferrand adds. “Instead, it occurred close to low tide.”

            SCSU has been mapping the flood zones to show the most affected areas. Tait says that because a wide beach is the best protection against property damage, he believes it would be fruitful for East Haven to restore its beach area. He said there are a few ways that this can be accomplished.

            “Connecticut’s beaches are naturally erosive, especially as compared with California,” he says. He explained that in areas with fairer weather, the waves naturally return the beach sand that is lost. But in Connecticut, the return rate is very slow. In fact, he said some studies have shown up to a foot of beach area is lost, on average, per year.

            Tait says a full report on the assessment and recommendations will be made to East Haven officials next fall.

            Part of the report is likely to show how bad the damage would have been if the storm occurred in 2025 or 2035, assuming a gradual rise in the sea level of Long Island Sound projected by many climatologists. “We certainly believe that the damage would have been worse,” he says.

            In West Haven, an analysis is being conducted to determine where the beach sand has gone as a result of the hurricane. He hopes that information can help West Haven plan for its own beach revitalization, which would include the addition of beach sand in the areas that would have the greatest benefit to the city.

            “These two projects have the potential to benefit the two communities, as well as give our students an opportunity to participate in real-world research,” Akinpar Ferrand says.

            Tait agrees.

            “And the research could be used as a catalyst for changes that could lower flood insurance premiums in those areas,” he says.

            Catherine Cota, a student working on the projects, says it is a rewarding experience to see what can be done to preserve the existence of the beaches and prevent devastation from future storms. “I really enjoy being part of a project that can directly benefit the people of these communities and help tax dollars to be put to good use,” Cota says. “After working on the beaches all summer, you really get a feel for how important the beaches are to this community.”

            Kaitlyn Stobierski, also a student engaged with the research, says the real-world experience has enabled her to apply the skills she has learned in the classroom. “And the work that we have been doing on the beaches will give people in the town a better understanding of what they are up against and what they can do to help out the beaches,” she says.

            Mark Paine Jr., assistant to the commissioner of public works in West Haven, thanked SCSU, noting that the city could not possibly have conducted the extensive research that is being conducted by the university.

            “I’m grateful for the resources the Werth Center (for Coastal and Marine Studies) is providing the city, and as an SCSU graduate, I’m pleased to be a small part of an enriching and tremendously valuable field experience for the students,” Paine says. “It’s truly a win-win situation, and a perfect example of the type of collaboration our state and municipal entities would benefit by engaging in. It is my hope that this is the first of many such partnerships with SCSU.”