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SouthernStrong Awardees Making a Positive Impact

The SCSU President’s Recognition Committee proudly present our first group of SouthernStrong awardees. These awards shine a light on faculty, staff, and students who are lending a helping hand, with acts of kindness large and small, not only for their fellow Owls, but also for friends, neighbors, and strangers.

We recognize and celebrate Suzie Huminski, Michelle Johnston, Joan Kreiger, Renee Villarreal, and Bo Zamfir for their commitment to making a difference and stepping up during the pandemic crisis. Their acts of kindness are making a positive impact during this difficult time.

Do you know an unsung hero who’s been making a difference during the pandemic? Please nominate them so their kindness can be celebrated!

Suzie Huminski

Suzie Huminski, the university’s sustainability coordinator, also teaches two Honors courses to freshmen. One of her students nominated her for a SouthernStrong Award, writing that Huminski “is constantly reaching out [to her students], and offering her help during this hard time. When Southern closed she was my first professor to reach out, and reassure us that she would do everything possible to make this a smooth transition, which she has of course delivered on. She has made all due dates flexible based on our personal needs, and made our first few Webex meetings optional so we could check in if we needed anything. However, her most important contribution has been sewing and creating masks in her free time (despite being the sustainability coordinator and moving her teaching of honors courses online during this crazy time!) She has been making these masks to help out local CT hospitals and to students continuing to work in them.”

Suzie Huminski

Michelle Johnston

Michelle Johnston, director of donor relations in the Division of Institutional Advancement, has made and donated over 300 non-medical face masks. She also made a how-to video, demonstrating how she makes a mask, and shared it with the Southern community on social media, so that others could sew masks quickly and easily. Johnston’s nominator wrote that, Johnston “is inventive, energetic, and adaptive — finding alternatives when she runs out of elastic, using her mother’s old drapes as fabric, figuring out ways to make masks more easily, faster, and contacting friends to sew too…the list goes on.”

Her nominator, a colleague, added, “There’s more. I first met Michelle when she started the mobile food pantry at Southern. Yes, she is why that program is here. Michelle is incredibly generous, creative, and compassionate, and chock full of common sense. She is the kind of person who heads toward a problem in order to help, instead of getting caught flat-footed or avoiding involvement. You inspire me, Michelle!”

Michelle Johnston with just a few of the masks she has sewn

Joan Kreiger

In addition to her role as the respiratory care coordinator with the Department of Health and Movement Sciences, Joan Kreiger has been filling a need as a respiratory therapist at Greenwich Hospital, which is part of the Y-NH Health System. In this role she is serving in ICU dealing with some of the most critical COVID-19 patients. Her nominator, a colleague, wrote that Kreiger has reported “the patients in ICU are all in critical condition and require ventilation support as the patients’ lungs are ‘stiff’ and are unable to transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide normally. In her role, she is working with a team of physicians and nurses doing their best to maintain the lives of their patients.”

Joan Kreiger

Renee Villarreal

Renee Villarreal, a student, is homeschooling her toddler and serves in the Army National Guard, while managing to take five online classes. She also works two part-time jobs and is independent. Her nominator wrote that Villarreal “helps herself her daughter and our Southern community by serving the country.”

Renee Villarreal and her child

Bogdan Zamfir

Bogdan Zamfir, director of the Center for Educational and Assistive Technology, has led the academic initiative supporting faculty in their immediate transition to teaching virtually as a result of COVID-19. His nominator wrote that he was quick to convene a response team of online teaching and technology experts who continue to collaborate on online teaching and learning strategies and trainings offered under the brand-new Office of Online Learning. She added, “Bo’s thoughtful and informed approach resulted in the development of several technology-driven mini-trainings, an in-house faculty support system, and a redesigned Teaching Academy focused on technology and pedagogy that will support Southern’s plans for online course delivery as our campus moves from response to recovery. Undoubtedly, Bo has invested considerable hours, working well-beyond the parameters of his position, consulting, researching and coordinating efforts to deliver a quality program to address the training and support needs of faculty and students for online teaching and learning during and after this crisis. Bo’s leadership, diligence and commitment during this pandemic are inspiring and a testament that he is SouthernStrong and worthy of this recognition.”

Bo Zamfir



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