One thing they all have in common? Even a global pandemic couldn’t hold these outstanding scholars down. Congratulations to the four soon–to-be Southern graduates who have been named this year’s Henry Barnard Distinguished Student awardees.
Each year, 12 seniors are chosen by the four Connecticut State Universities – four each from Southern and Central, and two each from Eastern and Western. The Barnard award is considered among the university’s most prestigious student awards, with criteria including a 3.7 GPA or better and significant participation in university and/or community life.
Meet this year’s scholars:
Hometown: Waterbury, Conn.
Degree: B.A. in media studies with a minor in film
Open-mindedness, empathy, and a commitment to elevate marginalized voices are just a few of the characteristics that have defined Breanna Arce’s academic career at Southern.
Noted for her “contagious passion for learning” and willingness to “delve into complex problems” by her professors and supervisors, Arce successfully made the transition from an unsure freshmen to a sure-footed senior through hard work, self-advocacy and a healthy dose of trial and error.
“In the beginning, I came to Southern unsure of the inner workings of academia outside of high school,” says Arce. “I had to adjust to on-campus culture along with professors’ expectations. Now concluding my final year at Southern, I feel reborn into the world ready to conquer my dreams.”
This comes as no surprise to Dian Brown-Albert who supervised Arce in her year-long role as a diversity peer educator for the Multicultural Center. As a mentor, Arce learned to advocate in the classroom and on campus for social justice.
“Breanna is well-organized and gets along well with everyone,” said Brown-Albert, Coordinator of Multicultural Student Activities. “She is very passionate about helping others and making a difference, and she instinctively looks out for marginalized communities.”
Breanna’s dedication to this work wasn’t limited to Southern, however. As a Community Impact intern at United Way of Greater Waterbury, she supported 11 food pantries and kitchens in Waterbury as part of the food resource committee. She also coordinated community communication, implemented the ALICE Saves Initiative, and organized collaborative sessions for United Way’s Emerging Leaders and partner agencies.
“Not only did Breanna accomplish both tasks at hand, she also went above and beyond what was asked of her during her internship with us,” describes Karen Mello, United Way of Greater Waterbury Director of Community Impact. “Bree was an amazing ambassador of United Way and connected with her community to educate and inform many people.”
Building off her passion for improving others, Arce’s future plans are to write and direct independent films that will “encourage deep thought about the world at large.”
“As long as you allow child-like curiosity to guide your knowledge, there will be endless information to discover,” said Arce.
As a non-traditional transfer student in spring 2020, Autumn Church had barely settled into classes when the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, effectively shutting down Southern’s campus for the foreseeable future. Yet in the ensuing four years, Church managed to build a resume that would impress even the most demanding of employers — all while maintaining the highest standards of excellence in the classroom.
At a time when mental health services were hard to come by, and while balancing a full course load, Church experienced a calling to serve. She completed an internship for the emergency mobile psychiatric services team and worked for the Yale Child Study Center in the role of peer specialist.
“I was drawn to SCSU specifically because of its roots within the social justice community and its diverse opportunities,” Church said. “It was not enough for me to learn in my coursework the intersectionality of social issues, social injustice, and cultural discrimination – and not engage in direct social action.”
Church also advocated for stronger state and federal legislation to increase access to life-saving and life-changing mental health help. This work ultimately led to her nomination and appointment to the leadership role of student representative for the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
“Autumn has maintained the highest levels of academic achievements and community service while managing complicated family responsibilities and personal challenges,” said Joyce Taylor, assistant professor of social work. “She is in the top 1 percent of all students I have encountered.”
After graduation, Church will return to Southern to obtain her master’s degree in social work and continue her role as a social advocate participant.
“Not only does Autumn show exceptional academic aptitude for professional social work, she has an unusual commitment to the values and ethics of the profession,” said Stephen Monroe Tomczak, professor of social welfare policy and community organization. “She ‘walks the walk’ outside the classroom, both in our university and in the wider community.”
From a young age, Krista Jones would accompany her father, a local pastor, to stranger’s funerals, bearing witness to their families’ grief. As a teenager, she turned to books to help her understand the complex emotions she experienced, eventually discovering a connection to Primo Levi’s concept of “useless violence.”
“I witnessed the hurt that my father brought home – not in words but in stature,” Jones recalls. “I was sick of being a spectator of preventable grief. I wanted to engage in the battle against it.”
In Fall 2019, Jones was accepted to Southern’s Honors College and received the Presidential Merit Scholarship. She quickly became an active member of the campus community, earning leadership roles as Chapter President of Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society; and the roles of managing editor, associate editor and writer for the undergraduate pre-law journal “Society, Justice and the Law.” She also served as president of the Class of 2023, a Presidential Student Ambassador, vice president of the Board of Academic Experience and an at-large representative in the Student Government Association.
“In my career, I have had very few students as actively engaged in a variety of academic pursuits,” said Kevin Buterbaugh, professor and chair of political science. “Not only does Krista perform well in the classroom, she is intellectually curious and seeks out challenges.”
In 2021, Jones served as a volunteer for Genocide Watch, where she expanded her understanding of genocide prevention advocacy.
“She received no college credit for the work she did with Genocide Watch,” adds Buterbaugh. “Nor did she get paid. She worked for them because Genocide Watch directly connects to her academic and career goals. She aspires to become a human rights lawyer and then fight against genocide and persecution.”
Jones has also just returned from a study-abroad experience in Israel and the West Bank, volunteering for several nonprofits that work to promote peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Upon graduation, my goal is to use my degree to perform a tangible service for those whose torture and killing goes unnoticed by the majority of the world,” said Jones. “While I recognize that I alone cannot disarm any genocidal groups, my education and involvement at Southern has prepared me to pursue a career where I can initiate and nurture solutions to help protect persecuted parties.”
Jones will continue her academics in New York City next fall at the Cardozo School of Law, specializing in international human rights law.
“Krista is precisely the kind of passionate individual that Barnard seeks to honor,” said Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, professor of political science. “Her service at Southern has prepared her to be a powerful leader who will act as an agent for change in the world.”
Samuel Martin found untapped drive and motivation at Southern in the most unlikely of times – the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While he describes his first semester at Southern as “challenging,” he credits the pandemic lockdown with giving him the time and space he needed to come back to campus authentically himself.
With a newfound confidence and drive for activism, Martin served as president of Southern’s Future Teachers Organization, a member of the Council for Exceptional Children, and on the Honors College Admissions Leadership Team. He has worked as a peer mentor at Southern and as a student mentor in the Southern-based Hamden Transition Academy. He has also been a Best Buddies mentor and assistant scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts of America.
But perhaps most notable was his promotion to peer mentor coordinator, a role in which Martin identified and bridged communication gaps between peer mentors and the First Year Experience Office (FYE). FYE develops curriculum and oversees instruction of required inquiry (INQ) courses for first-time, full-time freshmen. A peer mentor is assigned to every INQ course.
“This identifying-of-problems-and-posing-solutions is something Sam does exceedingly well,” said Nicole Henderson, director of First Year Experience. “I have also seen him do this in [the College of] Education, where he has advocated for more classroom time for Special Education majors with the students they will ultimately serve. He does not simply identify an issue and then complain about it. He seeks out the people who have the ability to make change, initiates a dialogue, listens well, and then proposes change. This is an extremely rare quality in a young student.”
Last year, Martin traveled to Paris for the summer semester, an experience he considers “life-changing.” During his study abroad in Paris, Martin created 30 postcard-sized paintings, documenting his experiences. Martin used those artworks to share his story for his Honors Capstone, currently displayed in the Honors College Office and the Office of International Education, serving as a guide for future travelers.
“While I had been able to appreciate Sam’s intellectual abilities earlier in his career at Southern, it was during the Paris trip that I truly had the pleasure of seeing the growth and potential Sam has to offer,” said Luke Eilderts, associate professor of French.
Emerging with an enhanced appreciation for culture and artistry, he finds himself ready to take on the world, and is keeping an open mind about his career options. After graduation, Martin plans to take what he calls a “year of travel and discovery,” piecing together short-term work studies around the world.
This spring, Martin will be a presenter at the Honors College Undergraduate Research Conference and participate in a group panel for the Connecticut Faculty Advisory Committee’s Annual Conference on Shared Governance.
“A phrase that I developed in Paris was ‘don’t be bashful,’ meaning that with any new situation, the most important thing to do is seize opportunity. I am emerging as a Sam Martin dedicated to his health, identity, strong support system of loving friends, and above all, not bashful.”