Giving

Jerry Angelica Photography

Graduating senior Terri Lane is ready to sing, to raise her voice — a soulful, mighty four-octaves — to the rafters for the latest in a lifelong series of standout performances.

Lane has opened for Foreigner and the late Johnny Winter; won WPLR’s Battle of the Bands; and sung backup for Michael and Orrin Bolton, Harry Connick Jr., Eddie Money, and a host of others. But May 18 marks a special milestone for the self-described “bluesy rocker chick,” who will sing the alma mater at Southern’s undergraduate commencement exercises — minutes after crossing the stage to receive a bachelor’s degree in music.

Commencement is a celebration of beginnings, but this will be a culmination of sorts for Lane, the final of three performances packed into an emotional two days. Southern also will hold two graduate commencement ceremonies on May 17, and Lane will sing several songs at both, including a personal selection, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon and Garfunkel. She’ll preface each with a short recollection. “About my journey and how there is always hope — and a helping hand to get us through,” she says.

After completing several classes during Southern’s summer session, Lane moves on to Columbia University, Teachers College to begin its prestigious graduate program in music and music education. Making her achievement all the more inspiring, she’s overcome years of horrendous childhood abuse at the hands of her mother, who suffered from severe alcohol and drug addiction.

“We lived in an upper-middle class part of Trumbull, and no one knew what was happening inside of our house,” says Lane, who recalls wearing pants and long sleeves to hide bruises — and missing school when her injuries were too severe to cover. “I was bullied because I was so thin and withdrawn,” says Lane, who still managed to earn top grades.

She suffered through years of abuse before a guidance counselor stepped in. “The types of stories I was telling . . . they just couldn’t believe it at first. It sounded preposterous. What mother would starve her own child,” says Lane. She was placed with a loving foster family for a time. But her mother refused to relinquish custody. Eventually, after being forced to return to her original home, Lane was emancipated as a minor at the age of 15.

She eventually found peace with her mother — and, says that today, she holds love and forgiveness in her heart. Later, when both her mother and a half-brother died in separate drug overdoses, she says the sense of loss “put her into a tailspin.”

Music major Terri Lane, ’18, performing at a sold-out concert at Toad’s Place in 2007. Photo: Andrew Wallach Photography

Through it all music was a saving grace. At the age of three, Lane sat at her grandmother’s piano, “pinging” out melodies heard on the radio. When she was 11, she began classical voice training — and received her first standing ovation at the age of 14 at a school concert. “School and music were my only outlets. They kept my alive,” she says.

Plans to attend college on scholarship to major in music were put on hold. But music remained a touchstone — a source of income and solace. “I never said no to a gig,” says Lane, with a smile. “I was in the studio and performing musical theater at a professional level. . . . I studied acting and got into my first band. I wrote songs.”

She also began working in the energy sector, taking classes at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford and moving up the corporate ladder. She was working in management, when she had an epiphany and finally resigned. “It was time to change my lot — to go after my dreams completely, ” she says. In 2010, drawing exclusively on her extensive industry experience, Lane became an instructor of voice at the University of New Haven. The work united her love of music and teaching — and ultimately confirmed the importance of earning an undergraduate degree to further her career.

Lane’s path led to Southern, where she started undergraduate classes in spring 2014. “When I researched the schools, Southern was it,” she says. “I’d researched the professors, the degree plan, and everything offered. I was so amazed by the experience of some of the professors — especially their musicianship. . . . It was very important to me that they be actively involved in music.”

Terri Lane, ’18, [third from left] was one of the first recipients of the Stutzman Family Foundation Music Scholarship, funded by the Stutzman Family Foundation. Highly accomplished as a Southern student,
Walter Stutzman, ’09, is an award-winning adjunct faculty member. From left: Stutzman and Stutzman Scholars Kristen Casale, ’17; Lane; Jaromy Green; Mary Rose Garych, ’17; and Brendan Donovan, ’18.

After successfully auditioning, Lane was named one of several recipients of the first Stutzman Family Music Scholarship, funded by the Stutzman Family Foundation. Like other music majors and minors, she also benefited from the Southern Applied Music Program, which provides free weekly voice or instrument lessons. The program is funded by the Stutzman Family Foundation as well.

“When I started, I could sing about 3¾ octaves. They have taken me a little over four octaves since I have been here. I am actually stronger than I have ever been as a singer,” says Lane, who worked with applied lesson instructor Rebecca Barko.

The faculty, in turn, are effusive in their praise of Lane. Craig Hlavac, interim associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, comments on her acceptance into Columbia University’s graduate program: “This is a testament not only to her perseverance and talents, but also [to] how Southern can prepare students from all backgrounds to thrive in both employment and at the graduate level.”

Lane, meanwhile, can’t wait to begin the next phase of her education. She plans to start performing again once settled into graduate work — and says she’ll keep sharing her story to help others hurt by abuse. She hopes her words of survival bring courage and solace.

“I know what it is like to play in front of thousands of screaming fans — to feel that extraordinary rush of love,” she says. “ I don’t hold anything back when I sing. I give everything — even the pain. It’s the only way I know. That’s how I healed myself over the years.”

SCSU students Eric Clinton, Tracy Tenesaca, and Alyssa Pearl Korzon
Scholarship support helps students make the most of their Southern experience. A new online application process makes it easy for them to apply.

Business major Eric T. Clinton doesn’t have much down time. Since arriving at Southern in 2014, he’s helped launch a mentoring group for men of color, served as a peer mentor to new students, and tackled numerous lead roles in campus theater productions.

Public Health major Tracy Tenesaca (center) is equally driven. In addition to being a peer mentor in the Honors College, she’s vice president of the Class of 2018, a member of OLAS (the organization of Latin American Students), and an extremely active volunteer.

Then there’s Alyssa Korzon, an Honors College student with a dual major in special education and theatre. Korzon has two jobs — she’s a certified yoga instructor and works in retail — and is president of Active Minds, a group dedicated to mental health awareness and advocacy.

Clinton, Tenesaca, and Korzon have unique backgrounds, accomplishments, and dreams. But their Southern success stories share a common thread. All are scholarship recipients, a distinction that recognizes their achievements — while lessening financial pressures so they can make the most of their Southern experience. (The specific scholarships each receives are included with their photos.)

More than 300 scholarships are overseen by the SCSU Foundation, with funds benefiting both undergraduate and graduate students. In 2017, the application process was simplified, making it possible for students to apply for all by completing a single online application. Applying takes as little as 10 minutes, but students may opt to earn extra points by completing an optional short essay.

“They are quite amazing,” says Heather Rowe, business manager of the SCSU Foundation. “Our students are very passionate about what they want to do with their lives. They are dedicated to helping their peers — and they want to pay it forward.”

Three out of every four Southern undergrads receive some form of financial aid — and in 2015-2016, almost 41 percent of undergraduates received a Federal Pell Grant, awarded to those with the most extreme need. Scholarship dollars, like grants, do not have to repaid. As such, scholarships play an extremely important role in a student’s financial aid package: helping them graduate with less debt.

At Southern, about 75 percent of the Class of 2016 graduated with student debt averaging about $28,000, according to a study by LendEDU. The SCSU Foundation hopes to sharply slash both statistics with the help of donations from alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and friends.

Among them is Rowe, who last year established the Grace Rowe International Travel Award to benefit students who want to enhance their education through travel. The award honors Rowe’s mother, who received a framed certificate announcing the fund’s creation on her 95th birthday. “It represents something she firmly believes in — the power of travel to broaden your horizons. I was raised on the road and international travel was part of my upbringing,” says Rowe.

The ability to tailor a scholarship to reflect a donor’s specific desires is readily seen when browsing through the 300-plus funds. Some benefit students with certain majors or career aspirations. Others recognize specific talents like athletics success or community service. Students may browse through the various scholarships on the website — and learn about the donors.

At a time of great need, foundation scholarships were at an all-time high for fiscal year 2017 at just under $800,000. The goal, moving forward, is to encourage more students to apply and to establish additional funds to benefit them. Consider the words of David McHale, ’98, chairman of the SCSU Foundation Board, speaking at the inauguration of President Joe Bertolino: “It’s our aspiration, perhaps, in just a few short years to provide $1 million in scholarships to 1,000 students. That would be a real game changer for this university.”

Scott Graves, drone

In April 2010, Scott Graves was watching news coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A geologist and oceanographer who spent his early career making maps from aerial views of the landscape, Graves began wondering: How would scientists document the spread of the spill along the coastline and into surrounding marshes?

Curious, he started poking around the internet. The federal government had basically shut down flights over the area, but Graves learned a small group of researchers was getting aerial shots by dangling cameras from kites and balloons.

Thinking it would be great to bring the technique to Southern, Graves, associate professor in the Department of the Environment, Geography and Marines Sciences, decided to learn what he could and worked with his department to acquire a balloon and a kite.

“I just started ‘MacGyvering’ camera systems together,” he recalls, referencing the 1980s TV character known for cobbling together everyday items to get out of tough situations. Then, a few years later, drones became widely available, and Graves thought: “That’s it.”

Today, Graves is a pioneer in the growing movement to use drones for environmental research and conservation — and he’s passionate about sharing that technology with Southern students. Over the last year, he has donated about $10,000 worth of drones, mapping software and other related equipment to forward the effort at Southern.

He has also gifted about $70,000 to establish the Osprey Endowed Scholarship for Environmental and Marine Studies, named for the coastal bird that flies at the same altitude as his drones. The scholarship is earmarked for undergraduate and graduate students who are conducting research with a faculty mentor through the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies or the Center for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Education, both research centers at Southern. Although it’s not required, the first two recipients have included drone technology as a focal point of their projects.

Peter Broadbridge, who is pursuing a master’s degree in science education at Southern, notes that receiving the scholarship in 2015 changed his perspective on life — and possibly his career path. Broadbridge, who studied the health of marshes along West Haven’s Cove River, worked with Graves to parlay the scholarship into a NASA-funded grant to continue his drone-assisted research. This year’s winner, Christine Woehrle, is using drones to study the health of local vineyards.

Graves’ commitment to students and the environment also is forwarded through his leadership-level involvement with GLOBE — The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment Program — which is sponsored by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), with support from other government agencies. An international science and education program, GLOBE connects students, teachers, scientists and citizens from around the world, inviting them to conduct hands-on science related to their local environment and put it in a global perspective. GLOBE’s 21st annual meeting and student research experience is being held at Southern from July 30 to Aug. 4.

In Graves’ opinion, drones hold enormous potential as a less expensive, more effective way for environmental scientists to collect data from aerial perspectives. “This is an incredibly powerful tool for getting information on landscapes that might otherwise be inaccessible,” says Graves. “In the past, if you wanted to have aerial photography, you either had to hire a helicopter or an airplane — either of which needed to fly very high. But now, for a couple thousand dollars, you can get a drone that carries a 4K camera, learn how to fly it yourself, and get very low-altitude imagery.”

Graves’ obsession with learning about his surroundings dates back to childhood. Growing up in Malibu, Calif., he spent hours with friends exploring the creek near his family’s home.

“I’d get home from school and my mom would say, ‘See you at sundown,’” he recalls.

During his senior year in high school, he took an earth science class and decided he wanted to become a geologist. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Santa Cruz, he took a job with the U.S. Geological Survey, where he was charged with producing a map of coastal erosion in the Arctic.

In 1986, Graves’ quest to earn a doctorate in oceanography led him to the University of Rhode Island. But funding for research was sparse, and Graves ultimately graduated with a master’s degree when his major professor retired abruptly before he could finish the program.

“I was devastated because I’d spent five years in a Ph.D. program and passed all the preliminaries and qualifications,” Graves says. “Here’s your dream. You’re pursing it and the door slams right in your face. So what do you do? You have to change directions.”

He took a break from academia to work as a snowboard instructor before landing a job with a nonprofit organization, where he co-designed an environmental education curriculum for middle schoolers. While presenting at a conference at the University of Idaho, he was recruited into a doctoral program, and earned his doctorate in science education in 1999.

It was there that he got his big break — authoring a successful $7.5 million federal grant to train teachers from New Jersey to Oregon in how to use GIS (geographic information system) technology to document 200 years of change along the Lewis and Clark Expedition Trail — a career highlight that would consume his time for the next five years.

In 2005, wanting to move to an urban area near the coast, he came to Southern and never looked back. “I fell in love with the programs and the people in this department,” he says.

While he has made smaller donations to his various alma maters, he reserves the bulk of his philanthropy for Southern. Graves also was among a group of benefactors — that included the Werth Family Foundation and others — who recently bought the Southwest Ledge Lighthouse in New Haven for student research.

Reflecting on the ups and downs of his own career, Graves says his philanthropy is a “pay it forward scenario,” noting he’s “had some breaks along the way.”

“I know what it’s like to have your dreams shut down — and I know what it’s like to suddenly see a new horizon and go for it,” he says.

Every student has a story

Senior Clarisa Rodrigues is committed to earning a college degree – and making the world a better place for students with special needs. The Southern Fund lets her do both.

Thanks to the Southern Fund, Clarisa was awarded an Undergraduate Research Grant to study the special education system in Ecuador. A talented member of the Honors College who is fluent in three languages, she’ll soon use that newfound knowledge – to help children in her own classroom.

Gifts to the Southern Fund help us meet students’ greatest needs and forward the university’s most important initiatives – including Undergraduate Research Grants. Each grant provides a $3,000 stipend to a Southern student for cutting-edge research on topics ranging from economic rights in the U.S. to smartphone security to particle physics.