Faculty

Robert McEachern

In this strange era through which we are all navigating new territories every day, it’s easy to feel a little lost at times. In an essay he published recently on Inside Higher Ed, entitled “Directionless,” English Professor Robert McEachern “contemplates the first time in many years that he didn’t spend the first day of classes roaming the halls of his university helping students who couldn’t find their way.”

Read “Directionless”

Inside Higher Ed is a leading source of news, analysis, and services for the entire higher education community.

 

Barbara Aronson

A grant award recently secured by Nursing Professor Barbara Aronson will support nursing students by authorizing cancellation of a percentage of educational loans in exchange for full-time post-graduation employment as nurse faculty.

The federal funds, totaling almost $1 million, are welcome assistance, given the critical nursing educator needs in Connecticut and nationwide.

“There’s a huge nursing faculty shortage nationally,” Aronson said. “First, nurses can make more money in a clinical area. Second, faculty are aging.”

Aronson, the director of the Ed.D. program in the Department of Nursing at Southern Connecticut State University, has secured substantial grant funding over the years from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). The most recent award, $891,374 from the Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP), is the largest the department has ever received and brings Aronson’s total to more than $3 million.

“The first grant I wrote was in 2012,” Aronson said. “That first year, we only got a minimal amount, but we didn’t have as many students as we do today.” (The program has since grown to about 50 students.)

The Ed.D. in Nursing Education is a collaborative program between Southern and Western Connecticut State University (WCSU). Designed for individuals with clinical expertise and a master’s degree in nursing, it is an innovative doctoral program that prepares nurses for faculty roles by focusing on the content and skills required to be effective faculty members, advance the science of nursing education, and transform the education of future nurses. Current students in the program are family, pediatric, geriatric nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and faculty who plan to teach in undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral-level programs. Students at Western will receive a share of the funds.

According to HRSA, “Aging and population growth are projected to account for the 81% of the change in demand for primary care services between 2010 and 2020.” And a Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions released by American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) reported that in 2018, a total of 1,715 faculty vacancies were identified in a survey of 872 nursing schools with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs across the country. Most of the vacancies (90.7 percent) were faculty positions preferring a doctoral degree.

“It is hoped that our program will have a lasting impact on the faculty shortage by preparing the next generation of nurse educators,” Aronson said. “They will fill faculty positions in Connecticut, the northeast and nationwide and will also contribute to the advancement of the science of nursing education.”

Aronson was a staff nurse for many years before she decided she wanted to teach. After earning advanced degrees in nursing education, she began working at Southern; she has worked in the Nursing Department for 20 years, has run the undergraduate program for seven years and directed the Ed.D. program since 2012.

“I have a lot of experience in nursing and nursing education,” she said. “Technology, the push for student-centered learning strategies, and COVID-19 have changed the way we teach, and we are preparing our students to meet these challenges. At Southern, nurses love the program because they interact with other students who share the same interests.”

Aronson earned her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, her MSN from the University of Hartford, her BSN from Saint Joseph College, and her diploma from Hartford Hospital School of Nursing. She has more than 30 years of experience in nursing education in the acute care and academic settings.

 

 

 

From videos produced by History Department faculty, clockwise, from upper right: "Attica! Race, Incarceration, and Radicalism" by Troy Rondinone; Steve Judd; "Militarization and Its Consequences in the Time of COVID" by Jason Smith; Julian Madison

History provides the much-needed context for how we got to the present moment, says Jason Smith, an assistant professor of history at Southern. George Floyd’s death in March 2020 and the Black Lives Matter Movement only strengthened his belief that now, more than ever, “thinking historically” can help students model what it means to be historians and humanists. To make connections to the movement, racism, police brutality, the pandemic, and other related issues, Smith and fellow history faculty created a teach-in lecture series; it’s been widely received — and not just by history majors.

“The project originated from a number of questions that emerged at the beginning of the summer,” Smith said. “I wondered how I might personally respond to the death of George Floyd and all of the history that lay beneath it, especially given the health risks associated with participating in mass protests.” He noted that he wanted to respond to current events from a historian’s perspective, modeling for students how we see historical evidence bearing on the present.

“We’re in a moment when we feel so disconnected from our students, and this also was a way to address these questions coming up on social media,” Smith said. “It was a collective effort, to show how in this moment histories and humanities are so important.”

Jason Smith

The series features Smith’s “Militarization and Its Consequences in the Time of COVID”; Professor of History Troy Rondinone’s “Attica! Race, Incarceration, and Radicalism”; Associate Professor of History Julian Madison’s “The Psychology of Racism”; Professor of History Steve Amerman’s “Listening to Indigenous Peoples”; Professor of History Steve Judd’s “Are the BLM Protests America’s Arab Spring”; and Associate Professor of History Marie McDaniel’s “History and Statues in 2020.”

An historian of war and American society, Smith’s lecture addresses the ways in which militarizing the encounter with COVID-19 may have certain lessons to teach us about the expansion of executive power, new rituals surrounding death, the scape-goating and brutalizing of an enemy, and more.

“It struck me as interesting and significant that in March-April, similar tropes were being used to confront COVID-19,” Smith said. “We were fighting a ‘war’ and ‘an invisible enemy.’”

The response to the series has been enthusiastic, and the lectures have been viewed hundreds of times, particularly Madison’s “The Psychology of Racism,” which Madison attributes to curiosity about “how all of this got started.”

“There has always been prejudice, even back to the Roman Empire,” Madison said. “It used to be illegal to marry people with blond hair! [William] Shakespeare actually had a relationship with a Black woman, and he wrote about prejudice and racism, but there hadn’t been laws mandating discrimation. Racism isn’t that old. It’s been prevalent since the 1600s, but it wasn’t always so.”

As for whether the series may continue through the fall, Smith is uncertain. What he does know is that the opportunity for everyone — student and non-student alike — to learn about history and how it intersects with the present is too important to pass by.

“The History Department took up the project enthusiastically, and I want to thank our faculty and staff for participating and really spearheading this project,” Smith said. “I think we view it as part of our department’s larger effort to reach students where they are, to make strides to build a sense of social and intellectual community among our students and alumni, in particular, as they must remain off campus and out of the classroom, as they confront very difficult and sometimes hopeful events often in isolation. We don’t stop being teachers when we’re kept out of the classroom. These times present new, challenging, problematic, but also exciting opportunities to teach.”

You can view the entire teach-in video archive on the Department of History YouTube channel. The faculty also compiled a list of recommended readings, which is posted on the department’s website.

Federico Fiondella

Federico Fiondella, M.S. ’03, 6th Yr. ’18, a teacher at North Haven High School, has been named the 2020 Connecticut History Teacher of the Year, an award presented annually by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to K-12 American history education.

Inaugurated in 2004, the History Teacher of the Year Award highlights the crucial importance of history education by honoring exceptional American history teachers from elementary school through high school. The award honors one K-12 teacher from each state, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools and U.S. Territories. In fall 2020, the National History Teacher of the Year will be selected from the pool of state winners.

Fiondella earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (social studies) from Elizabethtown College and a master’s degree in political science from Southern, where he is currently an adjunct professor. He also completed a 6th year certificate in educational leadership at Southern and aspires to earn a doctorate in educational leadership in the near future.

Fiondella serves as board member of the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies (CCSS). He was selected as George Washington Education Scholar in 2002 and has received the North Haven High School Delio J. Rotundo Teacher of the Year Award (2007 and 2018), UNITAS Distinguished Service Award (2008), and John H. Stedman Passion of the Social Studies Award (2017). Fiondella was awarded a certificate of special Congressional recognition in teaching by Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (2008) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (2017). In 2019 he was inducted into the North Haven High School Sports Hall of Fame, after a long career coaching the high school boys’ soccer team.

As a teacher, Fiondella emphasizes a classroom culture where students discover the importance of engagement and become more responsible for their own education and personal growth. He hopes that students see the short-term and long-term benefits of studying history and understand how topics of history connect to both their own personal lives and to the world around them. He cultivates a positive, safe learning environment that supports intellectual risk-taking, challenges students to think critically, encompasses historical investigation, and emphasizes mutual respect and welcoming of diverse ideas and points of view.

In addition to a $1,000 honorarium, Fiondella’s school will receive a core archive of American history books and Gilder Lehrman educational materials and recognition at a ceremony in Connecticut.

 

About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Now celebrating its 25th year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, visionaries and lifelong supporters of American history education. The Institute is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to K–12 history education while also serving the general public. Its mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources.

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. Drawing on the 70,000 documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection and an extensive network of eminent historians, the Institute provides teachers, students, and the general public with direct access to unique primary source materials.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is supported through the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Organization of American Historians, and the Council of Independent Colleges.

SCSU 2020 Teachers of the Year
Carrie Michalski, Carolyn Thompson, and Elliott Horch

Elliott Horch, (right), an astrophysicist who was recently named as a CSUS Professor, and Carolyn Thompson, (center), who teaches geography as an adjunct faculty member, have been selected for the university’s J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award.

The award is given annually to a full-time faculty member, as well as a part-time faculty member, who have excelled in the classroom.

It is named after the former interim president and longtime vice president for academic affairs. Smith previously served in various capacities at Southern, including as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as professor of mathematics and the first director of the Honors College. He continues to serve as an adjunct faculty member.

In addition, Carrie Michalski, (left), a professor of nursing, has been chosen as the Academic Advisor Award.

During his career, Horch has developed a super-powered device for telescopes called a Differential Speckle Survey Instrument that he once described as being like “putting eyeglasses on a telescope.” It enabled astronomers to snap photos of celestial objects many times clearer than had ever been taken. He also was tapped by NASA to assist with the Kepler Mission – a project to find potential “new Earths” in the Milky Way Galaxy.

But Horch, who earned the CSU System Research Award in 2011 and the SCSU Faculty Scholar Award in 2012, also has enjoyed a stellar teaching record and demonstrated a strong commitment to student success since he began teaching at Southern in 2007.

“The direct feedback from students and comments on course evaluations indicate that he is effective at connecting with students and getting them interested in the topic,” writes Matthew Enjalran, chairman of the Physics Department.

“Elliott’s ability to motivate students to do better derives from his enthusiasm for physics, particularly astronomy, and a genuine concern for his students and the quality of their learning experience.”

Justin Rupert, a student of Horch, underscores that sentiment.

“In the classroom, Dr. Horch was always animated about the topic of discussion, a quality I’ve not come across very often in a lecturer,” Rupert wrote. “(He) never seemed to tire of teaching, even some of the more basic principles of optics and astronomy. As a student sitting in these multi-hour lectures, it was easy to be engaged and to want to learn more.”

Thompson began teaching in the fall of 2013, according to Patrick Heidkamp, chairman of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences Department. “She is an innovative teacher, thoughtful scholar and terrific human being,” Heidkamp said.

“Student comments were very positive and ranged from extremely knowledgeable of the subject matter and maintaining high academic standards, to extremely helpful and compassionate….I believe Dr. Thompson is more than deserving of this award.”

Lauren Thelen, a senior nursing student, agreed.

“She has provided me with immense amount of knowledge, wisdom, and support,” Thelen wrote. “During our advisement meetings, she went above and beyond the simple task of handing me a registration pin number. She would always ask me about how I was doing in my academic life and about how I was coping with the stress of nursing.”

Meanwhile, Michalski has demonstrated a strong commitment to her students and the department, according to Chelsea Ortiz, information and admissions coordinator for the Nursing Department.

“She not only makes herself available to her assigned advisees, but also devotes time for other students seeking support in our programs,” Ortiz said. “She is a great representation of who we are as educators and nurses both on and off-campus.”

 

An ecologically minded health director turns to solar power to keep local waters clean — and sets an example for the nation.

Long Island Sound is a little greener, a little cleaner, and a little quieter, thanks to Michael Pascucilla, ’92, who oversaw the development of the world’s first full-size solar- and electric-powered pump-out boat. The utility craft, which removes sewage from other boats, finished its first season in the Branford River and Branford Harbor last summer.

Christened the Solar Shark, the boat is being heralded as a model response to the climate crisis. Its carbon footprint is one-tenth that of gasoline-powered counterparts, prompting Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s third district, to call the Solar Shark “a great achievement” — and it’s an idea unlikely to have seen the light of day if Pascucilla hadn’t taken Professor Emeritus of Public Health Gary Gesmonde’s “Diet and Nutrition” course as a college sophomore.

Fascinated to learn how food could be considered medicine and changing eating habits could cure illnesses, Pascucilla registered for more nutrition and public health courses. He ditched his plans to become an accountant, majored in public health, and went on to complete a master’s degree in public health at the University of Connecticut. After stints with state and federal government offices, he has been the chief executive officer/health director of the East Shore District Health Department since 2010, serving the communities of Branford, East Haven, and North Branford. “It’s not just a job or a career,” he says. “It’s a calling.”

Several Southern professors were influential in encouraging Pascucilla to answer that call. The beloved late faculty members Danny Gonsalves and A. Kay Keiser both provided the structure he needed as an under- graduate. Professor of Public Health William Faraclas gave counsel, discussing various career options and connecting him with his first internship with the public health office in West Haven.

“He was the voice of reason,” Pascucilla says of Faraclas. “He gave me that direction.”

Pascucilla pays it forward by teaching courses in wellness and environmental health at Southern and serving on the advisory board for the university’s Department of Public Health. He also lectures on epidemiology at Yale University.

The solar/electric pump-out boat began with an epiphany almost five years ago. Pascucilla’s office had been looking for ways to save taxpayer money and be more environmentally friendly at a time when one of its two pump-out boats needed to be replaced. Having just received a grant for an electric-hybrid vehicle, he thought, “Why not use the same technology for a pump-out boat?”

 

Pascucilla takes the wheel. The team recently applied for a U.S. intellectual patent for the project.

 

A boater himself — he lives by the water with his wife and their two young sons — Pascucilla had witnessed firsthand the effects of climate change in his neighborhood, with roads flooded by rising tides. He’d also seen the global impact on the news: fires, floods, and storms. The pump-out boat project gave him the opportunity to do his part in response.

He pitched the idea to state officials, wrote some grants, and secured $150,000 in funding through the Federal Clean Vessel Act through the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CDEEP). Pascucilla credits the CDEEP’s Kathryn Brown for championing the idea. He raised an additional $50,000 through fundraising efforts, assisted, in part, by his Southern students. Yale University students assisted with research.

Pascucilla admits to being intimidated by the responsibility of developing the new concept. “It was a little scary given the amount of money at stake,” he says.

It got scarier when the initial bid for a solar/electric boat that could perform like a conventional gas- powered design — able to reach speeds of 40 miles per hour — came in at over half a million dollars, more than double the budget. Forced back to the drawing board, Pascucilla and his team realized they could aim for less power since the boat would travel primarily on rivers or no-wake areas. They also swapped out the fiberglass hull for an aluminum one. It took two years, but they eventually came up with a viable design that had a 400-gallon holding tank and two four-horsepower Torqeedo engines powered by rechargeable batteries and a canopy of solar panels. With the batteries providing the main source of power and the solar panels a trickle charge, the boat is able to run for up to 10-12 hours at zero emissions.

From May through September 2019, the boat serviced five communities in the Long Island Sound, which is a no-discharge area, meaning boaters must have the waste on their boats pumped out, similar to the way a truck empties a residential septic tank. Boaters can schedule appointments at one of two marinas where the pump-out boat docks.

The electric/solar boat costs less to operate and maintain than a traditional gas-powered pump-out boat. Pascucilla and Sean Grace, chairman of Southern’s Department of Biology and co-director of the university’s Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies, are studying the benefits to aquamarine life of reduced noise from the quieter pump-out boat. [Read more on Grace’s other research projects.]

Pascucilla has been presenting data on the boat’s features at national and international conferences. “We’re hoping to see [that] the boat not only helps with air and water pollutions, but also with noise pollution for humans and marine life,” Pascucilla says.

He and his team are working on the problems of how to dispose of the batteries and reduce development costs. Pascucilla is optimistic about finding solutions for both. In time, he believes the operational savings of electric/solar boats will offset higher production costs, especially if they are manufactured in volume,  which he sees as the future of recreational and commercial boats. “In time, you’re going to see boats like this everywhere,” he says.

That will be an important step toward addressing the climate crisis — with the Solar Shark leading the way in reducing carbon emissions, keeping coastal waters clean, and lowering noise. “We need to be better stewards of our planet,” Pascucilla says. “It all connects back to the environment. What affects the environment affects our health.” ■

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Siobhan Carter-David

Associate Professor of History Siobhan Carter-David recently published her essay, “Essence as Archive on the Occasion of its Golden Anniversary,” in Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). First published in 1970, Essence is a monthly lifestyle magazine covering fashion, beauty, entertainment, and culture. Its target audience is African American women.

In what Carter-David refers to as her “ode to Essence,” she discusses “the work carried out by Essence in documenting the collective lives of Black women” over the past 50 years. She has used the magazine in her research and writing.

Carter-David, who is also an affiliate faculty member in Women’s and Gender Studies, teaches in the areas of fashion studies and African American/African Diasporic and contemporary United States histories. Her research focuses are dress and racial uplift as presented in black print media and migration and public housing in New York City. She has worked with museum and special collection curators on projects involving various facets of African American and broad-based United States cultural histories. She is author of several journal articles, and chapters in edited volumes and exhibition catalogues. She is completing her book manuscript, Issuing the Black Wardrobe: Fashion, Magazines, and Uplift Post-Soul.

 

 

The water is just fine in New England, where research on coral and kelp is providing a crash course on the potential influence of climate change. Sean Grace, professor of biology, dives in to investigate

On November 22, Sean Grace (left), professor of biology, and Gabriella DiPreta, ’16, M.S. ’19, a researcher at the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, wade into Long Island Sound to conduct research.
On November 22, Sean Grace (left), professor of biology, and Gabriella DiPreta, ’16, M.S. ’19, a researcher at the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, wade into Long Island Sound to conduct research.

It’s a chilly February day in New England, and Sean Grace can’t wait to get back in the water. A dive is scheduled for later in the week in Rhode Island, and despite the frigid temperatures, the professor of biology is primed to continue his research on temperate coral and kelp systems.

Say “coral” and the average person thinks Aruba, St. Thomas, or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But Grace has a different research paradise in mind: Long Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound, the waters off Cape Cod. All offer a wealth of opportunity for the scientist who typically has several studies in progress. When it comes to marine research, much like real estate, it’s all about location — and Grace considers southern New England to be ideal. “We’re at the northern-most [habitat] range of many southern species. And we’re at the southern-most range of many northern species. They all come together — living and competing in a very interesting way,” says Grace, chairman of the Department of Biology and co-director of the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies at Southern.

He’s particularly interested in how environmental factors, specifically global warming, are influencing this melting pot of northern and southern species. One example: the decline of kelp and the increase of bushy turf algae in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island between 1980 and 2018. This study — conducted by Grace and two other researchers and published in Scientific Reports — points to increasing water temperatures as the primary reason for the shift.

Grace continues to collaborate with other scientists on kelp research: they’re compiling video records; conducting transect studies; and studying the attachment strength of kelp growing on rocks versus kelp growing on the aforementioned turf algae. The kelp attached to the latter “pops right off,” notes Grace, despite attachment points that extend out — seemingly looking for a firm footing. This kelp is smaller. Less healthy.  “Every time an organism expends energy in one area, they lose it in another,” says Grace.

In southern New England, the shift is in full swing — and the kelp is losing ground. “If I was a young person interested in climate change, I’d want to be where it was going to be demonstrated really quickly — which is what we’re seeing here,” says Grace.

Such research is important on a global perspective: kelp is a vital home for marine life and similar shifts are being seen in many locations. But research is also significant from an educational standpoint — and it has been greatly forwarded by the Werth Family Foundation. In 2014, the foundation pledged $3 million to Southern, to be awarded over 10 years, for several initiatives, including $1,500,000 to endow Southern’s Center for Coastal and Marine Studies,  and an additional $750,000 to cover operating costs. The center was named in honor of the Werth family. The remaining funds were earmarked for two initiatives that combine science education and real-world experience through seminars, internships, and research opportunities. “If it wasn’t for the foundation’s support, we would be having a completely different conversation — and it would not be about research,” says Grace.

A Scientist is Born

Portrait of SCSU Professor of Biology Sean GraceRaised in Fall River, Mass., several blocks from the Rhode Island border, Grace has been pulled by the tides since boyhood. His father, a high school graduate who served in the military, was a dock worker for Shell Oil with a shift-worker schedule. When his afternoons were free, he’d take Grace and his brother fishing at a nearby dock.

Grace loved the outings. “But I could have cared less about the fish,” he says, instead recalling a deep fascination with the barnacles and mussels growing on the dock. Grace, a first-generation college student, followed his passion to the University of Maryland, where he earned an undergraduate degree and was hired as a research assistant. “We went all over the Caribbean to study how corals feed,” says Grace, who lived in the underwater Aquarius laboratory for two science missions. He was set to begin graduate school on the West Coast, but changed plans to be closer to his parents, who were dealing with medical issues.

Enrolling instead at the University of Rhode Island’s graduate program, he shifted his research focus to the coral found along the New England coastline. Grace was certified to SCUBA dive in Rhode Island — and had long known about this local coral. Still, he remembers the early warnings: “The best coral people would say, ‘You might find five or six here. Maybe 20 over there. You’re never going to find a lot. So be careful what you want to study, because you might not have enough for a sample size.’”

His first dives as a graduate student were deeply disappointing. Then he changed his search pattern. “And I saw what I was looking for — and it’s everywhere,” he says. Called Astrangia poculata, it’s also known as northern star coral, and like all corals, it’s an animal, an invertebrate related to jellyfish and anemone. Far less showy than its tropical relatives, Astrangia, is a hard, small (typically smaller than a fist) non-reef-building coral, ranging in color from white to brown.

Despite its more subdued appearance, Astrangia has its own superpowers. Many corals have a symbiotic relationship with algae called zooxanthellae that live in its tissue. “They photosynthesize and give the host some benefits, and they get a home,” says Grace. Tropical coral gets much of its vivid color from zooxanthellae, which produces oxygen, helps the coral remove waste, and provides vital nutrients. If there’s not enough zooxanthellae, the tropical coral bleaches, turns white, and usually dies.

But Astrangia is another story. Healthy Astrangia sometimes has zooxanthellae in its tissue: the coral appears brown. But it also lives successfully with little or no algae: it’s white but doing just fine. And successful Astrangia colonies can include multiple polyps living side by side, ranging in color from white to brown (presumably with and without zooxanthellae).

Astrangia is hardy in other ways. Reef-building corals cannot tolerate temperatures below 64° Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In contrast, Astrangia withstands the extremes of New England — blazing-hot summers, frigid winters, and everything in between. “This coral is kind of a model system,” sums Grace.

Other scientists agree. The Astrangia Research Working Group unites researchers from more than 15 institutions. Their goal: to establish temperate corals, including Astrangia, as a model system for investigating how coral responds to environmental change. Grace and faculty members Koty Sharp from Roger Williams University and Randi Rotjan from Boston University are co-organizers of the group.

coral species Astrangia poculata could help tropical corals threatened by climate change.
Research on the hardy coral species Astrangia poculata could help tropical corals threatened by climate change. Patrick Skahill/Connecticut Public photo

Grace is currently conducting several Astrangia studies — all of which have implications for exotic tropical corals as well. In one study, he is looking at the competition between Astrangia and Cliona celata, commonly known as the red boring sponge. The sponge settles near the coral, burrowing beneath it. “It literally produces a chemical that wears away the coral’s ability to hold on. And it pulls the coral off the substrate,” explains Grace. The study will be among the first to examine the attachment strength of coral in a natural setting. “You can’t go to the Caribbean and pull coral off the reef. But there are billions of this organism out there. So, we get to ask and answer more questions,” says Grace, noting that sponges also are becoming more dominant in tropical reefs.

A separate study, conducted in collaboration with the NOAH (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Milford, Conn., looks at the influence of ocean acidification on Astrangia coral. The research team includes two of Grace’s former Southern students: David Veilleux, ’99, M.S. ’06, the biological science laboratory technician and shellfish hatchery manager at the Milford center, and Gabriella DiPreta, ’16, M.S. ’19, a researcher at the U.S Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Water. During the first phase of the study conducted at NOAH over a three-month period, pre-weighed Astrangia was kept in ocean water at three separate pH levels: 8 (similar to the ocean currently); 7 ½ (moving toward more acidic); and  7 (pH neutral). The pH scale is logarithmic, so a one-unit change on the scale means a tenfold change in concentration.

During the next phases, Grace is examining how the various pH levels affect the corals’ weight, structural strength, and ultimately, its chemical composition. A lot is at stake — particularly as temperate coral also has implications for reef-building coral, which can’t be studied in the same way. Consider just some of the benefits coral brings to the planet: preventing coastal erosion, spurring tourism/recreation opportunities, and creating critical habitats for marine life. Coral is home to more than 1 million diverse aquatic species, including thousands of fish species, according to the International Coral Reef Initiative.

So, the research continues. “Our oceans won’t hit 7 for — who knows — a very, very long time, if ever,” says Grace. “But we know the direction we are going. This will help us see how organisms with calcium carbonate skeletons or makeups might fare — if the oceans ever did get to that point.” ♦

The World’s Oceans are Big Business

giant kelp; Project Blue photo

The global ocean economy could double in size by 2030, reaching approximately $3 trillion, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Looked at locally, in Long Island Sound, the “Blue Economy” — defined by the World Bank as sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and ocean ecosystem health — is projected to grow by 67 percent during that same period to an estimated $13.3 billion, according to a team of Southern researchers.

Helping to drive this growth, Southern has launched Project Blue Hub, with a goal of creating a Blue Economy center for research, tech transfer, and innovation in New Haven. Created by a team of dedicated researchers and uniting academia, business, and the government sector, Project Blue Hub was spearheaded by Colleen Bielitz, associate vice president for Strategic Initiatives & Outreach, and Patrick Heidkamp, professor in the Department of the Environment, Geography, and Marine Sciences.

Among the first focuses: expansion of the locally grown kelp industry by finding alternative channels and niche markets for kelp to grow local businesses. Through partnerships with Gateway Community College and CT Next, Southern is prepared to provide up to 300 students with practical research and learning experiences in the burgeoning kelp industry in the next two years. ■

More at:  projectblue.SouthernCT.edu

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Jonathan Wharton

Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, recently published an op-ed on CT News Junkie: “The Sudden Interest In Race In America…And Our Backyards” (July 3, 2020). In the op-ed, Wharton expresses his curiosity “as a Black American . . . why it took so long for many white Americans to understand race in our country.” He discusses racism in New England in particular, and questions how long the deepened interest in race and racism will last.

Read Wharton’s op-ed

 

 

Tim Parrish

English Professor Tim Parrish, coordinator of the creative writing program and author of the memoir Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, recently published an op-ed in the New York Daily News, “Our work cut out: What whites need to try to learn and change when it comes to race and racism” (July 1, 2020).

In the op-ed, Parrish looks at the antiracism protests that have been taking place across the country, and considers the work that white people must engage in for real systemic change to occur. He writes, “Will we justice-and-equity-leaning white people, especially middle-and-upper-class whites, continue to make a difference? Only if we do the hard work personally and politically. We have to listen to people of color and educate ourselves about black Americans’ reality through books, articles, documentaries and even movies by black people. We have to look into our own heads and hearts and root out racist indoctrination from privilege and institutions.”