School of Arts and Sciences

Sean Grace (left) and Gabriella DiPreta. Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio

Radio station WNPR (90.5 FM) aired a story on December 9, 2019, about an ongoing study of the Northern Star Coral conducted by Sean Grace, chair of the Biology Department, and Gabriella DiPreta, an adjunct faculty member in the Biology Department who is a former student of Grace. The coral has “hearty New Englander” qualities in being able to withstand changes in the water temperature and acidity due to global warming better than other corals. The hope is that by researching why these corals are more resistant to such changes, scientists may be able to improve the resiliency of other corals and sea life. The study is a joint effort with the Milford Laboratory of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Read and listen to the WNPR story, which is by reporter Patrick Skahill.

Proving that dreams really do come true, Brianna Lynn Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, is the star of a classic Walt Disney World holiday extravaganza.

"You have one life, one chance to LOVE your life, so go full-heartedly toward what will make you most happy," says Bauch-Gregorio, ’17. Photo: Just LA Photography.

It’s a balmy 68-degree December day in Orlando, Fl., and Brianna Lynn Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, is feeling decidedly festive. Decked out in a winter-white coat with matching hat, gloves, and booties, she marches on to the brightly lit stage. “Let’s get this party started!” says Bauch-Gregorio, who is starring as Haley Comet in A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

A native of Newtown, Conn., Bauch-Gregorio was hired by Disney to host the beloved 18-minute holiday show, which runs until Dec. 31. She’ll perform up to five nights a week (five shows a night) — with an additional six daily shows during the peak holiday week of Dec. 23-31.

It’s a dream assignment for Bauch-Gregorio, who first imagined performing at Disney when she was a child visiting the resort.

Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, takes the stage alongside a few Disney favorites. Photo: Mousesteps

“I have the privilege of creating magic for these guests,” says Bauch-Gregorio, an Equity actor who performs under the name Brianna Bauch. “I remember how much it impacted me. I’m sure that there are kids in the audience watching our show and thinking, ‘I’m going to do that one day!’ just the way that I did,” she says.

Bauch-Gregorio came to Southern with plans to double major in theatre and special education. Performing was central to her Southern experience. She joined the cast and crew of 13 shows at the university. She notes that it’s challenging to pick a favorite college performance. But when pressed, says that playing Persephone in Polaroid Stories in her junior year was particularly influential. “This role challenged and pushed me as an actor. It broke down the barriers of what I thought I could do in a performance. It really proved to me that I have so much more inside of me to give and to show the world,” she says.

That same year, she realized she was pursuing education as a backup plan. “I love teaching but I know my real passion is performing, and I just couldn’t see myself in a classroom every day,” says Bauch-Gregorio. She dropped the second major and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in theatre.

Since then she’s never looked back. “When I am on stage, I truly feel like it’s the safest place in the world,” she says. “I am where I’m supposed to be, doing what I was designed to do.”

In the midst of a busy performance schedule, Bauch-Gregorio paused to share her thoughts on theater, Southern and Disney.

It’s a dramatic moment for Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, and the production’s background dancers. Photo: Alvin Chang

That Disney magic: “This experience has been truly incredible, even more amazing than I had anticipated,” says Bauch-Gregorio of performing for guests from around the world. “I get to create happiness for these families. . . . And of course, seeing the kids’ faces when Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wazowski, and Stitch come out on stage is just priceless.”

An early calling: “I knew from a very young age that performing would be my life. There’s this indescribable feeling that I get when I’m on stage. It’s true joy,” she says.

The power of theater: “The arts are so important,” says Bauch-Gregorio. “There is so much educational value, healing, and beauty in this art form. I am truly lucky to get to be a part of that.”

A Southern (Continuing) Love Story: Brianna is married to her high school sweetheart and fellow Owl, Michael A. Gregorio, ’17, a business administration major. The two tied the knot on May 11, 2019 and have been a couple for 8 ½ years. Michael is a program manager for Collins Aerospace, working out of the Danbury, Conn., office on multimillion dollar projects and programs.

Advice to Southern students: “When you love something enough, you need to fight for it. You have one life, one chance to LOVE your life, so go full-heartedly toward what will make you most happy. Know your worth. Know what you have to offer the world. Keep fighting for your future.”

Working at the “Happiest Place on Earth”: “I’m living my dream of being a professional actress, and I am beyond grateful. Walt Disney World has been an incredible place to work,” she says.

The show, which runs about 18 minutes, is performed throughout the day and evening. Photo: Cliff Wang

Assistant Professor of Anthropology William Farley sets out to answer an archeological question for the ages.

William Farley, assistant professor, at home in the Anthropology Lab.

When humans invented agriculture some 10,000 years ago, it forever changed how people worked and lived. In just about every place in the world where agriculture took hold — from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica — small, transient hunter-gatherer tribes morphed into villages and large cities.

With these new, bustling settlements came sweeping cultural changes, new social hierarchies and, often, vast extremes of poverty and wealth. (Think pharaohs and slaves; kings and commoners.)

Except, that is, in New England.

In fact, around 1,000 A.D., when maize agriculture migrated here from Central Mexico and the Southwest, life seemed to go on pretty much as usual. Or so archaeologists thought.

Now, new research conducted by Assistant Professor of Anthropology William Farley is challenging that assumption. In a paper published last April in American Antiquity, Farley and coauthors Gabriel Hrynick and Amy Fox highlight a pattern of architectural changes that coincide with the arrival of maize farming in New England — shedding new light on a mystery that has stumped archaeologists for decades.

“The answer isn’t what people thought before, which is that maize came into the region and nothing happened,” Farley says. “The changes are subtler than in places like Mesopotamia, where you had 50,000 people living in a city. But we do start to see these subtle changes in houses. And from research we know that houses tend to strikingly reflect cultural values.”

Like so many good ideas, Farley’s was born on the back of the proverbial cocktail napkin, over drinks with Hrynick, a former University of Connecticut classmate, now also an archaeologist. The two were attending a conference and, having reconnected at a hotel bar, were deep in conversation, pondering age-old questions about the arrival of agriculture in New England — and its seemingly negligible influence on society.

“Why does New England look so different from other parts of the world? Why can’t we find these villages?” Farley recalls asking. Although some early European settlers describe encountering villages in the region, archaeologists have never found any evidence, Farley explains.

The talk was a serendipitous meeting of the minds. Farley is an archaeobotanist (he studies the interconnection of plants and humans), while Hrynick’s wheelhouse is architecture. Farley’s geographic focus is southern New England; Hrynick’s is northern Maine and Canada’s Maritime Provinces.

Assistant Professor Farley guides students at an archeological dig at the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford, Conn.

Farley recalls the conversation: “We were talking about different sites in the region and Gabe [Hrynick] said, ‘You know, the houses stayed really small in the North.’” Unlike southern New England, the North adopted agriculture only after Europeans arrived.

In contrast, Farley observed that in southern New England, where he had worked on archeological digs, some of the houses grew larger during later periods. Could it be a pattern? And could maize farming be the reason for the shift?

“Maybe we should explore that,” he remembers thinking. It took a setback — one that threatened to derail Farley’s Ph.D. ambitions — to catapult the idea from barroom brainstorm to bona fide research project.

In January 2017, around the same time he was offered a full-time teaching job at Southern to start the following fall, Farley was diligently plugging away at his doctoral dissertation when his research came to a standstill. “I lost half of my data,” recalls Farley, a UConn grad student at the time. “I was looking at this site from Massachusetts, and the people who controlled the data told me I couldn’t use it anymore.”

He had six months to complete his dissertation. “I was in crisis mode,” says Farley. Forced to find a new topic, he called his friend Hrynick, now a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. “Hey, do you want to write that paper together that we talked about that time at the bar?” Farley asked him.

And so the archeologists joined forces. They later recruited Fox, a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto and a “brilliant mathematician,” says Farley, to help with the statistical analysis.

Although their research examined more than 100 archeological sites from New York City to Newfoundland, “we didn’t move a spoonful of dirt,” Farley says. Instead, he spent eight hours a day for nearly two months in libraries around the region, poring over more than a century’s worth of often-obscure archaeological literature.

“Anytime anybody had excavated a house, a wigwam, a pre-European Native American house, we were going to measure them,” Farley says.

After he amassed and crunched all the data, an interesting pattern emerged. In the Maritime Peninsula, where agriculture had not taken hold, houses stayed the same size and shape — small and round — for some 3,000 years. The same was initially true in southern New England — until about 1,000 years ago, when bigger, more elongated houses appeared.

“Things changed right at the same instant, archeologically speaking, that maize arrived in the region. You got a bifurcation of the data,” says Farley.

He can’t say exactly why the shift occurred. “It could be that a social hierarchy is emerging. It could be changes in labor practices,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve got enough data to say for sure. But I think there’s evidence that when maize agriculture arrived, society started changing,” he says. Seeing his work published in American Antiquity, the premier academic journal for American archaeology, marked a major career milestone for Farley, who is 33.

“It really was a bit of a lightning strike — a combination of Gabe’s and my interests,” he says. “This was a nagging question that archaeologists have been interested in for many decades in New England. We took a different approach than anyone has ever used before. We just got a little bit lucky that it worked.”

Chaz Guest, ’85, takes artistic expression to new heights, re-examining the history of slavery and launching a superhero in the process.

SCSU alumnus Chaz Guest, '85, standing in front of painted canvas.
Brian Bowen Smith Photo

Chaz Guest, ’85, may not be a household name, but his work has been embraced by many big ones. Herbie Hancock and Vanessa Williams collect his paintings. Former President Barack Obama hung his portrait of Thurgood Marshall in the Oval Office. Oprah Winfrey praised a portrait of Maya Angelou as a little girl that she had commissioned from Guest: “Saying the painting is beautiful is too mild of a word.”

Chaz Guest shaking hands with President Barak Obama
The artist shakes hands
with former President Barack Obama, who hung Guest’s portrait of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, in the Oval Office.

Guest arrived at Southern as a gymnast on scholarship, not knowing what direction he wanted his life to take. He left after studying graphic design with an inkling he had become an artist. He credits David Levine, his art history professor, and the late Howard Fussiner [professor emeritus of art], the only painting teacher he ever had. “Those two put me on the path of the life I have now as a painter,” Guest says from his studio in Los Angeles, brush in hand, working on a portrait of the abolitionist John Brown while we speak. One of Fussiner’s landscapes hangs on the wall.

Levine introduced Guest to the history of art. Fussiner encouraged him to become part of it. The painter — who reminded Guest of Salvador Dali with his wild white hair, quirkiness, and energy — encouraged Guest by praising his work in front of the class. He also passed along commissions to paint watercolors of people’s homes. “He opened my eyes to the idea that I could paint something and actually earn some money,” Guest says.

Painting by Chaz Guest
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a brief stint illustrating fashion magazines in Paris, Guest devoted himself to his own painting. He sold his first work on the sidewalk outside his apartment in New York City. With that money, he bought a larger easel and more supplies and was on his way. Today, the artist is represented by the Los Angeles-based Patrick Painter Gallery. His work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris.

A devotee of Kyokushin karate, which his older brother taught him upon returning from the service in Okinawa, Japan, Guest has used the martial arts to open his mind and dedicate himself to his art. An aging hip prevents the 58-year-old from regularly practicing karate, but he still applies the mental principles. “Martial arts is a way of life,” he says. “I certainly have it in mind.”

His influences range from Fussiner to Balthus, from Dali to Picasso. Inspiration also comes from musicians — Pavarotti to Mahalia Jackson, but especially his beloved jazz. Thelonious Monk. John Coltrane. He has painted them and frequently plays their music in his studio while working. He’s also created paintings on stage inspired by live jazz performances. He starts without preconceived notions of what he is going to paint and improvises along with the musicians. “It’s best to have a blank mind, and flow to the vibrations and spirit of the music,” he says.

Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest
Actor Angela Bassett with Ruth E. Carter, holding the award statuette designed by Guest. • ICONN MANN Photo

Guest works in a variety of mediums. His Geisha Series, created on Japanese zori sandals, was inspired by a trip to Japan, and his Cotton Series, portraits of enslaved men, women, and children, is done on cotton picked from Southern fields, where the subjects might have toiled.

After admiring Guest’s Cotton Series, Yahya Jammeh, then president of the Republic of Gambia, invited him to visit in 2010. Guest painted an oil portrait of Jammeh as a gift, which he presented upon his arrival. “It was a life-changing trip,” Guest says.

A stop at James Island in the Gambia River to see the remains of a fort used by British slave traders was particularly profound. Guest spent time alone in a holding cell. “I felt all of my nightmares as an African-American started in this one place,” he says. He wept. Anger and sadness washed through him. He emerged transformed. “Afterward, I felt new,” he says.

Guest suggested that the island be renamed Kunta Kinteh Island to honor the slaves who passed through. Jammeh agreed and the name was officially changed in 2011. For the occasion, Guest sculpted a Mandinka warrior rising out of one of the island’s many baobab trees and escaping the shackles of slavery. He called it Freedom. It was not installed as a 30-foot statue on the island as originally intended, as it lacked the support of the president who succeeded Jammeh.

But the bronze sculpture was chosen for the statuette of the ICON MANN Legacy Award, most recently presented to Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ruth E. Carter, winner of the 2019 Academy Award for costume design on the film, Black Panther. The Legacy Award honors those whose body of work has positively transformed the narrative and trajectory of black culture.

For all of his success as an artist, Guest is proudest of his role as a father. He has two sons, Xian, 16, and Zuhri, 25. He wears a bracelet made from a mold of their umbilical cords. “I enjoy being a father of two great boys,” he says.

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photos

Guest’s latest project is Buffalo Warrior, a graphic novel he wrote about a boy born into slavery in the 1800s who becomes a modern-day superhero. Guest illustrated the book in Japanese sumi ink on handmade paper — and also painted a series of the hero in oil and another related series entitled Buffalo Soldiers. He’s in discussions with movie studios to turn the story into a feature film.

He sums up his aesthetic, which is particularly apparent in the Cotton Series and Buffalo Warrior: “I wanted to start from the root of our American experience, which happens to be slavery. So I wanted to go back there in that time and paint with everything I have to convey dignity and love and [that] they’re people, not only slaves. If you want to make a good painting, you’ve got to paint what you love — and I love those people.”

Artwork by Chaz Guest, '85
Patrick Painter Gallery Photo

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

A first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ‘06, is paying it forward by mentoring some of tomorrow's most promising engineers.

Never underestimate the power of a great mentor. As a first-generation college student, Jacquelynn Garofano, ’06, came to Southern to major in physics — and, within that first year, was conducting research in the physics lab. “The catalyst that really set me on my path was meeting and working with Professor [of Physics Christine] Broadbridge. She was instrumental in igniting my love of materials research and guiding me in the pursuit of a doctoral degree,” says Garofano.

Today, Garofano has come full circle, mentoring the next generation of engineers as the program manager of the Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at United Technologies, a new entry-level program for top engineering students. Participants rotate through four six-month assignments across the United Technologies business units, such as Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace.

This focus on education echoes Garofano’s early career. Under Professor Broadbridge’s leadership, she held several positions with the Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena (CRISP), a National Science Foundation-funded partnership between Southern and Yale University. Its goal: to share the wonders of science with K-12 students, college students, and educators. Garofano’s commitment to Southern remains strong — and this fall, she joined the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors.

“The two pillars that my career stands on are mentorship and networking,” says Garofano. “Over all this time, a simple but powerful mantra has struck with me: ‘I want to be for someone what Christine was for me,’ and it has materialized in a profound why.”

She’s a STEMinist: Garofano advocates for increasing the presence of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “Representation matters (#SeeHerBeHer). As a first-generation college student, I was fortunate to have a strong female role model and mentor at Southern: Christine Broadbridge, [professor of physics and executive director of research and innovation]. Now that I’m a professional woman in the tech industry, I make every effort to share my journey and empower young students — but young girls and women, in particular.”

A few accomplishments: Garofano earned a doctorate from the University of Connecticut and was named a “Woman of Innovation” by the Connecticut Technology Council (2011); was spotlighted on the “40 under 40” lists of outstanding young professionals compiled by Connecticut Magazine (2013) and Hartford Business Journal (2015); and was honored by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund for advancing women and girls in the STEM field.

On the job: “As program manager of the Ingels program, I have the privilege of cultivating and leading the next generation of engineers who will shape our future. Frankly, this is what attracted me to this role,” says Garofano, who has complete oversight of the program. Her responsibilities include: leading recruiting activities, managing associate rotation schedules, and planning training curriculum for both technical and leadership development.

On board: “I’m thrilled to have been asked to serve on the SCSU Foundation Board of Directors and look forward to the opportunity to support Southern’s mission of providing exceptional, accessible, and affordable educational opportunities to students through the work of the foundation.

A mighty mentor: Last fall, Garofano was approached by a young woman, Edwina Lorient, a native of Haiti, who was studying mechanical engineering. “Edwina was interested in learning more about the different aspects of engineering and hearing about my experience as an engineer,” says Garofano. “She shared with me her desire to use her engineering skills to support her family and community in Haiti with innovative solutions to provide pure water and clean energy,” she says. Garofano encouraged her to apply for summer research experiences, directed her to the Leadership Summer Research-Early Identification Program through The Leadership Alliance, and guided her through the application process. “I was elated when she told me that she was accepted into Brown University’s program for the summer! The return on my seemingly effortless investment has been massively rewarding, not just for Edwina in securing a research fellowship, but, for me also, because I’ve been able to be ‘that person’ for an aspiring young woman engineer,” she says.

Words of wisdom: “I encourage our program associates to build a strong professional network (as they have a unique opportunity to have four different roles across our enterprise), but most importantly, enjoy the journey and have fun!” she says.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

At a time when the U.S. is deeply divided politically and ideologically, Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, is committed to students — democrats and republicans.

The office of Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, houses numerous mementos.

Americans are divided on everything — except division. That’s the not-so-stunning conclusion of an NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll in which 80 percent of respondents described the U.S. as divided.

Helping to bridge this political and ideological rift, Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, is a unifying force on campus — serving as adviser to the College Republicans and the College Democrats.

“I never thought I had to be partisan,” says Wharton of his students-first approach. Wharton is a member of the Republican Party, but was raised with an acceptance of opposing viewpoints by parents, who are members of different political parties. “They actually agree on 80 to 90 percent of things. But they are sticking [with their parties], and it was never problematic or disrespectful,” says Wharton.

The College Democrats and College Republicans work well together. The two student organizations held on-campus viewing parties during the 2016 presidential election. (Inspired, in part, by Wharton’s dual advisory roles, the vibrant gatherings received significant attention from the media.) In 2018, 20-plus students — members of both parties — joined faculty at the gubernatorial debates at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. More joint events are promised for the 2020 election.

When it comes to political action, Wharton describes himself as “a behind the scenes kind of guy,” drawn to planning fund raisers and networking. “My students would rather do the door knocking, the phone banking, the social media. They’d rather follow the research, get the data,” he says.

Adept at wearing multiple hats, Wharton is also the internship adviser for the department. Many students complete multiple internships, up to 15 credits, working in federal and state congressional offices, law firms, nonprofit organizations, city offices, think tanks, and more.

“Most are much better students because of it,” says Wharton, who finds their commitment inspiring and heartening. “Do you know how many students love to do campaign work? It boggles my mind,” he says.

Wharton was raised in West Hartford but was born in New York City — and his parents came from Boston and Chicago. “As a child, I grew attached to these cities we visited. I think that’s why I studied local politics,” says Wharton, shown participating in Southern’s 2019 undergraduate commencement exercises.

Following, Wharton shares more on his commitment to urban planning, politics, and students.

A born educator: “One could argue it’s in the DNA. Both sides of the family have been educators,” says Wharton. His parents met in the doctoral program at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. His grandmothers were teachers. Both grandfathers were lawyers; his paternal grandfather an ambassador as well. “There was always this interest in politics, law, and education,” he says.

A career change: Wharton left a position working with the New Jersey State Legislature to pursue a career in education. “The classroom drew me back in every time,” he says.

In the class: “I like to spark debate and discussion. . . . I want students to be intrigued, curious, and provoked.”

Always civic minded: Wharton serves on the City Planning Commission of New Haven.

Thinking local: “What I try to convey to [students] is that you can make a difference in your community at the local or state level. It takes them a while to get their heads around that. But when they recognize it, the potential is there,” says Wharton.

Why he choose Southern: “I was struck by the fact that it was a teaching university. . . . I liked the small classroom sizes at Southern. And I like the regional universities dynamic. They take teaching so seriously, which I think is critical. They do faculty development workshops, analyze teaching methods, and focus on pedagogy concerns.”

Four treasured office mementos:
1) campaign signs — “A great opener with students when discussing the ins and outs of campaign work,” he says.
2) a first-place banner from a National Collegiate Club Golf Association tournament (2017), signed by the participating students. Wharton also is adviser of Southern’s golf team, which competes in the Metro region.
3) several awards for exceptional work as an adviser
4) a “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity (March 2019)

Research focus: Wharton and Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, associate professor of political science, are working with university librarians to accession the archival papers of several former New Haven mayors. The collection was established through the generosity of attorney Neil Thomas Proto, ’67, and is housed in Buley Library.

In the News: Wharton is a monthly state/local politics analyst on WNPR’s Where We Live and The Wheelhouse.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Madhouse, funny farm, psychiatric hospital, loony bin, nuthouse, mental institution: no matter what you call it, the asylum has a powerful hold on the American imagination. Stark and foreboding, these institutions symbolize mistreatment, fear, and imprisonment, standing as castles of despair and tyranny across the countryside. In the “asylum” of American fiction and film, treatments are torture, attendants are thugs, and psychiatrists are despots.

In Nightmare FactoriesThe Asylum in the American Imagination, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Troy Rondinone, professor of history, offers the first history of mental hospitals in American popular culture.

The book focuses on how the asylum has been portrayed though movies, novels and other media, exploring the effect that these portrayals have had on American culture and the stigma of mental illness.

Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” Rondinone surveys how American novelists, poets, memoirists, reporters, and filmmakers have portrayed the asylum and how those representations reflect larger social trends in the United States. Asylums, he argues, darkly reflect cultural anxieties and the shortcomings of democracy, as well as the ongoing mistreatment of people suffering from mental illness.

Nightmare Factories traces the story of the asylum as the masses have witnessed it – often as dark, scary places, where patients are tortured with their “treatment.” This scenario is partly true and partly exaggerated, according to Rondinone, who shows how works ranging from Moby-Dick and Dracula to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestHalloween, and American Horror Story have all conversed with the asylum.

Drawing from fictional and real accounts, movies, personal interviews, and tours of mental hospitals both active and defunct, he has uncovered a story at once familiar and bizarre, where reality meets fantasy in the foggy landscape of celluloid and pulp.

Rondinone also points out that today’s mental health institutions are not like the scary places associated with the American imagination. But he said that unfortunate mantle has fallen to some of America’s contemporary prisons, particularly those where inmates are forced to stay in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Rondinone has discussed this topic with the media, including a recent conversation on WSHU radio.

He also has been writing a series of blog posts for Psychology Today magazine – exploring the history of mental institutions in America, their portrayal in pop culture and the impact that they have had on the American psyche and culture.

And most recently he wrote a perspective piece for The Washington Post: “Scary asylums are a Halloween classic, but it’s time to retire the trope: It’s hurting those suffering from mental illness.” 

 

When another college dissuaded Jacob Santos, '19, from following his dreams and majoring in theatre, he transferred to Southern and never looked back.

There are 14 Newman's Own Fellows, including (back row, third from left) Jacob Santos, '19. The foundation recently hosted the Fellows at a retreat.

Jacob Santos, ’19, is one of only 14 Newman’s Own Foundation Fellows for 2019-20 — and one of only three recipients to graduate from a public college or university. The Newman’s Own Foundation, which was founded by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, launched the 12-month fellowship to develop the next generation of leaders in the nonprofit sector.

Santos is serving as the managing director fellow with Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut, a post he describes as his dream job.

Transferring to Southern: Santos started college at another university, majoring in pre-pharmacy, which he quickly realized was not a good fit. He’d acted in high school and remained drawn to the stage. So he decided to talk to his former adviser at that previous college about changing his major.

“That ended up being a very unfortunate conversation,” says Santos. “They discouraged me from trying to become a theatre major, and the wordage they used made it seem like it was an elite club that took themselves seriously. Due to this, I wouldn’t be a good match. This was upsetting . . . How could they know I wasn’t good enough to be part of a department that valued high-quality work and talent? Looking back, it’s even more disappointing because people of color often have many barriers and lack of access to theatre,” says Santos.

Becoming an Owl: “With that experience I knew I had to go to an institution that would give me a chance and value me,” says Santos, adding that he was drawn to the reputation of Southern’s theatre program. “New Haven was a perfect location for the arts. It is close to many other local theaters and a short train ride away from New York City,” he says.

A Southern mentor: Santos lauds Associate Professor of Theatre Kaia Monroe-Rarick, describing her as his professor, director, adviser, and supervisor. “I credit her with giving me almost every opportunity I’ve had in theatre. . . . She cast me in my first show, helped me get a job in the theatre office [at Southern], and gave me my first chance to go to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in our region,” he says.


A new career goal: Santos dreamed of a career in theater management — and charted his course by pursuing two degrees (business administration and theatre). “I was lucky to have advisers and professors who cared enough to pave that road with me. People like Professor Kaia or Rebecca Goodheart [artistic producer of the Elm Shakespeare Company, Southern’s theatre in residence] who gave me my first theatre management internship,” he says.

An amazing senior experience: Completing an arts administration internship through the ASPIRE leadership program at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival * The internship focuses on engaging people of color, women, and members of other groups that are consistently underrepresented in the field. “[Associate] Professor Michael Skinner knew of my interest in theater management and told me this was something I had to do,” says Santos.

Biggest source of pride: “My work in creating the Crescent Players of Color Coalition was one of the most rewarding, out of class experiences I had at Southern. It was an exercise in advocacy for oneself and for one’s community,” he says.

Supporting inclusivity: “Issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion weren’t unique to Southern’s theatre department,” says Santos. “It is an industry-wide issue with many theatres and institutions-at-large being faced with the question of ‘how are you going to evolve in a world that is become increasingly diverse?’ What was unique to Southern, however, was how they dealt with our questions. Speaking with other young leaders of color, many have faced backlash or apathy when they brought these issues forward to their universities. Our department, on the other hand, was completely game to hold as many conversations as needed to figure out specific actions we could do to change and grow,” says Santos.

Every cloud has a silver lining: “I was able to do all of this — create a degree path that I wanted, be part of theatre, and engage in exciting opportunities — because of Southern. It makes that frustrating experience at my past university a bright one, because it led me to where I am now. I’m a proud Afro-Latino man with two degrees from SCSU, and I’m working professionally in theatre. I couldn’t be more thankful or happier.” says Santos.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Walter Stutzman with former students in the applied music program

Ten years later, the Stutzman Family Foundation is still transforming lives.

In January 2016 Candace Naude, ‘20, was sitting in the audience of the Broadway musical Spring Awakening when she had an awakening of her own. “I realized that I have to pursue music,” Naude says. “I couldn’t escape it anymore.”

Naude had been passionate about music her entire life but had been discouraged from making a career of it.

“Music wasn’t one of the hiring industries, and everyone told me it would be so hard for me to find a job and make a living,” Naude says. “Unfortunately I listened to them, and decided to join the Army. I enlisted immediately after high school and spent four years in the military. In 2014 I was honorably discharged and moved back home to Trumbull.” Money was tight, but Naude enrolled in the music program at Southern.

“I didn’t care if I couldn’t find a job or make an easy living,” Naude says. “I needed to make music.”

An epiphany that calls one back to music is something Walter Stutzman, adjunct faculty member with Southern’s Department of Music, can relate to. Shaken by 9-11 — he was across the street from the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the attacks occurred  — he retired from 30 years of software consulting and came to Southern shortly afterwards to earn a BA in Music.

“My life was transformed through the music I studied and performed and was further changed when I joined [Southern’s] music faculty in 2009,” Stutzman says. He found the experience so transformative, he sought to help other students fulfill their dreams. As a trustee of the Stutzman Family Foundation, which was established by his parents, Geraldine and Jacob Stutzman, shortly before their deaths in the mid-2000s, Stutzman has helped make the music program at Southern one of the best.

“He has transformed the entire program,” says Craig Hlavac, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Southern. “Music students are studying with professionals in the area, so they’re learning the ropes from these folks and the business aspects as well.”

Mani Mirzaee, ‘14, a composer, educator, pianist, setar and tar performer, experienced that first-hand.

“The care and kindness the music faculty showed gave me the confidence to pursue music as a career, and the Stutzman Foundation truly enabled the faculty to provide the student body with the attention and care they had to give,” Mirzaee says. “The Stutzman Foundation elevated the capacity the faculty had within the music department. Practice rooms, computers, enhanced digital audio work-stations and many other amazing amenities were provided for the students.”

This evolving technology has helped keep the music curriculum relevant — and to attract students interested in the technological side of the field.

“You can have a career in this, and that’s why our degree looks different than most,” Hlavac says. “We have classes in music technology, for example. With other schools, their curriculum may look the same as it did 50 years ago. We’ve adapted. And with Stutzman’s background in IT, he saw this and helped us to build a music studio, which allows us to train students in music technologies. The entire landscape of music has changed, from CDs to YouTube, and we’re right on pace.”

The cutting-edge technology appealed to musicians like Terri Lane, ‘08, who has been in the music business as a professional singer for years. (Similar to Stutzman and Naude, Lane had an epiphany and left a successful 20-year career in the fields of energy efficiency, sales, and marketing to pursue music.)

“When I researched schools, the SCSU professors impressed me school-wide,” says Lane. “The curriculum was so updated. The teachers were performers too and that means they’re continually improving themselves and not stagnant. It was the only school I applied to, and the first day I knew I’d made the right decision. The emphasis on technology gives everyone access to music and music production.”

Access is a crucial component to the Stutzman Family Foundation’s mission. In addition to revamping the program itself, the Stutzman Family Foundation offers the Stutzman Family Foundation Music Scholarship(s) and the Southern Applied Music Program, which provides  free weekly voice or instrument lessons.

Those free lessons immediately stood out to Naude. “Most, if not all, schools charge their students for music lessons,” Naude says. “It was remarkable to me that it wouldn’t cost me a dime. The lessons completely changed my life. I always considered myself as a pretty good singer, but never before have I been pushed so far to discover what I am truly capable of. I have learned to be more confident, have better stage presence, learn more languages (a lot of classical pieces are German and French), and access so many different parts of my voice that I didn’t even know I had. I have essentially become a more improved version of myself.”

International choir trips, available at a discounted price thanks to the Stutzman Foundation and taken with the University Choir, also enable students to improve their skills. This year, the choir is visiting Rome, Tuscany (Florence), and Venice and will sing Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of St. Anthony.

“For students that have been in the choir consecutively since they’ve attended Southern,” says Naude, “the foundation actually pays for the entire trip, apart from a $500 charge to the student. I was able to travel with the choir to Portugal. I am so appreciative for what [the Stutzmans] have done for the musicians of Southern.”

Mirzaee, too, is quick to express his gratitude.

“What sets Professor Stutzman apart from other human beings is not his philanthropic activities, but his eagerness to partake in the act of enabling others as a teacher and a mentor,” Marzaee says. “Over the years as a student and now a teacher, I have come to the conclusion that we can surpass any hurdle in life if we have someone that enables us to believe in ourselves. Ten years ago, as I was dreaming about my future at Southern, moving forward inch by inch and hoping to get to the next level of my musical career and educational step. I am forever grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to dream and move forward.”

If you are wondering if the music field is right for you, perhaps your epiphany is soon to come. If you’re growing restless, though, perhaps the aphorism Stutzman uses when he begins his Music Survey class may ring true:

“Music in the ears. Listen with open ears and an open mind: There are many musics around the world that are worthy of your careful listening. Music in the head. Knowing what’s inside music (its structures) and how it developed into what we hear today is important. Music in the hands. Practice! One of my teachers at Southern used to say, ‘Music is the only major where you finish your homework and then have to practice.’ Music in the heart. Know your goals, talk to musicians who have achieved those goals, have a plan, and always keep whatever music is important to you in your heart.”

Alumna wins the "Oscars of Teaching," becoming the first Milken Educator Award recipient of the 2019-20 season.

A group of students come in for a group hug to support their award-winning teacher.
Excited students swarm Sepulveda for a group hug. Photo: Milken Family Foundation

Social studies teacher Lauren Sepulveda, ’10, entered the gym prepared for an upbeat but typical morning assembly at Clinton Avenue School in New Haven. Instead she received the surprise of a lifetime when her name was announced as the first recipient of the 2019-20 Milken Education Award and its $25,000 prize. Watch Sepulveda receive the award.

Hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards are designed to “celebrate, elevate, and activate the American teaching profession.” It is not a lifetime achievement award. Instead, the recipients are recognized for exceptional mid-career achievements — and the promise of what they might accomplish given the resources provided with the award.

Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, made the presentation to a shocked Sepulveda in front of a cheering crowd of students, colleagues, and local and state officials. “Lauren Sepulveda brings history to life by demonstrating how past events have shaped our nation, world, and people today. Students develop a greater understanding of the responsibilities as global citizens and lifelong learners,” said Foley.

Sepulveda, who earned a B.S. in history 7-12 at Southern is the sole award recipient in Connecticut. Nationwide, no more than 40 educators will be honored during the 2019-20 season.

Sepulveda, who teaches seventh and eighth grade, was lauded for efforts to help her students become global thinkers and empathetic citizens. In her classroom, students have met guest speakers who share personal stories of their experiences during World War II, the Korean War, and the Rwandan genocide. Another assignment challenged students to review coverage of the Revolutionary War in their text books — and determine whose perspectives were missing. The students next drafted a new chapter that included the stories of significant minorities. Sepulveda then helped the students submit their work to the text book publisher for consideration for the next edition.

In addition to the cash prize, the award includes networking and mentoring components. Sepulveda will join the other 2019-20 honorees at an all-expenses-paid trip to the Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, to connect with other educational trailblazers. In addition, each 2019 recipient will be paired with a veteran Milken Educator mentor.